Injuries not as feared, but transfer business might be

Happy Friday to thee my dearest of Arsenal supporting friends. I hope you are in ‘end of the week’ mode and savouring the prospect of an extra day away from the monotony thanks to this Bank Holiday we have been gifted in the UK. If you’re outside the UK and don’t get said holiday, please feel free to email, tweet or direct message me your ‘nur-nicky-nur-nur’s when such a time is afforded to you, yet isn’t in Blighty.

I also get the added benefit of getting to stop by a bar a stones throw away from the ground tonight. A friend of mine is moving to the States for a few months and he’s having a send off on Holloway Road, which is fabulous, because I’ll probably swing by the Emirates on my way just to say high to the place. Is that sad? Probably. I mean, it certainly doesn’t look the same with a man and his dog wandering past it as the patrons of the place, but I don’t care. It’s my/our Cathedral and I’ll visit it when I want thank you very much.

So, what’s happening in the world of Arsenal then, eh?

Well, as expected, Arsene had his presser yesterday (taking the more sensible approach to my suggestion yesterday) and was quizzed on a manner of topics ahead of the visit to Everton. Most importantly, the injuries, to which it appears only Mikel Arteta will be absent from the team line up at the moment. That’s great news because by the sounds of it there were a few players carrying knocks – like Koscienly – and if Arsene is stating that we have a decent compliment of players then that’s a-ok by me.

The next few games will certainly be interesting from a midfield perspective. With the captain out for probably what will be a couple of weeks minimum, it gives Le Boss the opportunity to let other players stake a claim, most notably Flamini, who will hope that a good showing against The Toffees grants Arteta extended leave from the first eleven. But also, with an impending ban in Europe about to befall Ramsey after his two cards in midweek, it means that there is a bit of a selection decision for one of the other three midfield roles. One would imagine that Mesut Özil will slip in to that midfield against Besiktas, so I think Arsene will probably also ease him in against Everton, so I’d be surprised if he started.

I think the same goes for Per based purely on the initial form (I know, difficult to fall ‘form’ on just three games, but I am so there) of the newbie Chambers. His excellent displays certainly warrant a starting berth in Merseyside tomorrow and, after Arsene spoke so glowingly about Chambers in the press conference, you’d expect him to feature tomorrow. What I did like about what Arsene was saying though, was when he spoke about Chambers getting a call up to the England team, as is now the case with the media chomping at he bit to see him in a white shirt. Like Arsene, I think it’s great that Arsenal players are recognised for their country, but there is also the worry of that inevitable burden placed on one so young. Remember when Jack first got into the England team? “Saviour of England!” they said. “The new Gazza” they said. Yet a few long injuries and a couple of years down the line and the media are picking up on every misplaced pass Wilshere does. It’s pathetic really, but we don’t really want that to happen to Chambers, so the calls for him to get into the England side should be tempered with realistic expectation that he won’t be the England captain and the greatest centre half this country has ever seen by this time next season.

There’ll inevitably more of an assessment on Everton tomorrow by yours truly, but Arsene was asked about the opponents tomorrow and gave an interesting assessment, effectively calling the 3-0 defeat a ‘one-off’ that happens once or twice a season. I understand what he’s saying, but the problem we had last year was that actually it turned out to be more of a ‘four-off’ with heavy defeats to rivals around us. I remember the unfortunate Arteta own goal during the match, but I have to try and think of the other goals and I don’t recall there being to much unusual about them, other than the fact that given our miserly defence at the start of the season, you wouldn’t have expected us to cave so easily as we did in the second half of the season. But hey, that’s history now, so let’s bury those painful memories. What will be interesting tomorrow will be to see whether Martinez changes much against Arsenal. Last season he was credited with being a tactical genius by putting Lukaku on the right hand side. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him do it again, so let’s see if Arsene has learnt his lesson and Monreal he’s more cover in this seasons game.

Inevitably, talk turned to transfers, as well as the question over the regrets that Fabregas now plays for the London based oil-whoring-football-lottery West London team. Of course you’re never going to get Arsène to show a position of weakness in his judgement and decision-making, so he denied that he regrets not re-signing Fabregas. But actually, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t, mainly because of a debate I saw on Twitter (I forget who, sorry) which talked about the style of Fabregas no longer being applicable to our team. I actually think this is true. Fabregas is a quarter back in my eyes. He’s a scorer of goals, but he’s also a picked of passes through the middle. Pacey centre forwards are integral to that and whilst we have that in Alexis and Theo (eventually), through balls finding Giroud with grass running into would be a waste of a good through ball. With Giroud up top, you may as well smash the triangle button on your PlayStation.

