Arsene’s admission helps nobody, neither does ‘price-per-goal’ comparisons

Before I start off with my usual daily ramblings and before you can switch off, roll your eyes and say “not him again” (although unless you’re seeing this for the first time I’d question why you keep coming back – it’ll never get any better than this!!), I thought I’d give a little plug for a book written by a good friend and really nice fella, Dave Seagar, who has written what I’m sure is to be an inspiring telling of an Arsenal legend, George ‘Geordie’ Armstrong. I haven’t picked up my copy yet, as I’ll be handing over my cash at The Tollington for the book launch on Saturday before the Hull game, hence why I don’t want to come across as all knowing about a man who whilst before my time, I am already starting to feel had a significant impact on Arsenal’s history.

Anyway, the book can be ordered here so make sure you order a copy and read about what appears to be one of football’s genuinely nice people in Geordie. I can also recommend you scoot on over to Dave’s blog to see some of his stuff – you won’t be disappointed.

What you might be disappointed with is the comments from Arsene that he made in a recent interview on French TV with regards to Mesut Ozil’s injury. Arsene explained that he was actually aware of Ozil’s injury during the game, as the German had described that he heard a ‘crack’ and that Arsene had told his physio team to ‘keep an eye on it’. That’s a shocking admission and I’m afraid does absolutely nobody any favours no that this has come out. Firstly, it shows what the litany of injuries over the past few years lead us to suspect – that sometimes the club are negligent in it’s duties to make tough decisions and act in a responsible manner towards player fitness. How can you have an admission from a player – bearing in mind most players would rather keep information like this to themselves so they can stay on the field – and not act on it? What are we doing here? Are we deliberately trying to push our luck to see how much we can get away with? Because let me tell you, that hasn’t worked for the last six or seven years and so it’s hardly going to start now. By keeping him on the field when he had clearly suffered some sort of injury, it shows a recklessness that I don’t think you’d see at any other club. It’s not as if we are even short in the attacking positions. IF it was one of the centre halves, then we’d probably all be a bit more understanding if the feeling was that we need to see if we could play on with the player (ignoring the fact that the lack of defensive resources are a product of our own making), but in the forward positions we have enough bodies not to take any chances.

I am becoming more and more baffled by some of the decisions that are being made at the club these days. I really try not to be drawn into the stereotypical despairing online Arsenal fan, but with issues like formation, players playing out of position and the constant glut of injuries, it’s hard not to look at the football side of the club and wonder if we’re deliberately trying to make life difficult for ourselves.

As a result of the poor performance of Ozil against Chelski, he was lambasted by all corners of the media, yet it’s quite feasible that he was only playing at 30 to 40% of his capability through injury. A player will never tell you he is injured unless his leg is hanging off, so it is up to the management on the side of the pitch to make that decision for the player for the benefit of them and the team. That clearly has not been happening. I said earlier in the blog that nobody benefited from the admission from Arsene that Ozil played on whilst injured, but actually that’s wrong, because at least it gives us a bit more of an explanation as to why he was so poor. Who knows, maybe this is a classic Arsene self-sacrifice to paint Ozil in a more favourable light, but it just comes across as if the club don’t really know what it is doing when it comes to injuries.

Not only is there the data to now back up this school of thought, but we’re getting testimony from the manager too now, which is slightly worrying.

