Injuries not as feared, but transfer business might be

Happy Friday to thee my dearest of Arsenal supporting friends. I hope you are in ‘end of the week’ mode and savouring the prospect of an extra day away from the monotony thanks to this Bank Holiday we have been gifted in the UK. If you’re outside the UK and don’t get said holiday, please feel free to email, tweet or direct message me your ‘nur-nicky-nur-nur’s when such a time is afforded to you, yet isn’t in Blighty.

I also get the added benefit of getting to stop by a bar a stones throw away from the ground tonight. A friend of mine is moving to the States for a few months and he’s having a send off on Holloway Road, which is fabulous, because I’ll probably swing by the Emirates on my way just to say high to the place. Is that sad? Probably. I mean, it certainly doesn’t look the same with a man and his dog wandering past it as the patrons of the place, but I don’t care. It’s my/our Cathedral and I’ll visit it when I want thank you very much.

So, what’s happening in the world of Arsenal then, eh?

Well, as expected, Arsene had his presser yesterday (taking the more sensible approach to my suggestion yesterday) and was quizzed on a manner of topics ahead of the visit to Everton. Most importantly, the injuries, to which it appears only Mikel Arteta will be absent from the team line up at the moment. That’s great news because by the sounds of it there were a few players carrying knocks – like Koscienly – and if Arsene is stating that we have a decent compliment of players then that’s a-ok by me.

The next few games will certainly be interesting from a midfield perspective. With the captain out for probably what will be a couple of weeks minimum, it gives Le Boss the opportunity to let other players stake a claim, most notably Flamini, who will hope that a good showing against The Toffees grants Arteta extended leave from the first eleven. But also, with an impending ban in Europe about to befall Ramsey after his two cards in midweek, it means that there is a bit of a selection decision for one of the other three midfield roles. One would imagine that Mesut Özil will slip in to that midfield against Besiktas, so I think Arsene will probably also ease him in against Everton, so I’d be surprised if he started.

I think the same goes for Per based purely on the initial form (I know, difficult to fall ‘form’ on just three games, but I am so there) of the newbie Chambers. His excellent displays certainly warrant a starting berth in Merseyside tomorrow and, after Arsene spoke so glowingly about Chambers in the press conference, you’d expect him to feature tomorrow. What I did like about what Arsene was saying though, was when he spoke about Chambers getting a call up to the England team, as is now the case with the media chomping at he bit to see him in a white shirt. Like Arsene, I think it’s great that Arsenal players are recognised for their country, but there is also the worry of that inevitable burden placed on one so young. Remember when Jack first got into the England team? “Saviour of England!” they said. “The new Gazza” they said. Yet a few long injuries and a couple of years down the line and the media are picking up on every misplaced pass Wilshere does. It’s pathetic really, but we don’t really want that to happen to Chambers, so the calls for him to get into the England side should be tempered with realistic expectation that he won’t be the England captain and the greatest centre half this country has ever seen by this time next season.

There’ll inevitably more of an assessment on Everton tomorrow by yours truly, but Arsene was asked about the opponents tomorrow and gave an interesting assessment, effectively calling the 3-0 defeat a ‘one-off’ that happens once or twice a season. I understand what he’s saying, but the problem we had last year was that actually it turned out to be more of a ‘four-off’ with heavy defeats to rivals around us. I remember the unfortunate Arteta own goal during the match, but I have to try and think of the other goals and I don’t recall there being to much unusual about them, other than the fact that given our miserly defence at the start of the season, you wouldn’t have expected us to cave so easily as we did in the second half of the season. But hey, that’s history now, so let’s bury those painful memories. What will be interesting tomorrow will be to see whether Martinez changes much against Arsenal. Last season he was credited with being a tactical genius by putting Lukaku on the right hand side. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him do it again, so let’s see if Arsene has learnt his lesson and Monreal he’s more cover in this seasons game.

Inevitably, talk turned to transfers, as well as the question over the regrets that Fabregas now plays for the London based oil-whoring-football-lottery West London team. Of course you’re never going to get Arsène to show a position of weakness in his judgement and decision-making, so he denied that he regrets not re-signing Fabregas. But actually, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t, mainly because of a debate I saw on Twitter (I forget who, sorry) which talked about the style of Fabregas no longer being applicable to our team. I actually think this is true. Fabregas is a quarter back in my eyes. He’s a scorer of goals, but he’s also a picked of passes through the middle. Pacey centre forwards are integral to that and whilst we have that in Alexis and Theo (eventually), through balls finding Giroud with grass running into would be a waste of a good through ball. With Giroud up top, you may as well smash the triangle button on your PlayStation.

