Happy with the Champions League draw, little less happy about squad depth

Winning the Champions League is hard. We’ve never done it and we’re a club who has won almost anything you can win in football, often multiple times, so whilst it’s always interesting to see who we’ll get in the Group Stages of the Champions League, it didn’t really bother me too much.

The truth is, we’ve got a decent pedigree in the initial phases and with Dynamo Zagreb and Olympiakos making up the other teams aside from Bayern Munich, you’d still fancy us to progress. It’s pretty irrelevant which Pot 1 team we’d have got. We’ve finished first and second in our groups before and still been knocked out in the round of 16 or quarter finals.

I’m not being defeatist. If we get a decent result at home against Bayern,  you’d hope we can get wins home and away against the other two teams and be in the running for topping the group, giving us the better chance of progressing in the next round. But the belief has to be there regardless, if we ever want to get to the final again.

That belief starts by putting a run together domestically and there’s no better time to start the aforementioned confidence building than by beating Newcastle at St James’ Park. It won’t be easy and I’ll have a bit of a match preview for you tomorrow, but Arsène was quizzed in his pre-game presser and he spoke of how tight and fought the games always are up there. It’s true; we may have had three wins on the bounce, but each of them have been by just a goal margin and there have always been scary moments in which I’ve looked at The Management with my hands over my mouth and a worried glance.

The manager also spoke about the importance about managing abroad and how that will Schtand Schteve in good stead. I agree. He’ll be able to conflab with Wijnaldum in his mother tongue and tone, so we’ll need to be careful of the Dutchman getting proper instructions and actually doing us some damage on Saturday.

As for us, we need to improve our end product, which is also something Arsène picked up on. He’s right in his assertion that teams sit deeper at home, but sometimes that can also be true away and I suspect we’ll see Newcastle trying to remain solid for the start of the game tomorrow and grow in confidence. It’s probably also why we haven’t seen that much of Theo, because when teams defend deeper his primary asset – raw and explosive pace – is often negated. I suspect we’ll get the same tomorrow too.

What we won’t get is a new face announced, which I’m fine with to be honest, because we have football to distract us from the salvia thing and foaming at the mouth of many people. I prefer to concentrate on the real thing rather than the speculation. Life’s too short don’t you know. But I am starting to get a little bit more apprehensive about whether or not we can compete. I’ve been so resolute all summer about how we don’t really need an engine overhaul, just a fine tune, but having seen our stuttering start I’ve started to waiver in my own belief. It’s sad, I know, but I can’t help it. It’s probably partially driven by Moneychester City’s brilliant start, as well as the lacklustre finishing on our part, but I am starting to get worried every time Coquelin goes down holding a part of his body. I still believe that Arteta is a good player and will be valuable to us, but when that thought process gets immediately countered in my head by “yeah. but sure only when we are a couple of goals up early on against Swansea or Stoke at home?”, I get flashes of doubt that grow bigger. I do think we need a destroyer. The return of Welbeck will at least mean we have another option alongside Theo if Giroud isn’t working, so numbers-wise we’re fine, but that centre midfield anchor is still missing. None of us want a prolonged period of games where Flamini is attempting to relive his previous Arsenal life, so let’s hope Arsene is looking at that position more than a striker.

Maybe it’s a bit of a reverse of what he’s done in the past. You know, like when we all cried out for another striker, so Arsene went out and bought Monreal. Or when we all wanted another defender and up pops Andre Arshavin. Maybe whilst everyone is screaming for a Benzema, Wanyama can sneak in through the back door at Colney and then jump out of a bike cake for us on September 2nd? We shall see.

Anyway, I’m off to prep for my sojourn up north, so I’ll catch thee in the morrow for a pre-match musing from Morpeth.

My Champions League tips, as Per flags down a bus

Forget hyperbole of Wayne Rooney being ‘back’ after he scored a hat trick against an underwhelming Club Brugge yesterday evening, today is all about the Group Stage proper and finding out who we’ll see rocking up at the Emirates from Seltember.

We’re in Pot 2, which means that we’ll certainly not face Real Madrid, Porto, Atletico, Valencia or Leverkusen, but it does mean we’ll get one of the ‘big boys’.

I say ‘big boys’, but whilst Pot 1 features league winners like Chelski, Barcelona, Bayern and PSG, it also has Benfica, Zenit and PSV, so there’s an outside chance we could still be favourites for the group even though we’re not seeded as one of the best any more.