There’s the AGM later today, which will no doubt draw up lots of pre-approved and probing questions for the board at Arsenal……so I’ll leave that one parked to one side I think because I’m about as knowledgeable on these things as Neil Ashton is about employee value. But there is one area that I suspect might be addressed by the club (or not) which is the ticket price issue. I watched BBC news last night and was treated to yet another volley from the sports section of the report about ticket prices, which had the inevitable comparison with Arsenal and the price of tickets compared to, well, just about any other team on the planet. It’s funny because my in-laws immediately gave me chapter and verse on the price of an Arsenal ticket being expensive and looking at me as if I am the root cause of it all. But as you’ll know doubt know, we Arsenal fans are just as cheesed off with the price of tickets as the next fan. It’s something that we are bound to be continually cheesed off because we won’t be seeing reductions in ticket prices soon and unless the club announce some sort of a ten year price freeze (I can hear you all laughing) then we’ll always be held up as the most expensive. And as for the whole ‘value ‘thing and referencing the amount of money I spend per goal for my team (which is the latest barometer the media appear to be using), all it really does is perpetuate the blinded ignorance of most of the world to the issue of over-inflated markets that have been driven by the petro-dollar clubs. Telling me that Manchester City fans get around £4 per goal as opposed to my £27 is like showing a poor kid the latest Playstation and telling them that the rich kid round the corner got a better deal than them when their parents bought his console because his parents bought four at a discount so they could have one in each of their play rooms. Moneychester City are subsidised, so holding them up as some sort of paragon of virtue is one of the biggest ironies of football in my opinion.

 

Anyway, that’s enough of my ranting for one day. See thee tomorrow.

Scraping the barrel and ranting on tickets

I must apologise if today’s brain dump of a blog is a little bit ‘meh’, because quite frankly, there’s bugger all to talk about at the moment (way to sell a blog and entice Gooners to read on, Chris).

I mean, you’re really scraping the barrel when the lead story on the official site is about a tour of the clubs training facilities, a Per Mertesacker admission that we need to be better at set-pieces, or a note about how Mikel Arteta acts as a ‘father’ figure for new players joining the club.

It all feels like that deafening silence you get before a 100 metres race before the starters pistol rings through the air. I feel like I’m waiting patiently for the build up to the weekends game. I only hope Arsenal make it worth it, because it’s always frustrating when there’s no Arsenal for a period of time. And let’s not forget how lucky we are; we get to watch Arsenal a lot more than the average Premier League fan watches their club. We’re playing weekends and midweek most times during the season, which is a-ok for me. It helps to scratch the itch of Arsenal and the relief is very obvious come match day.

At least most of the players will be returning by today, which means we’ll probably get an indication of how the squad will shape up in terms of player availability, so that will be a welcome bit of news. As the Arseblogger pointed out yesterday, it looks like Alexis will be unlikely to return in peak physical form, so we’ll probably have to wait a wee bit before we see the rapid pace of Walcott, Welbeck and Alexis all forming a front three that will have back fours sitting so deep they’ll probably have a permanent camp set out on their own six yard line, but we still have plenty of other options in that part of the pitch, thankfully.

It’s the other end that terrifies us all.

I so wonder if Arsène might be tempted to ‘unfreeze’ Lukas Podolski for the weekend’s game though. He came on as a second half substitute against the Republic of Ireland yesterday and, although I don’t know how he performed, he is clearly still an asset that Jogi Low rates. So I don’t see why, against an established but not spectacular Hull team, he doesn’t give Lukas a chance to prove he can still eek out enough game time at least until January to secure a move. Think about the last time we played Hull at home, with a Bendtner inspired header that set us on our way to a comfortable evening. Why not give our only fit German international a shout? Who knows, he may just surprise a few by taking his chance to start. And with plenty of other players available should he not impress after an hour, there is always the opportunity to make that trademark Poldi sub that Arsène has perfected, which has seen him hardly ever finish a game.

More on an actual formation and the predicted line up towards the end of the week I think, because I suspect we’ll not see Poldi anywhere near the first 11 com Saturday. It’s fair to say that his longer term future is not at Arsenal, which will be a shame (especially for Steve, who will weep silently in his cul-de-sac corner of the world where his Poldi shirt will be ‘retired’ forever come January), but we’ll all have to move on. Much like Ivan has been talking up with his comments on Arsène eventually being replaced as manager at Arsenal. It is mental to think that there are human beings on this planet that will be legal drinking age and still unable to comprehend a life without Arsène. I myself have only really known three major managers at Arsenal since supporting the club as a kid and, whilst I’m hardly a great reference to pull the old chestnut of ‘you don’t know what hard times are as an Arsenal fan’, I did sit through a season of Bruce Rioch, so I sort of know what it feels like to be less successful (although he admittedly was the man in charge when Bergkamp signed, so I guess I can be a little bit more grateful).