Our build up is more patient now, more methodical, and with Özil pulling the strings, we have a player who is more suited to our style of play. The time for an Arsenal team to be built around Cesc has long gone. Özil is the star that we must build around.

As for other transfers, Le Boss gave us no real indication that he is on the verge of something special, despite what Twitter says every working day of every working minute. I think we’ll bring in another centre half, but my gut feeling is that it will be a case of “that concludes our business for this summer. Congratulations!”

I hope it isn’t. I hope Arsène makes a statement. I think most Arsenal fans do actually. It’s why the Cavani rumours have been seized upon by Arsenal fans so readily. We would love another Mesut Özil mega-signing to accompany the brilliant signing of Alexis that would have us all getting even more excited than we already are for the new season. But if we are all honest with ourselves, if we’re all asked to realistically give a percentage chance of us signing Edison Cavani from PSG, I don’t think there would be many that would rate it even as high as 25%.

So let’s start to accept what we’ve got, hope we do a bit of strengthening, then pray that injuries don’t mount like they have done every single season since 03/04.

Have a good one peeps.

No blasé attitude towards Besiktas

Morning/afternoon,

I won’t labour this point too much, but Cesc Fabregas in a Chelski shirt is now 100% reality, after I spent the summer ignoring the fact, hearing that he helped to orchestrate Chelski’s victory at Burnley leaves a sour taste in my mouth. He’s going to be a great player for that lot and it’s going to hurt us to see it. No matter what any Arsenal fan says, it will grind our gears and pull on the emotive heart strings, especially if he keeps his assisting ways at the club.

I don’t want to dwell on that lot though – they are as worthy of attention as a Luis Suarez admission of guilt and promise not to repeat offend – so we look forward to the Champions League and to our tricky encounter this evening against Besiktas.

Arsène has been stressing the importance of this match to the media and, with our place at the top table at stake, it is essential that we get off to a good start tonight. Knockout football in the Champions League is always tough regardless of the opposition. There is a lot of pressure to perform over two legs, but if you fudge the first leg up, it leaves you with a mountain to climb in the second.

Remember when we played Bayern Munich about seven years ago? The first leg was in the Allianz Arena (not sure if it was called that back then) and we went down 3-1. The second leg was helped with a Thierry Henry goal, but we went out on goal difference, despite battering Bayern for the second game. That shows you how important the first leg is. Besiktas know that a win with a two goal margin will mean that they are in the driving seat and can pretty much do what Palace did on Saturday and barely venture outside of their half at The Emirates.

Conversely, a victory in Istanbul tonight, would put Arsenal in a very promising position for the second leg and certainly see us as overwhelming favourites to qualify.

I must admit to being a bit blasé about the qualifying round. Our consecutive successes – and seemingly always at the expense of European teams with good pedigree – has made a simple Arsenal fan like me believe that I’ll be seeing Champions League group stage football in about a months time. But that’s a very dangerous way to think, Christopher, because that kind of thinking ends with a nasty shock if what is expected doesn’t happen. It is not unconceivable that defeat tonight leads to further disappointment next week, but I have to remain positive, because in my superstitious manner that I have I believe that my own power of positive thinking has some bearing on the outcome of tonight’s game.

Thankfully, despite being a tad bit over-expectant, it doesn’t appear as if the players are taking this game lightly. Certainly not if you hear the rhetoric from Le Boss. Sure, we have some injury problems going in to the game, but the squad that is available to the manager should still be good enough to get a result. Rambo has continued his fine form with a goal at the weekend, Chambers and Debuchy have slotted in well enough, and I think we all know that we’ll get more from Sanchez as he becomes fitter.

I don’t know how the manager intends to line up the team, but with Koscienly struggling with a hammy, I suspect Big Per might just replace him in defence. Per and Chambers at the heart of the defence will be interesting. The reason Koscienly dovetails so well with either of them is that Kos is the man with the recovery pace, where as it appears from the initial look of Chambers, he does not have as much pace (even though he makes up for it in his positional play). So how those two might operate – if Kos can’t shake off his injury – will be good to see so early in the season.

They’ll be up against a familiar face in Demba Ba, who has apparently been scoring for fun since his arrival from Chelski, but perhaps more worrying is the pace that he possesses. If he is up against Per and Chambers then it will be essential that he isn’t given plenty of green grass to run in behind tonight. To do that it will mean stifling some of the midfield creativity of another familiar face in Ozyakup, who we sold to Besiktas a couple of years ago and appears to be making a decent fist of a career in Turkey. I am no expect on Turkish football, because that’s where my knowledge of the opposition ends I’m afraid, but I suspect that the least we’ll get from the game tonight is a super-charged team backed by a partisan home crowd. We need to establish ourselves early and ensure that Besiktas’ initial excitement and drive is negated by some good football from the lads.

