Relief that The Arsenal are underway, with dominant display

I am a completely irrational football fan. Specifically, I am a complete irrational Arsenal football fan and if I’m completely honest, after the first weekend of football I was dreading anything but a positive outcome from yesterday’s game against Crystal Palace. 

That in itself doesn’t sound too irrational to you, I’m sure, but when I tell you that fears that we might not score again, let alone win football matches, you’ll perhaps understand how irrational my thought process can be. It’s stupid because I know that I support a team with a very long history of winning more football matches than losing them each season. Yet because it’s the start of a new season, because there is still that element of the unknown as to how Arsenal will perform, until that first win is chalked up I was always going to be this way. Regardless of what I told myself about my own stupidity.

So you can imagine my relief that we’ve got points on the board. You can imagine my pleasure at the way in which we’ve racked up those points too. A gritty and hard fought victory against a Palace side with plenty of threats. And done so whilst dominating large swathes of the game. The cobwebs of last weekend truly blown away and the application we expect from an Arsenal side returning. This team had their noses bloodied on the opening weekend and they did not like it one iota.

Straight from the off we were dominant. The passing was crisper, the pace and cutting edge was there and the only thing that stopped us going ahead in the first ten minutes was a flailing leg off the line as Alexis drove the ball goalwards. The chance had come from a lightning counter and despite the worry of a little less pace with the absence of Theo and the Ox, the team still had enough to catch Palace on the counter when we weren’t dominating possession.

But for most of the game we did dominate possession. That we went in to the half time break level was almost a travesty in itself, because Ramsey had a great flicked goal effort, Alexis missed a few chances (which we can legitimately put down to him still not being 100% match sharp) and there were a number of blocked shots from the Palace players on the edge of the box. Giroud’s fantastically executed semi-bicycle kick was the least we deserved from that first half effort, ably assisted by the majestic Mesut Özil, who was brilliant enough to get a special mention from the boss after the game. That’s the kind of performance that you point people towards when they start to question his importance on the team.

Ward’s equaliser was well struck and against the balance of play, but I can’t really look at Cech as being at fault. He would have seen it late and with a crowd of bodies in between the scorer and the goal, there aren’t too many ‘keepers that would have got to it, I don’t think anyway.

The second half saw a little bit more of Palace and our goal may have had a touch of fortune against the defender, but Alexis’ climb and drive to win it in the first place, means he deserved his reward of contributing towards putting us back in front.

From then on, the game had a very similar feel to it as the one played two years ago, with The Arsenal trying to keep Palace at bay defensively, whilst trying to catch on the counter. Ramsey, Cazorla and The Ox all had decent chances, but there was to be no late goal like that game.

I didn’t manage to watch the game in full, because I was at the Red Bull Air Race and my SkyGo signal was dreadful, but from what I’ve heard and red and partially seen myself, the games only other controversial point seems to surround Coquelin. ‘Pards’ used his post match presser to suggest the ref had bottled the decision not to send the Frenchman off, but I’ve got to be honest and say I think he was perhaps deflecting somewhat. Perhaps a culmination of the three fouls he made should have led to a ‘totting up’ yellow, but no more than that. Of course the Match of the Day ‘pundits’ saw it differently as you’d expect, but I think they’re just pandering to the masses, rather than objectively looking at each foul in isolation. We love an underdog in this country and if there’s an opportunity to find an excuse for one as to why they haven’t won it, then it’ll be taken. 

It does highlight the need for us to find a potential reinforcement though. I’ve been beating the ‘we don’t need signings’ drum all summer, but we’re an injury or suspension away from realistically just having Arteta as our holding midfielder. He actually had a very good cameo when he came on as a sub, but his injury record is such that were Le Coq to break down due to injury, I wouldn’t have 100% confidence we could rely on the Spaniards creaking limbs for an extended period of time. At the moment we’re just praying Shad’s magic sponge can work all season.

But these are concerns for another day. After the deflating feeling of the opening weekend, we have the uplifting feeling of three away points. We need to embracing that feeling and enjoy it whilst it lasts.

Until tomorrow.

No complacency: title challengers don’t do that

Today is a very important game. Today The Arsenal need three points, because only then will we all breathe a sigh of relief and start talking about the possibility that last weekend’s defeat to West Ham was a ‘blip’ and this Arsenal team can challenge for the league.