It will be a strange feeling when he does eventually go, but it’s interesting that Ivan seems to already be laying the foundations, whilst doing it in a platitude-infused manner because he’s probably more mindful than most of the power that Arsène has at the club. With another two years after this one on his contract, it’s a strange time to be talking about replacements I think, because two years is an absolute eternity in football. Two years ago ‘Arry was the heir apparent to the England job and the greatest manager of all time. Now he’s looking a bit ropey with an ageing QPR team that are rooted to the bottom of the league. So speculating on the next manager after Arsène is probably not a worthwhile way of spending any cash you’ve decided to hand over to the bookies.

Will you afford me a bit of a licence for a rant today to finish off the blog? It’s about ticket prices, so if that isn’t of interest then you can say your goodbyes to me now and I’ll catch you tomorrow, I won’t mind.

So, for those of you that remain, I do have to have a little bit of a moan about ticket prices. It’s a regular occurrence in the media that prices are trotted out whenever there seems to be a slow news day on the back pages, but it certainly leaves a sour taste in my mouth whenever I hear some of the price comparisons between football clubs, mainly because we get the rawest of deals from across the whole of Europe it seems. I’m too simple a fellow to give an in-depth analysis of ticket pricing and comparisons, but comments about the number of additional games we get as part of our season ticket, or that London prices are expectantly higher are all balderdash in my opinion. Even when you take into account the additional seven games, the cheapest season ticket (which I have) is still far more expensive than most teams in most competitive leagues across the globe. And I just can’t accept that ticket prices are linked to player wages or transfers. Other organisations like the AST have already proven that this simply isn’t true.

What is true is that we are paying a premium on a product that is positioned as elite, but the reality is that we do not receive an elite version of the product or in simplistic terms, more glory and trophies and one of the best teams in the world. I might put us in the top ten – just – but given our own financial outlay on the club, is that acceptable? I would put it to you that it is not.

Anyway, just some thoughts, much of which you’ve no doubt heard before but I wanted to share anyway.

See you tomorrow.

Patiently waiting for Walcott…and Mesut…

Hooray! A long term injured player returns to the squad, as opposed to being omitted, due to a long-term injury! What a novel feeling it is to be pleased to see players like Theo Walcott back in the fold and taking part in full first team training.

He was a massive blow to have missing for most of 2013/14 due to two long-term injuries, so to have him back in the squad and available for selection is a timely boost, like being given a bottle of Lucozade after running a 10k. He will add yet more depth to our attack and his direct running and finishing will mean we have another option to try. Hopefully he can stay fit and we can finally ditch the whole ‘Mesut Özil out wide’ experiment that everyone is still a little bit baffled about.

Whether Theo will be able to start and have a serious impact for the next month will be debatable though. After all, Jack has spoken about his own recovery from long-term injury and he’s only now finding his form after some quarters of the footballing world questioned whether he’d ever get back to his best. So to expect anything from Theo for the next two to three games would be folly I think.

Still, that doesn’t mean he can’t have an impact and get himself off the mark coming on from the bench now, does it?

One question I saw on Twitter yesterday that I thought was very pertinent indeed, was posed in relation to Theo’s pace, whether or not he’d have the same level of pace as he did before the injury and whether anybody at the club has tested him. Now he’s back into full training I’m sure the fitness and medical team are monitoring closely, but with a player who has had plenty of historical injury worries, I suspect they’ll be über careful with everything Theo does for a while. At least I hope they are. I mean, they have bodged a few players’ returns by over playing them as soon as the return, or not properly resting them. So we’ll have to wait and see how sparingly he’s used.

It’s a shame that with Walcott back, Özil has now disappeared from the team for the immediate future, because upon the German’s arrival over a year ago, Theo was one of the players that profited the most from Mesut’s vision. We have pace in Welbeck and Alexis already to feed from Özil, but Walcott as a wide man loves to play very high up the pitch and look for runs in behind the back four, more so than any other player at the club I think. So I would have love to have seen those two link up upon Walcott’s rerun. Hopefully he can stay fit and when our playmaker returns they can rekindle that understanding that existed when Mesut made his debut at Sunderland last season, when he put enough balls on a plate for Walcott, that he could have dined out on them for a month.

