Ticking the boxes in Cech saga; rolling back the transfer clock

A Quick mosey around the online football world and what do you know? More ‘angles’ on the Cech deal. Surely it’s all reaching its inevitable conclusion now, right? I mean we’ve had the discussions between the clubs over a fee already poured over to the nth degree, the wages have been laid out bare for everyone to see and the whole world seems to know that Cech is on his way, but we were still waiting on former player mistakenly tweets something.

Thankfully we’ve now ticked that box, with former Arsenal full back (Ralph) Lauren telling the world that Cech was signing and it was a good move. Well that’s it now, right? Right? After all, Ralph has spoken and we all know that he’s Arsene’s right hand man, who regularly speaks to Le Boss and plays the role of confidante on the most intimate of Arsene’s Arsenal thoughts.

Or, to put it another way, he’s an ex-Arsenal player who knows about as much as you and I and therefore was just tweeting a message of what he thought would be a good signing when it happens. That doesn’t stop the media from going nuts though, eh? Anything for a bit of click-baiting.

Still, it could be worse. They could be really trying to pull an Arsenal transfer rabbit out of a hat by declaring that Jack Wilshere’s future is still up in the air amid interest from Moneychester City. This despite the fact that Jack has repeatedly stated that he wanted to stay at Arsenal, was referred to by Ivan as “one of you” at a recent Q&A and has also been told be Arsene Wenger – who has also told us through the official site – that he is not for sale. Yet still these rumours persist. I wonder if Moneychester City are compiling a list of transfer enquiries of English players so they can go to the Premier League and FA and say “Look, we tried, but nobody was willing to sell, which is why we had to go out and spend £99million on Paul Pogba”. If so it’s an interesting ploy, although I don’t think it will wash with the football authorities.

What will wash will be to develop your own players and stop spunking large amounts of cash on the ‘here and now’. Micah Richards is a perfect example. People say his career has stagnated over the last couple of years, but I never saw a player whose career stagnated. I saw a player who the newly incoming manager – Pellegrini – just didn’t fancy, so he marginalised Richards and eventually went for a free transferred Bacary Sagna. How’s that working for you now, anyway, Bac? If Moneychester City want to up their home-grown quota, they should try and adopt a more pragmatic approach. Or do what we’ve done and get them so young that by the time they hit he first team they’ll be home-grown players anyway!

Then they need to get themselves a nice pre-season tournament with which to give the fans a quick glimpse of a potential player before never seeing them again until the following season. I do love the Emirates Cup. Not enough to actually buy a ticket mind, but it does allow us to see a selection of young players and wonder whether there will be any that can Bellerin their way into the first team by way of a bit of a surprise. The details are now on the official site for the tournament in which we’ll see Bendtner line up for Wolfsburg and get to have a look at Lyon. Last year I looked at the teams in it and thought it was one we’d probably win hands down, but Valencia and Monaco took it a bit more seriously than we did and we ended up finishing third I think. I wasn’t really paying that much attention if I’m honest. The important thing was to see players like Falcao look brilliant before United got their mits on him and ruined him. Now it’s Chelski’s turn so let’s hope they Schevchenko him good and proper.

We could have a bit of a talk about the rumours of Carvalho from Sporting Lisbon, but I don’t feel I have the energy or inclination. Are the media websites that devoid of anything concrete that they have to step back in time a summer or two? Will we see the re-emergence of M’Villa? Hope not. Still, it’s better to be linked with farcical players than to list all of the players who have ‘rejected’ us. Really Benedikt? Did we come calling and yet you decided that Schalke and less money (because let’s face it, like it or not, our footballers in this country are paid way more than in German by and large) is a better option than Arsenal and Champions League football? Or could it be that Arsenal made a tentative enquiry and now you’re getting all excited and telling the world you were wanted by them before choosing to stay where you are? Hmm? I thought so. Back in your box boyo.

And I shall come out of mine. For the sun is out and there is more of the Algarve to explore.

Until tomorrow.

result doesn’t matter, but with Wembley on the horizon, the performance does

I really feel like keeping this blog to one line reading:

“For an analysis of last night’s game, see the Swansea game, only Sunderland didn’t have the killer touch that the team from Wales had”

It felt exactly the same, almost, didn’t it? I mean, you had a team who essentially decided that the perfect blueprint for a minimum point at the Emirates was to sit camped on the edge of their own box and throw as many bodies in front of the ball as possible. The result was a pretty boring game of attack versus defence in which we once again huffed and puffed with little to show from our efforts at the end.

We’ve now gone three games without a win and put in three pretty lacklustre performances, although one thing I will say about yesterday evening’s display is that at least we worked the Sunderland ‘keeper a bit more than we did Fabianski a week and a half ago. A bit like when we played United at home and made DeGea look superb by firing balls down his throat all night, Fabianski was also gifted a a relatively easy time, but yesterday Pantilimon put in quite a good display in between the sticks, knocking balls around the post and getting down to his side well on a few occasions from Giroud, Walcott and Alexis.

Sunderland also had the fortune of the post too, as Billy Jones could have scored an own goal, instead the ball rebounded off the cross-section between post and crossbar. At the time I thought it would only be fair given that Sunderland had come for a point and not really bothered to do anything other than defend.

