A tight encounter tonight, unlike last night

it’s Sunday, it’s World Cup final day, and it’s Argentina vs Germany.

I’m quite intrigued to see who comes out on top on this one, because despite the assertion from most football fans across the globe, I don’t think that this will be a stroll in the parken. The Argentinians are an infinitely better side than the ramshackle bunch of Brazilians that capitulated yesterday (more on that in a sec) and I think we’ll see a close encounter. What Argentina have over their South American hosts is a variety of options to galvanize and inspire the team to success; they’re not reliant on Messi and at times during this World Cup have even had the diminutive forward as a passenger in games. Higuain, Di Maria, Aguero, are all match winners, but they have a bit of steel in the shape of Mascherano and i’d expect them to attempt to stifle and frustrate the Germans this evening.

However, I still think (and hope) that Mesut, Per and Poldi get their hands on that World Cup trophy by the time this day is done. I’ve mentioned before my German family roots, which i’m clinging on to like a life raft on a sinking ship (my original ship having already sunk in the group stages and lays at the bottom of a metaphorical ocean somewhere as we speak), but more than that we have Arsenal interest invested in the German team and a side that has probably played the best football during the tournament. They have done everything needed to win this competition in my opinion. They have smashed a couple of teams, they have ground out results, they have ridden their luck. Now all that is left to do is to lift the trophy.

I hope Mesut has a blinder today. He’s not been anywhere near the poor performer that many have suggested, but he hasn’t lit up the World Cup in the same way that saw Gareth Barry mugged off repeatedly so many times in South Africa four years ago. He is being shunted out wide on the left at the moment, which doesn’t allow him the full freedom of movement that he is afforded at Arsenal, but I still hope he can influence the game in the way that we know he can. His challenge is to do it without the natural pace up top that allows him to thrive as a provider. Mueller and Klose don’t have the pace of Walcott and Sanchez, so he’ll have to find another route to glory. That’s what I’ll have my fingers crossed for tonight.

As for yesterday’s effective dead rubber, it turns out that I was wrong from my blog yesterday and the team that finishes third does indeed get a bronze medal in the Third/Fourth place play off, but i’m afraid it still doesn’t have the same level of kudos as an Olympic medal, so I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest it was still an irrelevance of a game. I’m sure the Brazilian people will want to continue to tell themselves that this morning too, because the performance of Scolari’s charges was less than impressive. Putting aside the continual dreadful refereeing decisions throughout the game (the first goal was a foul outside the box and a sending off, not a penalty and a yellow card), Holland outclassed the Brazilians in every aspect of the game and with a toothless yellow and white attack giving nothing going forward, it was only going to be a matter of time before defensively they were shown up. Once again, the billionaire owners of Paris Saint German will have been left scratching their heads and quizzically looking at one another, as they try to contemplate why they have shelled out the GDP of a small country on a defender that really struggles with the art of…well…defending. His nod back into the centre of his own box for Daley Blind to double the Dutch advantage was a thing of such shambolic shoddiness that even I would have been disappointed with myself had I tried the same on a Sunday morning down the local park. Good luck to the French team in capturing the Champions League with Luiz and Thiago Silva as their defensive partnership next season, and a note to any team looking to make some cash over the summer: dress your footballer up with bells and whistles and park them outside the Parc Des Princes with an invoice for five times their actual value. Makes you think that PSG are like some sort of reverse pay-day-loan company, giving you a massive return on your investment regardless of the abilities of the individual.

Anyway, what of Arsenal at the moment? Well, aside from the World Cup interest and the warm and fuzzy feeling still emanating from within us all after the confirmation of Sanchez last week (bizarrely not recognised by the English punditry team before last night’s game, saying ‘if that deal comes off’ – you might want to cache your browsers on your smart phones guys), the focus appears to surround the potential acquisition of Khedira, with yet more outlets still trying to re-hash what is essentially the same story but with a different spin on it. At £200k per week as is being report, Khedira would by far and away be the highest paid player at The Arsenal, but to suggest he would be the best player in a team that I think is on the verge of blossoming would be incorrect in my opinion. There’s no doubt he’ll add quality to the side, but we have other concerns to worry about than a box-to-box midfielder and, if those terms are true as is being suggested, there must be a question around the harmony with the team if there is some sort of ‘Galactico’ that rocks up in the famous North London red and white next season. I’m still hopeful that Arsene is looking at one of Schneiderlin or Bender, but the chatter appears to be focused around Khedira at the moment.

Hey, perhaps I shouldn’t be looking at a gift horse in the mouth as Khedira is a quality player, but success on the football pitch is all about having the best of the right types of players in each position, coupled with harmony in the team, so I just hope we’re getting all of the required deficiencies sorted out as soon as possible.

Anyway, I think I’ll call it a day for now. You have a good one and enjoy the game tonight.

Peace out.

The player boost of a big name

With the dust still settling from the euphoria of the Sanchez signing on Thursday evening, there’s nothing like a bit of player commentary on the signing to keep the likes of you and I enthralled with what Arsenal have achieved this week, so it was that the Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey comments begin to seed their way through mainstream media for us to gorge ourselves on.

It’s always pleasing to see the players talk so glowingly about signings like Sanchez. It shows how highly they rate players of his ilk and also gives you a very real indication of the boost his arrival will have on the club even before he has even struck a ball in anger. I hope he does strike a ball in anger. Straight at Nasri’s face in the Community Shield in a few weeks time.

This kind of boost is exactly what we all needed as the World Cup draws to a close and the rhetoric coming from Ivan Gazidis about the work ‘not being finished yet’ is all the more pleasing to hear. It shows the club are taking this summer very seriously in terms of delivering a squad that is capable of challenging on multiple fronts and the strong links to Remy, Khedira, Bender and Debuchy (who by all accounts I know is done, but I suspect the club are riding the crest of the Alexis wave, before hitting us with another adrenaline shot of transfer goodness early next week) are most welcome at this early stage of the summer.

