We’ll get victory through harmony – the players believe it

Stability is a place called Arsenal these days. With the announcement that Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla have both renewed their contracts with a four and three-year deal respectively, we have seen two of the recently unanswered questions be unequivocably dealt with by the club. In terms of keeping the continuity of the squad together, only the inking of a new deal of Nacho Monreal is left to ensure that this is – in theory (because we all know that contracts can be exited via buy outs from other clubs in the form of transfers) – a collective of players that we should be able to grow together for many years to come.

I’ve been saying this for quite a bit of this summer, but this is a squad that I personally feel very happy with. They have not been taken apart through transfer saga’s or contracts being run down, instead Arsene and the Arsenal staff have augmented the team with better players. World class players. Whilst many clubs like Liverpool have been overhauling their squad for a couple of seasons, we have seen relatively little player inwards movement, because we simply haven’t needed it. You build a beautiful and delicious cake with time and a careful hand, not by chucking all of the ingredients into a blender and hitting warp speed four.

This is a squad who are going to grow together. I feel it. Silly videos like the one in the swimming pool when they were all together heading it may all look like nothing, but I’m sure they give us a window into squad harmony and morale. Everyone seems to be pulling in the right direction. Everyone wants success.

Theo knew that. That’s why this contractual saga of his hasn’t lasted very long at all. He’s at an age where ambition is essential. He needs to feel like he can win things and the apparent ease in which this has happened (although I’d bet the negotiators on both sides will probably say that it wasn’t that easy when you were on the inside!) shows that he feels he can. He’s 26 years old and having spent 10 years at Arsenal, he probably feels like this is the best possible time to be picking up medals. I hope he’s right. We all do.

We’ve all got the bug you see. We’ve had two year’s of the FA Cup and now we want more. Our thirst has not been quenched, it has only been abated. We want bigger. We need better. The players are the same and you can sense it in what they are all saying. The way they are talking about the club has the sound of those that really believe it and in sport belief is as important as experience, confidence and technical ability. The players all have technical ability. We’ve got a squad bristling with it. But perhaps over the last ten years the belief has not been to the level it is now. That belief has come with trophy wins in the last two seasons and with those trophy wins we also have players who know how to win things. They know how to get over the line.

Cazorla too has been rewarded with a new deal. He’s thirty years old and the club have signed him up for another three years I believe. That shows you just what an impact our tiny little Spaniard has had. I think he still had a year or so to run on his deal and so Arsenal could have got to next summer and given him a one year extension, but they have decided that he’s a guy that we should keep around for a few year’s to come. Let’s not forget that Santi was a player who has been linked with moves back to Spain even as soon as a few weeks ago. He’s always said he would like to go back and finish his career in Spain, but his style and the way he plays probably means he could be playing well in to his late thirties, so him sticking around for another three years can only be a good thing. Like Theo, he has probably seen the potential of this team and is hungry to realise his dreams by picking up more medals with Arsenal.

It’s a commitment from Santi in his belief, but it’s also a commitment from the club too, which I think has to be applauded. The club recognise what an impact he has. His close control, his ability to retain possession, his new-found position of a deep lying playmaker, all of this last season was a vitally important cog in the machine that was churning out victory after victory post-Christmas 2014. His resurgence in the team (let’s not forget that people thought it might be the end of his time this time last year) has coincided with the team’s performance and if we’re going to win the league this season, we’re going to need Santi in the team.

What his and Arteta’s signatures does, is do something that perhaps Arsenal have been accused of not doing in the past, which is successfully pairing the need for youth, players in their prime and those with experience that can take the younger players under their wings. Balance. Harmony. Victory through it all. That’s what The Arsenal’s successful history has been built on and that is how we can win that Premier League trophy again.

I’m excited. Bring on the Premier League. Let’s see how far this team can take us.

Alexis’ success good for us?