Speaking of Mesut, he’s got a clever little PR team, eh? After the frankly ludicrous rumours of a return to the Bundesliga under Pep surfaced, he took to Twitter to thank the Arsenal fans for the messages and dismiss the Bayern Munich rumour with all the subtlety of a hashtag, using the Bavarian phrase ‘Mia San Mia’ (we are who we are) to message ‘#miasanarsenal’. In this world of reading too much into everything, I think that will do nicely to dispel any rumour and even the faintest chance that Mesut will ever leave Arsenal other than to retire when he’s 38 and having played 350 games for the club and got a bazillion assists. Simples.

Of course in the summer if Bayern were to actually come knocking in a Barcelona-esque fashion, who knows what the reaction of the player might be, but I’d like to think he’s happy and only wants to improve at The Arsenal. And he will.

We’re still waiting for the tedium of the International Break to subside, so there’s not really a lot going on, other than the relief that Welbeck should be fine for Saturday. But then again, is an ‘everything is ok’ alarm (see The Simpsons for reference) really that necessary in this instance? Probably not.

Adios amigos!

The best England performance A gooner could hope for

I’m one of the few Englishmen that was overwhelmingly happy about the 1-0 win against Estonia last night, it seems, because I’ve woken up to much gnashing of teeth from the various corners of the media. The natives are restless with England’s form it seems.

Personally, it couldn’t have gone any better in my book, as Jack Wilshere put in a performance that further softened the Özil injury blow and has shown that he’s recapturing his form from when he burst on to the scene. That’s back-to-back England performances that he’s arguably been England’s best player and the fact that he didn’t limp off is also a mega bonus on a pretty boring football game.

But guess what? I LOVE it when England games are boring. I love it because it means very little has happened and there are no contentious points to dent any Arsenal players’ confidence, or to shatter any bones or ligaments. Yessir, a lovely boring international match is exactly what the Doctor ordered, especially given our current injury problems.

So it seems messieurs Chambers, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wilshere and Welbeck all came through relatively unscathed (Welbeck appeared to hold an ankle at one stage but he got up and looked ok in the end) and hopefully that means they can all get a nice full week of training before the home game against Hull on Saturday.

Woy was even kind enough to give Gibbs a rest, which I thought was a lovely gesture towards Arsenal, because let’s face it, given how well he performed against San Marino and how ‘meh’ Baines was, a rest was surely the only real explanation as to why our left back didn’t start. Hodgson’s really good at resting players you see, just ask a tired and depleted 19-year-old Raheem Sterling, who I’m sure will be handled well by his club manager next weekend and will only be a bit-part player given his current fatigue he’s been telling the national team coaches about.

Anyway, enough talking about Liverpool players, because that really does leave a sour taste in my mouth. Instead, let’s talk about how Jack is performing right now, particularly his passing range that he’s been exhibiting recently. It’s a part of his game that has always – to my mind anyway – been less pronounced than other attributes he has, but last night came to the fore above anything else, as countless times he fed Rooney only for the England captain to fudge his lines again and again. I must say I found it slightly humorous that Rooney picked up a player rating of 6 from Sky Sports on the night, because goal-aside, he was woeful. It’s amazing what a goal does to gloss over an overall shocking performance (Welbeck was rated a 5, for example, but I thought he showed more guile than Rooney overall). That he was most likely to improve his goal or assist tally because he took every single free-kick seemed to have been overlooked. The old adage of throwing enough of the brown stuff against a wall and hoping some sticks was clearly missing from any kind of analysis of his performance too.

I wouldn’t normally comment so much on other players, but the profligacy of the captain cost Jack some clear assistage to cap his stellar performance, so I feel entitled to point a bloggy finger in the United Captain’s direction.

