Arsène delivers a striker; Jack needs to deliver an injury free season

You want a striker?”

Yes.

You want a striker?”

Yes.

YOU WANT A STRIKER?”

YES!

“FINE! Here’s a striker. Now get out of my office!”

That’s what I imagined Arsène’s response to be to those people who are practically gnawing their arms off with the fact we haven’t signed a striker yet, after it was announced that we’ve picked up Ajax youth academy graduate Donyell Malen.

It will be one for the future (because he’s only 16) and of course my parody above is meant tongue-in-cheek, but after seeing young Jeff Reine-Adelaide light up at the Emirates Cup, I don’t think there can be too many complaints that we’re picking up young talent for the academy to see if we can’t unearth the next gem. And besides, he’ll be schooled well at Arsenal and if he doesn’t make it to the first team, we’ll most likely cash in on him when he reaches his early twenties anyway.

Also, there really aren’t enough Donyell’s or Donell’s in this world, especially in the footballing world. I used to love Donnell Jones’ music, so if our new Donyell can be as silky on the ball as Mr Jones was on the mic, we’ll be in for a treat. 

Speaking of treats, wouldn’t it just be the sweetest of them all if Jack Wilshere could stay fit for the whole of this season, eh? That’s what angle Arsène has been pushing via the official site and quite frankly, it’s hard to argue that he’s wrong. Super Jacky has seen such a stuttery last few years and I’m in no doubt that it’s hampered his development. Let’s not forget that six or seven years ago he was exciting us all with his ability on the ball to dribble past players, his ‘burst’ over five yards as Arsène calls it, as well as his tenacious attitude. He showed glimpses of his ability towards the back end of last season and has looked pretty good in preseason so far too. There’s no doubt it’s going to be a big season for him, but the challenge of getting in to this team could provide a welcome one for our boy Wilshere. He looks like the type who will be up for it; tongue out and head down, he’s one of a few players like The Ox or Theo, that have probably been earmarked by us all as ‘a big season for…’ territory. 

But it’s a big season for most of the squad. It has to be if we’re going to have a serious go at winning the league. I’ve said this before, but I’ve not felt as buoyant about a season since the Invincibles era. All of the psychological as well as the technical (in terms of quality of playing staff)  shackles feel like they’ve been removed. If Arsène is to win the league before his time is up at Arsenal, it does feel like he has to do it now, because we look and sound like the part.

This weekend is a friendly. In the grand scheme of things it means relatively little. But it would be nice to lay down a marker. 

Three days and counting. Come on Arsenal.

Arsène behaves like my mum wanted me too with press comments

Did you ever get told by your mum to ignore the chants of other boys/girls? To brush away callous name-calling with a simple rendition of “sticks and stones”? And did you find it really difficult to understand why your mother didn’t tell you to open up a can of whoopass on the individual in question? 

I did. I often found the idea of ‘turning the other cheek’ an irksome one. How can mothers understand what it is like when you’re in the middle of a playground surrounded by the mob that is your fellow school pupils? 

(My mum was a Maths teacher, so clearly in hindsight she understood more than any, but try telling that to a ten year old Chris)

I wanted to be able to brush away the name-calling, but I just didn’t feel strong enough to simply shrug my shoulders. That’s why I admire Arsène’s response to the press interpretation of the Mourinho comments yesterday. The season before last, after Arsène had made some comments about managers being afraid of failure, Jose took the baiting of the press and bit back with his “Specialist in Failure” jibe. At Arsène’s pressed yesterday, the reverse happened when the press tried to turn Mourinho’s comments into something to get a sound it’s out of Arsène.

He simply dismissed it. Doused the fire with good humour and essentially did what my mum had told me to do all those years ago. He shrugged it off.

That’s why Arsène’s the better man. He’s the more composed, more eloquent and I’m thankful we don’t have a snarling and over-reactive Portuguese as our boss.

Now, let’s start to reverse the recent history with a win against Chelski this weekend, Arsène. And afterwards, let’s take that Premier League trophy from Mourinho, just for kicks.

The early team news ahead of the game on Sunday looks like it will see the continued absence of Welbeck. It’s a bit of a shame really because it will mean he’s had absolutely no preseason and if we’re all honest, with players like Mesut talking about this importance of a good preseason for a footballer, I’m not sure it bodes too well for Danny. 