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

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

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

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

 

 

Arsenal’s PR offensive is still good for the fans; Dennis’ legacy remembered

It’d be nice to be able to talk up the fact that Ivan said yesterday in a fans Q & A that we’re going to sign Player x, Player Y is in the bag and Player Z was just waiting behind a pop-up banner to appear like a Sol Campbell from nowhere, but the reality of the sessions like yesterday (which also featured Ian Wright by the sounds of it on perfect form), are that it is simply a way of the club to show that they are listening. Kind of like when people deliver petitions to Downing Street, or write letters to people in power. They know that what they write is going to most likely fall on deaf ears, but at least they have an opportunity to do it and at least the club do show that they’re willing to have these sessions.

It’s good PR. Think about how wrong Newcastle are doing it at the moment by not talking to fans, banning some sections of the media to pressers and generally turning the whole world against them. So whilst I’m a bit of a cynic when it comes to the answers from each Q & A, I’m glad we have them as a club. It’s sort of like fighting for the right to vote then defending the right of somebody to abstain from actually voting because they don’t believe in the candidates that are up for election.

There was no flat denial about Petr Cech, but then again there was no denial about Messi, Ronaldo, the Ghost of Christmas Past or Jesus, so I don’t really think we can read too much in to it. That’s what the press spend most of their time doing, with Jeremy Wilson from the Telegraph looking to put his slant on the Cech ‘saga’ by proclaiming that Arsenal are about to make the Czech ‘keeper the highest paid stopper in Arsenal’s history. It’s fairly obvious that if the deal does get over the line Petr will be the highest paid goalkeeper we’ve ever had. What with inflation, plus our improved financial situation, etc, Arsenal were hardly going to dust off the accounts book from 1990 and see how much Big Dave Seaman earned when he joined the club, are they? Still, at least it’s something new to talk about and Wilson will have received sufficient clicks from transfer salivating Arsenal fans like you and I, so he’s done his job in the most part.

So with there nothing more to talk about in modern-day Arsenal (and I don’t really count the Thierry Henry comments about Alexis having the ‘X Factor’ to Arsenal. It’s kind of an obvious thing that we’ve all seen – and spoken about – ourselves over the duration of the season), I thought I’d delve into the inner recesses of my mind and have a word or two to say about Dennis Bergkamp, the Dutch master who changed us forever.

He did change us, didn’t he? He was the beginning of the transition from ‘boring, boring Arsenal’ the industrious and well-drilled team of the late 80s and early 90s, to the ‘sexy football’ of the late 90s under Arsene Wenger. When Le Boss arrived as manager for the first time and had a look at his squad, he must have pinched himself for good luck after seeing what Dennis could do. The guy was majestic. He could see things that others could not. A pass, a through ball, a little dink, a run of another player, he knew automatically what his teammates could do and he was possibly the best £7.5million we spent. It’s hard to imagine that it was 20 years ago to this day that we signed him from Inter Milan. I still remember it. I was playing football outside the front of my house and my father – not really a footballing man – came out from the front door and said “Arsenal have signed two players”. I rushed inside to see that Bergkamp and Platt had signed and it was like Christmas in summer. It was brilliant. I couldn’t wait to see them both in action the following season.

We all look at Bruce Rioch’s reign at Arsenal and see it as an unsuccessful one, but we should all give thanks to the former Bolton manager for bringing those two players to the club. It was the most positive part of his legacy. I was recounting on Twitter with some friends the last game of the season I saw in his first season at the club. I was offered some tickets for my Dad and I to sit in the North Bank and see us potentially qualify for Europe if we could beat Bolton. It was one of those games that just looked like it was going to frustrate and I remember us being 1-0 down with minutes ticking away when Dennis was involved in the first goal for Arsenal to score – I think it might even have been Platt – then to unleash an absolute thunderbolt in to the top hand corner to win us the game and make it 2-1. That was Dennis. It may have ‘only been Bolton’, but it was a big game and he stepped up and smashed us into the UEFA Cup. Which of course, was a proper trophy back in those days!

He went on to become a legend. A player with whom we all sing songs about, recall with a smile and thank Arsenal that they bought somebody like that in to our lives.

We are lucky to be fans of such a great club.