I sound a little bit bitter about Sunderland’s defensive display, but in truth I can’t really complain as an Arsenal fan, because teams like Sunderland have always come to the Emirates and sat ten bodies behind the ball with one up top hoping to poach an odd goal. We have seen it this season and season’s past. My worry is that team manager’s will have seen those recent couple of home displays and will be thinking that there is clearly a blueprint for playing Arsenal and it’s the blueprint that has existed for many years. We thought that this team was kicking on to the next level, but in order to do that, you need to put games like this to bed against teams that really shouldn’t be sharing the spoils with you.

I worry that Timmy Sherwood watched that game last night with a smile and said to himself: “bit of pace on the counter and better finishers and we can play this style of football and catch Arsenal out”. If there’s a blueprint to frustrate Arsenal and pick us off – which Sunderland did on a couple of occasions with Defoe and Fletcher, you can bet Tim will look to emulate that. We can hope that Aston Villa try to play a more open and expansive style of football, but the reality is that why would you against Arsenal? When you know you can beat them by closing down hard and putting up a strong defensive unit whilst hitting on the break, you’re going to do it and I think that’s exactly what he’s going to do in just over a week’s time. I would.

Perhaps I’m being a bit over the top. Perhaps yesterday’s game was just one in which we knew only a point is really all we need, that’s what Sunderland needed, so we’re pretty much over the line. Only defeat to West Brom and a seven goal swing for Manchester United will see us drop down to fourth spot, so perhaps there was a bit of a motivational block in yesterday’s game? It didn’t feel like it though, did it? It didn’t feel like the players were taking it easy, which in a way almost worries me more, because if that was the case at least we could say “well, the game was almost a dead rubber, so what do we expect? They’ll raise it for the FA Cup final, when the game means something”. I really hope that’s the case, because if we play like we have done in the last few matches, I fear the likes of Benteke and Agbonlahor will be getting a few more counter-attacking successes than Fletcher and Defoe had.

I also thought we’d see some good performances from the players that were rotated back in to the team by Arsene. Gibbs, Wilshere, Ramsey in the middle, I thought did ok, but nothing really too impressive. It must be hard to stake a case for some of them for the FA Cup final. When Theo campaign on I thought he did well and made an impact, getting behind the Sunderland back 10, but his time on the pitch was limited to 20 minutes so he was always going to struggle to get straight in to the swing of the game and make a massive impact. But I thought he did give us a different dimension, he did give Sunderland something to worry about and he did play as a more orthodox wide man, which pulled them apart a little bit. Before that Arsene had gone for Wilshere out wide, rotating often with Ramsey and Ozil and again, much like when Ramsey plays wide right, we became far too central and tried too many intricate balls through a congested area around the Sunderland ‘D’. Playing a central player out wide right doesn’t work Arsene. Give Theo a go on Sunday and see if we have a more natural balance. If we do, you have your answer of what to do for the cup final.

Should we be worried about the result yesterday? Of course not. Should we be a little more concerned about the performance, given what looms on the horizon in terms of silverware? Perhaps. But that’s what Le Boss has to work out how to fix and make sure we’re ready for Wembley.

United preview: play with width and stretch an average back four

United at Old Trafford. A game in which historically has had extreme significance, but in very recent times has not been as intense as the early Arsene Wenger years. Neither side is competing for the league for one thing, which inevitably results in a reduction of the pressure, but at least both teams have something to play for today. I remember watching the drab 0-0 draw about five or six years ago when United had won the league and I’m pretty sure we were just about there in terms of Champions League qualification. It was horrid to watch and felt more like endurance training than anything else.

It won’t be like that today though I don’t think. On that day United were just out not to be beat and have a stroll in the May sunshine before parading the league trophy. Where as today they are hunting us down for the automatic Champions League place. We too want that spot quite badly, so it won’t be an Arsenal side prepared to just lie down and take a beating. I hope.

We’re two points clear of United and so a draw would not be the worst result in the world as it would mean that probably a point – with our superior goal difference – should see us just scrape over the line, but we want to do more than that in our next three games. We want to win all three and set up a bit of a confidence booster before the FA Cup final. Just look at Aston Villa yesterday. They were a shambles at the back and it looks like, with Premier League safety secured, they were just coasting on the south coast yesterday. Another performance like that next weekend from them would hardly be the best kind of preparation for an FA Cup Final, so the same must be said about us today, on Wednesday and against West Brom on Sunday next week.

The positive news for us coming out of Manchester is the notable absence of Wayne Rooney. Injured last weekend against Palace, he won’t feature today and given he has a Drogbarian habit of getting goals against us, it can only be a positive thing. Of course the down side is that That Dutch Bloke is back and fit to face us and aside from the game at The Emirates earlier in the season, he’s already bagged a few goals against us in the short time he’s been at United. One has to just hope that he has as forgettable game against us as he did earlier in the season.