Quite simply: Premier League winners don’t lose two on the spot to West Ham and Crystal Palace. You couldn’t see City or Chelski doing it, so if we truly harbour loftier ambitions than qualification for the Champions League, there needs to be a reaction at Selhurst Park.

We have players capable of it. The squad is strong enough and technically proficient enough to go to Selhurst Park and boss the game. But the Premier League is the best league in the world because of its unpredictability, so a defeat or a draw equally would t be unheard of.

Last weekend I was only thinking about ‘when we win’. The thought of us losing to West Ham on our own turf never entered my mind. Perhaps this was the same complacency that washed over the players themselves. If that is true, then I hope they are mirroring my pre-match thoughts this week too, because I am certainly not so blasè about beating Crystal Palace. 

They have a decent team. Pardew has assembled a good selection of players with plenty of pace in attack and they will certainly trouble us at times today. Puncheon, Zaha and Bolasie all have speed and a trick or two, but I suspect we’ll only see two from that three start today, with Glenn Murray up top. What we have to do is to ensure that those attacking threats are nullified by isolating those players when they do have possession. That’s why I am hoping we go for a pacey forward line, because if we have plenty of pace of our own, it will force the Palace defence to drop deeper. If they do, then it will create either a greater gap between their defence and attack, or it will force their attacking players to drop deeper to collect the ball. That will hopefully reduce the risk of us being so painfully exposed by their attack play. 

So my forward three for today would be Walcott, Alexis and The Ox. Giroud is a handful, he has scored a few goals against Palace, but he is exactly the type of player that Dann and Delaney wouldn’t mind playing against. The negative of starting Theo is that he won’t press the ball like Giroud does. If Arsenal are to peg Palace back, the whole of the front three need to be pressing high, not just Alexis. 

Theo also has the tendency to go missing in games, but if that happens then you can rectify it by bringing on Giroud, so I’d still opt for the Englishman.

The big question seems to be whether Alexis is ready to start. He looked a little rusty coming on last weekend, as you’d expect, but he still offers something nobody else in the team does, so I personally want to see him come in. If that happens, a big question needs to be answered, because one of The Ox, Santi or Ramsey doesn’t play I don’t think. One plays alongside Coquelin and one plays wide right and one has to contend with a spot on the bench. Santi needs to resume his role as Distributor-In-Chief alongside Coquelin. That partnership works and the closer those two are together in the middle of the park, the better it is for us, so I wouldn’t hesitate to pick the tiny little Spaniard. Nor would I hesitate to pick The Ox ahead of Ramsey. Aaron is a better player than the Ox at this moment in time, but not as a wide man, so The Ox needs to start. I’m not sure he will though. Arsène likes Ramsey too much and I suspect we’ll see a return of square pegs in round holes with him starting on the right. It’s frustrating for me, but perhaps I need to trust Arsène’s judgement a little more, because as long as we get the three points that’s all that matters.

Today can be the reboot of the season, and climb back into the bookies eyes as a team who can win the Premier League title. Last weekend we looked sluggish and not clinical enough, which is why a little shuffle of the forward line wouldn’t do us any harm, I don’t think anyway. Conversely, despite the fact that we conceded two pretty shockingly defended goals, I’d expect a similar back four to last weekend. Bellerin may come in for Debuchy, but the rest of the side should probably be given the chance to redeem themselves, before any panic buttons are pressed about our back four needing a shuffle or two.

Whoever starts today, they need to show a lot more urgency and a lot more accuracy in finding other Arsenal players in space. No more Hollywood balls please guys, we need to retain possession with our short and quick passing. That’s how we’re designed to be effective and that’s how we’ll win the game – if we win the game -making a verbal offering to all the ‘complacency’ karma gods just in case here.

I’ll be at the Red Bull Air race today and so will be relying on Sky Go and quiet corners. I hope to be getting people to stare at me because I’m cheering at inappropriate moments from 1.30pm.

Come on Arsenal!

Dropping points not so bad? Falling for the click-baiters is though

So Happy Saturday to you. It’s one in which we have to wait a little bit before we get to avenge the defeat last weekend. Sure, we took a bit of a surprise sucker punch from Slaven Bilic’s West Ham, but it was only our first game of of the 2015/16 season (match preview from the guys at Coral) and there’s plenty more football to be played. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t smart any less, so I for one am hoping we can wash the bad taste out of our mouths, with the sweet succulent flavours of three points at Selhurst Park on Sunday.