Still, back to the main man, Jack. Another fine performance and an uncovering of his ability to find those raking and, dare I say it, Fabregas-like passes in behind defenders. I know it was only San Marino and Estonia and I know that I should temper my excitement, but Welbeck himself must have been licking his lips with the prospect of getting on the end of the number of balls Rooney had, so I’m excited to see if Jack can replicate those performances on Saturday. He’s always been known as a player who is great at dribbling and short, fast, interchanges of passes, but if he produces just one or two of those types of through-balls for Welbeck per game, we’re in for a treat.

There’s not really a lot else to say from me if I’m honest. Chambers struggled at times yesterday, but with every game I see him he looks more like a centre half playing as a full back because of his versatility, so I’m less concerned. Especially when you think that he’s still a teenager.

I have no idea what has become of the other players that were on international duty, although I know that some will still be in action tonight, so we’re not out of the woods yet people! Still plenty of international games for yet more players to be ruined. But at least we’ve got positive news that Walcott and Gnabry are in full training with the first team now. Theo in particular is a timely boost and even if he’s not ready for anything more than a five to ten minute cameo on Saturday, it would still just be good to see his name in the squad come Saturday lunchtime.

Now we just need to count down to the weekend!

Jack’s timely form softens Özil sadness

Had a lot on yesterday, so didn’t manage to step into the blogosphere to compile some thoughts on all things Arsenal, but with a spare 15 minutes this Saturday morning I thought I’d spew some prose onto the online page following the first round of international matches.

Firstly, the performance of the England players, most notably the excellent Jack Wilshere. He is growing better and better with every game and after the start of the season and some of the criticism he received from the media, it feels like we’re getting back to seeing the 18-year-old version of the Wilshere that burst on to the scene and had us all excited. With the absence of Özil proving a blow, the ray of sunlight I can see is his form picking up and our diminutive midfielder being the talisman to get us moving in the league after a stuttering start.

Of course knowing our luck he’ll hobble off in Tallinn on Sunday afternoon and we’ll not see him until the New Year, so whilst I am praising his form and the hope that it’s a timely positive amongst a plethora of injury negatives, I do it with a wary eye on the possibility that he could break down at any moment. He likes a challenge, does our Jack, see. He will always get stuck in and with his injury record you always fear that he’s a crunch away from being Diaby’d.

Still, whilst we have him fit and willing, we should be thankful. And with someone like Welbeck up top, we’ve also got a form player than I fancy hitting 30 goals in all competitions this season. I include internationals here too. He’s already got four for Arsenal and three for England, so if he gets another eight by Christmas in about 12 or 13 games until we reach the halfway point in the season, who knows?

I’m not really one for giving a monkeys about internationals, but when you’ve got five Arsenal players involved in an England game, it’s hard not to show a modicum of intrigue. I thought our two full backs performed quite well, but specifically Kieran Gibbs who must always have felt a bit left out when most of the other Arsenal players disappear off to their respective national team gatherings, but with the histrionics of Luke Shaw having finally died down, the smoke seems to have cleared and Roy has finally seen that Gibbs is an excellent left back. Going forward he was good – admittedly against a poor San Marino – but I think he must surely be rivalling Baines for that number one spot given Baines’ lack of form and Gibbs’ return to the team from injury.

I haven’t really looked at any of the other internationals, but know that Germany don’t play until tonight and Chile played Peru in the early hours of the morning. By the looks of it Alexis played the full 90 in the game, but he’s such a bundle of energy, that it wouldn’t surprise me to find out he’s run all the way back to London after his second friendly match he’s involved in. Let’s just hope he stays injury free too. With Per retired and Özil injured, our only interest in the German game is Podolski, but Low will know that he isn’t playing so I’ll be surprise if Lukas gets much time at all.

The other players in action will be Rosicky, Ospina and Szceseny, who you’d be surprised if the two ‘keepers pick up knocks and Rosicky hasn’t found his way into the first team yet, so we’re looking in good shape right now. Santi got eight minutes against Slovakia, but Santi always only gets sub appearances for Spain, so we need be less worried about his propensity for injury. I’m just glad that Spain were so poo in the World Cup and Euros so now have to qualify for the next Euros, because at least it means our wee little playmaker will stay on this continent for his travel for European games.