Our build up is more patient now, more methodical, and with Özil pulling the strings, we have a player who is more suited to our style of play. The time for an Arsenal team to be built around Cesc has long gone. Özil is the star that we must build around.

As for other transfers, Le Boss gave us no real indication that he is on the verge of something special, despite what Twitter says every working day of every working minute. I think we’ll bring in another centre half, but my gut feeling is that it will be a case of “that concludes our business for this summer. Congratulations!”

I hope it isn’t. I hope Arsène makes a statement. I think most Arsenal fans do actually. It’s why the Cavani rumours have been seized upon by Arsenal fans so readily. We would love another Mesut Özil mega-signing to accompany the brilliant signing of Alexis that would have us all getting even more excited than we already are for the new season. But if we are all honest with ourselves, if we’re all asked to realistically give a percentage chance of us signing Edison Cavani from PSG, I don’t think there would be many that would rate it even as high as 25%.

So let’s start to accept what we’ve got, hope we do a bit of strengthening, then pray that injuries don’t mount like they have done every single season since 03/04.

Have a good one peeps.

The ‘walk with me’ presser and accepting our lot

Morning, morning, morning.

Hope all is well and you’re excited about how your Thursday is/has panned out. My week is dragging I have to say. Longer than usual hours due to volume of work at, err, work, means that I’ve become a bit of an early bird. The net effect of which is that I have aching limbs in every part of my body and I feel like I’ve been punched in the face. By Lennox.

I wonder if Arsene has days like this. I wonder if there are certain parts of his job that he’d just rather roll over to Annie Wenger and say “not for me today, dear, do me a favour and call in sick for me”. I’d imagine it probably is a day like today actually, as he’ll have no doubt bought forward his press-conference duties by a day so his team can be on the road and ready to go tomorrow. Personally, I’d use it as a really good excuse to leave a press conference early, if I had a bus to catch for an away game. In fact, to really put those pesky hacks off, I’d tell them they have two minutes, then I’d get them to follow me to the bus and in the five minutes it takes to get to the bus they can ask questions until I board and they can physically no longer even hear my responses. But hey, professionalism in sport and all that.

The big question marks that you and I want answered is how long Arteta and Gibbs are out for. They have been the latest casualties for the last week and will be the most pressing concern for the manager. There are people that I’ve seen suggest that because Arteta is only potentially going to be out for a couple of weeks, that it will scupper any chances of buying another defensive midfielder, which I don’t really buy if I’m honest. Every noise from every corner of the Arsenal online and offline community is that he’s on the lookout for a ball winning midfielder as well as a centre-half. He’s not going to have his thinking swayed based on a minor injury to a first team player, so I don’t think there’s too much to be gained from hoping that Arteta is out for long enough for Le Boss to pick up a replacement over the next two weeks.

The reality is that we have cover in both players’ position if we need it, and I don’t think any of us should be too overly concerned in the short term about the ability for Flamini to slot into that holding role, as well as Monreal to fill the good left by Gibbs’ untimely injury. For the last two games I actually think Monreal has performed very well. Once or twice he was overloaded against Besiktas, but he wasn’t helped by the complete absence of Santi during stages of the game.

Transfer season is also called ‘silly season’ for a reason (hey that rhymed!), so it doesn’t surprise me to see people suddenly clamouring for replacements in injured positions. I guess then, it shouldn’t surprise me that after a shoddy performance in Turkey, the “Giroud needs to be replaced with a world class centre forward” opinions have been more vocal over the last 24 hours. I should caveat this current direction of the blog by saying that I don’t think Giroud is world class. Given the pedigree of the last three or four of his predecessors (That Dutch Bloke, Adebayor and Henry), I do think we have become accustomed to brilliant strikers and so the expectation level is heightened in that position, and I wonder if Giroud will ever get close to becoming that 30 goal a season striker. But it does make me smile that people have become even more desperate on the back of one game. It’s almost as if many spent the summer trying to convince themselves that he is something he is not.