I suspect we’ll see a midfield that is identical to the weekend, then a front three which will also include Alexis and Santi, but it’s the centre forward position that will be interesting. Sanogo was little more than a footnote on Saturday and it was obvious how much more dangerous we looked when Giroud and The Ox were on the field. So I am hoping that Arsene opts for the more experienced Frenchman. I’d like to see The Ox given the nod ahead of Cazorla – who I thought was poor on Saturday – as it provides that direct running and a bit more pace than the Spaniard. It would also be good to see what Joel Campbell can do in attack and, had there not have been knocks to Gibbs and Jack on Saturday, I wonder if Arsene would have thrown him in then, so maybe we’ll get a look in tonight.

Keep those fingers crossed and hope for a great performance tonight.

See you tomorrow.

No fear of scousers, but definite fear of injuries

With yesterday’s games concluding without any surprises between Liverpool/Southampton and Newcastle/Moneychester City, you’d be forgiven for feeling that there is little comfort to take in two rivals picking up all three points, as well as a third probably getting off the mark this evening. But I am choosing to look for some anyway, so I’m looking squarely in the direction of Suarezless Liverpool, who certainly didn’t deserve to pick up all points in their 2-1 victory.

There was a similarity between score lines between their result and ours on Saturday, but that is where the comparisons stop, because our performance was markedly better than that of the scousers. That’s not to say we performed well – we know we just about got the job done against a dogged Palace side – but Liverpool completely rode their luck at times yesterday. So much so that I must admit to thinking that Southampton would be involved in a relegation fight this season with all their departures, but if Koeman gets his players playing like that each week, then he has little to worry about.

I said it yesterday on Twitter and I’ll say it again: this Liverpool team without Suarez do not scare me as much, as they are two of three injuries away from some problems in their team I think.

As for us, well, we’re used to ‘two or three injuries’ anyway, so it was perhaps not a surprise to find out that Koscienly is a doubt for the trip to Turkey after picking up a knock on Saturday, as well as Kieran Gibbs who limped off during the Palace game. I don’t know about you, but Gibbs I am less worried about with Monreal able to cover and also performing really well on Saturday, but Koscienly is a concern. Arsene admitted that Per might have to be bought in a little sooner than he would have liked, which whilst not ideal is some comfort, but it does make you wonder why we didn’t have an instant Vermaelen replacement lined up. I know that sometimes transfers take time (well, with Arsenal they always seem to, anyway) but I would have thought we’d have bought one in as soon as we knew Vermaelen was offski. Perhaps with his injury there was a question on whether he would pass his medical at the Catalan club, which is why Arsene held fire, but I would have thought a player could have been sounded out instantly and although they may not have been 100% ready, we could have them already in by now.

There’s still talk about Manolas joining, medicals already being completed, blah-blah-blah, but this won’t now affect the squad taking the trip out to play in Istanbul so we just have to make do for this game at least. Hopefully Kos’ injury doesn’t turn out to be a long-term issue.

Injuries have long plagued our ability to go the distance in league competitions of years past, as well as fighting on multiple fronts, so my fear is that we’re already starting off on the wrong foot at this early stage of the season. It’s nobodies fault, I don’t believe anyway, but it is something that could derail us if we get another one of those Physioroom.com injury league table topping seasons.

It’s probably why transfer rumours will inevitably continue right up until the end of the month, which is what we can expect in this sensationalist world we live in these days, but it sounds as though Arsenal are closing in on the young lad Rabiot from PSG and Vargas from Napoli.

I know nothing of these two players, but it sounds as if they are young players being bought in to add a bit of depth to the team. We’ll see how much of the speculation becomes fact over the next ten days or so. There’s no doubt that we need more bodies in certain positions, but they need to be bodies of quality and not just young players that Arsene is taking punts on. No more Amaury Bischoffs, but more Patrick Vieira’s would be handy, so we’ll wait to see whether Arsene opts for a more polished diamond, or one that he can work on a bit.

We all know he likes a rough one to work on, but after the clear difference between Giroud and Sanogo on Saturday, don’t we want to be seeing and established player come in to fight Per/Laurent and Arteta/Flamini for those roles where we are a little short? I know we have to take into account squad harmony and the sheer volume of players we already have on the books, but we don’t want to have a situation like the one we’ve got at the moment with our centre-halfs, so I’m hoping that we bring in the quality needed. After all, nobody really wants to see Chelski win the league, do they? And Moneychester City won it last season, so for the sake of variety, we owe it to the wider footballing community to blow away all opposition this season.