Supposedly the oil-whores are sniffing around Khedira with a view to adding yet another midfielder to their burgeoning ranks. Much like the Liverpool/Sanchez rumours that surfaced a couple of weeks ago, I’d trust that if Arsene is after Khedira then the conversations have already taken place and he’ll have a good chance of landing his man. I’m not so sure about Khedira though, if I’m honest, because he is much more in the Ramsey mould than the natural defensive midfielder who can slot in to the full back slots. He’s intelligent enough to do it, but that is in the same way that Arteta is not a naturally defensive midfielder, but has been able to adapt his game over the years. I suppose I shouldn’t be too worried; Arsene took a wide playing Thierry Henry and turned him into the greatest centre forward the club has ever had, so if there is willing from Khedira to become that midfield enforcer that we need, I think it would be a good signing. I’d probably prefer a Lars or Sven Bender though. But that’s mainly because I’ve watched a couple of ITV3 highlight shows of the Bundesliga and seen Lars slot in at right back and look so natural.

Speaking of right backs, I really have no idea why we have this Javier Manquillo link coming our way from Atletico Madrid, unless Arsene has lost faith in Jenkinson and is looking to cash in. IT would be a shame because I still think he has the potential to break through, but as somebody on Twitter mentioned to me yesterday, perhaps he is being considered as a convert into the centre of defence. He certainly has the build for it, but whether or not Le Boss could just wave a magic wand and voila, we have a back up to Per and Kos, I’m not so sure. He’ll need games in that position and that would mean a loan spell is agreed with the player. There’s talk of him going in at Newcastle, but i’d expect him to operate as a replacement to the departing Debuchy, which wouldn’t give him any real experience as a centre half if that is where Arsene sees his future. Again, second guessing what Arsene’s plans are is like turning water into wine, and we haven’t had one of those guys doing it for us for a couple of thousand years.

Tonight we’ll see one of the single most pointless football matches in all history – third/fourth place play off. I could understand it’s existence if, like the Olympics, there was some kind of Gold, Silver and Bronze system in place, but there isn’t. You’re playing for ‘pride’. I’d wager both teams would rather be playing on the beach with their family members whilst on holiday. But, like any football fan, I’ll still tune in tonight and watch and hope that there’s a decent game on display and no diving Robben’s. Again, might need a bit of that water to wine fella in that instance.

That’s all from me today. I’m moving house on Monday so I have a flat to deconstruct. Cheerio.

Brazilians don’t excite; targets seem very ‘Arsene’ like

In some sort of weird reversal of expectancy, it appears as though the two games that were played yesterday afternoon and evening were the opposite of what I expected. I thought with talent on display in the France verus Germany game,it would be by far the most entertaining match to watch, so I was a bit gutted that it was on earlier in the evening when I was travelling back from a day at the office. That’s not to say that the Brazil versus Colombia game didn’t have any superstars on display – evidently there are a few on either side – I just felt that a Franco-German slug-fest would provide more entertainment.

As it was I found yesterday’s evening game quite good, as the Colombians did their level best to upset the odds and turn over the Brazilians, whilst not really creating a string of chances. This Brazilian team doesn’t really capture my imagination at all and, when they scored quite early on through a shoddy bit of defending from a corner, I hoped the Colombians would react a bit better than they did. Particularly James Rodriguez. Mind you, the Brazilians must have done their homework on this referee, because the tactical and rotational fouling for persistent digs at Rodriguez was as blatant and obvious as an Adrian Chiles stupid remark. The Spanish referee did little to quash the Brazilian tactics of slowing the game down, even reserving his yellow card for James Rodriguez when he made his one and only foul of the game (I think), whilst also downgrading what looked like a clear red by Julio Caesar to a yellow for the Colombian penalty.

So it’s a Germany against Brazil semi final and despite the fact the German’s haven’t ripped anyone apart other than Portugal, I hope (and think) they serve a bit of a humbling to the Brazilian team, who will certainly be feeling nervous after Neymar was ruled out of the competition with a back injury. It was a pretty shocking challenge when you look at it for the second time and, given what has happened to the recipient of the foul, you do think it’s rather ludicrous that the Colombian player wasn’t penalised further for his actions.

It’s Belgium vs Argentina tonight, for which I’m hoping Belgium do a number on the Argies, plus Holland versus Costa Rica who I think will probably have gone as far as they probably can. This is beginning to feel like it could be the Argentinians year to me. Messi has finally turned up to a tournament, they have great firepower throughout the squad, plus they could have an easier route to the final by beating Costa Rica and then potentially Holland in the semi’s, of which I feel the Dutch are nowhere near as good as the Argentinians.

Arsenal news is unsurprisingly light on the ground, but there was some chatter online last night that Debuchy had announced to journalists from TF1 that he would be joining Arsenal. That’s all well and good with people suggesting this, but I can’t find any specific reference to any quotes on any website, neither in the British press, nor the actual TF1 website. Although, I must confess that my French isn’t so much rusty, as it is non-existent, so I may have been navigating their website totally wrong. It does seem as though this is a very Arsene Wenger signing and, if the deal is done quickly, it at least means we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the club are actually looking to tie up deals as quickly as possible. With so many media outlets now reporting this deal as ‘done’ (L’Equipe are saying so too), it does seem as if there is no some without fire on this one so I think we should all be pretty pleased that there’s Premier League experience coming straight in to slot in to the team.