Anyway, that’s all I gots time for today I’m afraid. I have some eggs that need a-cookin’. Ciao peoples!

Quality fence panels, not for sitting on

I was thinking about writing something about the news that Mesut Özil might be (emphasis on ‘might’. The club have said it’s too soon to suggest how long he’ll be out for) injured until the new year, but in talking about long-term injuries, I’m starting to bore myself, so I thought I’d let someone else have the blogging soapbox for a day and talk about anything they want to.

Step forward Roy, a family friend who first introduced me to the world of watching Arsenal live and who has been a major influence on igniting my passion, much to the dismay of other family members at times I’m sure!

Roy and I had an exchange yesterday on Twitter and I told him to write a blog. So he did! Here’s his thoughts. Tell me what you think. He certainly has an opinion and is not afraid to be somebody who shares it! The title of today’s blog tries to exemplify his desire not to be seen as vanilla in his thinking, so hopefully you enjoy.

Chris

**********

It is time for all fans to stop this Arsène Wenger immortality (including myself as I have always refrained from criticism), because I believe he has been almost negligent in his transfer dealings for a few years – maybe more! This year, in my opinion, I believe he truly has completely lost the plot. Defenders out before we have even started this international window, (I believe we’re now looking at Calum Chambers possibly injured, which is a massive blow to all concerned), one in Debuchy who I must say looked good until his sad injury. But Calum Chambers’ injury is a big setback for us. He is certainly one for our future, but is it right that he’s been so heavily relied on at such an early stage in his career? In such a short space of time he has become more than just a squad play needing to grow and find his feet, but now finds himself as an integral part of the first team and all of the pressure and reliance that comes with it. Arsène Wenger suggests he can cope and the initial signs are good, but what happens when the inevitable drop in form (inconsistency is part of a young footballers game) occurs? This is not how a supposedly ‘top team’ should conduct it’s business I’m afraid. A top business has effective plans, contingencies, works out different scenarios and is ready for all eventualities. When can we say that has happened at The Arsenal? Don’t even get me started on the “we need just two or three more for back up in defence or defensive midfield” argument, for I fear I will never stop!

After many years of supporting Arsenal, watching my first Cup final in 1969 (when a certain Don Rogers inflicted pain on a young heart probably for the first time. Certainly I haven’t had that much pain since…actually I have…17th May 2006, Champions League Cup final in Paris. A horrid night not only for the defeat but the way we were all treated -mno matter how you travelled the whole place shut down if anyone remembers! Almost impossible to find a bar or nice restaurant and cabs all disappeared off the streets and raining. I digress but you get my feeling of hurt) I have lived through some of the barren years at the club. I understand that football has evolved and I’m not naive enough t think we can win everything all of the time, or that winning trophies is something that happens every year. But what I do believe is that you should give yourself every possible chance of success with the resources you have available. Would you say that we have done that?

That feeling of hurt that I described earlier? That’s now been happening for around four years for me. We have become a nearly team and my/our beloved Gunner’s have failed miserably to ease the same pains that those cup finals have inflicted. Why? Because we are so close. It makes it all the more painful to know you are almost there, glory tantalisingly within your grasp, yet your own restrictions caused by your manager are stopping that final step to greatness.

Yes, we papered over the cracks by a Houdini like escape against Hull and this quietened the fans, to which we were totally looking forward to a rebuilding of the team knowing money was available for Le Boss to spend. Even Piers went quiet. Or did he? Can he? Probably not. But from what I can see that is all last season was – papering over the cracks.

We now have some top quality all round with Özil and Sanchez in, our other very good players around them, and yes Ozil is struggling and I am not that qualified to make brash statements, but he is played out of position and this is completely negated in his original purpose. With the quality we have Özil is a luxury we should be able to afford in my opinion. But we need other players to be able to help make him great. That starts with a ball winner. A quality ‘DM’. Who was the last quality DM we had? Gilberto? Always there, doing a job, we certainly new when he was gone. How long ago was it he was at the club? Seven years? SEVEN YEARS???