That’s that from me today. See thee in the morrow.

Points first, pretty football second

Howdy fellow Gooner, how is your weekend shaping up? Good? An Arsenal win certainly helps, doesn’t it?

I’m in a good mood on a Sunday morning as I write today’s instalment of my football musings. Draped in my Arsenal dressing gown, tapping away the day after an opening day of the season, watching the Sunday Supplement crew savage United and leave us relatively unscathed. It’s quite nice to have the media not giving us a pasting. Hopefully we can repeat last seasons form up until February with a different ending to March, April and May.

The season is now well under way and The Arsenal are on the board with the first three points of the season. It may not have been from the vintage collection of performances, but it was a performance that got results, which given our recent opening day history that’s nothing to be sniffed at. Palace were always going to be difficult to break down and, regardless of what anybody might say about the disruption of Pulis leaving just days before the game took place, the team had clearly worked hard on their game plan of frustration, it nearly paid off too. Pulis may not have been track-suiting his way around the dugout, but that was his team out there.

I actually thought we started quite brightly. The movement seemed ok and the retention of the ball was alright. The passing radar seemed to be a little wayward but there are always kinks to be ironed out on the opening game of the season. Arsene’s surprise inclusion of Sanogo had a few eyebrows raised and there’s clearly something that he sees in the young Frenchman, because he’s giving him plenty of opportunity to prove himself. Unfortunately, I am not quite seeing what Arsene sees, because what I saw was a young and raw player whose first touch isn’t that great. Le Boss clearly wants to see a big, strong, powerful target man leading the line, which is why Sanogo was given the nod. I can only assume Giroud still isn’t 100% fit, but he’ll only get that way with games, so at some stage he’ll have to throw him in from the start.

So we looked okayish, but lacked a little bit of bite in the final third in the first half. Palace defended well as a unit and sat relatively deeper, with Speroni given the freedom to waste up to five minutes a half with every opportunity that he was presented with. It really is a bugbear of mine actually. Yesterday it became so farcical that at one stage Aaron Ramsey was using his fingers to show referee Jonathan Moss how long the Palace ‘keeper was taking. All Moss had to do was to have a quiet word in the first fifteen minutes – when the time wasting began – with Speroni and tell him he’d book him if he persistently time wasted and all of that would have been avoided. But nope, he allowed it to carry on and it became a joke towards the end.

But it was Rambo who had the last laugh anyway, with a poachers finish in the dying embers of the match. Oh how is would have loved to have been able to whisper “time waste all you want now mate” in his ear after we scored that late winner. They always feel the sweetest when they’re scored so late with little time to reply, so it feels extra groovy this morning that we’re off and running.

As you and I both know, it didn’t all go to plan yesterday, especially in the first half. With the towering Hangeland clearly a danger from set pieces, you’d have thought we’d spend a bit more time working out who and how to mark him better. But alas, our zonal marking was another root cause of our own dismay and Hangeland was able to run in a straight line in the box to nod the ball in at the back post. Quite why we decided we don’t need men on it is beyond me. When I first started playing football, it was one of the first bits about defending that I was taught, so quite why it isn’t the most natural and unspoken law of basic football defending in the professional game is a bit beyond me if I’m honest.

But if we were to fall foul of shoddy defending, then so were Crystal Palace, as our first half injury time goal from Koscienly but floated across from Alexis was well delivered and well timed. It was just the tonic needed before halftime.

The second half was similar to the first. We stuttered a bit and our fluency that was so evident against Moneychester City wasn’t quite there, with Santi Cazorla of all people looking the most bereft of form and confidence based on yesterday’s game. He was off-key all game; misplaced passes, losing possession and not as spritely as we’ve come to expect. It wasn’t just him though, Jack seemed slightly wayward in finding red shirts at times, and when he came on the Ox was not at his best. However, there’s one thing that this Arsenal team has that teams of the recent past lacked a little, which is the belief that they will get the result. It’s easy to speculate, but an Arsenal of four years ago probably wouldn’t have been able to make that second breakthrough. We’d have huffed and puffed, but there’s no way the house would have been blown down, so seeing Rambo nick it in injury time was not only a relief of the points, but a belief that the players back themselves to have a good season too. After all, the tired footballing clichés of ‘never giving up’, ‘winning whilst playing badly’ and ‘the best teams always score late goals’ are already being pointed in the direction of Arsene’s charges this morning.