There’s nothing really new from any of the other reports going on at the moment. A lot of re-hashing of stories and re-populating of information for the sake of it right now, which you can tell when places like the MIrror start referencing other media outlets as the rumour mill goes into full ‘he-said/she-said’ territory. I like the sound of a Debuchy, Sanchez, Schneiderlin and Remy summer,all of which seeming feasible for Arsene, but bringing in that many players in one summer would be a surprise to me. Particularly Remy if we get Sanchez. Arsene really fancies a bit of Sanogo as understudy to Giroud and I suspect that if a deal for Sanchez were to be done, we’d see him playing wide right or left of the Frenchman. Having the pacey Remy in the squad doesn’t really seem to me to be as worthwhile when you have players like the Ox, Gnabry and eventually Walcott to come back, as we’d be stifling someone’s longer term route in to the first team. Hey, I’m not trying to be all Arsene Wenger in my hypotheses, I’m just trying to work out what the reality of any situation would be. I think it would be that if we get Sanchez and Debuchy, unless there is any other kind of exit like Vermaelen, that could in theory be all there is kids. Whether that represents a good summer or not I’m not so sure. I would probably say ‘only just’, but that’s much like last summer was ‘only just’ salvaged by the Ozil transfer. We’d effectively have only bought in one extra player if just the Frecnhman and the Chilean came in; Sagna for Debuchy is a clear ‘one-in-one-out’ replacement and so doesn’t make us stronger in terms of depth.

I’d like to see our squad all remain (including Vermaelen) in tact this year, with a front man, a ‘keeper, a defensive minded midfielder and potentially a young and up-and-coming centre half ideally, but I suspect that Arsene would be happy with Sanchez, Debuchy and maybe a clear seconded-choice ‘keeper from the Outer Hebrides or some place that few have heard of. We’ll just have to wait and see until he makes his first move. I just hope he does it soon.

Anyway, catch you tomorrow, with some more thoughts.

My support jinxes the Germans; new but not original transfer stuff

Last night I watched my newly adopted team – Germany (family ties and all that) – fight back from a potential shock defeat to Ghana to take a draw and I have to say, it was yet another great advertisement for what is fast becoming the best World Cup I have experienced in my lifetime, aside from England being pants ‘n all.

It did feel like I had jinxed ze Germans by getting behind them though. Almost as if I haven’t had enough punishment from being born in a nation whose national team regularly under performs in international competitions, even my adopted nations seem to stutter. I’m hoping it’s just a blip though, because unlike Eng-Ger-Land, Germany have the firepower in their ranks to go far in the competition.

I suppose it also helps my alliance that there are plenty of Arsenal Germans in the ranks and if Arsene can pick up a Bender and a Draxler (even though I appreciate that appears to have gone quiet right now), I’m sure it will make aligning myself even easier.

What a great game it was though. The Ghanaians looked really good value for the point they picked up, despite a controlled first half from Germany and, when they scored to go 2-1 up the crowd really got behind the Black Stars, which made for a great atmosphere inside the stadium. The fightback and goal from the Germans was also good to see, with some history being made by Klose by getting his 15th World Cup goal, a classic Klose poacher goal as well. Whether or not he’ll get to 16 I’m not sure, as there are a maximum of five games and if he’s being used so sparingly with ten minutes here or there, it’s no guarantee that he’ll have enough time to become the stand out all time biggest goal scorer ahead of chunky Ronaldo. You wouldn’t put it past him having a tap in over the next few games though.

Mesut had another quiet game, which was a bit of a shame, because I think most of us agree it would be really good if there is a confidence boosting World Cup for him it can only be a good thing for Arsenal next season. He is being given a bit more licence to roam across the attacking positions and cropped up on both left and right hand sides yesterday, with a couple of good balls into the box and one run in the second half that was scooped over his own bar by a Ghana defender, but I just hope that the German people and the rest of the world don’t get on his back too much. He’s an elegant player that has had a decent first season at Arsenal. I don’t know whether or not in a year’s time he’ll be a completely changed player on the international scene, but I believe that next season in red and white will be a good one for him and I just hope that this World Cup doesn’t dent any of his confidence.

Transfer wise there’s nothing new really. Some of the red tops are hashing out a new (but not original) spin on the Balotelli stuff by saying Arsene Wenger will be meeting Balotelli’s agent in the next day or so, but as much as i’d personally like to see him at The Arsenal, I do think that Arsene will go for a different type of striker, perhaps even a more low-key striker. We’ve all seen too many summers that have resulted in us landing a £12million signing rather than a big name with a big reputation. I know there are a few that are talking about our links to Sanchez, Reus & co as well, but I do suspect that the form of Campbell this World Cup might scupper those rumours, especially as he now has an extra game to impress against what will probably be a top international team.

Again, much like the Balotelli stuff, the Serge Aurier speculation has got slightly warmer with reports he’s agreed an £8million £60,000-a-week deal. It’s nothing new and although I’d welcome him as a player that can battle it out with Jenkinson, there is question marks on his defensive stability much like The Corporal, so I do have to question whether or not that deal will come off and whether or not Arsene will opt for a slightly older head with a view to blooding the Corporal over a number of years. I’ve never quite understood comments about sending the Corporal out on loan if I’m honest. If you send a player out on loan that is your first reserve, you have to go out and buy another reserve and with Arsenal’s injury record over the last six or seven years, surely it should mean that Jenkinson will get enough games at the club. It’s not like we don’t play in enough competitions!

Anyway, that’s enough of my nonsense for one day, I’m off to spend the day in the sun celebrating my anniversary with The Management. Laters.

The cruel twists of fate

It is a cruel twist of fate that on a day in which I find myself on annual leave I am awoken by the need to address the movements in my bowels at 6am in the morning. Perhaps it is indicative of the last 24 hours that it is like that because, let’s face it, as Arsenal fans we seem to have been run through the emotional mill a bit. Still, after then watching another cruel twist of fate befall the Croatian’s with arguably the most farcical penalty decision you’ll see at the competition before it has even got going, at least I’m thankful I’m not a Croatian Arsenal fan. Sorry to any of you guys if you’re reading this. I feel for you. I really do.

So here I am at 6.30am on a Friday morning penning some thoughts on the day that was yesterday and there’s no way around it folks, we’ve got to talk about the Fabregas stuff. I know, I know, I don’t want to type it as much as you don’t really want to read it, but Fabregas is now officially a Chelski player and has stepped over the line from being a former player that I had affections for, to a player that now carries no real meaning to me. Actually, that can’t be true, because when I saw the news (originally via a picture text message by my brother) on Sky Sports yesterday afternoon my stomach sank and the realisation that he’d be lining up against us next year for the most reprehensible club in the known world set in.