The seeding is a bit farcical anyway, because it effectively guarantees teams like from leagues where most of the opposition are cannon fodder every weekend, a seat at the top table and a status that doesn’t really befit them. I’d wager it’s a lot harder to finish third in the Premier League than it is to top the Portuguese Super Lig, or whatever the devil they call it. But I guess “Them’s is the rules” and we have to abide by them.

I fancy us to get Bayern or PSV again. That seems to be the standard in the Champions League, that you play teams that you feel like you play every year. A decent draw of teams we’ve hardly ever played would be Benfica, Lyon and BATE Borisov, but I suspect we’ll end up with a group of death including Barcelona, Roma and Wolfsburg. Hey, at least we could all hail the return of The Lord so that would be something to all get our ceremonial pray mats out over.

The draw will happen at 4.45pm UK time, which probably means the UEFA doors will open at midday and much padding will ensue. Pointless ceremonies for all not there, but I’d imagine if you get to go, it beats a day at the office. Maybe I’m just bitter.

What I’m not bitter about, however, is the fact that I get to head up north tomorrow evening to spend the weekend with the in-laws. They just happen to live in Newcastle so hey, the coincidence is welcome by this here Gooner. 

We’ll probably get Arsène’s press conference today, because he and the team are hitch-hiking their way up to the St James’ Sporting Direct Arena of Wonga @ Newcastle stadium, which is why he has to do his pre-match press conference early. Per and Cech are already walking along the A1 looking to flag down a big enough, empty enough bus with which to pile in to. It’s because they’ve got the longest arms and thumbs, you see.

The big news will be on who is available and whether we’ll get another dose of Chambers and Gabriel. If we do get that confirmation, I’d expect them to be better for their second half performance, but I would of course rather see at least one of our Big German or Bart Simponsesque Frenchman available. Monday night showed us the importance of that experience and even if Big Per is available (which I would suspect would see Chambers drop to the bench instead of Gabriel), I think his calming influence would be well felt at the back, despite what some of the naysayers say about him.

I don’t get it you know. The whole ‘Per is sh*t’ rubbish I mean. He’s not blessed with pace, can be cumbersome at times, but he’s been a solid defender since he arrived at the club and his positional sense and organisation of his teammates is an important part of his game that gets overlooked. Just because he isn’t making ‘Hollywood tackles’ – if there is such a thing – doesn’t mean that he isn’t adding value to the team. People need to spend more time watching the play and less time watching and listening to the pundits methinks.

Anyway, hopefully he’s back and hopefully the problem with Koscienly is a short term issue, because we could do without him being sidelined for a prolonged period of time.

We could also do with more goals, something that dear old Mesut has said he’s going to do this season, by being more selfish. By all means my old mukka, if you could just rifle a few more in when you’re put through rather than square the ball, that’d be grand. But as long as Özil continues to dictate games like Crystal Palace away and the second half at Liverpool, then that’ll do too, because he’ll create plenty of chances for others to fluff up. I’m kidding! Jeez, don’t get all touchy and sensitive, ok?

That’s all there is for now. We wait with baited breath on both Le Boss’s words and our Champions League fate. Let’s hope it’s not one that will have us rueing our luck.

Taking the squad to Spudland and a Giroud overreaction

Wellington, wellington, wellington, how about that for a third round Capital One Cup draw for us, eh? The Spuds at their hovel of a ground. Who da thunk it?

At least we’ll get to see the youngsters on TV…but wait…how many will we actually see? Because you know that these days we have a squad of players fighting for a place, so I reckon we’ll probably get to see quite a lot of familiar faces when we rock up at their gaff in September. 

Ospina, Debuchy (at this rate with Bellerin keeping his place), Chambers, possibly Gabriel if Koscienly’s back doesn’t turn in to another longer term issue, Gibbs, Flamini and Arteta, Walcott, Welbeck returning from fitness. All of these players will probably be looking at some game time. So unless Pochettino plays his strongest side, we’ve got to fancy ourselves a bit in this tie, eh? Regardless of our recent history of very average of poor results in the wrong side of North London. With some of those players you’d expect them to be given a chance and want to take that chance quite desperately.

But that’s a little way off yet, because we still need to get this season up and running, what with our spluttering and stuttering start to it. Particularly at the sharp end of the team, in which a lot is being made of the number of shots we have had at home in the last five or six matches, only scoring in the last game of the season against West Brom. I think a little too much is being made of it actually. There’s quite a bit of finger pointing, of photoshopping of quotes and stats on an image of Giroud, as well as much gnawing of bone and gnashing of teeth because we haven’t signed a striker.