Look, let’s all be realistic with each other here. Olivier Giroud is a target man. He’s a Gallic version of Duncan Ferguson. He was good in the air, popped up with a few goals and was a very useful Everton player, but was never the all-singing, all-dancing, goalscoring centre forward. Not to my ageing memory anyway. Yaya Sanogo looks to be in the same mould, which I think is telling actually, because it does show that Arsene’s preferred style is to have a big target man who can hold up the ball with his back to goal and bring others into play. It’s always going to be difficult to bang in goals every week when you’re facing the wrong direction most of the time!

So that being the case, you have to look at the way we are set up, and wonder if Arsene has a specific job for those two Frenchman, and it ain’t to Luis Suarez up the division. Goals, obviously, not the bitey racism stuff. Their role in the team is to ensure that they bring midfield runners and pacey wide men into play by keeping hold of the ball, distributing well and weighing in with a few poacher goals. That’s how I’m seeing this team line up, anyway, although I admit I’m no tactical genius when it comes to analysis of modern day professional football.

Arsene has stocked up with pacey wide men and midfield runners for a reason, and I’d be surprised if it’s because he’s going to buy a Falcao to be the focal point of the team (would be nice though I admit).

I had a very quick discussion with http://www.twitter.com/yankeegunner last night about the Giroud situation, to which I mentioned that the word on the Marvin Gaye is that Arsene is planning on using Alexis through the middle, which again would suggest that we’re unlikely to see another centre forward. I know this would blow my theory about a big strong front man out of the water, but I perhaps it just shifts the thinking along slightly. Perhaps it shows that rather than having the same thinking as the days of the Invincibles, i.e. We have the best 11 players in that position in the world so we don’t need to worry about the opposition, Arsene is shifting his mindset so he can alternate the attacking style of the team to one of three quick runners that can get in behind high lines. Away from home to a Moneychester City, or against an Everton, this might prove to be a good tactic (although injuries will probably dictate that Giroud is up top and Alexis is out wide this weekend), plus it gives Arsenal a little less predictability in the line up.

Whatever players or style Arsene picks, I guess my underlying message here is that I don’t think that however many people are desperately hopeful we will sign a striker, we probably won’t. So we should probably accept our lot and hope that Giroud is effective enough to give us an improvement on goals this season and that the other members of the team also step up and support his efforts with decent tallies.

That’s me done for the day. Once more unto the work-related breach dear friends. Once more.

Until tomorrow when I have to do it all again.

Lacklustre draw isn’t the end of the world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No blasé attitude towards Besiktas

Morning/afternoon,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you tomorrow.

No fear of scousers, but definite fear of injuries

With yesterday’s games concluding without any surprises between Liverpool/Southampton and Newcastle/Moneychester City, you’d be forgiven for feeling that there is little comfort to take in two rivals picking up all three points, as well as a third probably getting off the mark this evening. But I am choosing to look for some anyway, so I’m looking squarely in the direction of Suarezless Liverpool, who certainly didn’t deserve to pick up all points in their 2-1 victory.

There was a similarity between score lines between their result and ours on Saturday, but that is where the comparisons stop, because our performance was markedly better than that of the scousers. That’s not to say we performed well – we know we just about got the job done against a dogged Palace side – but Liverpool completely rode their luck at times yesterday. So much so that I must admit to thinking that Southampton would be involved in a relegation fight this season with all their departures, but if Koeman gets his players playing like that each week, then he has little to worry about.

I said it yesterday on Twitter and I’ll say it again: this Liverpool team without Suarez do not scare me as much, as they are two of three injuries away from some problems in their team I think.

As for us, well, we’re used to ‘two or three injuries’ anyway, so it was perhaps not a surprise to find out that Koscienly is a doubt for the trip to Turkey after picking up a knock on Saturday, as well as Kieran Gibbs who limped off during the Palace game. I don’t know about you, but Gibbs I am less worried about with Monreal able to cover and also performing really well on Saturday, but Koscienly is a concern. Arsene admitted that Per might have to be bought in a little sooner than he would have liked, which whilst not ideal is some comfort, but it does make you wonder why we didn’t have an instant Vermaelen replacement lined up. I know that sometimes transfers take time (well, with Arsenal they always seem to, anyway) but I would have thought we’d have bought one in as soon as we knew Vermaelen was offski. Perhaps with his injury there was a question on whether he would pass his medical at the Catalan club, which is why Arsene held fire, but I would have thought a player could have been sounded out instantly and although they may not have been 100% ready, we could have them already in by now.