Which by the way, I have still not forgiven the footballing gods for. I know we won the FA Cup game at Old Trafford and so perhaps some parity has been restored, but given the nature of the domination we had against United at home, it still doesn’t feel like we’ve been given all of the revenge we deserve. We smashed United that day and they scored with two out of the three attempts they had that day. Oh, and one of those attempts from Valencia wasn’t even going on target!

Yes I’m bitter. I’m bitter because we had so many years of being inferior to United, that when we finally clearly had a better team, they relied on some sort of mega spawny counter attack to win the game. Ok, it wasn’t spawny in so much as it was one of Big Per’s ‘I think I’ll be a winger’ moments for one of the goals, but it just felt like we weren’t getting the rub of the green that day.

I want us to have all the green today. Each little corner of it. Slopes, dips and undulations, I want us to beat United at Old Trafford in the league and bring balance to the force. Arsene alluded to it in his presser – that the victory would represent a symbolic significance to the team – and I think as we draw this season to a close, a perfect way to lie the ‘big-game bottlers’ tag finally to bed will be to win in Manchester once more this season.

Who will be charged with that responsibility? Well I’ll be shocked if it’s anybody other than the team that played on Monday night. We laboured all evening against a Swansea team that didn’t really want to come out of their own half, but today’s game will be almost completely different to that one. I hope, anyway. So I suspect Arsene will charge his players with popping the ball around confidently, being difficult to break down like we were away to City and also to some extent against United in the FA Cup, whilst hitting United on the counter. Just like they did to us.

It’s their last home game of the season and they can still see the possibility of finishing third if we eff it up today and then against Sunderland on Wednesday night, so I’m not expecting anything other than a very difficult afternoon of football watching. I promised myself I wouldn’t have a jar or two this morning, because I’ve been drinking enough alcohol lately, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see an Estrella in my hand come 4pm.

If we’re going to win this game, we need more from Giroud, Alexis and Ramsey. If we’re going to counter we need to do so with Ramsey actually adopting more of a wide man’s role, because if we flood the centre of the park I think it will slow us down and make us too lop-sided. We need to have a good balance going forward to stretch the United back four, a back four that really isn’t that great. But if all of our counter-attacking play is spread to the wide left position where Alexis is, then it will be easier for the likes of Valencia, Smalling and Jones to double up on the Chilean and stifle us. So having width gives us options when breaking out from the back. It gives Mesut and Santi the ability to spread the play to either flank and divide the defenders, giving the opportunity to isolate players like Rojo and increasing our chances of getting in beyond them. That’s where I see us getting joy and that’s where I hope Arsene will be telling Ramsey to be spending a bit more time doing today.

If you’re going, have a good one and I hope the weather holds up for you, if you’re an armchair gooner like me for today, see if you can hold out without resorting to booze. I bet you can’t. I probably won’t.

Laterz.

Permutations, as St Totteringham’s draws ever nearer

So it appears that it’s not just football in which there are some ‘boring boring’ tactics used, as Floyd Mayweather decided that yesterday he’d rather celebrate the equivalent of a 0-0 to beat Manny Pacquiao by winning on points in what I am reading from people on social media, was more of a snugglefest from the American. I’m sure John Terry was somewhere in his kit to walk around with Mayweather’s belts afterwards.

As for real football, there isn’t really much to get excited about today and I’m certainly not going to even dream of talking about that team eventually lifting the trophy this afternoon. It’s painful enough having to watch them play us twice a season, so that’s one lunchtime kick off Sky Sports can keep to themselves.

The 4pm kick off however, presents an interesting match up, because someone of the Spuds or Moneychester City will be dropping points this afternoon. That’s a good thing. If the Spuds lose today then only a draw on Monday night means that mathematically it will be St Totteringham’s Day celebrations for us all. A defeat will probably mean we’re on the brink of it anyway, because we have a +25 goal difference over that lot down the Seven Sisters Road. Just think about that for a second. 25 Goals. We have a better ratio of goals than them of 25. That’s like quarter of a season’s worth or something.

If the Spuds do win, however, St Totteringham’s Day will have to wait, but it should take us on the verge of securing a top four spot at the very least. That’s also good. Moneychester City will have played two games more than us and any kind of defeat takes the goal tally even closer; they’ve got +34 to our +31 at the moment.

A draw might even be the best result. It would mean that with three matches to play for both Liverpool and the Spuds, we would effectively need a Monday night win to be nine clear of Liverpool and another hefty swing of goal difference in our favour.

But we’re not looking down, we’re only looking up and we should be going for as close to top as possible. Man United did us a favour – well, I suppose it was West Brom that did us the favour – by losing to West Brom and that defeat means second place is well within our grasp. I know you get no prizes for second, but for a change, wouldn’t it be nice to not have to worry about qualifying via a double-header in August? Also, I’m pretty sure that finishing second will have a massive bearing on us being in Pot 2, in which we’ll most likely get a slightly easier group stage (in theory). So whilst there will be no pleasure in being runners-up in a season in which Chelski win the league, that might prove some consolation.