By the way as an aside, I dreamed that Benzema was in Engkand round my house and had a blond wig on yesterday, so I asked him about the transfer. In a reply that sounds very much like it’s taken from a transcript of a call by add Woodward to Louis Van Gaal, Benezema told me that he didn’t even know Arsenal were interested and that nobody had even found him from Arsenal yet. Make of that what you wish.

But anyway, back to these stats about our profligacy, seemingly aimed at Giroud who has obviously been the person who has taken all of the 61-odd shots that have been taken during our ‘five out of six’ games without a goal at The Emirates. I mean come on people, there is no ‘I’ in ‘team’ and all that. Sure, Giroud has been a little wasteful at times and sure, I’d love an upgrade who could take chances like Ian Wright used to do, but we don’t have that at this moment in time and the reason we haven’t been scoring isn’t solely because Olivier has forgotten where they place the nets at home. 

There are a few factors as to why we have gone so many games without scoring and each game has a slightly different narrative. Swansea last season was one of those ‘Champman’ results where the football karma gods decided that we were going to huff and puff and get nowhere. So too was the Sunderland result last season, as a team fighting for their lives made tackles everywhere, but also we had very little to play for.

The West Ham game was an appalling performance and the players know that. Unfortunately that’s just what this Arsenal team delivers some times and I’m coming around to it. Then we come to Monday’s result, partially determined by our own clear nervousness defensively, but in the second half it just looked like we were a little out from picking up all three points in the second half. 

So there are mitigating factors in our performances and the manager knows we have to be better. He knows the start hasn’t been great, calling it ‘average’ and he has to force a reaction on Saturday lunchtime. But it’s not just from Giroud. It also has to come from Alexis getting his scoring boots on, or Ramsey bagging goals from wherever he’s placed in the team. Giroud should be contributing more of course, but equally so should Özil and Santi too. It’s a team game and it’s the team that is squandering chances. Not just Giroud.

Perhaps I’m sympathising with him too much, but what else can we do? There’s no point unleashing verbal torrents of abuse of him on my blog that he no doubt has never seen in his life. And even if he did, me shouting the house down doesn’t exactly help him in any way. Arsène has admitted in the past that he’s a confidence player. So he needs to be given that confidence by the manager.

On Saturday we’ve got a Newcastle side who have just come off of the back of a Capital One Cup victory at home and will be buzzing, but Giroud has the odd goal against the Geordie’s so I hope he can find his way again. We can ill-afford another lacklustre display and with tough games against Stoke and Chelski coming up after the international break, things could start to look ropey unless we pull our fingers out.

We’ll find out more from Arsène tomorrow about who’s available, so until then, chins up people.

Cech out our goalie, as well as a dodgy lino

Not for the first time this season Liverpool were the beneficiaries of yet more dodgy officiating, yet for the first time this season, we were the beneficiaries of a superb Petr Cech display. Which would probably be the story of the game if you asked me to describe it in a paragraph or less.

The pre-game teams news undoubtedly handed Liverpool a boost and no matter what people say about Mertesacker being a liability (less so most of the Arsenal fans I know), his calming influence would have been useful against a clearly nervous Calum Chambers in the first half last night. Chambers is a good defender. We’ve seen that at the start of last season, but it’s hard to just switch on and off form when you’ve not been playing, especially when the same is true of his central defensive partner Gabriel last night. 

It was pretty painful to watch in that first half, wasn’t it? All of the back four seemed to be shaky at different moments and the passing had about as much accuracy as a one armed blind archer. Bellerin, Gabriel and Chambers all seemed to take turns in suicidal balls in our defensive third and when the need was there for a bit of ball retention and clever passing, even Santi decided to chip in with some off-key distribution. Heck, even Mesut Özil – who misplaced just one pass on Sunday last week – lost the ball two or three times and we looked like we couldn’t have been happier to go in to the first half after a performance like that. 

Yet for all of the Liverpool possession, great saves from Cech and rattled woodwork, we should have been one up with a perfectly good goal chalked off for offside. Figures.

I don’t know whether or not Arsène went to DEFCON 3 on the team at half time, but thankfully our second half performance was better and we had more of it after the interval. Liverpool looked to counter and Mignolet tried to slow down the play by time wasting as much as possible. But we still should have broken the deadlock. Alexis off the post, Giroud slipping when through against Mignolet, the Ox forcing him in to a good save and countless runs by Monreal in behind the defenders, meant that it was our second half.