**Editor** controversial opinion alert…..

I cannot think of worse defence in all the time I have supported the Gunners. I am not saying they are all rubbish as individuals, but collectively they lack the quality to win us the big trophies and in terms of the first team, the lack of defensive quality players, this is the worst. I may be sounding a little bit like Mr Grumpy here, but I love Arsenal and I’m not one of those moaners for moaning sake, I can assure you. I’m just frustrated because I know we are not far away from disaster in defence. One, or dare I say it two, more injuries in defence and we are Donald Ducked.

On finishing this little rant (thank you for reading by the way!), will it be all too little to late when January comes around? its time we stopped wishing for success and found someone to truly come in and give it to us again. Le Boss was a pioneer in the Premier League ten years ago, but all pioneers have to know their limits and every dog has it’s day.

My six-year-old grandson is a Liverpool fan and when we beat them at home 2-0 he said granddad my heart hurts and it is quite unbelievable the passion football can bring out within all ages. That’s what prompted today’s thoughts and after the last few weeks of that feeling I just wanted to share.

I want Arsenal to be great. We’re a great club, great fans and great history. Let’s hope we get back to our best. And soon.

Can Arsène ever win us a league again?

Hello there. Isn’t it just marvellous to be alive and supporting The Arsenal. Imagine how much duller our lives would be if we all took up sewing instead, eh? Yes, we’d all be well stocked for jumpers in good time for winter, but how would we be able to vent our frustration?

“Mike, that cross stitch is appalling. What are you playing at?”

It’s the preamble before the inevitably pointless international break I’m afraid, so when you’ve got Spielbergian storytellers like James Milner as the main news talking about winning his fiftieth cap for England, you know that content is thin on the ground. Unless you’re a cricket fan that is.

Plus, I can’t even Google things on my iPhone, on account of my current data roaming blackout. So you’ll just have to contend with whatever rubbish I can pull out of my cranium right…about…now…

Arsène Wenger. The first words popping into my head are about Le Boss and, having seen a few Whatsapp exchanges yesterday, as well as read a few blogs, the general theme I’m hearing is a questioning of whether or not he’s actually capable of winning us a league title any more. We’re now over ten years since the last league title and, having been so effective last season up until the dying months, I’m finding it harder and harder to believe that he can.

Now before your pitchforks all come out with accusatory expletives of my heresy for questioning the manager, let me say that I am immensely thankful for how he has played his part in making us one of the elite clubs in Europe. He’s won trophies, he’s operated under financial constraints, all whilst doing it with a dignity that can be commended in my opinion. Regardless of when he leaves and how he leaves, I don’t think his legacy at the club can be tarnished by modern day Arsenal and the success or not that we have.

Having said that, I want to treat my question without any prejudice one way or another, positive or negative in favour of the manager. That question – is he capable of winning us another league title – is one that warrants debate I feel.

This isn’t the time to say “who else then?” or “he’s a better manager than you could ever be” or even flippant responses like “technically yes. He has the rest of this season and two more afterwards on his contract”. Flippant remarks like that don’t really advance any sort of debate in my opinion. You could say that Newcastle United could still win the league, if they won every single one of their remaining games this season, but it’s extremely unlikely at this stage.

Treat the question in isolation. Deal with facts. That’s the mantra I’m going to try to adopt in my thinking on this subject. Is Arsène Wenger capable of winning us another league?

Tactically
I’m not so sure. There has certainly been more of a visible change in Arsène’s approach to games, tinkering with player positions and trying different styles depending on the opposition. But at seven games into the season and with four draws and a defeat, it’s difficult to argue that he’s adapted to suit the scenario with a degree of success. No doubt we’ve seen improvement on this front, but I still don’t see him as being able to affect a game as much as some of his more irritating counterparts at other clubs.