With Aston Villa also picking up wins left, right and centre, we need to maintain our momentum, because they’ll go into the FA Cup final with a spring in their step. I’m hoping that they can win a couple more games, get safe in the Premier League and then take their foot off the gas a little bit, because I don’t want to be facing a Villa team who have got a bit of swagger about them. When they knocked Liverpool out of the last round I was genuinely over the moon because I thought we should be able to cut down a Villa side with whom we’ve already picked up six points and eight goals, but as I see them picking up win after win under Timmy ‘The Gilet’ Sherwood, I worry that they will sweep into Wembley riding high on a wave of confidence that will have us looking a bit worried. Reading managed to contain and at times out play us and there’s no doubt Villa have a better side for this game to be much more difficult, more nervy and more worrisome than even last year’s cup final. Weve got a recent history of being outdone by Villa – especially at home, so I’d probably be more confident if the game was being played at Villa Park!

Still, let’s just be happy that we’re reaching the end of the season and we still have plenty to play for. Prior to last season we were in a cycle which seemed to be forever accepting a battle for fourth, so to have an actual trophy to play for two seasons running is a wonderful thing.

And on that note of positivity, I am going to say my goodbyes to you all. Have a happy Sunday and whatever you do, don’t put yourselves through the torture of watching events in West London unfold this lunchtime. Read a book, or do some chores, it will be much more fulfilling.

Competition stifles the national game in Europe

I tried to watch the Champions League last night, but soon got bored after the two favoured teams to go through pretty much made light work of their opponents, with Porto discovering that beating a Bayern team in the first leg only makes them angry. They should have taken a leaf from our book and had their bellies tickled so they can have a go in the Allianz last night. 

Diego Simeone can’t work out – with all the money we have in our national game – why our teams can’t perform in the latter stages of the competitions. There’s probably not one single factor that contributes towards it, if we’re all honest, no silver bullet or anything else. Arsène has spoken of the fact that there’s only three domestic cups teams can win and so it’s not easy to be one of the three in the whole country, but the odds become even harder when you think about Europe, with greater teams playing in a competition. 

Some people have put it down to mentality, to English teams not being strong enough to cope with multiple competitions, or even to the fact that teams on the continent play a different brand to us over here. I think that has something to do with it. We play at a higher intensity, more physicality and referees who are happy to have the game as robust as it is. But I think more than anything else it’s the competition that the English teams face that makes it harder for them to progress.

If Arsenal play Monaco on a Wednesday night, you can be damn sure that Monaco have had an easy couple of fixtures sitting either side of them, because their league isn’t as competitive. Or, they’d have played one of the big teams before/after a tie, but not two with a Champions League game wedged in between them. You just don’t get that in the Premier League. You have competition all of the time and that’s the reason we have the most marketable and profitable league in the world. 

By the way, as an aside, I don’t want you thinking we lost our two legged tie against Monaco solely because of the fixtures we had before and after it. There were a multitude of problems with that first leg that have already been analysed so I won’t scratch at a wound that appears to be scabbing and healing over.

Spain, Germany and France are so elitist when it comes to football, that the league is nowhere near as competitive, which allows for teams to – if not fully rotate – certainly mentality wind down before and/or after a Champions League Matchday. So I don’t think there’s anything we can really do. It’s all a bit ‘ying’ and ‘yang’ you see: you want the best league, you might not have the best teams then, because competition will dictate that the elitism of the other leagues will see the top two – possibly three – clubs of the other major leagues having their pick of the best players, as well as the bigger TV rights, ensuring the other clubs remain also-fans in a division where the top two are already decided.

But what about Arsenal news, eh? Well we’re still on slim pickings I’m afraid. There’s talk of a Per Mertesacker minor sprained ankle which will keep him out of Chelski, but as I said yesterday, the ability for Gabriel to slot in as well as he already has means that we should be covered well enough. Let’s just hope it’s not a longer term injury, because despite what people have said about Per this season, I still think our best defensive pairing right now is him and Koscienly. They’ve played together for longer and so have a better understanding of each other’s game, they compliment each other well and Gabriel is still adjusting to the pace and physicality of the league. I think he can still perform well for us this weekend, I just think Per has a lot to offer and isn’t as exposed when he has Koscienly beside him.

John Moss will be the FA Cup final referee, in an I humane level of trolling by the FA, so expect there to be much missing of penalties, obvious fouls and for him to take an age to waddle up to where the ball is after a quick counter attack. Still, it could have been worse, Villa could have been gifted Antony Taylor.

Ha, as I type this, I’ve just past Wembley. See you soon old friend, I am getting used to it being a regular occurrence and I like it.

There’s not really a lot else going on that I fancy talking about to be honest with you. Transfer rumours about Palermo strikers just feel draining. We’ve got a whole summer of this ahead so why start now? I don’t want to click bait anybody, this is just my Arsenal world where I can brain dump whatever’s on my mind, so transfer speculation just wears me thin. 

I’m sure Jose will have plenty to say that will wind me up enough for tomorrow, so I’ll take my leave, wishing you and yours a good day.

Wenger’s reunion can wait, our season is defined in the next few weeks

A reunion is on the cards in the New Year for our manager, as he finally, for the first time in his career, re-visits Monaco (in a proper competition) to square off against his old club. Yep, yesterday we got all the luck of the Irish as we were drawn against the easiest possible opponents that we were going to get in the next round, although as with everything in life we know that it won’t be easy when the matches eventually come around.