It certainly won’t be easy. Arsene said as much in his pre match presser when asked about how tough the Premier League is this season. If going the season unbeaten was difficult 11 years ago, it must feel like an almost impossible tasks, when you look at some of the squads that have been assembled. Who on God’s green earth would have thought Yohan Cabaye would be rocking up at Palace three years ago? Or that a very polished Payet would boss a game for West ham at The Emirates? Certainly not me. So despite how clearly annoying it is to drop points at home on the first game of the season, perhaps it is not as damaging as it might have been last season? Who knows. Time will tell, etc, etc.

What is essential is that we get some side of response from the pretty insipid display we endured last Sunday. The passing accuracy needs to be better and we need to see more urgency and potency in attack. The manager has to drive his players forward in that regard, so perhaps he’ll be mentioning the fans in his team talk this week, after explaining about how they don’t want to upset us. Hey, anything that gets us a result is fine by me, so if Arsene has to show pictures of totts in Arsenal baby-grows balling their eyes out, or a little child with his dreams in tatters because we lost a game, then I’m ok with that. Winning is everything people, winning is everything.

Just ask Jose, who clearly will do anything to win, including deflect the performance of his team and make it about an internal bust-up just to get a bit of attention. He really is an odious character. I am loving the way the media are trying to beef up his issues with Wenger and vice-versa though, but Le Boss just isn’t biting. In his presser yesterday he was specifically asked by a journo about the Mourinho issue with his medical team. The question was more loaded than a 12-bore, designed to get a sound bite that can be used to fire in Jose’s direction to see if he can get an argument started. Arsene steered clear of the games though, simply talking about it as an internal matter, that you need the unity of the team and you need to trust the medical department. Cue the various media outlets reporting this as ‘Arsene wading in to Chelsea medical team debate’. Not really guys. He was asked a direct question and pretty much said ‘not interested, thanks’. But let’s not let the truth get in the way of sparking up some sort of perpetual hyperbolic row, eh, guys?

Whatevs. If that’s what these media bods are happy with then you and I just need to make sure we’re savvy to the truth. The first thing I do before visiting any media websites is have a listen to his presser these days, because it tells the real story and you can make your own informed decision as a result. So rather than being click-baited I am a little wiser and a little more laid back when I see a headline that is clearly trying to stretch the truth to its outer limits.

The more important thing for me is trying to work out how I’m going to watch the game tomorrow. The in-laws have bought The Management and I a lovely day at the Red Bull air race in a corporate hospitality area (free bar!) and, upon my advice they choose Sunday rather than Saturday because that’s when the game was originally supposed to be played. Now I’m in a quandary because I’m not missing the game. Sky Go on the phone it is I suppose!

That’ll do for me for one day. You have a good one and remember, avoid the click baiters, stay safe and try not to go mad without The Arsenal on a Saturday.

Go easy on a returning Welbeck; football is like cards, not chess

Today is the very definition of ‘muggy’, with my clothes sticking to me and general uncomfortableness being the feeling for today it seems.

I also seemed to have stepped on to an artists impression of Victorian London, because there’s fog everywhere, so all I need now is Sherlock Holmes to solve a crime for me and I know I’m dreaming.

I’m glad it’s not Victorian London though. I’m pretty sure I’d be cheesed off at the lack of Arsenal stuff to think about. Or write about.

The team news that was delivered on the official site was as expected yesterday, with Rosicky out for possibly longer than two months and Jack Wilshere sidelined for four weeks. I supposed at least Alexis is fully fit and Bellerin is also available, so we have something to be cheery about on the injury front. It will be really interesting to see whether Debuchy retains his place in the side, because the calls for Bellerin to be first choice amongst the fan base have been growing increasingly louder.

Personally I think Debuchy is the more consistent performer in the team and whilst I like that Arsène has the option of choosing either, I think ultimately Debuchy will get the nod when the decision is 50/50. The Frenchman is a little bit more defensively astute and with the pacey wingers that Palace have on show on Sunday, you need somebody with that little bit of extra nous to keep them quiet, I think.

The Welbeck situation is a slightly more concerning one. How is he not back yet? He’s effectively missed nearly six months of football with this injury he’s picked up. Sure, it’s been mitigated somewhat by the team performances and squad depth at the end of the season as well as the fact that two of those months have been the summer, but he’s still been injured during that time and apparently hasn’t recovered. That sounds worrying to me and with competition at an all-time-high in the squad, I’m wondering when he’s going to get his chance. Even when he does, let’s be prepared for sections of the fan base calling him ‘useless’, despite the fact he effectively needs to start his pre season in competitive games.