Let’s have a paragraph of praise for Chambers as well though, eh? What an assured performance from one so young. He looks as composed as a 29 year old, not one that’s 19. There will be tougher tests to come for him in an Arsenal shirt, but this particular one was passed with flying colours, which will give every Gooner satisfaction that the heart of the defence has some depth. We still need another body, but the signs are positive for this young lad, which is great to see.

Debuchy also had a decent game and proves that when you buy proven experience in the Premier League you get instant results, which is why there’s not too many of us that should be too concerned with Alexis’ indifferent game. He’s still finding his feet in a new league, has to get used to our style of play, so I’m not too worried.

I also thought Monreal did well too, which is just as well, because if Gibbs has a hamstring injury then the Spaniard will be needed for the next few weeks. I suspect he’ll get a few games to stake a regular first team spot, so let’s hope he replicates yesterday’s performance on Tuesday night against Besiktas and beyond.

Roll on Tuesday. And thank Bergkamp the football’s back!

The Arsenal matchday begins. I love it

It’s here! It’s finally here! The football fans equivalent of Christmas Day! Opening day of the season!

Yes folks, football is back, the void shall shortly be filled with wonderful wonderful Arsenal. After the FA Cup awesomeness, the World Cup entertainment, the pre season preparation and the belly chuckling smashing of Moneychester City, we have the real stuff. It’s Arsenal vs Crystal Palace at The Emirates.

I’m so excited I could make a high pitch noise that only dogs can here. Are you excited? Yeah, ya are.

I love everything about the first game of the season. I love the build up. I love the meet and greet of old compadre ‘s that you haven’t seen for a quarter of a year. I love the sup of that first pint in your chosen pub of choice. I love the speculation of who will start. I love the frantic refreshing of one’s Twitter account to find out the actual team news. I love the ACTUAL team news. I love the walk to the stadium. The small of hot dogs and smoke. The noises and general hustle and bustle. I love the approach to the stadium as it rises from in betwixt buildings from the distance. I love the gradual filling of the stadium. The nudging and shuffling to get inside our cathedral. We are worshippers without our weekly fix for three months. We need to fuel our addiction and I am desperate to get inside that home of The Arsenal and see our heroes trot out. I love the purchase of that first programme. Reading the captain’s notes (a fresh new one after the departure of Vermaelen) and getting some insight from Le Boss. I love the smell of that new programme as well. A freshly printed piece of history unfolding on this very day. The start of the 2014/15 season.

I love the meeting of my new season ticket partner, who this year will be a lad I used to play football with for the cub scouts, Tom. He’s a sound chap along with his brother chap and I’m pleased I get to reconnect with the guys throughout the season, as they’re almost as mad as me about The Arsenal. Almost.

And I love the beginning of it all. I love the expectation that this will, finally, be our season. Sure, every fan has that feeling right now as I type today’s blog first thing in the morning and slightly hung over, but we genuinely have cause for optimism this season. We have a squad that has, for two summers running, been unblemished in terms of key player departures. We have strengthened in the sharp end of the pitch with the excellent addition of Alexis and we have filled the void left by Sagna with a more than capable replacement in Debuchy. In defence we have the potential of Chambers to get our long-term excitement captured and whilst we are all a little worried about how lightweight we are in terms of the numbers at the back, the very fact that Arsene has openly admitted he’s still looking is music to all of our ears.

In terms of today’s game, the confirmed fitness of Koscienly is a massive relief, as it ensures that the side that lines is strong enough to avoid having any plasters stuck to it, or square pegs in round holes! The back five will essentially be the same as the players that started the Community Shield and that certainly looks strong enough from my perspective to keep Palace at bay. I suspect Arteta will sit at the base of the midfield with Rambo and Jack playing the role as box-to-box runners across the field. It’s an inverted double pivot and worked a treat on Sunday so I’m hoping the same happens today. With Mesut Ozil out of the team it’s a chance for Jack to stake a place in the team and whilst I think Mesut will eventually come in when he’s fully fit, it’s still a good chance to see what an injury free pre-season has done for the lad from near Stevenage.

In attack our front three will almost certainly include Alexis and Cazorla, but surprisingly there still remains a question mark up top with either Sanogo or Giroud the option. Personally, I’d be throwing Giroud in, because he’s the better player and will certainly be full of confidence after his excellent goal against City. However, fitness will be the key and so I wonder if Arsene might make a statement to the older of the Frenchmen by giving Sanogo the nod. Let’s face it, with the pace we have in our team, the need is there for a target man that can hold up the play and bring others in, not necessarily just score the goals. Sanogo might not do the latter, but he’s certainly big and strong enough to do the former.