But can we really lay the blame at Fabregas’ door? Is there any blame to be lain anywhere? Many of us have said that we need to look at other positions in our team, other deficiencies that need addressing first, before we can start to look at getting luxury players like Fabregas in. And even in his statement Cesc admitted that Arsenal had a clause and it was not taken. As Arsenal fans we all love to read a little too deeply into the most simplistic of comments, but I read his statement on Facebook yesterday and saw a hint of regret that he couldn’t return to Arsenal. Why? Mesut Ozil I suspect. He is the Arsenal Poster Boy now and the team is being built around him. He’s two year’s younger than Fabregas and I remain convinced he can emulate and potentially surpass the Spaniard’s tenure at the club in terms of what he offers Arsenal. Fabregas was a good player, not a legend, but did a decent job in the most part for us.

I don’t know if it’s the same for you, but the stomach churning feeling I got was almost entirely through an irrational and romantic notion that footballers still had elements of loyalty about them. Very few, we all know that, but I did still believe there might be one or two out there. I’m not suggesting Cesc should have refused to budge and stay at Barcelona, because that wouldn’t have been productive for anyone, but I am a human being and prone to severe bouts of irrationality and this saga has stirred said irrationality once again. I didn’t really think we needed Fabregas and, in truth, I didn’t really want him if it meant that our attentions weren’t directed at other areas of the pitch. I just didn’t want him to be playing for any other English team. I wanted the memories of the player to not be tainted by the fact that he’ll have to line up alongside the Terry’s, Ramirez’s and Mikel’s of this world next season. Like I said, that irrational human trait and slightly spoiled little boy inside me (sit down, Robin) didn’t want any of the kids of have the toy if I couldn’t have it. But those cruel twists of fates began whirring and a player who was once part of our affections turns up at one of only two clubs that I just could not stomach him playing for.

The day was not to end on the Fabregas note, as Sagna also made his farewell gesture through the medium of Instagram and, whilst we all knew it was happening, it still didn’t make it any easier. He’s been a wonderful servant, he goes with our blessing (until he announces he’s signed for Moneychester City next week), we look for a replacement right back and get on with our lives. But even so it still felt like being given another haymaker whilst you’re already emotionally stumbling towards the canvass.

Naturally, Twitter and other social media sites went into meltdown and some of the comments were both unwarranted and ludicrous in the extreme, but most of the sensible people I follow took the two announcements with the degree of pragmatism you’d expect from normal Arsenal fans. What seemed to be the general consensus though, which I was talking with Ben and Steve about on Whatsapp last night, was that Arsene might have just added more pressure to deliver the transfer goods this summer. Perhaps even more than last summer. I’m not sure the rage could be caged until 31st August and a last-minute mega signing salvage the mood for the summer if we replicated the mistakes of June and July 2013. And that’s what is also contributing to  some Arsenal fans being even more worked in to a frenzy I think. There is genuine concern that the club will repeat its mistakes, not strengthen with the required quality that is needed for a title assault and we will find ourselves once again ‘muddling through’ in a scrap for fourth place. Arsene’s assertion that no big deals are done before the World Cup is slowly being eradicated and with Chelski already strengthening in two of the positions they needed to this summer, there is a very real fear that we will bottle it again.

I hope we don’t. I hope that the club really does pull out the ‘mega signing’ that is being whispered amongst some people. The fates may have been cruel yesterday, but at least they were cruel at the beginning of the summer, so we have plenty of time for the club to pull some rabbits out of the hat and retain the feel good factor that came with winning the FA Cup in May. Remember that?

Catch you tomorrow.

Some good Arsenal news from Wilshere and The Ox

Happy Sunday Gooners, hopefully you’re enjoying yours wherever you are. Mine will be spent catching up on some of the graphic novels I haven’t read, but have had on pre-order from one of the collection companies where they send you a new one every couple of weeks. It’s been the bane of The Management’s life if I’m honest, because we’re in the process of moving and there are about five box loads of the stuff, most of which still haven’t even been unwrapped. But hey, its days like today where a Sailor Jerry and a graphic novel go down an absolute treat and I’ll be wallowing away the hours of this afternoon taking in some rays.

It’s a good job I’ve got so many books to read, because let’s face it, there isn’t a lot going on Arsenal related in the universe today. You know things are getting desperate when the official site is still featuring Bacary Sagna quotes on the site. I’d have thought Moneychester City would start to be putting the Sagna dreams about the World Cup on their site by now. But hey-ho, nothing we can do about that now other than look to find an adequate replacement.

Against my better judgement I decided to watch the England vs Honduras game last night and, I’ve got to be honest, the best thing that happened all evening was that the players got called in because of the electrical storm and ITV started showing pictures of the lightning in the sky. Always fascinated me, has lightning….

Anyway, back to the match itself, when it did eventually re-start (I refused to watch Adrian Chiles perspire his way through an enforced commentary break so ended up watching a Sky+ record of Grand Designs instead), there wasn’t really much going on in the first half, but at least we saw Jack Wilshere in the second and by all accounts I thought he looked good. Coupled with the guile of Barkley, both showed that they can be a real asset to the national side, in place of the media darling Liverpool players that will play most of the tournament on name rather than merit. How Jordan Henderson is a regular in the team is quite beyond me, but then again, this is a manager that has given Tom Cleverly far too many games in midfield during his tenure as the national team coach. As I said though, Wilshere looked good and in the 45 minutes he got I only saw him lose the ball twice in the whole half, one of which was when he didn’t have any options and so tried to gamble on a mazy dribble in to the box.

The most positive news of the evening came when Hodgson announced that The Ox was making progress and would certainly be available at the World Cup. That must mean that he’ll be fit for the second and third game because, let’s be honest, this England Team won’t make it beyond the qualifying group stages. But at least it is good that The Ox will make it back. It says to me that the injury is not as serious as it could have been and particularly when looking at next season, the last thing we need with Walcott not due back until September, is a start to the season where we’re without another one of our main attacking and creative threats.