I really like Welbeck. I like his application, his pace and his drive. If he was the finished that Walcott could be we’d have a gem on our hands and I’m hoping that he has had his composure supplements during this extended summer break, because he could be a fantastic asset for us.

Elsewhere across the official site, Arsène has regaled us with his story about how he narrowly avoided losing Vieira to Ajax. It’s fascinating to think that in this industry where teams spend so much time analysing the information and data they have to hand, where contracts are complex and no two transfers are alike, the human element still has such a role to play. Wenger picked up the phone and told Vieira “I’m coming to Arsenal. Get over to London” and the kid went from Amsterdam to London in an instant. The power of influence of that is amazing. In a world of Sporting and Football Directors supposedly running transfer deals from start to finish, it shows you just how powerful the personal touch is too.

As Arsène also admits in that interview, the Vieira transfer shows you how fine the lines are between success and failure at the top. Arsène hints in that interview that his own career may have been different had he not signed Vieira. Imagine that? Some sort of footballing ‘butterfly effect’ in which the Invincibles never actually happened. Doesn’t bear thinking about. We’d probably have Owen Coyle as our manager. 

You might want to pour a bit of cold water on yourself at this point. It will wash away any negative parallel universe’s that you’re thinking of.

So yeah, it all could have been different and we could have seen a different Arsenal team to the one today, but these kind of small margins happen all the time. It has happened and we should appreciate whatever circumstances, whether they feel fortuitous or not, as they happen. You only need to look at the Francis Coquelin to see another example of fortune and good timing as an example of these small margins. It does make me laugh when people say, however, “yeah, but Wenger got lucky with Coquelin, so don’t let anybody tell you it wasn’t part of some master plan”. When, in football, is there ever any football master plan? There are so many variables in the game that it’s impossible for anyone to have a master plan. Football is less like chess and more like cards. Make the best with the hand you’re dealt. Who cares if Arsène got lucky with Coquelin? At least he did get lucky and we found a destroyer in the middle of the park to break up the play. That works for me and hopefully for you too.

And on that note I’ll end today’s tales from inside the Arsenal part in my head. You have a good one and look forward to the weekend.

Rosicky’s rotten luck might curtail his Arsenal career; seeing the human side of footballers

Another day, another rumour of an injury spell on the sidelines, this time for poor old Tommy Rosicky. If the rumours are to be believed, then he’ll need surgery on his knee and an anticipated spell in the treatment room will see him unable to take part in any games for the next two months.

Of course at this stage it’s just speculation until the club confirms it, but these types of rumours – as opposed to dastardly transfer ones – usually have a bit of foundation to them, unfortunately.

Quite where it leaves him is beyond me. The squad is a deep one at the moment and along with Flamini, Rosicky probably needs a bit of fortune the other way – i.e. injuries to current first team players – to stand a chance of breaking in to the first team. So to have him out of the side until potentially October or even November is a blow for him and probably for us as well. Each time in the last couple of seasons he’s had a spurt of games in which he’s looked really impressive. Normally it’s been after the halfway mark in a season, when the games come thick and fast and we (touch wood) are fighting on multiple cup fronts, so perhaps it won’t have that much of an impact. But if he was harbouring hopes of some kind of veterans recall to the side if things start to turn sour in terms of our form with the existing players who have the nod ahead of him at the moment, this injury will hardly have done him any favours.

When he returns to the team the players will be in full swing in the season and I suspect his time on the pitch – at least until after Christmas – will be limited to Capital One Cup displays only. Assuming that we aren’t knocked out in the earlier stages, that is.

Much like Jack though, it won’t really affect us at the moment, even if it is a sad state to see a player so well liked at the club seemingly running down the last year of his contract while crocked. Who knows, maybe Shad has some sort of miracle cure he can lavish upon the Czech’s brittle bones?

There’s really not a lot else going on at the moment though. There’s a piece about Ozil being a role model for young people looking to integrate in to different cultures. It’s funny actually, because a lot of negativity is labelled at professional footballers in the modern game; “they earn too much money”, “they have everything on a plate for them”, “they dive around too much”, etc, etc, but one of the attributes that most footballers seem to be very good at is integration in to new cultures. It’s no easy feat leaving your family and friends to play in a foreign country, make a life somewhere that you’d never have dreamed of as a kid and then potentially have to up-sticks and move a few years later, yet that is one part of a footballers life that they just seem to get on with. Ozil has been to Madrid and Arsenal, having grown up in Gelsenkirchen, where he no doubt still has family and friends. It makes life easier that global travel is so much more affordable and accessible I suppose, but every time I think about having to move to a completely foreign part of the world to start a new life, I don’t find it too appealing. Especially so if you have a very close family base.