Even if he’s back for next week’s game, he’ll be nowhere near fully fit and unless he is able to fast track his own delayed preseason, I don’t think we’ll see him anywhere near his best until probably October time. It’s hard enough getting in to this Arsenal team with so many players fit now, let alone when everyone has stolen a march on you by having a full preseason, so I hope Welbeck can recover and not lose any confidence if he isn’t straight back in to the team.

I think he’ll get his chances though. Arsène promised as much to Chambers yesterday when asked about whether he’d go out on loan. Having only just celebrated his anniversary on joining the club, I suspect Arsène is still looking at engraining in him ‘The Arsenal Way’ of playing, which is why a loan is out of the question. But also probably because he will definitely play games. Four centre halves will almost certainly be used this season and, with Koscienly’s dodgy calfs, having both Chambers and Gabriel waiting to take advantage, it gives Arsène the opportunity to rotate actual central defenders rather than play full backs (even though Monreal and Debuchy made good attempts at it last season). 

That must be true for Welbeck too, so whilst there were some rumours of a move to Turkey in the press last week, I can’t see Arsène offloading him. He’s spent a season adapting to a whole new way of life, so it stands to reason that it was going to be a similar adaptation to his teammates and I expect we’ll see better things from him this season.

The countdown is well and truly on for the proper stuff to start and although the Community Shield is somewhat of a halfway house between friendly and the real thing the following week, I’m excited about how we might line up this weekend, because it’s a half decent indicator of how close we are to Chelski in terms of seriously believing we can take points off them this season. 

Sticks and stones may break some bones, but I’d rather we break Chelski hearts with what’s done on the pitch this weekend and come May next year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It does to me. 

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

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

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

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

Laters peeps.

What if. What if. What if. Don’t lose your sh*t gooners.

Honestly. I love our fanbase for the variety and volume of Arsenal fan that there is, but sometimes we all need to take a deep breath and chill the eff out, because life truly is too short.

Yesterday one of the Arsenal lads in my office called out from his desk that Schneiderlin had finally signed for Man United. Let’s ignore the fact a United fan sits nearby and was immediately grinning and asking me how upset I was at that. Especially as they now had Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin and all we had was Ozil and Coquelin.

I had to turn back to my computer and give a wry smile because, quite frankly, we have the two better players I believe. I also believe that this time of the year is one in which hope is stronger than ones memory, which is why you get people making ridiculous comments like “this will be their year. Just look at those signings. What a team on paper”. I remember Stan Collymore saying that Paulinho could be the final piece in the Spud jigsaw for a title, or at least a top four challenge. It stuck in my mind as a statement purely because little was known about Paulinho other than he’d made a successful start to a national team career and he came for a lot of money. Now he’s in China having bombed at Spudsville. Some of you may remember Florin Raducioiu signing for West Ham for big money after a good international tournament. He was expected to be a star at the Hammers and flopped quicker than Hugh Grant’s hair. It’s because he just didn’t work at West Ham.

Schneiderlin may turn out to be a good signing. He may also turn out to be Paulinho in Manchester.

But what if we get injuries? What if we don’t sign any other players? What if we have to rely on Arteta?

What if? What if? What if?

What if Schneiderlin signs for Arsenal and gets injured in the first week of the season? Are we then all going to be saying “well that’s ok, because we have cover, and we’ve already picked up an injury in that position so God won’t allow us to get more than one player injured in the same position”? No, didn’t think so, because we all know that life doesn’t work like that. We could have signed Schneiderlin, lost him and Coquelin for a period of two months and we’d be in this position anyway.

And besides, what’s with all the Arteta bashing anyhow? I don’t really get it if I’m honest. He’s a player who has served us very well and has been the foundation of a decent unit not 18 months ago, so why on earth has his stock plummeted so much in such a short period of time.

Injury. That’s it. As opposed to some players, in which absence makes the heart grow fonder, it appears that for Tricky Mickey absence has made the heart a cold and unforgiving thing. Arteta is, and will continue to be this season, a good player with an intelligence that will only be visible when he plays. But he’s got to play in which you will be able to see it. Until then, there will be too many people who will look at his date of birth, declare “his legs have gone” and dismiss his contribution to the team. I know it’s a different sport, but over the last two weeks I’ve watched a 33 year old Roger Federer do battle like a 23 year old in tennis. He’s the same age as Arteta and so why is nobody saying his “legs have gone”? Because what we see with our eyes contradicts such a statement. So it is with Arteta.