Exploit the width against Hull’s formation

Today the good lord Bergkamp could see fit to bless upon us the day of St Totteringham, in which we celebrate the mathematical certainty that Arsenal will finish above the other team in North London in the Premier League. Ideally a draw yesterday coupled with an Arsenal win would have made this weekend just about as good as it can get – given the other event that happened at the weekend that I think i’ll just refuse to acknowledge its existence – but at least we now face Hull tonight with the prospect of all but securing Champions League football for next season. Winning will put us nine clear of Liverpool, 12 clear of Tiny Totts and 13 clear of Southampton.

But we still need to do the business because we want to finish second, maintain momentum and win the FA Cup, which won’t be easy. Hull have picked up a few wins lately to practically all but secure their top flight status for next season and I suspect that they will be a tougher opponent tonight than they might have been about a month ago.

We know them well enough from last season’s FA Cup final and they will want to get a bit of revenge on their home turf. They nearly did that to us on our own patch earlier in the season, when we came within but a few minutes of a 2-1 defeat to them, only for Danny Welbeck to pick up a point for us in the dying embers. It was a performance that was symptomatic of our early season start; we were lethargic, not very cohesive as a unit and conceded some pretty sloppy goals. It was at a period in the season in which we were dropping points like they were going out of fashion and at the time of all of those early season draws I have to admit I could not have envisaged that Arsene and his charges would have been able to turn it around so dramatically. But we must acknowledge their hard work to get us in to this positive position, because if any Arsenal fan would have been told after that Hull game that we’d be on track for second with an FA Cup final, after laughing ironically and then whimpering a little bit, we’d have said you were mad. But you wouldn’t have been mad, you’d have just had one of them crystal ball thingy’s, or a time machine. If you do, can you let me know if we win it at the end of May? Would make my disposition decidedly sunnier for the next few weeks.

Anyway, back to today’s matters and the game we have in store this evening. We know Hull will play with a back three, which is what they did in the cup final and is what we’ll see this evening, as well as a bank of five in midfield and two up top. Steve Harper will continue to creak his way around the goal line, which is an opportunity for us, but Olivier will most likely have his hands full with Dawson the most likely to be grappling with us. That will leave Chester and McShane to keep an eye on Alexis and whoever plays wide right. I know this is a little out of the trend, but I suspect Theo would be perfect for a game like today. His pace up against McShane will see him win every time and if Hull are playing wing backs with Elmohamdy and Brady, they’ll want to get forward more than play a defensive line. It could lead to pockets for our attackers and so I hope Arsene’s thinking is to play Walcott – or even Welbeck – in that wide position rather than Ramsey.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Aaron is playing well, but he likes to drift in field too much and if he plays wide right today that will – in my opinion – play in to Hull’s hands. They will sit Huddlestone deep along with Livermore and probably look to somebody like Meyler to also put in a shift. But it’s all in the centre and the net effect could be a level of congestion that doesn’t help any of our midfielders. Get width, exploit Hull’s formation and pick up the win that keeps us on track for second spot, that’s what I say.

To do that, I think we’ll see Ospina, Bellerin, Monreal, Koscienly, Mertesacker, Coquelin all make up the defensive third of the team. The creativity of Cazorla and Ozil will be retained, whilst I’ve already mentioned my preferred front three. Hull have won their previous two games and whilst I think they’ll stay up, their form at the moment – similar to Leicester – coupled with their still precarious position in the league, makes them a very difficult opponent. Apparently, we’ve won our last four Premier League away games by a one goal margin and if I was a betting man I’d put some cash on a similarly close encounter tonight. But we should have enough to beat the Yorkshire side. They are down the bottom of the league for a reason and we are towards the top for a reason – we win more than we lose and they lose more than they win. So we need to pick up the points. Liverpool have struggled there, Chelski relied on a ‘keeper error there to win them the game a couple of weeks ago, so let’s not be fooled into thinking this will be a stroll on a MOnday evening, but let’s make sure we pick up the points by hook or by crook.

Have a good bank holiday and hopefully let’s see it finished off with three-point loveliness.

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.