So for all of the sniping when you hear about stories like Di Maria’s family not settling in Manchester, or Fabregas being desperate to come back to London to be with his girlfriend and child, perhaps you (and certainly I) might think twice about it being something that shouldn’t affect a footballer. If it happened to me I’m pretty sure it would affect my working life.

Perhaps I’m making excuses for them unnecessarily, but I just find it interesting to think about these footballers as normal people with normal families and friends, just like us in that instance. They’re not robots. They need a stable foundation with which to live their lives.

Anyway, we’ll surely find out later from Le Boss which one of our sacks of meat are available to play on Sunday and hopefully the jack Wilshere news is a little more positive. There are a few stories floating around that his injury is not as bad as first feared. I don’t suspect he’ll be back this weekend, but if he’s available next week or the week after for Newcastle away, then that would be fantastic.

Ooh, one more thing before I go, which is to praise good old (young) Chuba. Two in two for the loanee at Hull and if he really is harbouring designs on breaking in to the Arsenal team next season, a season with a bounty of goals is the right way to go about it. I really hope he does. It would be nice to see another product of the youth team be a success at Arsenal. Good lad Chuba!

Accommodating the best Arsenal players unbalances the team

Hello hello you wonderful peers of mine. I hope you’re not too caught up in your own inner torment and moroseness as we hit the halfway point in the week. The bad taste of a weekend defeat may still be lingering like a little morning breath (despite having brushed your teeth to within an inch of their lives), but at least we’re getting closer to the weekend, in which we can rinse and spit out that taste and replace it with something far more satisfying.

I just hope the team reach for the mouthwash and not the toilet water on Sunday, because I don’t fancy having two weeks in a row in which Arsenal have stunk the place out.

I think it will depend entirely on where Arsène’s mind is at in relation to the team set-up. On Sunday he opted for Santi out wide and a middle of the park selection of Coquelin, Ramsey and Özil further advanced up the pitch. It didn’t really work. Santi came in field often and our balance was severely disrupted. Too many times Monreal was left isolated on the left and whilst the Ox was impressing on the right hand side (going forward at least), there was little on the left to get too excited about. which pulled Giroud into the space and as we know, left nobody in the centre on a couple of occasions.

That plays in to teams hands a little bit at The Emirates, because it means they can be more difficult to break down by being compact. All the technique in the world doesn’t allow for you to break through an organised, well drilled and relatively deeper-lying side, looking to hit you on the counter, when you set up as we did.

My worry is that Arsène might be tinkering with this formations and these players for a while though, because even if Alexis is fit to play from the start, Arsène will be mindful of overplaying him this weekend. He also needs to know what his options are if he loses players like Alexis through injury (ironically enough the possibility of that could increase if he doesn’t give him more rest time) for a sustained period of time, so I do wonder if we’ll start to see more of the accommodating of players in positions that are not as successful, like we saw last season towards the beginning of 14/15.

Last season we saw Arsène playing around with Özil out left, but we also saw Wilshere play in the wide positions, as well as Ramsey out on the right. In some games it worked, but personally I think that had more to do with the technical superiority of our players versus their opponents, rather than any kind of tactical master stroke. I’m old fashioned you see; players should play in their natural position.

The tinkering with player positions – putting square pegs in round holes because they’re a really polished and snazzy looking square peg – has never really worked 100% I think. I kind of get the tinkering with formations based on opponents, so at times last season when Arsène experimented with the 4-1-4-1 it looked a little clunky, but as players get used to a slight variation in playing style they adapt. But it’s the shuffling away from where they are at their best that I’m really not sure of.

Santi, for example, seems to only be shunted out wide when Arsène is accommodating another player and because he’s the most technically proficient at adapting. It happened a few years ago when Podolski’s Arsenal career was on the blink. But we’ve seen just how impactful he can be when he’s moved centrally and so for the life of me I can’t work out why he isn’t – clichéd as it sounds – the ‘first name on the team sheet’. Sometimes ball retention and having that guy in the centre of the park is vital to the success of a team, especially this Arsenal team, so what I don’t understand is why we didn’t have somebody in the middle of the field who can retain possession and release it without it going out for a throw in. In our team we have three players who just don’t seem to lose the ball: Santi Cazorla, Mesut Özil and Mikel Arteta.