Right, that’s it from me, I’m off to find out what the bloody heck Captain America is up to. You stay fabulous Gooners.

Season success for the midfield

Howdy friends, hope you are full of the happiness of summer, unless you’re in a part of the world where it’s pissing it down like me. But whilst the weather might be grim, the spirits of Arsenal fans everywhere are still high. We’re not just riding the crest of success of recent silverware, but also celebrating the 25th anniversary of The Arsenal’s famous victory against Liverpool at Anfield in 1989. For some listening pleasure, I’d suggest that you take a saunter over to the GoonerGirls Podcast, as they have run a special pod with Micky Thomas and David Hillier on that wondrous night. Or, if you prefer your Arsenal via the medium of online print, I’d recommend having a gander at Arseblog today. He’s retelling the wonderful feeling of that last-minute goal and as always makes for good reading.

As for me, I was still only a wee nine-year old nipper and so being able to properly take in the gravity of the whole situation was beyond me, so I don’t feel I could be an accurate commentator on the magic of that day that will I’m sure never be repeated by any football match. Ever.

So instead I’m going to turn my attention to the season review and look specifically at the midfield performance that we saw this season just past.

When the transfer window slammed shut at the beginning of September and we all knew what the squad would be looking like for the immediate future, I don’t think there were many that couldn’t argue that our one area of the field we weren’t quite under stocked with was our midfield. The acquisition of Flamini added a little bit more bite from a defensive midfield perspective, the ever-improving form of Ramsey was to get better and better, the purchase of Ozil added that star quality and there was to be the return from injury of Wilshere. Added to that the guile of Rosicky and the consistency of Arteta, you could hardly argue we weren’t well prepared in those roles in the centre of the park. It seems that Arsene had also developed a bit of an addiction to purchasing central midfielders, because January also saw the arrival of yet another in the Swedish shape of Championship Manager 2001/2 Kim Kallstrom legend Kim Kallstrom. Hindsight may be described as a wonderful thing, as we rarely used the tall Swede when another pacey attacking player might have helped us get closer to a league title, but let’s park that a discussion for tomorrow when I’ll give some thoughts on our striking performance over the course of the season.

To analyse the improvements made in the midfield area it’s hard not to look at the return on goalscoring investment made from that area as a very rough blueprint for whether it was a successful season. So when you consider that in 2013/14 those in Arsenal’s midfield contributed to 44 goals of the teams play, yet in 2012/13 it was 26 goals in total in all competitions, it shows you that there were definite strides made in the right direction. And what better way to see those strides than in the stand out player of the season: Aaron Ramsey. Sixteen goals in all competitions in just thirty games started represents an amazing return for a midfielder who has gone from being a hard-working, but perhaps frustrating player at times, to an integral part of the successes of this season. It was so fitting that he was the player to hand us the FA Cup because his displays have been deserving of a player who should be picking up silverware. His transformation – which started in the 2012/13 season towards the back-end but continued in last summers pre season – has been so magnificent to see and I have to say that he has been just “like a new signing” to the team. The goal against Liverpool stands out for me as the most memorable of the season, but what has quickly become his trademark has been the marauding ‘late into the box’ style goals, the type that (apologies for the reference) Frank Lampard has made a career out of scoring. No more important was his impact to the team seen than when he picked up his injury over Christmas and from January onwards we were starting to look a little bit leggy.

But it’s not just Aaron that stepped up this season I thought. Despite much criticism of him – the kind that I guess you can expect from a big money signing – Mesut Ozil has had a good season if you are asking this here blogger. Seven goals and twelve assists in a maiden season is not something to be sniffed at and whilst some moronic journalists accused the German of ‘nicking a living’ without a hint of irony in their pathetic prose, Mesut’s impact on our team has been successful. Much like Arshavin’s arrival, the Ozil capture gave a boost to the squad at the perfect time for us to drive forward our early season form, rocketing us to the top of the table and providing us with that extra creative guile that we need. Had Ozil been furnished with more pace throughout the side in attack this season we might have seen his assist numbers even greater than they are, but as it is I think we can still count this first season as a ‘job done’ from him. The Napoli goal stands out for me as his best of the season, but the performance against Everton in the FA Cup is one in which I think he showed just what he is capable of.

So far I’ve looked at the success in the sharp end of our midfield, but the success of our midfield hasn’t just come from the attacking triumphs, as defensively we’ve seen an improvement too. That’s where you have to give credit to Arteta and the Flamster. His arrival in the summer was seen as a little bit ‘meh’ from some sections of the Arsenal support, but it now looks just as shrewd a bit of business as the Ozil capture, as Matthieu has been able to take some of the burden from Arteta, providing the defence with a strong ball winner to have sat in front of them when it’s needed. Flamster’s stand out moment, unsurprisingly perhaps, has to be a booking the North London Derby in September, clattering Chadli (I think) to ensure there was not a break away. That just sums up him in a nutshell right there, as he promptly received the first of his eight Premier League yellow cards and one red. We’d cried out for a nasty piece of work ever since he left, so perhaps it’s good that we got him back, because having someone in the team that you know is going to stick up for his teammates and will happily do the dirty work is just as important as the goalscorers in any team.

Mikel Arteta probably deserves his own para too, if we’re honest, as he’s had another solid season in which he’s proven his capabilities as a decent – if not spectacular – regular contributor to the team. I do feel for Arteta some times; there have been some fans that have questioned his impact on the team ahead of Flamini, or when Flamini plays alongside him have wondered why Wilshere or Rosicky haven’t started ahead of him. But I have seen why Arsene favours the Spaniard so much. He brings balance, consistency and is an outlet for the defence to play the ball out from the back time and time again. You know exactly what you’ll get from Micky and that must be very reassuring from Arsene’s point of view. He may be a year old, he may have looked a little bit more tired towards the end of the season, but he’s been a very important player in our team and I expect he’ll continue to be so next season too.