Options in the squad, but still a very tough time with tough decisions

Arsene’s presser started with the bad news about Gabriel being out for three weeks, but injuries in an Arsenal squad – especially the infamous ‘three weeks’ ones – are as par of the course as an Arsenal player, as the new inductee song in front of the playing staff.

It’s a shame for Gabriel because he would probably have loved to have started to build a run in the side and having played two games in a row he probably would have fancied his chances for a third on Monday night against United. But that’s life at Arsenal, I guess, so he’ll have to recover, then hope his chance comes around again, which you’d have to think will only happen if there are plenty of games left to play. In other words, we’re still in the FA Cup, possibly still in the Champions League (although we know that fire is all but extinguished).

Monreal is in a similar situation too actually, having worked so hard to establish himself as the number one left back, he finds himself unsure of whether he can wrestle the starter jersey from Kieran Gibbs. Gibbs has had two good games against Everton and QPR and contributed heavily in both, so a follow up performance by him against United might probably mean that Nacho is back to square one when it comes to fighting hard to retain his place. Such is life in the modern game; squads have to be big and players lose out when competition is high, but at least we have that competition to give Arsene the lovely headache that we’d all prefer. Remember the dark days where the headache was “how do we avoid seeing Silvestre or Denilson today, given our injuries”? Depressing times back then, I can tell thee.

But we have options now and the squad goes to Old Trafford with a strong team to take on an average United side that have the psychological edge over us, if not the technical one, that they might have had in seasons past. Arsene talks about our own recent confidence in the league and the importance it will have, which is great and I think he’s right to emphasise it, but to suggest that history plays no part in this fixture I think is folly on his part. Of course history will have an impact. The players may not have all played in the many defeats stretching back to 2006, but they will know full well of the record, they will have seen the media talking about it and they will know that it will have an impact should they go one down at Old Trafford. I’m not going to suggest that they’ll simply shrugh their shoulders and say “oh well, we’re screwed again” and give up, but I do think when you have a mentality in a club and a record like we have – similar with Chelski and us I think – the thought that goes through people’s heads is “how do we beat this lot?”. It’s worse when the team isn’t as good as it used to be or, as the game at the Emirates showed in November, gets themselves a fair old slice of luck in their victories too. I’ve been joking all week to United fans that they’ll probably only have three shots on goal and win the game with a deflected goal off Phil Jones face and a four-man ricochet that ends up scrambling over the line off Valencia’s arse. That’s just what it feels like with United.

Anyway enough of my negativity, let’s start to build up to the game with a little more positive vibes, eh? Like how Danny Welbeck will want to shove the lack of appreciation he had from Louis van Gaal right down his robot sounding throat. More on who I think will play on Monday, but initial thoughts are that we simply must go for pace, which Welbeck, Alexis and Walcott offer. That will complement Giroud and so whoever does start has to have a big game.

Ozil will also play I’m sure and it was good to see Arsene Wenger dismiss the criticism from media attention-seeker Paul Scholes. I read Scholes’ article yesterday in the London Evening Standard and I have to say I haven’t read such a clear attempt at trotting out populist cliches as Scholes did yesterday. It was like he’d had a look at some of the articles floating around historically, then decided he wanted to carve himself out a career as an ‘edgy’ pundit. But the biggest irony of his article was that the very same ‘laziness’ that Ozil gets labelled with, was used with Scholes’ article. He might as well have said “can Arsenal do it on a cold Tuesday night in Stoke”, or “they don’t like it up ’em”. It had no real insight, just a bit of click whoring/paper reading. I guess that’s what he’s paid for, but it’s still annoying to read such research-lite reading from a player who’s football career was clearly more relevant than his current attempt at punditry.

Right, that should probably do me for today, so I’ll take my leave and catch thee in morrow.