NB: I know that these players do occasionally lose the ball – nobody is infallible – but it happens with much less frequency with those three players.

So, if Santi and Mikel are not ticking things over in the middle of the park and Mesut is occupying a more advanced position, what is the outcome? Ramsey and Coquelin spraying balls around and the system not quite working. 

There are many who think that Arteta’s days are numbered, but I don’t necessarily think that is the case, especially when you look at games like the one at the weekend just gone.

So why doesn’t Arsène just go back to the successful formula of the end of last season and play Santi and Coquelin close together? I have seen some people on Twitter speculate that Ramsey might have been given assurances of a central role; that Arsène is accommodating him and trying to build a team around him. That’s a possibility, but we have so much quality around the whole team, that I just can’t see Arsène building a team around just one player. When you have so many quality players, it just doesn’t make sense. No, I just think that Arsène knows his best 11 footballers who have the best technical ability, and he’s trying to fit them in some how. It’s ironic because he talks so much about balance in the team, that when we try experiments like last Sunday, it just unbalances the team.

One player that will bring balance is Alexis, which is why it will be interesting if he starts on Sunday, because I suspect Arsène probably felt he had a bit more time to play around with his team than what has happened. It will most certainly mean that a tough decision has to be made by Arsène: Ramsey or Cazorla? I hope he doesn’t switch Ramsey to the right and Cazorla in the centre to accommodate both in the team, because that would not solve anything in my opinion. He needs to make a tough call and choose one to ensure we have more natural balance and proper wide players. 

Let’s hope he does.

The dangers of thinking one game reflects a season

The fallout from the weekend’s game still appears to be reverberating around the social media sphere, with Arsenal fans still disappointed with the opening weekend’s result, but time will hopefully heal. It just takes a little longer when you have no frame of reference i.e. It’s the first game of the season and you don’t know if it’s a ‘blip’ or a genuine worry on how we’ll perform this year.

If I can try to look at the positives, it is that the majority of football fans – not even Arsenal fans – who reported in to work yesterday, appeared to be of the same mind. There’s the odd bit of bluster and joking (refusing to us the ‘B’ word), but by-and-large everyone seems to be quite dismissive of the first weekend. Whether that’s because I work in a largely Arsenal-supporting office, with not a Liverpool or City fan in sight and the occasional spattering of Chelski scummers, remains to be seen. But the general consensus seems to remain that ‘these things happen’ during the first weekend of the season.

Why then, do I take to Twitter on the journey home, eh? Because all it seemed to do to me yesterday was start to get me worried about the team again. Giroud took a bit of a pasting on my timeline, as RTs and opinions on his shortcomings were plentiful in their supply. He’s too slow. He doesn’t finish enough chances. He just isn’t good enough. Apparently. I have to admit I was a little surprised with the fervour in which Giroud was seized upon if I’m honest. Sure, he frustrated me with a couple of occasions in which perhaps he could have done better, but I think it was a collectively abject performance that cost us the three points, not because we didn’t have Karim Benzema leading the line yesterday (as somebody pointed out – there’s not much difference he would have made – unless we were putting him in goal and it turns out he’s better than Cech).

Giroud has his limitations and he is not one of the top five strikers in the world, but until one of those five strikers becomes available, is there any point in ‘settling’ for another version of Giroud? I don’t think so. I don’t want us to move sideways in our player acquisition strategy, I want us to move forward, so unless a world beater can be found, we should – and have to – stick with what we’ve got.

It didn’t help that the team as a whole couldn’t string more than four passes together before spraying the ball out of play. It didn’t help that Giroud had to go trying to collect the ball on the left a couple of times and it didn’t help that we didn’t seem to have the bodies close enough to him to play off to his strengths. He’s a link man. He needs runners around him who he can hold the ball up and release to. What he doesn’t need is a narrow team who are not able to feed him accurate balls. What he doesn’t need is Coquelin picking up the ball in the centre circle and spraying it to nobody for a free kick. What he really doesn’t need is an Aaron Ramsey who is not looking up all the time, or who doesn’t make the runs beyond him as we’ve known him to do.

Perhaps it was a bad day at the office for The Arsenal? Ramsey isn’t going to reign in his natural instincts to get beyond the striker and make his runs in to the box again, is he? Cazorla and Coquelin aren’t going to misplace a litany of balls every week, are they? And Giroud won’t miss chance after chance each week, will he?