In the 2014/15 season he picked up a number of injuries which limited his time on the pitch. In between those injuries he played the odd bit-part, but never really got the chance to get any kind of run in the team or form going. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve said that players need a run of games to show their true value. The fact of the matter is that Arteta hasn’t had his run of games with which to make an accurate assessment of whether or not he really has had his time at Arsenal. Just because he picked up some injuries, doesn’t mean he’s a busted flush people. Jack Wilshere has had time out because of injuries, but his time at Arsenal hasn’t really been called on by goners I know, so why Arteta? Because of his age. That’s it.

Well I say that if his age is the only thing from anybody feeling comfortable that he is a very good back up, then pretend he’s 28 and then imagine how you’d feel if he was second in line to the ‘DM’ throne behind Coquelin. There, does that make you feel different? Does to me. All of a sudden I’m looking at our squad and thinking that we’re pretty much there. We can compete for the title. Heck, had we not stuttered at the beginning of the season, we would have done. I saw a brilliant comment on Twitter yesterday from Billy Dunmore which was perfect to describe where we’re at:

If we look at squads like cake. United are still layering theirs, whereas we are on the hunt for icing and cherries

Spot on the money there, Bilbo. We don’t need to be spunking cash on players who may or may not be successful. Remember, we’re in the ‘megastar signing’ bracket now. Schneiderlin is a good player, but he’s no megastar. Schweinsteiger is a decent player, but we have better, younger, less injury-prone players in our midfield who have played in the Premier League for many years. How do we know Schweinsteiger won’t Falcao up the joint? We don’t.

So let’s not lose our sh*t over a few United signings. Think about how far we have come since United won the league. Think about the two respective squads. United seem to be about big names. We’re about harmony, balance and competing for the title. United have to build a team with (most likely) a new ‘keeper, will probably need to look at their defence and with That Dutch Bloke and Falcao gone, they need another striker. We don’t need half of the surgery they need on their team, so chill, peeps.

We’re ready. I believe it. The players now believe it. I believe them.

A combination of a heavy night’s drinking on Thursday, coupled with centre court tickets to Wimbledon on Friday, conspired to prohibit me from blogging yesterday. But in true ‘they’re all agin me!’ style, the fates decided that they should release some interesting quotes from players and some good pictures for me to look at on the official site too, so I suppose if I was looking at this with a half full glass, I could say that at least I have some stuff to talk about. And look at.

And if pictures can tell a thousand words, I’m glad when they also tell less, because I can’t be arsed to look at a picture that’s going to take me that long to digest it. So it’s pleasing when pictures tell about a dozen words, which include:

Our shiny new ‘keeper is world class and has a funny hat.

Of course one has to feel sorry for Ospina, who is saying all the right things by declaring that he wants to keep his place. But whilst he has a somewhat entertaining chant, he is distinctly lacking in the hat department, so I can see why Arsene made the decision he made to bring a new man in.

As for the spoken word of players, whilst I was sunning myself in SW19 yesterday, I took time in between Roger Federer’s smashing of Andy Murray to have a look at the Sky Sports website and saw that Aaron Ramsey was quoted as laying down a challenge to Chelski for this upcoming season. I know talk can be cheap, but I have to say I have been loving the players attitude since we won the FA Cup for the second time. I don’t know about you, but it finally sounds like they believe they should be up there. Arteta, Mertesacker, Alexis, Wilshere, Ozil – all have made comments of differing levels of happiness with the FA Cup but ultimately saying that they want more. It just feels like this group of players believes in itself more than ever before. It feels like they are ready and by Jove, doesn’t that make you feel good as an Arsenal fan?

He spoke of keeping players fit, of challenging for the title and of his own career too. And when you have the desires and the potential of a team like this Arsenal team, players want to stay and players want to join us. Ramsey admitted he was flattered to be linked with Barcelona but despite all of that hubbub, if we are challenging for titles both domestically and abroad, we can keep all of our players. London is a great place to live, the Premier League is the best league in the world and if Arsenal are one of the best teams, then I think even the lure of Barcelona or Madrid would be easier to turn away.