Just look at what happened to us when we played PSV all those years ago. we were probably the better team in both legs, yet our own profligacy cost us our space in the next round. So as much as we can view this tie as the best possible chance of progression we could have hoped for, the job still needs to be done both in London and the French principality.

Monaco got through their group having scored four goals. That’s pretty impressive in its poorness if we’re all honest. They have been forced to sell their star striker to some team based in the North of this country, and I believe I’m right in saying that they look a little like a spent force in the French league as well. We are hardly ripping up trees, but based on the respective quality of the English and French leagues, you’d expect us to be able to handle what they can throw at us.

There also seems to be some sort of cruel irony that Dortmund, who topped our group, have got one of the hardest group winner ties, as they go to Turin to square off against the current Italian Champions. Juventus won’t be an easy tie for them, but we needn’t concern ourselves with either side at this stage.

What we need to concern ourselves with it the run of games that takes place over the next couple of weeks that I think could define our season. Certainly if we want to be in Europe’s elite competition next year. With so many matches coming thick and fast, stringing together a series of wins can propel you from stuttering giants to steamrolling juggernauts, providing you have the right level of application. Oh, and it helps if you have any players fit to play as well, I suppose. This season we’ve certainly not been able to field our best eleven more often than not, but the Christmas period offers a slither of hope that we will not be the only ones. Think about it this way: our team are used to picking up injuries and we’ve learned that we have to muddle through somehow, unsuccessfully at times, I know. But it will come as no surprise to our players to be playing two games in a week and so one would hope that we’d better equipped to play three games in a week in comparison to those other teams at the top that haven’t had the same level of intensity so quickly. I am, of course, talking about the West Ham’s, Swansea’s and Southampton’s of this season. All have had good runs in the league up until this point, but with points coming so quickly and with inevitable injuries creeping up, the name of the Christmas game is rotation and it will be interesting to see how easily those teams can pick up wins with the level of squad rotation all teams probably need when you play three games in a week.

Perhaps I am clutching at straws a little bit, but I suspect we’ll start to see some teams falling away. That is not to suggest that we won’t drop points by the way; we’ve seen how easy we seem to have done so this season, but I just think that now is the time for us to assert our dominance on the rest of the division. We must start picking up wins and ideally, we need to do it next weekend against Liverpool. I was chatting to a Liverpool fan yesterday who was convinced we would smash them at Anfield, but I found myself needing to remind him that we are The Arsenal, that we give hope to those that have none at times. I hope I am proved wrong next weekend and we do smash them, because it will set us up for a massive Christmas. Think about it, a win away to Anfield, followed up by a win at home to QPR, would then put us in a fantastic frame of mind to take on a high confidence West Ham side that will fancy their chances at home. We need to be ending their hopes of Champions League football, then following that up by doing the same to Southampton. Maximum points over Christmas is probably more than we could realistically expect to get, but there’s no harm in dreaming at this stage of the season, is there?

As for the  rest of the Arsenal related news, it’s lots of interviews with players talking about emphatic responses for the Newcastle game, etc, etc. I understand that players with microphones thrust in front of them at the heat of the moment will be naturally buoyant after such a great performance, but I feel a little immune to their comments these days. We’ve heard it all before so many times, that all that really matters is what they say with their feet. And credit to them, you’re only as good as your last game and in the last game they were excellent. They just need to replicate that high intensity against the scousers next weekend.

I think I’ll call it a\ day for now. more tomorrow as we approach a crucial game/time in our season.

Get out of Birthday Jail Card used

Last night Arsène Wenger must have played his invisible ‘Birthday Get Out Of Jail’ card, because after what we all watched in Belgian last night, there are not many people who have a physical or emotional stake in the club that will argue that we didn’t get quite fortunate, by picking up the 2-1 win.

I suppose the counter-argument is that fortune would be a back pass that the ‘keeper shanks into his own net, where as our goals were entirely of our own making through our play, but if you watched the game in the same way I did I’m sure you’d agree too that we were fortunate.

We never ever really got going. Perhaps the warning signs were there early on, when Santi was fed a delightful ball by the stand-out performer Alexis, only for the Spaniard to shin one right into row z. In the opening exchanges of a game you think to yourself as a fan “that’s ok, it’s good we’re getting into those positions, so we’ll get another chance”, but you don’t expect to see the opponent ‘keeper not worked for the vast duration of the game thereafter.

Some way through the second half, it occurred to me that this felt very much like the Hull game, which was a real worry. We were laboured, lacklustre and lethargic all rolled into one and the quick interchanges of passing between players that has typified Arsène Wenger teams done the years just wasn’t there. I pointed out to The Management how static we were part-way through the second half. As if to help me prove my point, I was able to show her six passes in a row that were to players standing still. Successful football teams move into spaces, create gaps, pull teams apart and work at creating openings to fashion chances. I saw none of that for the duration of yesterday’s match from Arsenal players. Paul Merson had said at half time that it was as if none of the Arsenal players wanted the ball. For a change, I agreed with him.