With only one game as a reference point this season, it’s hard to say ‘of course not. Had we already been six games in to the season and seen us win six on the trot, people would be more forgiving, I suspect. But when you have nothing to frame it, it becomes a marker for how the whole season will be.

It won’t. Alexis will get better. Ramsey, Cech, Coquelin, Santi and yes, even Giroud, will get better. But they have to get better quick. Because we could be experiencing a bit of déjà vu on the start of last season if we don’t string together some wins. Let the opening weekend be the adrenalin kick to everyone that we needed.

Deflated and disappointed Gooner

Ohh Arsenal…why do you do it to us?

All that excitement. All the talk. All the waiting and hope for an amazing season, deflated in the space of 90 minutes. Yes, it’s only 90 minutes and there’s a lot more football to be played, but that match yesterday was a bit of a travesty if we’re all honest.

I took to Twitter and fired off a few disappointed tweets, then opened up my Whatsapp to see the feeling amongst other Gooners and in the immediate aftermath of the game yesterday I was thinking about how ranty my blog would be today. But I don’t really feel ranty. I just feel a bit…well…I can’t think of a word that describes a ‘sigh’. But that’s it. I’m not even angry, because I’ve seen that kind of performance before, this year even. Remember when the players rocked up at The Emirates expecting to roll over Monaco and we saw a lacklustre team display that ultimately knocked us out of the Champions League? Or the performance against Swansea at home (and away for that matter)? Yeah, that.

The positives that could be drawn from yesterday’s game seem to sit solely on The Ox’s shoulders this morning, because he was a bright spot on an otherwise gloomy day, which was ironic given the glorious sunshine that engulfed the Emirates yesterday. He drove at West Ham defenders, he looked to have the beating of his man and fashioned a few good chances. But on a day in which it looked like we could have played for another six hours and failed to score, his display was always going to be overshadowed by an overall team lethargy.

From front to back there looked to be no fight in the team. It looked like an end of season game in which we’d already secured Champions League football and had nothing to play for. Yet it was the first of the season. I don’t buy Arsène’s comments about West Ham being more prepared than us because of European football; that West Ham team weren’t playing in the middle of nowhere during the week and Slaven Bilix has put out his reserves and youth players for most of the competition. So that excuse doesn’t really work I’m afraid.

And we can have no excuse for the goals we conceded. The first one may have Cech coming out the worst because of his inexplicable sojourn into no-mans land, but Kouyate still got there ahead of any of our defenders, so whilst the ‘keeper will rightly take the largest proportion of the blame the defence must also take a look at its organisation.

So too, I have to say, should the whole defence for the second goal. The fact that we had possession and gifted it to Zarate, then failed to close down before he rifled it in, was poor. Quite why Cech was so flat footed is beyond me. I thought he was supposed to be saving us points this season? Not costing them? One of the deficiencies in Almunia’s game – before he went crazy and haunted – was that he’d never do anything that would make you say “wow, got us out of jail there”. That is the sort of thing a top ‘keeper does and that is what Cech used to do for Chelski. Again, I know it’s only one game and he will no doubt redeem himself over the course of the season, but from one of the best ‘keepers in the league he’ll probably be disappointed that he didn’t get to that second goal.

But we can’t lay most of the blame at his feet. He wasn’t misplacing passes all day like most of his teammates. Santi, Rambo, Coquelin, Debuchy and The Ox all saw simple passes that just couldn’t find a many. It was a litany of unforced errors that saw balls being sprayed out of play all day. It was borderline laughable at the frequency with which it happened. Is it the new ball? Did they all have a heavy one last night? Or was it just a bad day at the office? Whatever it was, a few more performances like that and we’ll be playing déjà vu catch up exactly like we did last season.

As for our attack, well, blunt would be one way to describe it. We never really got going and once again questions will be raised of Giroud, but he was hardly given a plateful of chances to miss from five yards, was he?

Have you noticed that I haven’t mentioned Özil? There’s a reason for that and it matches up with his involvement in the game.

We should give credit to West Ham, who set up well and deserved the win, but without the lacklustre defending on both goals we’d still be talking about a 0-0 draw, not a 0-2 shambles.