Football is a squad game and that is why the depth of our midfield has been so important, so you can’t have a good season without the contributions of players like Rosicky, Wilshere or Cazorla. I’m in two minds to give Santi a shout out in my ‘attackers’ section because his versatility has seen him spend a good portion of the season out wide on the left of the attacking three, but he’s also performed in that Ozil role behind the striker and it’s players like that who are so important to winning competitions. When he has been asked, Rosicky has played very well I think. It’s really hard to step in and play well when you’ve not been able to get a series of games under your belt, but Rosicky has been able to do that and score important goals too. That break away goal against the Spuds stands out for me. Mainly because he had so long to think about what he was going to do when through against Lloris that he could have fudged it. But a calm head on those Czech shoulders delivered. The same can be said with Jack who, despite injuries hampering his season again, still managed to be the key contributor in the best goal of the season by a country mile against Norwich at The Emirates. Hopefully next season he can get a steady run of games and begin to recapture some of his form before he had his lengthy spell on the sidelines.

I’ve racked up over 1,500 words so far talking about the midfield and could probably go all day, so I’ll draw today’s blog to a close, but for me the midfield has been a success story like our defence. Sure, we’ve had some poor games, and sure, we’ve had our injuries, but by and large we’ve come through them and still looked a very good midfield outlet. I’d argue the best in the league.

Catch you tomorrow.

Defensive solidity the key to our successful season

Howdy there fellow Gooners. Hope you are enjoying your Saturday. It’s a bank holiday here in Blighty, which is fan-diddly-tastic because it stretches the weekend more than Steve Bruce in under sized lycra.

Yesterday’s blog was supposed to be focused on reviewing how I think the defence performed but, with all of the noises coming out about Sagna’s mega deal at City, I kind of got side tracked. I guess the news that defenders are getting bumper deals is becoming quite the norm these days, what with Paris Saint Germain literally losing the plot and bidding £40million for the Brazilian Sideshow Bob, which will inevitably mean a massive payday for what is arguably the most overpriced player since Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll did the transfer deadline day merry-go-round a few years back. Financial Fair Play you say? Nah, that memo clearly didn’t get delivered in the capital of France. Either that or their billionaire owners simply retired to a cave in the Alps, stuck their fingers in their eyes and sang Sam Smith until the news sort of went away.

Anyway, today is a new day and it’s a day in which I want to have a look at our defence which, let’s be honest and say that it was probably the most impressive part of this Arsenal team this season. If we’re talking about a collective unit that is. For years since the Invincibles we’ve had defence after defence that has been dragged over hot coals by the press. In some cases it’s been warranted; Senderos, Gallas, et al have hardly proved to be the defensive stalwarts at the heart of the team, whilst a few of average full backs like Santos and Eboue have hardly managed to give us the types of players needed that we think could take us to the lofty heights that we’ve scaled this season.

Part of it is down to finding stability. We’ve managed to field the same four or five defenders for most of the season and that intimate knowledge of what your other defenders are going to do is integral to building momentum. Perhaps injuries have been the key sticking point to why we haven’t found a defensive unit capable of snuffing out a game like this team has until now, but the results of this seasons exploits are there for all to see: twenty four clean sheets in all competitions and a string of 2-0’s that seemed to become the new ‘one nil to the Arsenal’ pattern of play at one stage.

And yet we’ve still managed to show signs of implosion that have dwarfed previous seasons in terms of the volume of heavy defeats. We all thought the defeat away to City would be a one off and, after stabilising the ship and managing to hold on to the top spot up until February it felt like that was the case, but heavy losses to Liverpool and Chelski still showed that for all the hard defensive work that had been done by the team, we still have problems defensively at times. What was most strange about those heavy defeats were that they came completely out of the blue. We hadn’t really been on big losing streaks before any of them, so it’s difficult to say that confidence was rock bottom, but the way in which we played in those big games was borderline suicidal some times. High lines, defensive wobbles, it all looked as though the players had been fed some Tottenham flavoured lasagna. It’s almost as if the karma gods (yes, here I go again) have approach Arsene at the start of the season and said “you can have a load of clean sheets this year, but we have to reallocate all the goals you would have conceded to individual games. Deal?”, to which Arsene literally would have bitten their hands off.

Certainly, if we’re to win the league next year, we need to have a look at how the team reacts in those big games. Perhaps there needs to be a bit more pragmatism in those games rather than a Rocky Balboa inspired slug-fest when we go away from home?

Anyway, let’s not dwell too much on the disappointing results because, by and large, this season has been a good one. The central defensive pairing of Per and Kos have looked immaculate at times. Per is the leader of the four; the talker, the marshal, built in the Tony Adams mould and every bit the captain of the side in my opinion. He doesn’t have the pace but has excellent positioning, something that Adams was always a master of. But even the great Tony Adams was only as good as long as he had the right man beside him, which is why having Koscienly in the team has been so integral to his success. Kos has the pace, the ability to track the nippy runner and despite having a penchant for the occasional tackle in the box leading to a penalty, he has saved us on a number of occasions. Their central defensive performances this season will probably have led to the exit door being opened wide for Vermaelen, but providing both remain fit next season, you can’t help but think we’re in safe hands for another go at the league. As Liverpool have already shown, you can’t win the league with a leaky back four, so if we can augment the team with the right reinforcements and bed in whoever replaces Sagna, then I think we’ve got a great chance to going that extra few steps and winning the league.

So to Sagna. We all know he’s off and, much like many bloggers and Arsenal fans that I have read/spoken to, it’s hard to shoehorn him into the mould of That Dutch Bloke, Nasri, or any of the other players that have bolted for places like Moneychester City. Sagna has given seven years, he’s played well this season and he’s shown that even with most of the world in acknowledgement that he won’t be playing for the club next season, he’s done everything he can to give Arsenal glory. He’s even shown his versatility this season filling in at centre half. He will be a tough player to replace, but at 31 he’s probably only got another two years of top flight football to play before he’ll need to be replaced himself and so all that’s needed to happen this season is that we fast-track a replacement a couple of years earlier than expected. For what its worth I’m not sure that Jenkinson is that player long term, but I certainly think he has a role to play and, if given games, who knows. I still think we need to fill the void left by Sagna’s inevitable departure, but that discussion can be for another day.