So perhaps in hindsight a draw is the fairest result. Except it always feels a little more deflating when you’re at home. Had that been at Anfield I’d probably be quite happy with it. It’s still early in the season and there’s plenty of time to get a run together. But because it was on our own patch, it feels like we’ve dropped two points, plus I have this nagging and uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. I have that feeling not because of the rum I drunk whilst watching the game, but because that’s another game without scoring at The Emirates (even if we actually did had the rules been properly enforced) and it’s another performance in which we’ve given the opposition far too much licence to do their own thing.

I want us to be champions. I want us to win more football matches than anyone else. But we’re looking nervous at times at home and that’s not good. I know I shouldn’t look at other teams at such an early stage in the season, but I couldn’t help but think back to what Arsène said about the beginning of last season, in which we effectively lost the league after about six or seven games. By the ten game mark I think we were eight points off Chelski. We’re five away from City already and although they will inevitably drop points, if they keep building a buffer, all it will do is give them the opportunity to drop points without there being repurcussions. 

The problem we’ve also got is that we go to Newcastle next Saturday and with last nights draw at home, if we get anything else other than three points come 3pm, we’ll be even further away from City by the time Match of the Day comes around. That’s the kind of pressure a draw at home brings to you.

It’s not terminal. We could win against Newcastle, then go on to beat Stoke before we play Chelski away, but if we lose in the North East we could be dead and buried in the league by the end of September. I know that sounds dramatic, but our away record at Stamford Bridge is atrocious, so back-to-back defeats away from home in our next two matches will probably make a league title assault look as far as it did this time last season.

Can everything be solved by transfers? I don’t think so. I think some players need to step up more. Santi has had two off games and one good one already this season. Giroud hasn’t looked great at home but did well away. Alexis just needs game time. Things just need to click a bit. But the problem is, things have already clicked at City and so we’re already playing catch up. 

Is it a psychological barrier we have to overcome? Maybe. I didn’t see a fantastic Liverpool team yesterday, that’s for sure, but I could t help but think that if City or Chelski played them, they would have found a way to beat them whilst playing as poorly as we did in that first half. That’s what worries me about us winning the league. Last night should have been a ground-out victory, not us talking about how great our ‘keeper is and how shaky our defence looked in the first half.

If I sound overly negative today then I apologise. It’s only because I’m so despair ate for Arsenal to show the world that we’re good enough with the squad we’ve got. But when a couple of injuries cause us to go all ‘jellylegs’ at the back, what’s it going to be like when we lose players in positions in which we aren’t as well stocked?

Arsène needs to have a think about how we sort ourselves out, because four points from three games isn’t good enough form to start crowing about possibly winning a title. Had we beaten West Ham then we’d all feel a little better about the situation, but we made life hard for ourselves from day one, so now we need to change that by picking up back-to-back victories. Quickly.

On a positive note, Coquelin had a very good game and Petr Cech showed a performance that most certainly shows why he was valued at £11million, so at least there’s something for us to focus on. 

Roll on next weekend, eh?

Play Walcott and don’t go back to square one

With Chelski and City both picking up the wins that I expected they would yesterday, it adds a wee bit more pressure on us to perform this evening against a Liverpool team who will be buoyed by their own results, if not the way in which they played in those games.

Liverpool represent a serious challenge to our title credentials, because we need to prove that we can beat all of our rivals, as well as being flat-track bullies by beating the so-called ‘smaller’ teams.

I was at a wedding yesterday and I was asked by a Liverpool fan what I thought the score would be. One of the difficult things about the start of the season is that you have no real form or frame of reference to make an educated guess with a question like that. We’ve seen abject failure in the form of West Ham at home, then redemption of sorts with a strong first half performance against Palace and then holding on to the three points, so it’s hard to really talk about any kind of ‘form’.

I mentioned it yesterday, that this time of the season is more about building momentum and dealing psychological blows, rather than the importance of the three points. I think the fact that I couldn’t properly predict a result to the Scouse fan, shows that too.

I suspect we’ll line up exactly the same way in which we played against Palace. I don’t like seeing Ramsey operating as a wide forward, but I think Arsène is desperate to get him in to the team by hook or by crook, so I see it as inevitable that he’ll play. Cazorla and Coquelin have both been good enough in the middle not to be dropped and with Özil running the show against Palace in the number 10 role last Sunday, he’ll be expected to do the same again. The defence picks itself at the moment and with Alexis now back to a bit of fitness and ready to rock and roll, the only real decision for Le Boss is whether or not he opts for the target man in Giroud, or the pace of Walcott.