Conventional wisdom should suggest that Palace are all over the place today. Managerless, rudderless and now seen as an established Premier League team, they are now longer seen as the surprise package in the Premier League. Keith Millen will be under no illusions of the difficulty of the task today, but I still expect Palace to set up the way Pulis would have set them up, difficult to beat and happy to perch on the edge of their box. Jedinak is their defensive midfield talisman and I think he’ll be pulling the back eight together as tightly as possible to deny our midfielders and attackers space. On Sunday Jack was given the freedom of Wembley by the City midfield and defence and I don’t expect he’ll get the same luxury today. So the victory will be down to our we can unpick the lock that will be the Palace defence. One suspects that patience will be the biggest virtue of the day.

If we need it, we have the quality on the bench with The Ox, Rosicky, of perhaps even Joel Campbell to try something different, but I’m hoping that we have a goal in the first half to make sure we have a more comfortable afternoon.

Up the Arsenal. You love it. I love it. We love it. Enjoy it today.

Embracing every advantage

Happy Friday you sexy Gooners!

Well, where to start today, eh? How about last nights breaking news that the most irritating tracksuit-wearing, baseball-cap loving, rugby-football adopting manager has thrown a diva-strop and walked out of Crystal Palace?

If I’m completely honest here, the only reason I am even penning half a thought towards that irksome individual, is due to the close proximity of a certain opening game of the season in which The Eagles visit our home turf on Saturday. Otherwise, it’s fair to say his name wouldn’t even be a footnote in today’s blog, especially as I have no idea how to create footnotes in WordPress.

Quite what his departure – oddly not actually official yet but effectively true what with every media outlet reporting it as such – will do to the Crystal Palace team I’m not sure. It’s quite easy to make an assumption that Palace will throw down their weapons tomorrow evening, but football is never an easy linear equation, so I’m still not expecting anything but a difficult game in which the opponents are extremely tough to break down.

Perhaps their Chairman Steve Parish is secretly an Arsenal fan, because I seem to remember a similar scenario with Ian Holloway just before we visited Selhurst Park last season, so maybe Parish is looking to hand any psychological advantage to The Arsenal that he can?

If I sound a little but too gleeful at the prospect of Palace potentially being rudderless, then I apologise, but in many ways I’m a petty, petty man, and any advantage that the team I support can gain is a-ok with me. It’s why I secretly fist-pump when a player gets sent off when we are playing that team a week of two weeks behind. And although you never wish injury on any person playing the game (well, maybe), there are times where an injury to a rivals key player has been greeted with a comment of “that’s a bit of a touch” from yours truly.

I am somebody who will embrace an advantage for Arsenal like a comforting hug from a parent after you’ve opened up your knees because you we’re slide tackling on gravel that time.

We should have enough to beat Palace without the circus that is now engulfing their club, but this little bonus for us is always handy, so I’ll take it.

What we all really need now is for Arsène to give us an update this morning which includes the words ‘Koscienly’ and ‘fit’ or ‘available for selection’, because he’s the one doubt from last weekend that we really could do with having back. With Chambers performing admirably in place of the German party animal Mertesacker, we looked assured enough, but despite the apparent limitations of the opponents tomorrow, we could really do without the worry that our back four will be fullbacktastic in it’s composition.

An almost inevitable section of the press conference will be dedicated to the prospect of transfers, for which we will get the inevitable “we are not close to signing anybody” commentary from Le Boss which will infuriate some, worry others and cause a bit of shoulder-shrugginess from the most of us. The important thing is that we have enough about us this season to be very excited for the nine months ahead and anything else is just added bonus to the good business already secured. I concede we do need another centre half though, so pull you’re finger out Arsène!

There’s some mutterings of Edison Cavani that appear to be doing the rounds, but I see that as nothing but paper talk, because he’s not looking for another striker and I fully expect the door to be closed on that line of questioning should the hacks decide to go down that route.

There really doesn’t seem to be that much more happening at the moment, other than the Ox’s 21st birthday, so I’ll wish him well wherever he is at the time of me writing this, and do the same to you.

Adios amigos.

The DeJa Vu blog

Hello there again. How do?

It feels like I’ve written this blog before. You know, the one where I talk about the irrelevance of ‘pundits’ opinions like Phil Thompson or Gary Neville (although the latter certainly offers something by the way of actual insight, instead of baseless opinions without any real solid evidence to back it up), the players that are feeling and sounding positive (Szczesny and Arteta this time on the official site), as well as the odd bit of transfer tittle-tattle too (rumours of Greek defender Manolas were rife lat night). It’s all very DeJa Vuey.