His substitutions certainly leave a lot to the imagination when it comes to what his though process is. That is one of the most visible influencers on a game that a manager can have and at the weekend the surprise hooking of Cazorla left many scratching their heads. It’s become a bit of a running joke in Block 5 where I sit that the chatter turns to who he will bring on in the 75th minute, such is the predictable nature, so you can hardly say he nails his subs each time. However, one can’t overlook the number of injuries we’ve sustained in games this season and recognised that he has on occasions, had his hand forced like against the Spuds.

Depth
There’s nothing that can be done about it at this very moment in time, but the fact that Arsène is the chief protagonist in the failure to secure enough defensive cover that has left us so woefully short this season, cannot be overlooked. We seem to be perpetually one injury away from a crisis. And this is not a season alone in this issue. Last year it was the finger-crossing of keeping Giroud for that was at the forefront of our worry. This year we also have that defensive midfield enforcer/ball-winner that we are lacking in sufficient quality. We seem to go into every season a little bit short in some areas and I have lost count of the number of times that friends have said Arsenal are just “two or thee short” of a title challenge. To have that happen once is unfortunate, for that to be the case for four or five seasons is a question for the football management at the club.

The thing is, Arsène has actually built a decent squad this season. We’ve got depth the likes I don’t think we’ve ever had. Our quality from one to 11 may not be near the standard of The Invincbles, but I’ve previously looked (and blogged) about the squad for the Invincible’s and when you get beyond the first 14, the quality was nowhere near as good as it is now. We have all the attributes of a really good – almost title winning – large squad. We just don’t have the attributes of a title winning first 14.

Fitness
The teams ability for key players to remain fit for long periods is a question that no Arsenal fan can get away from. It’s been said by so many that the numbers of injuries we get season-after-season cannot be put down to ‘bad luck’ when it happens with such frequency. There are plenty of theories about why it happens, with style of play one school of thought, but if that truly is the case then why haven’t we changed our philosophy? People will say you can win the league with that ‘tiki-taka’ philosophy, but I wonder which league, maybe the Spanish where contact is less prevalent?

If that is true, and that our style of play in our league means we pick up lots of injuries, then the manager must surely consider changing it if my original question (can Arsène still win us a league?) is to be answered with a resounding ‘yes’.

The other school of thought is that greater rotation of players will allow more players to be fresher and therefore less susceptible to injury. But we all know that Arsène is an advocate for continuity in his first eleven. We’ve certainly seen more rotation in the team this year, but it has been enforced to an extent so far this season, because of the volume of injuries we have.

Whatever your opinion of whether Arsène can win us a league title again or not, it’s hard not to argue that this is an area to which you can’t not lead yourself towards thinking “no he cannot” I’m afraid.

Competition
Is the competition so overly bloated with megastars as a result of the financial doping of the oil whores, that a time in which any club not spunking the GDP of a small country on player acquisition, is effectively left with an impossible task to win a league title?

Thankfully on this topic there is a chink of light. Fergie, for all of his faults (being an irksome individual his primary one), was able to carve out a championship winning side amongst the Petro-dollar period a few times. That gives us hope that the right formula can be achieved in amongst the evil that permeates through the elite of our national game. And hey, had we had a Welbeck or a fit Walcott at the end of last season, perhaps Arsène could have continued the trend?

Whatever side you fall on in relation to my original question of Wenger’s capability to win a league, even the most ardent Wenger apologist or Arsène Outist will agree that there are a number of variables that make the league the single most difficult trophy to acquire. I can see both sides, but as most football fans I come across in real life, I flit between the two depending on recent results, mood, etc. perhaps inevitably after the weekends result and subsequent dejection I find myself thinking that perhaps his time has been and gone. Perhaps the game has evolved and Arsène isn’t capable of delivering a modern day Premier League trophy? Perhaps the game is no longer about finding the best 11 and playing them for every match in the season?

I’m fickle. I’ll admit it. I’ll have changed my tune at Christmas if we’ve embarked on a 10 game unbeaten run and are a few points off top spot. But that’s a fans prerogative I guess.

See you tomorrow.