To an extent, I hope Arsène makes his decision based on who he thinks will cause the greatest threat to Liverpool, rather than just start Giroid out of some kind of hierarchical based thought process. Liverpool have played with three at the back and wing backs in the last two years at The Emirates and we’ve been pretty comfortable in 2-0 and 4-1 wins, but I doubt Rodgers will play the same way tonight. I suspect he’ll play four at the back and look to win the midfield battle with Henderson and Milner being the chief protagonists, then looking to play Coutinho as a number ten behind Benteke. Defensively they’ll most likely have Lovren and Skyrtel at the back and neither are blessed with astronomical pace. So I do wonder if playing Theo might be a consideration. He will force Liverpool to sit deeper defensively and hopefully that would leave the midfield to drop deeper to receive the ball, which would isolate Coutinho and Benteke. We’ve seen from successive victories against Villa last season that if you isolate Benteke he will cut a lonely figure up top, so it will be important for us to try and replicate that because if we don’t, he’ll inevitably be a handful.

Two wins on the trot would allow us to start thinking about putting a run together. A draw means we haven’t really got anywhere, but haven’t lost, which really would feel like we’re back to square one. I hate square one. Square one sucks.

Stay away from square one Arsenal.

Building momentum is all the start of the season is about: this league is a tough one

What did we learn from yesterday’s games? That plenty of teams will be as to compete with each other, and this season will be a tough one because of the money in the Premier League improving the quality of a lot of squads. 

Spuds drawing to Leicester, United being frustrated at home, this season is already shaping up to be one of surprises. How on Earth we lost to that West Ham team after their defensive display yesterday against Bournemouth is beyond me. They were all over the place and even Carl Jenkinson had an afternoon to forget. 

Today’s games will be interesting though, because I think the two favourites for the league will show us the difference between the rest of the league and the elite. I fancy wins for both City and Chelski and I think they will demonstrate what you need to be the best in the division: consistency.

People talking about defeats costing the girls are way off, given the competitive nature of the league, so whilst I’ll be hoping for a West Brom and Everton win I’m not holding out much hope.

A win tomorrow will be more of a psychological victory rather than a significant one, which is what is important at this stage in the season, because it allows you to gain momentum. That’s what early season is. It’s a chance to get a run going so that when you reach the halfway point in the season you’re not playing catch up. Picking up big wins like City did against Chelski only strengthens the possibilities of that run extending and it will be the same with us, because when you play the mid-table or bottom-placed teams, it’s that confidence and belief fostered from big games that can give you an extra 10% belief and sometimes that’s what gets you over the line in terms of three points when you’re not playing great.

Arsène’s been talking up Alexis’ role in the team and making comments that the player is getting even better is enough to make any Gooner a little moist. This is a guy that bagged 25 goals last season and sometimes carried the team on his back in some games, yet Le Boss thinks he’s got more to give? Yes please, I’ll have some of that, with a side order of French fries, thank you very much.

The fact that Arsène said in his pressed on Friday that Alexis is essentially fully fit now, is the most joyous and perfect news we could have received ahead of a big game. His wonder goal against Liverpool earlier this year still probably gives Mignolet nightmares. If we can get a similar performance to that day, tomorrow, then we’ve already got the upper hand. 

Let’s just keep our fingers crossed that he can produce.

Anyway, that’s all I have to give today, as I have to go off and do some ushering at a wedding.

Have a happy Sunday. 

Alexis the machine; Arsène has a point on technology and transfers

Hey there fellow fan, how are you holding up during this barren Arsenal weekend? Any good? 

I’m feeling your pain, because I feel pretty fed up at the lack of Arsenal too, so we can both be a bit morose with Sky and BT for fudging around with the fixtures. Monday Night Football may give a football fan something to watch after the first day of the working week, but don’t let it be Arsenal, have some other clubs playing. Like Spuds away to Weet Brom or something.

But it is what it is and at least we have Arsène’s pre-match pressed to pour over and dissect to the nth degree. During it he confirmed the situation regarding our current injury status, which is pretty much ‘as is’, so that’s good to hear (in terms of no new ‘set backs’). Le Boss also confirmed that Alexis is almost at 100% match fitness and given that we’re only in to the third game of the season, he really is a staggering example of a footballer. When you think about how most players coming back from the World Cup last season needed a month or even two before they started to look like their usual selves, he continues to amaze and astound us. Quite why Barcelona swapped him for Suarez is beyond me. Perhaps I am too obviously biased, but Suarez and Alexis look evenly matched in terms of what they bring to a team, so it looks like Alexis fell victim to the fact that he wasn’t seen as a ‘superstar’ and the Barcelona (and Madrid) fans and club itself always want something shiny and new. Had Alexis signed from Udinese to Arsenal, had three or four years with us and then Barcelona were looking at him because he’d impressed with us, I’m convinced they would have been after him as much as Suarez. But hey, let’s not complain too much, because we’ve been gifted a truly marvellous footballer. At Liverpool’s expense too.