On the left hand side of the defence we’ve not looked as strong as we have done since Cashley Cole and Silvinho were duking it out for the left back slot. Gibbs has improved a lot this season and is clearly the better of the two left backs, but he’s been pushed all the way by Nacho Monreal, who I think has done well when he’s been asked. There are some that have chastised the Spaniard’s performances in games like City away, but I think we should be mindful of the fact that he has not been able to get too big a run of games in the first team. Momentum – as I said earlier in the blog – is very important in football and his season has been very stop-start in that respect, so I don’t think you can hold it against him.

Overall we’ve seen a massive improvement from the team defensively and that has been made all the more evident by our league position and the increase in clean sheets. There are still some kinks to iron out but it’s hard not to think that the effort of the defence this year have been outstanding in the most part.

Back tomorrow with a look at the midfield.

The most fun blog I’ve written – FA Cup Winners 2014

I woke up this morning with a big smile on my face. I switched on the TV this morning with a smile on my face. I am writing today’s blog with a smile on my face. I’ve been writing blogs for about three years now and I have to say, this is the one blog that I was wondering whether I’d be writing any time soon, so I am thankful that it has come. It has been worth the wait.

Arsenal are 2014 FA Cup Winners. The nine year ‘drought’ has ended. The years of media sniping can restart at zero and we can revel in what has, we can all say with relative comfort, been a successful season for The Arsenal.

Drink it in. Football is about special moments that are captured over a short period of time like yesterday and today. We as fans go through all of the lows, all of the pain, frustration and sadness just for the adrenalin highs like yesterday. To see the relief on the players faces as the final went, to see them fall to their knees and to see the visible relief etched on Arsene’s face was something that will stay with me forever.

Players play for clubs like Arsenal because the want to win trophies. It is what drives them and yesterday’s game does not just provide us with a platform for celebration on a hot May afternoon, it also gives us hope that we are that extra little bit attractive to top players. All of those players that have spoken of winning trophies at the club, all of those people who question whether Arsenal can drag themselves over the line, well now we can say that they can. They can achieve their greatness with Arsenal and much like the players we have had the taste of silverware and will become all the more hungry for more of it in future.

We are the joint most successful FA Cup team that has ever existed along with Manchester United. We like that cup and we’ve done it again for the eleventh time in our history. Savor that folks, savor that.

Shall I talk about the game a bit? I guess this is a match review of sorts, but the match itself seems slightly inconsequential compared to the gravity of what has been achieved. Because this Arsenal team weren’t just fighting Hull City, they were fighting history or more specifically, the burden of past failures and expectation for a club like Arsenal. The pressure on the fourteen players that played yesterday was immense and, although it took a superb Aaron Ramsey extra time goal to secure the victory, they were in control and outplayed Hull for about 110 of the 120 minutes in my completely biased opinion.

Unfortunately, it was in those first ten minutes that it felt at the time that a lot of damage was done. By the time we had hit the ten minute point in the game we were two down through a real bit of smash-and-grab set piece football from Hull. First it was a miss-hit Huddlestone shot that I’m convinced just ricocheted off his foot rather than what the commentators suggested that he’d cleverly steered it in. That was after four minutes and it felt like the world should just swallow our half of the stadium up when Curtis Davies slotted the ball in from another ball into the box that was knocked on to the post by one of the Hull centre backs. I didn’t think it could get any worse, so when Kieran Gibbs headed a ball off the line from a corner it really did start to feel like it wasn’t going to be our day. We were shell-shocked and on the ropes through a quick start. It’s how we’ve been undone in all the big games this season and is certainly something I think should be looked at by the team for next year.

But for all of their faults, for the ability to be caught out so early, you cannot criticise the team too much on a day like today, because the response was exactly what was needed. Having got back home and re-watched the final last night, it struck me how dominant we were in possession. Sure, there weren’t very many chances created over the ninety minutes, but when I re-watched it was clear that we deserved to get the two goals back. The first, a sumptuous free kick from Santi, was well placed and superbly struck. The fact that Hull had scored two so early left us with time to respond and so when Santi scored on 18 minutes, we knew that it left us with enough time to re-group and go again in the second half. And we did. We were the team in the ascendancy, we were making all of the forward plays and we were the most likely to score in that second half, so when Koscienly tapped in from a knock down in the box we went absolutely nuts behind the goal. The comeback was well and truly on.

The second half ended by grinding a bit to a halt, as I think both teams didn’t want to do anything silly that could lose them the game in dying embers, but Kieran Gibbs had his chance of glory but blazed the ball over from just outside the six yard box. So it was extra time, and much like the majority of the match, it was Arsenal who looked more likely to score. Olivier Giroud had a header knocked on to the crossbar in the first half of extra time. But perhaps the most fitting scorer to win us the FA Cup was destined to write his name into Arsenal history. Aaron Ramsey will feature heavily in post-season reviews and analysis, because he has rightly been the stand out performer this season, but his finish was that of a player who has elevated himself to such a lofty position this season, that it seems almost unthinkable that he won’t be our main man to spearhead us towards another title challenge in 2014/15. After the heartbreak of losing the cup final with Cardiff in 2008, after the devastation from his leg break, after an injury that has kept him out of the season, this was his reward for the hard work and effort. The fabulous first time finish after another really good lay off from Giroud was one of those goals that only when you watch again you see how good it was. It was millimeters away from the post.

I’m not surprised that there’s already talk about Bayern Munich and Pep being interested, but with the stature of Ramsey and the fact that he signed a new deal very recently, I’d be surprised if that isn’t anything other than a bit of mischievous gutter press tittle-tattle.

There was still time for a classic Arsenal ‘heart-in-mouth’ moment though, as a long punt up field was chased down by Aluko but covered by Per, until he slipped, Fabianski inexplicably came rushing out of his box and didn’t get the ball and thankfully the angle was too tight for him to touch into an empty net.