I realise I might be getting a little too excited here by talking about fending off a Madrid or Barcelona if they come calling for our players – and I do acknowledge that right now we’re not up there – but what if we win the league and get closer to the Champions League than our regular exit in the round of 16 or quarter final? What if we start to turn the corner and become the team like we had 11 years ago? We kept Patrick Vieira from numerous Real Madrid advances and if players are winning things at Arsenal then we can keep players like we used to back in those halcyon days.

The trick for us will be keeping all of our best players fit, as Ramsey says in his interview. The back end of last season showed that if Shad and his crew are keeping everybody fresh, if Arsene rotates properly and if we can start the season off like we finished this season, we’re strong enough to have a go at the league. Think about what did us over in 2013/14 – a lack of an option other than Giroud. We had no Walcott (injured), no Welbeck or Alexis and we ended up with few options. Heck, even Bendtner played against Hull that season! So even if we didn’t sign anybody else (although I hope we do), we will still be competing. I’m convinced of that. If we start the season like 2013/14, even injuries to the team won’t mean we’re completely derailed, as we have plenty of cover (nearly) everywhere.

This isn’t just a over-the-top puff piece that is me trying to convince you to get excited about he season ahead without any real belief. I truly do believe we’re ready now. More than we’ve ever been.

Alexis’ success good for us?

Alexis Sanchez will be a happy boy today, after chipping the winning penalty to see Chile win the Copa America, so after a season of somewhat success at Arsenal just gone (and I say ‘somewhat’ not because of his personal success, or the teams, but I get the feeling the squad are all happy with the FA Cup but expected us to do better in the league) he can feel very happy with life at the moment.

He’s integrated in to a new team with consummate ease, he’s leathered in an FA Cup final goal in May and has notched himself a winning penalty for his international team too. The hope is that this will just provide more hunger, more determination and more motivation to help Arsenal succeed with our goal of winning tghe league next season.

Of course, we know from this time last year, that winning international competitions doesn’t actually always mean a good thing for returning players. Big Per admitted he found it harder to motivate himself after the extreme highs of the World Cup and Mesut Ozil also suffered with form before getting injured and then returning the superstar we all know he is. But whilst you cannot rule out such dip in form for Alexis, I don’t think there’s many of us that would think that he’ll be in the same category as our two Germans, simply because of the personality he is. He is an Energizer Bunny. His effervescent presence is amazing and it wouldn’t surprise me if he is calling up Arsene this week and telling him he’ll not be doing a holiday this summer, that he’s just going to go straight in to the next season with pre-season training now.

But we know that can’t happen. We know that he’ll need a rest and he’ll need to let his body recover, which means that he’ll most likely be given a month by Le Boss to rest and relax, before rejoining his treammates in training at the beginninng of the season. The only problem we’ll have there, however, is that he’ll probably need another month to get back to full match fitness. It means there’s a chance for others to prove themselves and so I do wonder who will be given the nod in that position during the early months of the season. The Ox on the left with Theo on the right? Welbeck? He’d be refreshed and ready to go after an injury-hit end to the season. perhaps Arsene will experiment with a new formation? That’s something that I’m sure will have my old friend Dave Seagar will be excited at the prospect of, I can tell you.

 

 

What Arsenal need to win the Premier League

Howdy there and happy Friday to you. It’s the end of a working week for some and a holiday week for others, but we’re still waiting on a signing that might or might not happy and whom I’m pledging not to talk about until it does, even though I kind of already have in this opening paragraph, albeit indirectly.

So let’s move swiftly on, perhaps veering towards another supposed interested target in which the Arsenal Twitterverse has already set it’s sights on imploding because of, which is Schneiderlin to Man United. Firstly and foremostly, we don’t even know if Arsenal were truly interested in the player. If they were and have baulked at the price, then perhaps we should let sleeping dogs lie. Remember when Madrid tried bending Arsenal over backwards for a massive loan deal fee for Nuri Sahin, only for Arsenal to turn away and Liverpool to snap up? Sahin turned out to be one of those that didn’t quite work out and the upshot was a single year in the Prem before moving back to Germany. Sometimes things don’t work out and after back-to-back FA Cups and a team that is showing real signs of being competitive next season, I’m willing to place a foot firmly back in the ‘Arsene knows what he’s doing here folks’ camp. It’s only one foot though, mind.