There’s still talk about Manolas joining, medicals already being completed, blah-blah-blah, but this won’t now affect the squad taking the trip out to play in Istanbul so we just have to make do for this game at least. Hopefully Kos’ injury doesn’t turn out to be a long-term issue.

Injuries have long plagued our ability to go the distance in league competitions of years past, as well as fighting on multiple fronts, so my fear is that we’re already starting off on the wrong foot at this early stage of the season. It’s nobodies fault, I don’t believe anyway, but it is something that could derail us if we get another one of those Physioroom.com injury league table topping seasons.

It’s probably why transfer rumours will inevitably continue right up until the end of the month, which is what we can expect in this sensationalist world we live in these days, but it sounds as though Arsenal are closing in on the young lad Rabiot from PSG and Vargas from Napoli.

I know nothing of these two players, but it sounds as if they are young players being bought in to add a bit of depth to the team. We’ll see how much of the speculation becomes fact over the next ten days or so. There’s no doubt that we need more bodies in certain positions, but they need to be bodies of quality and not just young players that Arsene is taking punts on. No more Amaury Bischoffs, but more Patrick Vieira’s would be handy, so we’ll wait to see whether Arsene opts for a more polished diamond, or one that he can work on a bit.

We all know he likes a rough one to work on, but after the clear difference between Giroud and Sanogo on Saturday, don’t we want to be seeing and established player come in to fight Per/Laurent and Arteta/Flamini for those roles where we are a little short? I know we have to take into account squad harmony and the sheer volume of players we already have on the books, but we don’t want to have a situation like the one we’ve got at the moment with our centre-halfs, so I’m hoping that we bring in the quality needed. After all, nobody really wants to see Chelski win the league, do they? And Moneychester City won it last season, so for the sake of variety, we owe it to the wider footballing community to blow away all opposition this season.

That’s that from me today. See thee in the morrow.

The Arsenal matchday begins. I love it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embracing every advantage

Happy Friday you sexy Gooners!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adios amigos.

The DeJa Vu blog

Hello there again. How do?

It feels like I’ve written this blog before. You know, the one where I talk about the irrelevance of ‘pundits’ opinions like Phil Thompson or Gary Neville (although the latter certainly offers something by the way of actual insight, instead of baseless opinions without any real solid evidence to back it up), the players that are feeling and sounding positive (Szczesny and Arteta this time on the official site), as well as the odd bit of transfer tittle-tattle too (rumours of Greek defender Manolas were rife lat night). It’s all very DeJa Vuey.

Of course, the scrips has been rehashed a bit and it’s different people saying a variation on something similar, but I guess that’s what you get at this time of year. As the anticipation ahead of the new season starts, there are plenty of clicks and hits to be gained from media outlets, so they do all in their power to sup at the speculation and opinion well before it runs dry and is replaced by the actual football that takes place.

It’s funny actually, because I find myself the complete inverse to these media outlets: I start off the summer quite happy to read the odd speculative story, but by the time we get to mid August I just want them to disappear like a Big Brother contestant after the competition has ended. I’m ready for the football now and counting down the days until, at the very least, I get to write a match preview.

As for the speculation itself, with Kostas Manolas left out of Olympiakos’ game yesterday against Wigan (I think it was Wigan but am happy to be corrected), the airwaves began to a’tremble and assumptions began to be made that Arsenal are after the young Greek international. I am certainly no scouting expert and as El Hadji Diouf proved, the World Cup is hardly a blueprint for finding the world’s best players regardless of what form they’ve shown in the competition, but with nothing else to go on with the player it’s my only reference.

At 23 years old and with a pretty solid World Cup behind him, if Arsenal really after him, then it wouldn’t be the worst move in the world. I don’t know many Greeks that travel well in footballing terms, but with Per and Kos ahead of him in the pecking order, it would keep the pressure slightly off him to hit the ground running if he did sign this season. If you think about how Per was thrown in at the deep end and discarded as a flop because of his lack of pace in his first season, it gives me a bit of comfort to know that a player coming in will have that bit of reduced pressure on his shoulders.