It will be an interesting game on Monday up against the Scousers, because they have a 100% record and will go in to the game with plenty of confidence, so I expect it will be tough. More on that tomorrow and Monday, but Arsène alluded to the fact that there was perhaps a bit of fortune to their start in the late goal at Stoke, coupled with the incorrect goal against Bournemouth. He worded it very cleverly though, being careful not to sound like he’s underestimating Liverpool, so to avoid giving them the clichéd ‘newspaper cutting on the dressing room door’.

He did have a point about the disallowed goal though, specifically when related to video technology, because we now live in an age where the reaction can be rapid once a decision has been reviewed. Had a video referee messaged down to the referee/linesman whilst Liverpool were celebrating – which was at least 30 seconds to a minute – there could have been enough time to review, see it wasn’t a goal and bring it back as a goal kick. Between a goal going in and the kick off for the restart is usually at least two minutes. Are you telling me that another official couldn’t make a decision in two minutes? Sky Sports were able to, so they also were able to reverse that time decision without any other stoppages that wouldn’t have happened during the goal. But anyway, it’s done, the Premier League/FA won’t change and we have to accept it.

What we also have to accept (although I think some still refuse to) is that we probably won’t be signing anybody at this stage. Paying attention to the ITKs and attention seekers is a waste of time. Decisions can be made so quickly, so quite why the ITKs talk about these transfers as if they are dragging out, shows that they know nothing. “Arsène just needs to decide if he wants to bid”, “the player will travel to London within the next 48 hours” and other such nonsense is, well, nonsense. Arsenal and Arsène aren’t at home right now with a blank piece of paper that reads ‘pros/cons’ on it with Benzema’s face in the middle of the A4 piece. If the club are interested in Benzema and haven’t bid it is because they are assessing the current situation, not waiting on Le Boss’ list and available Easyjet flights to Luton.

I did have a wry smile when Arsène spoke about closing the transfer window before the season starts, because we’d have signed nobody over the last couple of years of that would have been the case!

(I realise that the opposite might also be true i.e.having Özil et al at the club earlier than we did)

I’ve seen a few people getting irate – usually those from the school of thinking that believes Adrian Durham has some relevance – at Arsène talking about the lack of available players. I don’t really understand why. His rationale was perfectly logical. Football has lots of money in it. Football teams that 20 years ago could not refuse a big money bid for their players, are bidding big money for players themselves, so they have the financial muscle to convince players that they have a future by waving the all-mighty-pound at the players who have one less reason to angle for a move. If footballers are as money-motivated as most of the world says, surely Arsène’s comments make sense?

What he was really getting about players for Arsenal, was that there isn’t any available who would improve our first team, which I agree. We don’t want or need squad players, all of the players that are being touted around are just that, so what’s the point in even looking at them?

We’re in a good place right now and a win against Liverpool on Monday night doesn’t mean Arsène has an excuse to not sign players, it means we’re three points closer to that league title challenge we want. Let’s all focus on that, eh?

Catch you tomorrow.

Hoping Welbeck doesn’t go full Rosicky with his injury

Last night I woke up just before midnight to the most brain-stabbingly painful headache at the back of my bonce, I thought my head was going to explode like I was on the Mars surface in Total Recall.

I suspect it was just my body rejecting the 6,624,253rd rumour about Benzema signing. There’s only so much a gooner can take you know?

Anyway, what with people continuing to lose their sh*t over Ottamendi (position we didn’t need to fill) and Pedro (position we didn’t need to fill), I figured taking some time away from football was the best option last night. It was clearly the right choice.

The only real news about Arsenal was the stories of Arsène talking up the qualities of Wellington Silva – something you’d expect given that he wants to give him belief he can make it at the club – at Bolton and I for one will be glad to see him. It will be nice to occasionally switch on to some Championship football with vague interest now and again. Heck, I might even stay up for Manesh on a Saturday evening, maybe.

The current teams news…well…isn’t really team news at all, with Welbeck, Wilshere and Rosicky all still injured and only Wilshere looking like potentially being back any time soon. I have to say the Welbeck scenario is starting to have me worried though. It feels very Rosickesque or Vermaeleny in the whole “we’re not entirely sure why it’s taking so long for his knee to heal” situation. Poor old Tomas ended up missing a season and because of the length of the injury the club had moved on when we finally did get him back. He’s showed signs of the Rosicky pre-injury since then, but he’s never been the same player, which is what concerns me about Welbeck. The longer this goes on, the more likely it feels that he might end up being worse off in the long run. The likelihood that we move on as a club too, is also a possibility and if that happens, it would be a shame for Danny.