Of course, the scrips has been rehashed a bit and it’s different people saying a variation on something similar, but I guess that’s what you get at this time of year. As the anticipation ahead of the new season starts, there are plenty of clicks and hits to be gained from media outlets, so they do all in their power to sup at the speculation and opinion well before it runs dry and is replaced by the actual football that takes place.

It’s funny actually, because I find myself the complete inverse to these media outlets: I start off the summer quite happy to read the odd speculative story, but by the time we get to mid August I just want them to disappear like a Big Brother contestant after the competition has ended. I’m ready for the football now and counting down the days until, at the very least, I get to write a match preview.

As for the speculation itself, with Kostas Manolas left out of Olympiakos’ game yesterday against Wigan (I think it was Wigan but am happy to be corrected), the airwaves began to a’tremble and assumptions began to be made that Arsenal are after the young Greek international. I am certainly no scouting expert and as El Hadji Diouf proved, the World Cup is hardly a blueprint for finding the world’s best players regardless of what form they’ve shown in the competition, but with nothing else to go on with the player it’s my only reference.

At 23 years old and with a pretty solid World Cup behind him, if Arsenal really after him, then it wouldn’t be the worst move in the world. I don’t know many Greeks that travel well in footballing terms, but with Per and Kos ahead of him in the pecking order, it would keep the pressure slightly off him to hit the ground running if he did sign this season. If you think about how Per was thrown in at the deep end and discarded as a flop because of his lack of pace in his first season, it gives me a bit of comfort to know that a player coming in will have that bit of reduced pressure on his shoulders.

If the sums are to be believed as well – that Olympiakos are looking for around £9million for him, then it would effectively almost be cost neutral, as Vermaelen joined Barca for £8million plus add ons. Of course, a price tag is no guarantee of quality, but from the World Cup showings I saw, he looked like a good player and I actually thought he was older than he is at the World Cup. I guess that could potentially show a maturity to his game that would be welcome at The Arsenal.

Did you watch the Super Cup last night? I caught the first half and I must say the attacking options of Real Madrid looked scary. I don’t know whether Ancelotti plans on running with an eight man attack, but he has quality busting out of every corner of that team and it must be a tough time being a Barca or Atletico Madrid fan right now, because they will surely be favourites. Of course with Khedira not even making the squad there were rumours abound that this was to facilitate a transfer, but I believe there’s truth in Arsene’s words and that we’re not after him. I don’t know if we were, but the most pressing need has to be a centre half right now and so if the club are putting all their attentions into that, then I’m fine with it.

The squad is looking good in my opinion and after a brief Twitter exchange with some friends last night about how the defence cost us the league last season (I vehemently disagreed with that), I think another central defender would see us in good shape for the next nine months of football. I think what cost us the league last season was our lack of pace in the final third when key players went missing. Games against Swansea, Stoke and Everton in the latter stages of the season saw us slow and lethargic and it allowed opponents to play high lines and press very closely from the front. If you add pace into those game where we were woefully exposed, those teams naturally wouldn’t play such high lines, which would in effect, give space for midfield players to assert more dominance to a game and also reduce the burden on our back line. Simples.

That’s all I gots for you today. Probably won’t be a blog tomorrow as I might not have time, but will certainly see if Steve can pull his finger out of an orifice and write something.

See thee on Friday.

Signed Theo Walcott Canvas in Willow Charity Auction

Hi all,

I don’t normally do this sort of thing – two blogs in a day!!! – but this is for a good cause and so I thought it’s worth drawing to your attention. Below is an overview of a great auction that is taking place between 4th to 14th September to raise money for the Willow Foundation.

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Best of British sporting heroes captured on canvas
The biggest sporting moments from the best of British, including Theo Walcott, have been immortalised on canvas and will be auctioned from September 4 to 14 for Willow – the only national charity working with seriously ill young adults aged 16 to 40 to fulfil uplifting and unforgettable Special Days.  The artworks will be on show at a public exhibition, September 9 & 10 at Bonhams, London W1.

Britain’s top sporting heroes Mo Farah; Lewis Hamilton; AP McCoy; Theo Walcott; Steven Gerrard; Wayne Rooney; Andy Murray; Sir Bradley Wiggins; Sir Ben Ainslie; Ian Poulter; Justin Rose; Hannah Cockroft and Christine Ohuruogu have all taken part in Sportwaves.  The stunning collection depicts a fine art portrait of the sportsman in action, combined with a digital soundwave of the moment captured.