Big Per talked afterwards of bouncing back, but unless the attitude changes, we’re going to see more results like this throughout the course of the season. Champions can have bad days at the office, but usually only those are limited to once or twice and more often than not, you don’t see it on your own turf. West Ham should have been a three pointer but the team looked like they turned up to collect the points without any resistance. It will be a reminder to them all that this league is a difficult one and you have to prepare properly for each game. Mentally as well as physically. The manager will need to earn his crust this week and get the team into a position where they are ready to go again but be ten times better next Sunday, because Palace away will not be easy, so answers will need to come sooner rather than later.

A chirpy Arsene and the excitement/fear of the unknown; The Premier League begins…

Here we are. After all the summer waiting, anticipating and hoping, we’ve arrived at the start of the Premier League season with the first weekend. It’s a bit of a funny one though, because we’re not playing tomorrow, so it only really half feels like the Premier League starts in earnest today.

The up side is that we get to cheer on any team that isn’t Chelski or Liverpool, whilst hoping for a 5-all draw in the game at Old Trafford with lots of sendings off, a few injuries and big fines for the two clubs that are playing in that part of the North West at lunchtime. If we’re going to look at the glass being half full, at least one of those two teams will have dropped points come Match of the Day tonight.

As for Arsenal and Arsene, we had the customary pre-match press conference and Le Boss seemed to be in a jolly enough mood. This was probably in part down to the fact that a) we’ve had a good pre season, b) people are saying we’re in with a shout of the league, c) he was only half-heartedly asked about transfers, and d) the football is back for him. We all know how obsessed he is with the game, so summer must be a tortuous period for him and most people with which football is their livelihood. So he was probably quite excited to be back – even doing the press conference was probably quite tolerable for him.

We got most of the team news on Thursday, so we know there will be no Jack, Welbeck Rosicky or Alexis, but as expected Arsene admitted that Alexis might be back sooner rather than later. Estimating that he’ll be potentially ready in ten days wouldn’t have surprised anyone, because the Chilean is the embodiment of all good things to do with football. He just loves playing and he’ll be like a tightly wound coil ready to be unsprung next week in training, I’m sure, so that’s all good to hear.

The phrases used by the boss shows just how much he thinks there’s something in this team. Talking about ‘fighting spirit’ and being ‘up for the challenge’ is nothing new for us, but I’ve rarely believed it with such conviction as now. He is being cautiously optimistic about the teams chances of winning our first league title in over a decade, but that’s what you’d expect, because he’ll get pelters if he pulls out another “we could go unbeaten” again and it doesn’t happen. Let’s leave the arrogance and ugly characteristics to the Portuguese in West London.

Arsene also talked about the unknown quantity of the other squads in the division and how we still don’t know how the top of the table will shape up. He didn’t lead down the line of enquiry of stopping the transfer window as soon as the football starts, but it’s certainly something I’d advocate, for that very reason. As it stands, I’d be pretty happy with the opposition that we’re up against, but if there are some mega moves in the transfer market, I don’t know about you, but it does make me nervous. It’s fear of the unknown you see. Before a player has kicked a ball they are a world beater – think Falcao at United last season – but when the football kicks in often so does reality. But because Arsenal haven’t been overhauling their squad like some others, there’s always a bit of a fear that a club like Liverpool could actually ‘click’.

I should probably look back historically and see that root and branch changes don’t usually result in success, but unfortunately I’m an irrational football fan, which you can see by the fact that I’ve been writing all summer about continuity and how I’m pleased we’re not snapping up new players left, right and centre, yet now I’m admitting that I’m nervous of the opposition we face at the top of the league!

That’s why it’s always good to have the football start, because the speculation and the expectation soon give way to reality and as we’ve seen over the last few seasons, the reality is often that Arsenal are pretty decent and pretty consistent. We just need to make that next step now and win the league. Just a small thing….

Arsene was asked about Benzema so I suppose I should mention it, because although he dismissed it as media speculation, the noises about his imminent arrival seem to have picked up again. I’m not particularly interested in that and I’m sick of the ITKs, but talk of him arriving on Sunday amuses me. What, has somebody seen his name on the flight details of an Easyjet plane from Madrid to Stansted or something? Don’t be ridiculous. These people know nothing and so it’s best just focusing on the existing players who will be trying to score us plenty of goals and bag points on Sunday. That’s what’s real and that’s what I’m going to invest my emotions in to.

That’s it from me for today. I have a stag do to prepare for, so I’ll make my excuses and leave you to get on with your Saturday.

Victoria Concordia Crescit – never been more applicable than now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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