I like him. He’s a versatile player, his application and effort is top notch and if only he could have a better final finish on him, he’d probably have usurped Giroud at the top of our formation.

Let’s just hope Arsène sheds a little bit of light on the issue in his pre-match update later today, with that update being a “guys, chill, it’s fine. He’ll be back in no time and he’ll be the same as before”.

Other than that it’s pretty quiet. It’s a bit of a ball ache that we have to wait until Monday before seeing The Arsenal, because it basically means a non-football weekend, even if it does make next weekend more fun because we get two games in a week. Oh what I wouldn’t give for a 3pm kick off. It’s perfectly placed in the day for a few lunchtime beers, whilst still getting home in time for dinner, a nice evening and Match of the Day. Assuming Arsenal have won, of course. But we have to embrace what football supporting life is like these days, I suppose, despite how much it winds us all up.

Right, that’s me for the day, because I’m not speculating about potential players arriving or leaving for that matter. 

See you peeps in the morrow.

Wellington’s path is more blocked than Coq’s

A little while back I wrote a piece about how the Arsenal Youth team can be seen as a little bit of a cash cow in terms of the way the club is run, in that we bring in players, loan them out to get experience and then if they don’t make the grade, we still generate cash from their sale for normally the low millions.

So as the club announced the loan deal of Wellington Silva to Bolton for the season, just before he signed a new deal with the club, I couldn’t help but think that the winger is the latest of a line of players who will be straight off the production line and in to another team on a permanent basis.

Is there anybody who believes he’s truly going to make it? Last night somebody questioned me on this, citing Coquelin as a clear example as to why you shouldn’t give up and if you’re not an Arsenal fan, you might also point to Kane and Mason over there in Spudland. Whilst I agree that these case studies provide plenty of motivation for the Brazillian to succeed, I think his story is probably more fraught with obstacles than the above mentioned players have had.

Let’s take Coquelin as an example. He is 24 and has only just broken in to the first team. Wellington is 22 so the argument is valid that he can still do it. But Coquelin has had to overcome an ageing duo in Arteta and Flamini in a position in the team that realistically hasn’t been properly resourced since Flamini first left the club for Milan in 2008. Contrast that to Wellington, who is a winger, who would need to disperse any of the following to break in to the first team: Walcott, The Ox, Alexis, Ramsey, Welbeck. Potentially also Gnabry too, when he returns from his loan spell at West Brom. All of those players can occupy the wide positions and so whilst Coquelin found himself a regular in the team after a couple of injuries, Wellington would need to see at least four of that six injured for a prolonged period of time, before being given his chance. I can’t see that happening. All of those players are in their mid twenties too, so in three years time they’ll be at their peaks and assuming they’re all still at the club, his situation probably wouldn’t have got any easier and he’d be in his mid twenties still as a squad player.

There have also been questions about his attitude too from former coaches. I haven’t read too much in to it, so it would be wrong of me to pass any real judgement at this stage, but it does make one wonder if he’ll be cut out for the unwavering dedication of the Premier League and top flight football in general. Think Carlos Vela and his Mexican parties.

Still, this move worked wonders for Jack Wilshere, so perhaps Wellington can use it as a springboard to show the manager not to lose faith in him.

The same probably can’t be said for Joel Campbell, who seems to be on his way to Palermo, if the stories are true. After the clamouring for him to be given more game time last season, it looks as if Arsène probably hasn’t got any plans to integrate him more frequently into the starting XI, which means it’s probably in everyone’s interest to give him a new ‘project’ to try and make the most of his career. Again, he’s a winger in an area of the park in which we’re pretty strong, something you can all see with the fact that we’re not even remotely linked with Pedro. This is a player with whom plenty of Arsenal fans would have been desperate for two years ago, but now doesn’t even enter the thoughts of us as a collective of fans. We don’t need him. Unfortunately for Joel it looks as though we don’t need him either.

But that’s ok. It’s better to be in a position where we’re turning away decent players (I base that on the fact that he’s performed well for Olympiakos and has had a couple of half decent cameos for us as a sub), because they’re not brilliant players. We wanted for so long to dine at the top table, so now that we are we don’t need to munch on the ordinary loaf, we want proper posh artisan bread. Served on a slate with butter and a separate sprinkling of salt so you can choose how salted you need it.