This talk of Schnedierlin and how we’ve ‘missed out’ gets you to thinking though. What do we actually need to win the league? Is it a new ‘keeper, another centre half, another defensive midfielder, a striker and perhaps another winger? Or is that just Champ Man speak? Is that the budding gamer in you telling you that new players on the horizon is what we need? Whenever I start to get a little bit worried that we’re not as strong as other clubs who seem to be mobilising their squads quicker than we do, I only have to think back over the last two seasons to realise that sometimes winning the league is more about everything else other than transfers. The Spuds tried a bit of Football Manager style approach to the 2013/14 season and spent £100million on new players. Didn’t work out. The Scousers had a go last season too. Didn’t work out. So what do we need to win the Premier League?

Not a wealth of new signings. In fact I’ve said a few times that we need just one or two and we’re all set. But we do need to do things differently to last season to win the league and make good on the 13 point difference on Chelski.

We need to keep a greater number of players match-fit.

When Carl Jenkinson came into the Arsenal team two and a bit seasons ago, he managed a sustained period of games and so was given the opportunity to show that he’s a good footballer. Last season he proved that with game time he can improve. Last season Nacho Monreal found himself with a series of games – albeit some in central defence but it still did his confidence good – in which he was able to get the rhythm, feel and flow of the league and so the comments from some sections of the fan base about how he wasn’t good enough the season before, soon subsided and he will in all probability start the season as first choice number one. But Unless Gibbs is given more game time, unless he’s afforded an opportunity to get a run in the team, let’s not expect him to challenge Nacho for the starting jersey. That’s why I’m a fan of playing the best players for a specific type of game. If we’re playing a pacey wide man, like Raheem Sterling, for example, wouldn’t you feel more confident if a match-fit Gibbs could get as close to matching him on the left? I know I would.

It’s the same across the park. We need to make sure that in each position the manager needs to try different types of player and rotate his team based on not only their own attributes, but also on ensuring that we counter any of the oppositions strengths and in defence we target their weaknesses. Should we place Giroud up top against the likes of Terry and Cahill? Or should we try to neutralise them by playing a trio of pacey players who will make runs in behind?

Start the season better

It’s a fairly obvious statement to make, but we simply must be better in the opening couple of months. The excessive number of draws we had at the start of the season is what cost us last year. We laboured in games against Everton, Leicester, the Spuds and Hull and it stuttered our momentum. Never underestimate the value of momentum in football. It was the 2007/8 season in which we got so close to the title and that season success was a snowball effect in which we started brilliantly. In 2013/14 we had an initial blip at home to Villa, but shoddy refereeing was more to blame there than anything else, the result of our momentum after that game meant we led the league right up until March. If we can win at least six of our first eight games, I’d fancy that we stand a very good chance of building momentum, confidence and belief that we can challenge for the title.

Be better placed to deal with injuries

Again, it sounds obvious, but it is what helps teams win leagues if they stay fit. In 2007/8 we were derailed by the Eduardo leg break. In 2013/14 it was our reliance on a core of players and when one or two of those players broke down due to over use in February and March, we got in to a run of games in which we fell apart. You can’t legislate for all injuries, but you can mitigate some, by not overplaying players and therefore reducing their probability of injury. That, in turn, leads to more players playing more game time and so when called upon as I mention in my first point above, they will perform better for the team as a whole.

I think we’re excellently placed to achieve all of the above with success given our team. Think about your first team line up for that West Ham game. Got it? Now start to think about an alternative eleven that could play. Got that? Now think of some of the spares that you have left over. For me I have Ospina, Jenkinson (although I know he’ll go out on loan) Flamini, Rosicky, Podolski (again, most likely to leave but for now is still an Arsenal player), Gnabry – showed great promise before injury in 2013/14, Bielik (haven’t seen him play but the signs seem promising by all accounts), Campbell (again, hasn’t really done it yet but is still a full international) and Zelalem. Those names are the ‘third squad’ effectively. When you can boast the kind of talent we have to name two full squads and still have some decent players waiting for their chance, it tells me that your opportunity for success should be quite high. The challenge will be to keep the balance of the squad and keep all of the players fresh enough so they can play well when called upon.

Would I like us to sign a ball winning central defensive midfielder? Sure. Will I lose sleep over no signing in that position or up top? No way.