The goal we conceded felt to me as if lessons had clearly not been learnt from the weekend. Another floated ball into the middle, another defender caught under the flight (this time it was Chambers), another half-decent header from a half-decent attacking player. DeJa Vu and Arsenal another goal down to a side that we really should have been out of sight against.

Let’s be honest, I don’t want to seem like I’m being disingenuous to our opponents of the evening, but that was a distinctly average Champions League side that we came across yesterday. You could tell from their build up play and potency in the final third that they were not a side that would trouble 95% of teams in the competition. But they troubled us. They troubled us quite a lot actually.

Midfield was virtually anonymous I have to say. Yes, the defence was at fault for us going behind, but our midfield had an evening to forget. Jack and Rambo hardly impacted the game at all and, whilst he has come back from injury only recently, I hope that it was his lay-off that caused another average display from Ramsey and not a sign of a dip in form. We want to see the Ramsey from last season, not a regression into the player that tried flicks and long passes to the frustration of everybody. Again, let’s put it down to regaining his fitness for now, but I didn’t see any real penetration from the midfield. There are a lot of people in the media world that wonder what Özil does, but without wanting to put an injured player on a pedestal, that is exactly the sort of game we needed him in. I saw about three or four very good forward runs throughout the game in which it only needed a good pass from a player with vision to see, but instead we chose the simple five yard sideways pass and chose to build up play slowly again. Mesut Özil is a great player because he sees those types of passes, and it was that cutting edge from a player with vision that we missed last night.

But for all of this anguish, for all of my assertions in other blogs recently that we have not ‘clicked’, perhaps I should give a smidgen of credit to the players for ultimately securing a vital victory that one hopes is essential in rebuilding what appears to be a fragile level of confidence amongst the players. The goal from Gibbs was an absolute pearler and Lukas Podolski showed exactly what he is – an absolutely deadly finisher – Benjy and Steve had to be virtually broken apart via Whatsapp last night!

So the job is done and the wounds are minor and repairable. But there needs to be a vastly improved performance against Sunderland on Saturday afternoon.

See you tomorrow.

 

Anderlecht preview: Victory to build momentum

Champions League Matchday 3 sees us make the short trip along the Eurostar to Belgium, where we line up to face Anderlecht tonight. But before I go into some thoughts on the game, a little rant, if I may…

This morning I was up early driving back from the inlaws (Management has broken her wrist and so she is being ferried to and from her work by Senior Management) when I heard full chapter and verse about the “amazing atmosphere at Anfield tonight. The Real Madrid players will have played all over the world, but this will be special” and I wondered ‘is there any other club that enjoys so much hyperbole thrown at it in relation to atmosphere as much as Liverpool?’. I would love to see what Liverpool do differently to us when we’ve entertained Bayern or Barca in the past. I’d wager little. But this media soft-spot for Liverpool is borderline nausea-inducing.

Anyway, moving swiftly on and towards all things Arsenal, who face a tricky – but not insurmountable – away trip to Anderlecht. It’s been made all the more testing by the fact we’re missing both first and second choice ‘keepers, as well as our first choice centre half and right back. It will mean a somewhat unfamiliar and rather raw look about our back five this evening, but even so this is a game that Arsenal really have to be looking at to win tonight.

If it’s true what Arsène says, that 10 points is a minimum target that usually achieves progression into the next stage of the competition, then this is the sort of game that can help to put a foot in the door of the next round. An away win followed by a home victory against the. Belgian champions will leave us with nine points and will probably mean that a draw in our final two games will at least see us progress. Of course we want to win the group, but qualification is the first hurdle to try to overcome. Defeat, or even a draw, will probably mean that we have to beat Dortmund at home and that is by no means a given seeing as we’ve already been beaten by them once this season and defeated last season on home soil.

But let’s not be fooled into thinking that we’ll sweep aside Anderlecht tonight. They will be in the mood for an upset and, having seen Arsenal labour the point on Saturday, I’m sure they will be looking at Hull’s performance and thinking they should be able to get something from the game. We are yet to fully fire on all cylinders in any competition (even against Galatasaray and Villa there were cracks) and that will give enough fuel for their belief.

I’ll confess that I have very little frame of reference when it comes to tonight’s opponents, as the Belgian League is not one that makes my ‘must see’ list. Save for Anthony Van Den Borre (once of Portsmouth) and Stefan Defour (not bad on Football Manager), I know few of their players and am not sure of the style of football the ‘Purple and White’ will produce tonight. But without wanting to be accused of the type of arrogance that is labelled at Wenger when he doesn’t analyse an opponent, I suspect that we’ll see a team that will want to start the game quite tight, keep Arsenal at bay for the first 15 minutes, then up the tempo gradually as they build their confidence.

Of course, because I do little research of note on our opponents, I could be completely wrong and we could see them try to catch us off-guard by coming flying out of the box. Our defeats to Dortmund this season, Chelski and Liverpool last season, we’re built on a foundation of speed and blitzing us in the first 15 minutes, so if Anderlecht do adopt that tactic it could stun us enough to leave us as docile as a sloth. At the weekend after both goals we looked a little shell-shocked for at least ten minutes after each goal, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Anderlecht managed tell his players to adopt the same tactic.