If the sums are to be believed as well – that Olympiakos are looking for around £9million for him, then it would effectively almost be cost neutral, as Vermaelen joined Barca for £8million plus add ons. Of course, a price tag is no guarantee of quality, but from the World Cup showings I saw, he looked like a good player and I actually thought he was older than he is at the World Cup. I guess that could potentially show a maturity to his game that would be welcome at The Arsenal.

Did you watch the Super Cup last night? I caught the first half and I must say the attacking options of Real Madrid looked scary. I don’t know whether Ancelotti plans on running with an eight man attack, but he has quality busting out of every corner of that team and it must be a tough time being a Barca or Atletico Madrid fan right now, because they will surely be favourites. Of course with Khedira not even making the squad there were rumours abound that this was to facilitate a transfer, but I believe there’s truth in Arsene’s words and that we’re not after him. I don’t know if we were, but the most pressing need has to be a centre half right now and so if the club are putting all their attentions into that, then I’m fine with it.

The squad is looking good in my opinion and after a brief Twitter exchange with some friends last night about how the defence cost us the league last season (I vehemently disagreed with that), I think another central defender would see us in good shape for the next nine months of football. I think what cost us the league last season was our lack of pace in the final third when key players went missing. Games against Swansea, Stoke and Everton in the latter stages of the season saw us slow and lethargic and it allowed opponents to play high lines and press very closely from the front. If you add pace into those game where we were woefully exposed, those teams naturally wouldn’t play such high lines, which would in effect, give space for midfield players to assert more dominance to a game and also reduce the burden on our back line. Simples.

That’s all I gots for you today. Probably won’t be a blog tomorrow as I might not have time, but will certainly see if Steve can pull his finger out of an orifice and write something.

See thee on Friday.

Signed Theo Walcott Canvas in Willow Charity Auction

Hi all,

I don’t normally do this sort of thing – two blogs in a day!!! – but this is for a good cause and so I thought it’s worth drawing to your attention. Below is an overview of a great auction that is taking place between 4th to 14th September to raise money for the Willow Foundation.

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Best of British sporting heroes captured on canvas
The biggest sporting moments from the best of British, including Theo Walcott, have been immortalised on canvas and will be auctioned from September 4 to 14 for Willow – the only national charity working with seriously ill young adults aged 16 to 40 to fulfil uplifting and unforgettable Special Days.  The artworks will be on show at a public exhibition, September 9 & 10 at Bonhams, London W1.

Britain’s top sporting heroes Mo Farah; Lewis Hamilton; AP McCoy; Theo Walcott; Steven Gerrard; Wayne Rooney; Andy Murray; Sir Bradley Wiggins; Sir Ben Ainslie; Ian Poulter; Justin Rose; Hannah Cockroft and Christine Ohuruogu have all taken part in Sportwaves.  The stunning collection depicts a fine art portrait of the sportsman in action, combined with a digital soundwave of the moment captured.

Each original artwork has been signed by the sporting great and will be available to view at the public exhibition, and to bid for online in the charity auction.  Artwork is available to view now at http://www.sportwaves.org

Each piece has been created by artist Rob Highton, whose stunning work includes paintings of sporting heroes, music and popular culture, and Tim Wakefield, a new media artist whose work features the exuberant infusion of digital sound waves with paintings.

“The combination of fine art and high profile sporting heroes is an exciting match for any sport or art lover.  The Sportwaves collection captures special moments in sporting history.  Funds raised at auction will enable Willow to provide its own special moments for those living with life threatening conditions at a time when they need it most,” said Bob Wilson, Willow co-founder and Life President.

To date Willow has provided more than 10,000 Special Days for people living with cancer, cystic fibrosis, motor neurone disease, muscular dystrophy, organ failure and Huntington’s, amongst other conditions.  These Special Days enable them and their families to reconnect and refocus on each other while enjoying an activity of their choosing. A day for them, a day about them and a day that will create memories they will treasure forever.

Willow was founded by former Arsenal goalkeeper and TV presenter, Bob Wilson and his wife, Megs, as a lasting memorial to their daughter, Anna, who died of cancer aged 31.

For more information about Willow visit http://www.willowfoundation.org.uk or telephone 01707 259777.

The excitement of a new season builds

Morning you lot, hope it’s a good one for you, as we count down until kick off on Saturday.