The final whistle went, Arsenal had done it and the players lifted the trophy, with them coming on to the pitch afterwards to greet the fans. I got myself a Jack Wilshere high-five and a Lukas Fabianski gloved high-five and we left the stadium in a fit of delirium.

Today the team are embarking on the trip around North London to parade the trophy and the news emanating from the club is that Arsene will announce his new deal over the next couple of days. There will be the cynical ones that will question the timing given we’re riding high on emotions right now, but after leading the league for so long, after improving on our league points total and bringing silverware back to the club, it’s hard to not think that he doesn’t deserve perhaps one more stab at seeing if he can win that Premier League and/or the Champions League. He said ‘judge me in May’ and we can judge him now. It has been a successful season and I hope we get a couple more ends to the season like this one between now and when he does eventually hang up that massive coat of his for good.

Until tomorrow. Up the Arsenal

Nothing can take away the special feeling of the FA Cup

Well, here we are folks, the most significant game of the season and potentially the most significant game since the last major trophy that was won back in 2005. I don’t know about you, but I’m excited and nervous in equal measure.

There’s no getting around it: success or failure today will ultimately define whether this season has been another one that we want to confine to the history books as a ‘yeah, we did the bare minimum, but other than that it hasn’t exactly been an amazing season’ or described as a season where we ended our trophy drought and ensured that we can continue to eat at the top table for another season at least.

We all like those Champions League nights, we all enjoy the fact it enables us to buy the Mesut Ozil’s of the world, but when a day like today comes around, you realise that all of the qualification deciders in the world could not match feeling that I and you probably have in your stomach as you count down the minutes until kick off at 5pm. The devaluing of the FA Cup has been something that has been well spoken of and much column inches dedicated towards, but looking back on football history as a fan and you rarely remember the sniping, but you do remember the feeling when Arsenal won the competition. I remember the elation of coming away from Cardiff in 2003. It may have felt like we’d blown the league and so this was a consolation prize, but it was my first ever cup final and I was exhilarated of the feeling, which I’ve wanted to recapture ever since and so the potential to replicate that feeling today leaves me with butterflies in my stomach the size of my fist.

But what of the game itself? What of our opponents and the way in which they line up? Who will Arsene give the nod to, to bring home the shiny big-eared bacon? How many questions can I fit in to a paragraph??

Firstly, i’ll give you my predicted team news, because I think it will help to also explain how Hull will set up. That’s not to say that Arsene will change his style or selection process based on the opposition, but I just want to find an interesting segue between questions and I think this might work.

In goal I think he’ll opt for Sczcesny. It’s an interesting one because it’s really the first time this season that the goalkeeping position is the hardest position to work out. I think the playing of Fabianski last weekend was telling however, so I expect the younger Pole to start, which is the right thing in my opinion. He is the future, he deserves to be in the team for his performances this season and he is the best goalkeeper at the club.

I think the defence picks itself and so a back four of Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscienly and Gibbs may leave club captain Vermaelen out along with boyhood Gooner Corporal Jenkinson, but as was discussed on last night’s GoonerGirl Podcast which I was fortunate enough to be invited on to, this is an FA Cup final and we simply must play the strongest team available. Unfortunately that means no place for either of those two players. In fact, I think with the returning Vermaelen and potential Oxlade-Chamberlain back in the team, I can’t see Jenks making the bench. After all, Wenger will more likely choose Vermaelen and Monreal as his defensive subs, using the rest of the subs for a ‘keeper and more attack-minded players to call on to the starting line up.

Midfield is where I think there will need to be decisions made and I think the right decision would be to have Arteta and Ramsey sitting just behind the trio of Ozil, Cazorla and Podolski. Hull will no doubt be looking to the likes of Huddlestone and Livermore to screen in front of the back four or three and operate a little bit deeper and, if that is in fact the case, then playing someone like Matthieu Flamini is not appropriate in my opinion. The Flamster is better at screening the back four and taking up defensive duties, but going forward he lacks the craft and ability on the ball that Arteta has a little bit more of. I think it is because Arteta is technically more gifted that he gets the nod more often than Flamini for most games, but in this instance today I think it would be the right call. If Hull are sitting deeper and trying to frustrate at any time, then we need those technically better players to show their creativity to unlock the Tigers’ defence.

The rest of the choices above are based on recent games and performances and I don’t think there will be many Gooners that could argue with that. Perhaps some might say there is a space for Jack in the team, but at the moment I don’t see it and I think the balance of that predicted team – with Giroud up top instead of Sanogo, obviously – works for what we want to achieve – a real trophy instead of a fourth placed invisible one!

As for our opponents, the return of Alan McGregor in-goal will be an important boost for them, because he’s a good ‘keeper that I’ve seen keep them in games on a few occasions this season. He’ll be stood behind a back four that will probably contain Bruce, Davies and McShane with wing backs of Elmohamady and Figueroa. Those two like to get forward and punch balls into the box for Long and Jelavic but, with both cup tied today it will most likely be Aluko and Fryatt that they’ll have to contend with. I can’t pretend to be an expert on Hull’s squad, but I don’t recall there being much pace in that front two so I think Hull will look to exploit the wing backs to get forward as much as possible and get balls into the box to trouble us, rather than balls in behind our central defenders.

The midfield, as I mentioned above, will most likely contain Huddlestone and Livermore sitting with Meyler being asked to push forward and support the front two. Livermore may also provide more of an advanced threat but the key to neutralising Hull may just be to not give Huddlestone too much time on the ball to pick out players.

We should, in theory, have enough to thwart Hull City. We have beaten them twice already this season and apart from an initial fifteen minute opening spell at the KC Stadium, we have pretty much been on top in these games, but we know today will be different. Hull will be running on an adrenaline that we have not seen in previous games and they will know that with our history of implosions there is a possibility of an upset.

I don’t want to talk about any negativity today, so I’m not even going to mention the unthinkable happening come 8pm tonight, so I’m going to end today’s blog with a positive quote that I’ve just Google’d:

When people ask me what my religion is, I say it’s the Arsenal

Marcus du Sautoy