Of course that is not without it’s risks. Last season saw an Arsenal side that could be pressed high from the front to the back without fear our quick counter attacks. This season we have injected notable pace in Welbeck and Alexis and playing a high line to squeeze space between attack and midfield, as well as midfield and defence, would leave a lot of grass for our forward players to play with.

So whilst our back four will have a makeshift feel about it, the attacking side of the team will look a lot more polished, certainly on paper anyway. They may have looked rather lacklustre on Saturday, but the Champions League often brings a more expansive brand of football to it, so you’d hope that we can find more space for midfield and attack in tonight’s game than we did in the Premier League at the weekend.

Although Walcott is back, there’s no way he’d start (I probably should have checked to see if he’s in the squad, but my internet connection on my phone has just gone down as I’ve just entered a tunnel, so I’m out of options there!) tonight after such a lengthy injury, so I think we’ll see Alexis, Welbeck and The Ox as our most forward-lying players, with Santi, Jack and perhaps Arteta playing in the middle of the park. Arsène could go for Ramsey and Wilshere if he thinks that we’ll spend most of the game on the front foot, but with a rather youthful looking defence (Chambers will surely come in for Monreal), I think Arsène will consider giving the captain the nod in the hope that there is more protection for the back four.

Tonight is a game that could prove quite significant. After stuttering at the weekend, victory tonight will ensure we to into this weekend’s game against Sunderland off the back of victory and hopefully some added confidence. We have a run of winnable games (in theory) and we need to start building momentum now.

Come on you reds!

We wait on Debuchy; but not on Jack – why squad rotation is important

Morning friend, I hope you are well, recovering from the horrific prospect that after one game against a frankly awful QPR Man United are ‘back’ and ready to win every single game between now and the end of time? I’m certainly fearful of their awesomeness in every position. I mean, how will they ever concede again with the defensive solidity of Blackheart, Jones and Evans in their team? Football will become a boring repetition of 4-0 wins every week between now and the end of existence. Oh, woe is us, for life will never be the same!

Of course, the truth is a lot more palatable to stomach, which is that as the commentators on Sky Sports said yesterday that QPR were the perfect opponents to play at home after a series of poor results in the league. They were abysmal and I’d love to say that I can’t wait until they rock up at The Emirates, but you and I both know they’ll be disciplined, tough to break down and with a ‘keeper that decides to have the game of his life when we play them. It’s how things seem to happen in this universe.

The Arsenal chatter is understandably all about Mathieu Debuchy today, with the variation upon the theme being dependent on how long he will be out for, although the diagnosis from the journos appear to be that it’s ligament damage. Depending on who you believe there looks to be between two to three months out injured, which kind of figures, but there won’t be a better indication of the exact time for a few days I expect. Debuchy himself stated on his Facebook page that it was not a fracture and he was having further medical tests today, so I suspect it will be a pre or post match response from a prompt from Arsene that will give us an idea of his time on the sidelines.

If it does turn out to be about two months, it puts massive pressure on Chambers until December and with only Bellerin behind him in the pecking order, highlights just how ridiculous it is that Arsene has failed to fully address our overall options at cover in defence. There will be a lot of pressure on the first team defensive players and with our injury record even so far this season looking terrible (I think I saw somebody say that we have picked up an injury in every game this season or something crazy like that), you can almost certainly envisage a time in which we are down to Harry Redknappesque ‘bare bones’ between now and Christmas.

But let’s not get too caught up in the ‘what if’s at the moment, because there is the small matter of our opening Champions League game tomorrow night, a game in which we once again lock horns with Dortmund who themselves appear to have a bit of an injury crisis going on too. More on that tomorrow, but I’m just pleased the game has come ona Tuesday instead of a Wednesday, because I’m still not too sure whether or not I’m happy about a draw against the Champions on our own turf, as I mentioned yesterday. So the quicker I can put that result to the back of my mind the better.

One person who I’m sure will be starting will be Jack Wilshere and, with Arsene singing his praises about answering his critics, his performance on Saturday is exactly why I hope that we get better at using squad rotation this season. My view is that you can’t have the same 11 players playing the best football every game throughout the season. Footballers are human and are prone to off days, as Aaron Ramsey showed at the weekend, so for me it is important that you ensure that players are rotated enough so that they have enough game time under their belts to pick up where others are unable too, which is why seeing jack step up in the absence of a good performance from Ramsey, was so great to see. I love that Jack is one of ours, that he’s an Arsenal youth product and that he’s English, but if I’m honest I just want to see 11 players in an Arsenal shirt playing well and winning matches. That’s what counts and if that means that they all have to come from Venezuela, Bogotá or Singapore, I don’t really care as long as The Arsenal are on top.

So for me, the most important thing about Jack having that game is that we know that he can be relied on to take the game by the scruff of the neck, that he is getting back to somewhere near the player we saw before his numerous injuries set in, that we have a guy who is going to shine. And who can begrudge him a lot of praise after some of the drubbings he’s had from the media about both on and off-field activities. Hopefully we see a another sound game tomorrow night that will require the likes of Paul Scholes to stick it in his pipe and light one up on it.