We have a good squad. The players keep telling us it, with Mikel Arteta the latest to talk up the team, which means the result is that there will be plenty of players that don’t make it. Campbell and Wellington might be two of those, but as long as those that remain are capable of delivering silverware, then I’ll not mind too much. 

It does seem as though this squad is a bit more unified than before. Perhaps what Arsène has always wanted, which is to build a team that grow together and are not disrupted by other clubs looking to break them up by signing the stars of the team, has finally come to pass? That’s why we’re not seeing a wad of signings, because he has his core and he wants them to feel tied to one another. He wants them to create a legacy of their own and maybe – famous last words I know – they will all want to bile that legacy together?

We will find out over the duration of this season. I hope we get that come May.

All about connections

I sporadically tuned in last night to watch Liverpool against Bournemouth in a match that was supposed to be so comically one-sided it wouldn’t seem fair. Instead I saw a hard working Bournemouth team treated to some rough luck as Liverpool scored a goal which, under the rules, should not have stood. Talking about decisions costing people’s lives may sound hyperbolic, but what happens if Bournemouth need a point to survive on the last game in May? 

I’m reluctant to have a chortle at the scouters and their performance, however, after our insipid first game of the season. They have six points to our three after all. But hopefully we can level the tally by beating them next Monday.

Hopefully too, we hear large swathes of the media talking about how lucky Liverpool were last night, a bit like how we were ‘lucky’ not to have Coquelin sent off. I wait with excitement and anticipation on that (sacrasm-o-meter is reading off the charts here folks).

As for us, we’ve learned that a good self talking to is its own reward, as Big Per has explained to in the aftermath of Sunday’s victory. The players coming together to have those conversations is important. It’s one thing to put negative results at the managers door, but sometimes you do need players to take responsibility for their own actions, which it seems like this is happening when you hear stories like this. I do find it infuriating when clichés are thrown around by TV pundits about ‘lack of leaders’ every time we don’t perform as we should. Big Per may not be the best defender in the world, he may not be the most exciting player in the squad, but on the evidence I’ve seen you can hardly say he isn’t a leader. He talks on the pitch, he encouraged his fellow pros and if you look back to the 6-3 defeat at City two seasons ago, it was him who berated Özil for not going to clap the fans after a humiliating defeat.

How is that not leadership? Just because he isn’t thumping his chest and shouting inaudible words when the cameras are in view, he’s not a leader? Those that talk up Arsenal’s deficiencies in leadership should try to get pitch side and watch him. I have. He is a leader and a good one at that.

Anyway, back to the football and the fact that we’re already starting to look at next Monday’s game against Liverpool. It’s difficult to read too much in to last nights Scouse performance in an Arsenal context, because you really do get the sense in these games that it’s down to just getting the fitness levels back, but confidence plays a big part. After that first 20 minutes at Selhurst Park it immediately felt like The Arsenal that we all know and love and not some sort of sabotaging monkeys in Arsenal player shirts with cut out face masks of the first team. The passing resembled the crispness of the end of last season and those players in which their accuracy of passing and ball retention need to be near perfection to show their grace and class, all showed up and demonstrated what elite football is at times. Both Özil and Cazorla were sublime and I hope Arsène realised that playing them both centrally benefits the other in games like that one on Sunday lunchtime. 

It’s about little connections all over the park. Big Per and Kos, Cech and his defenders, Santi and Mesut, Santi and Coquelin, Giroud and Mesut, fullbacks and wide players. The list goes on and on. Yes football is about operating as a team, but it’s also about forming small scale alliances and understandings between players who operate within your own ‘zones’ too. We are fortunate because the lack of a complete squad overhaul has meant that many of those small connections remain in tact from last season, but they still need to be re-established I think. The human brain works best when it can automate certain functions. Repetition of the same act allows us to master tasks. That’s why it’s important for the players to continue those small connections as well as the wider team connection, because it will enable them to understand where players playing parts of the park close to them, will be and then act upon certain situations (players closing down quicker, finding empty space to pass in to, etc) with more efficiency.

So perhaps that’s why some people still need to give Cech a little bit of slack after two games? I’ve seen a few people already blaming him for Palace and whilst it’s true he was at fault for the goals against West Ham, what Big Per says in the linked article above is also true: when you concede goals like we did there are usually three or four little mistakes rather than a massive one, that lead to conceding. So whilst Big Per is quick to point out the great communication between ‘keeper and defence, the need for the connections to be built up to an optimum level is still ongoing.

With each game I’m expecting it to get better, so let’s hope we see yet more improvement across all aspects of the team on Monday next week.