Boro: A tight encounter with concentration key

FA Cup Sunday. We’re getting used to this, aren’t we? That, and stupid non-traditional kick off times, coupled with having to pay for two subscriptions. This weekend I’ve wanted to watch a bit of FA Cup action and without BT Sport on my TV, I’ve been limited to Match of The Day. It’ll only get worse when they get the Champions League rights. eugh, Michael Owen commentating on Champions league football…

Still, there’s no need to be grumpy when there’s a game afoot to prepare for, so the in-form Middlesbrough travel to The Emirates looking to chalk up higher-class slaying number two to their list of victories this season. It’s a tough one to see exact how this one is going to play out, actually, because we don’t know whether Middlesbrough will ‘have a go’ so-to-speak, or whether they will try the old Arsenal tactic that was used against Moneychester City of ‘rope-a-dope’, sucking up pressure, hitting on the counter and catching your opponents cold. We’ve seen first hand this year alone, how that tactic can work beautifully providing the conditions are right (our trip to the Etihad), but also if the application is not spot on (the debacle at White Hart Lane). So whilst Middlesbrough represent a tough opponent with plenty of confidence at the moment, it is by no means a forgone conclusion that they’ll sit with a wall of defenders today. They might decide that they can have a go at us.

It’s probably unlikely though. The successive victories the Smoggies have had have been built on a foundation of defensive stability and having listened to the Arsecast yesterday where a Boro fan explained how they’ve been successful this season, I think we’ll see them look to hit us with their pacey attacking players, whilst absorbing pressure when we have the ball. If they are organised enough defensively – as Leicester showed – you can frustrate this Arsenal team. Leicester lined up with a back five and attempted to recreate a London version of the Great Wall of China in midweek, but I think Middlesbrough will line up in something that will resemble a familiar formation to us of 4-2-3-1. They’ve got an injury problem in the absence of Ayala, plus their Chelski loan signing (every team outside the prem has one of those, right?) Kalas can’t play because of his loan deal, but apart from that I’m not really sure where the real threats will come from. Karanka has apparently been a bit loan-hungry in snapping up some Spud youth players in Fredericks and Veljkovic, but whether they’ll play is your guess as good as mine. Jonathan Woodgate might step in, but if he does so you’d hope that our pace could expose him at centre half.

This must be a tricky one for Arsene. Against Brighton we played a Championship team that were in the bottom half of the table and had shown indifferent form. To all intents and purposes, Middlesbrough are playing like a Premier League team at the moment and if they continue their trajectory, they will be one before long too. So does Arsene name the strongest squad possible, safe in the knowledge that there are six days with which to refresh his players before we play Palace? Or does he rotate with it firm in his mind that he needs to keep his squad fresher rather than relying on a core of 12 or 13 players. I hope it’s the latter. I have always been a fan of keeping players ticking over when they are not regularly starting, so I hope there are some – not loads, but some – changes to the team that played against Leicester.

I would expect Szczesny to come in and I’m pretty sure Arsene has already said that would happen. I would have thought Gibbs would get another run out, as well as Chambers, but then the decisions become a little bit more difficult. Does Gabriel come in to start? It’s easy to say ‘no, keep the defensive partnership in the middle consistent’, but if Gabriel is to be properly integrated into the Arsenal team, he needs game time. Does Arsene play a midfield with Flamini instead of Le Coq? Again, I’m not sure. I suspect he might get the nod, as too will Rosicky having excelled in the last round and also having been impressive in the last couple of sub appearances he’s had. So who plays at number 10? Mesut with a start? If so, does Welbeck go left, Walcott right and Giroud through the middle? Or will Arsene opt for Welbeck through the middle? Giroud has taken a few knocks lately and with uncertainty surrounding Alexis and whether he’ll be back for Palace, you’d think Le Boss might be a bit more cautious with his team selection.

I think Arsene will field a strong team today. He might rotate slightly with the defence but I’m not sure we’ll see too many attacking changes. He will be mindful of the fact that yet another ‘tough’ fixture will have been eliminated yesterday in the form of Stoke (we’ve been knocked out away from home to them before!), so with Liverpool and United being the main threats for us should we progress, you have to be looking at this competition as a realistic target to win back-to-back. I would love to get us to Wembley again and a win today puts us – in theory – 90 minutes from it. So let’s hope the team treats this opposition with more respect than Man City did, does the business on our own ground, so we can look forward to the draw on Monday night.

Laters.