I don’t know about you, but I’m more excitable than John Terry at a WAG birthday party, when all his fellow team mates are at football training. This season has seen a good summer of business, some good results for us to raise excitement further – the Community Shield being the first case in point – and Le Boss still tantalising us with comments that he’s still on the look out for those finishing touches on his squad to make it complete.

I went to my first Arsenal game aged eight and even to this day the sheer excitement at going is matched even now I’m a thirty something with a season ticket. The butterflies, the clock watching until Saturday early evening, the anticipation as to what team Arsene will choose to swipe aside Tony Pulis’ Palace, it’s all there and it’s all waiting for you and I. Roll on I say, roll on.

I guess the only element of the beginning of the season that is always a bit ‘meh’ is the whole ‘get a former player to come out and predict the league table’ bumf. It’s an irrelevance designed simply to wind up fans unless you’re a bookies favourite, but even back in the days when we were favourites, I didn’t want us to be, lest the football karma gods saw fit to conspire against us in not winning the league. I always preferred it when we’d come from nowhere to sneak up and win the title. Like in 98, when we looked pretty gone after a defeat to Blackburn (my memory deceives me as to whether it was home or away – I think away) and were written off, only to pull out one of the best runs of victory I’ve seen from an Arsenal side.

Last season we were the front runners for most part of the campaign, only to be pegged back in the last two months due to injury and fatigue, so I’d be quite happy for us to do the reverse this season. If there are any footballing karma gods listening, or even some kind of Leprechaun on holiday that wants to do a bit of granting, I’ll happily abide with this request.

Ol’ Ray Parlour’s had his say on the title race, thinking that we’ll be fourth behind the two oil whore clubs and Manchester United, which I find very interesting. I mean, I get the excitement over the Van Gaal appointment and I understand that he’ll be a cut above David Moyes, but is he not still working with the same players that finished seventh last year? I know they’ll be more heavily motivated than last year, dressing room harmony may be better and he can get that extra xx% from them, but for a few years we’ve been told that this squad is ageing and ailing somewhat and I haven’t seen any superstar signings to suggest to me that they will be an all conquering team for the league.

Who knows, maybe they’ll have the Liverpool factor from last season, profiting from the lack of Champions League football by being fresher for other games. We’ll see.

But anyway, back to The Arsenal and our excitement for this season, which I think is totally warranted if you look at the polar opposite of the beginning of last season. A shambles in the transfer market, fans in-fighting more than ever before through social media channels, as well as a general malaise as our neighbours were spending a fair wedge on signing all the available players in the known universe. I think back to the predictions of pundits that there would be a Spuds assault on the title and an Arsenal fall from top four grace like never before, and I am immediately comforted by predictions that Arsenal won’t make the top four from boredom merchants like Michael Owen. Chirp away my friend, chirp away, because we’ve seen it all before you see. Us Arsenal fans, we’re kind of used to it you see, we know what we’ll get from ‘expert pundits'; who are essentially ex professionals that have donned a suit and are now pretending to know something about the game. Just because you played it guys, doesn’t mean you’re best qualified to try and articulate it’s intricacies and tactical nuances of modern day football. Nor, might I hasten to add am I, but I’m just a fan blogger and not somebody trying to earn a buck by getting my opinion heard of TV. Messieurs Alan Shearer, Steve McManaman, Robbie Savage and Garth Crooks take note please.

But again, back to The Arsenal, and the excitement. Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud are playing with our heart strings and talking up our title challenge this season, aren’t they? Both have spoken about the harmony in the group – which feels like something forged from last summer – and how all of the players are close, with the necessary additions to add depth to the team. Yes, we need a little more to add to the squad – a couple more cookies to make the biscuit tin all full and yummy looking (no coconut please) – but the nuts and bolts of a league challenging side is there.

What I find interesting (and enjoyable) is the talk amongst us Gooners as title contenders. Last season we were just hopeful of being in it until the turn of the year, but there wasn’t really the expectation that we can win it. Now, along with some of the players, there feels like the expectation is there. It ‘feels’ like last season was a build up to the crescendo that is 2014/15. I don’t know about you, but I ‘feel’ like we’re ready for that league title. Much like Moneychester City did when they won the FA Cup in 2011 (I think), it feels to me like we’ve wrestled with the ‘no trophy’ demon and now we’re ready for the glory.

I certainly hope so.

See thee tomorrow. Or on Twitter or something.