That’s pretty much it from me for this Monday. You make sure that your world is filled with goodness, which for me, usually means logging on to Arsenal.com every once in a while during the day.

Catch you tomorrow.

The striker issue isn’t black and white

Howdy there you, hope you’re doing hunky doory, if that’s even how you spell that??

Yesterday I had a bit of a ‘life is different to back then’ moment, so I thought I’d bring myself back in to the here and now and reflect on Arsene’s presser yesterday and the Champions League draw, which will once again see us pit our wits against Borussia Dortmund, whilst also taking on Galatasaray and Anderlecht. It’s no surprise that Chelski got a buy into the group stages, but in all fairness we can be pretty happy with our lot given that, the Germans aside, it’s a group that we should be looking to qualify from. It would be nice if we could go through as group winners for a change, so one would expect that the head-to-head against BVB will be a decider on who tops the group. The first game will be at Dortmund in a couple of weeks time, so it’s up to the team to try to replicate the 1-0 victory in Dortmund last season to get us off to a flying start.

In the meantime, there is a game this weekend against Leicester and then the small matter of a home game against the reigning champions, so there’s plenty of time for us to get into our rhythm before the Champions League starts. Not. It’s fair to say that we haven’t exactly hit the ground running as yet, but with the injuries having a part to play in the stuttering beginning to the season (unusual for us as we have tended to always start strongly and fade away towards the end of campaigns), we need to start clicking into gear and doing so quickly. That comes with matches, with new players being able to bed in and with established players finding their form, so this weekend’s game against newly promoted opposition represents a chance to lay down a marker. More on suspected team line ups tomorrow, but Arsene did confirm that both Arteta and Gibbs will continue to be missing until after the International break, which will mean Monreal and the Flamster continue to deputise.

We all know about Giroud and his long-term absence, so it was not really a surprise when Arsene was once again quizzed about finding a replacement up top. He, as would be expected, extolled the virtues of the talent he already has available in Sanchez, Walcott, Podolski, Campbell and Sanogo. Later on, I think in an interview which wasn’t part of the afternoon presser, he stated that there were too many strikers and he would only look to bring another one in if one went out. Whilst there will be those that will wonder whether that means a potential loan move for the raw Sanogo, or a permanent move for the clearly unflavoured Podolski, I suspect that the comment was designed to explain to the masses that Arsene really isn’t looking for another forward at all. Further evidence to this school of thinking can be found in the words of the BBC’s David Ornstein, who has always been seen as somewhat of an unofficial mouthpiece for the club, as he confirmed that Arsenal are after a centre-half or defensive midfielder.

Whilst my initial reaction to Arsene’s assertion that he has enough strikers and that only ‘top,top top quality’ would do (although I must question this definition given that Gervinho managed two seasons at the club) was to be slightly aggrieved, upon some reflection about the possible options out there, I could kind of understand where Arsene is coming from. Giroud’s injury is certainly a big blow and we will no doubt feel his absence, but his absence is something that we all feel needs to be replaced with somebody for the here and now, and therein lies our problem. There are plenty of names being kicked around amongst arsenal fans, but the reality is that any player coming from any league other than an English one, will need time to bed in, which is time we simply don’t have. Just look at Sanchez; he is still finding his feet, still needing to hone his radar so that he latches on to Ozil passes, etc. Any new player brought in from another league is going to go through the exact same process. So we are effectively back to square one because we don’t address the here and now in terms of finding a goalscorer instantly.

“But what about finding one from the Premier League?” I can almost hear you say, but again, I’m not sure what other options are out there that will be suitable for our style of play and the way Arsene is setting up his team. Remy and Bony are names that come to mind, but both are different to Giroud as strikers, so if at the moment we are looking at finding somebody to fit our existing style, then they won’t work. The truth of the matter is that there aren’t really many Giroud-style replacements out there – certainly not in the Premier League – that you and I would see as worthy upgrades. So it does leave the manager in a bit of a quandary as to what to do. Unless his plan is to change the attacking philosophy, to which I think Tim Stillman put the most eloquently in his blog on Thursday this week over at Arseblog Towers. If the plan to adapt the style is therefore needing to be accelerated, I would have to wonder if, actually, Arsene is right, and we do have enough players up top when Walcott arrives. The only caveat I’d place on this however, is that Walcott is an injury prone forward and if he breaks down again, we’re back to square one, with a lack of pace up top and a reliance on Sanchez to bed in a lot quicker in his debut season.

I don’t really ever pertain to have any answers, I’m just an observer, but what I do know is that we need to start hitting top form soon if we want to win that all-elusive Premier League trophy. I know that in some sense Arsene is right – it’s not always clear cut – not always black and white when it comes to football systems and finding players from other clubs that can fit neatly into the right gaps that Arsenal have in their team. There is a balance to be found and players to fit systems, but just because a player like Remy, for example, looks good in a Newcastle or QPR shirt, doesn’t always mean he’ll automatically fit in at Arsenal and bag 15 goals in the first half of the season.

That’s all from me on that today I’m afraid. Things to do and all of this pondering is giving me a headache. Cheerio folks. until tomorrow.