Each original artwork has been signed by the sporting great and will be available to view at the public exhibition, and to bid for online in the charity auction.  Artwork is available to view now at http://www.sportwaves.org

Each piece has been created by artist Rob Highton, whose stunning work includes paintings of sporting heroes, music and popular culture, and Tim Wakefield, a new media artist whose work features the exuberant infusion of digital sound waves with paintings.

“The combination of fine art and high profile sporting heroes is an exciting match for any sport or art lover.  The Sportwaves collection captures special moments in sporting history.  Funds raised at auction will enable Willow to provide its own special moments for those living with life threatening conditions at a time when they need it most,” said Bob Wilson, Willow co-founder and Life President.

To date Willow has provided more than 10,000 Special Days for people living with cancer, cystic fibrosis, motor neurone disease, muscular dystrophy, organ failure and Huntington’s, amongst other conditions.  These Special Days enable them and their families to reconnect and refocus on each other while enjoying an activity of their choosing. A day for them, a day about them and a day that will create memories they will treasure forever.

Willow was founded by former Arsenal goalkeeper and TV presenter, Bob Wilson and his wife, Megs, as a lasting memorial to their daughter, Anna, who died of cancer aged 31.

For more information about Willow visit http://www.willowfoundation.org.uk or telephone 01707 259777.

The excitement of a new season builds

Morning you lot, hope it’s a good one for you, as we count down until kick off on Saturday.

I don’t know about you, but I’m more excitable than John Terry at a WAG birthday party, when all his fellow team mates are at football training. This season has seen a good summer of business, some good results for us to raise excitement further – the Community Shield being the first case in point – and Le Boss still tantalising us with comments that he’s still on the look out for those finishing touches on his squad to make it complete.

I went to my first Arsenal game aged eight and even to this day the sheer excitement at going is matched even now I’m a thirty something with a season ticket. The butterflies, the clock watching until Saturday early evening, the anticipation as to what team Arsene will choose to swipe aside Tony Pulis’ Palace, it’s all there and it’s all waiting for you and I. Roll on I say, roll on.

I guess the only element of the beginning of the season that is always a bit ‘meh’ is the whole ‘get a former player to come out and predict the league table’ bumf. It’s an irrelevance designed simply to wind up fans unless you’re a bookies favourite, but even back in the days when we were favourites, I didn’t want us to be, lest the football karma gods saw fit to conspire against us in not winning the league. I always preferred it when we’d come from nowhere to sneak up and win the title. Like in 98, when we looked pretty gone after a defeat to Blackburn (my memory deceives me as to whether it was home or away – I think away) and were written off, only to pull out one of the best runs of victory I’ve seen from an Arsenal side.

Last season we were the front runners for most part of the campaign, only to be pegged back in the last two months due to injury and fatigue, so I’d be quite happy for us to do the reverse this season. If there are any footballing karma gods listening, or even some kind of Leprechaun on holiday that wants to do a bit of granting, I’ll happily abide with this request.

Ol’ Ray Parlour’s had his say on the title race, thinking that we’ll be fourth behind the two oil whore clubs and Manchester United, which I find very interesting. I mean, I get the excitement over the Van Gaal appointment and I understand that he’ll be a cut above David Moyes, but is he not still working with the same players that finished seventh last year? I know they’ll be more heavily motivated than last year, dressing room harmony may be better and he can get that extra xx% from them, but for a few years we’ve been told that this squad is ageing and ailing somewhat and I haven’t seen any superstar signings to suggest to me that they will be an all conquering team for the league.

Who knows, maybe they’ll have the Liverpool factor from last season, profiting from the lack of Champions League football by being fresher for other games. We’ll see.

But anyway, back to The Arsenal and our excitement for this season, which I think is totally warranted if you look at the polar opposite of the beginning of last season. A shambles in the transfer market, fans in-fighting more than ever before through social media channels, as well as a general malaise as our neighbours were spending a fair wedge on signing all the available players in the known universe. I think back to the predictions of pundits that there would be a Spuds assault on the title and an Arsenal fall from top four grace like never before, and I am immediately comforted by predictions that Arsenal won’t make the top four from boredom merchants like Michael Owen. Chirp away my friend, chirp away, because we’ve seen it all before you see. Us Arsenal fans, we’re kind of used to it you see, we know what we’ll get from ‘expert pundits'; who are essentially ex professionals that have donned a suit and are now pretending to know something about the game. Just because you played it guys, doesn’t mean you’re best qualified to try and articulate it’s intricacies and tactical nuances of modern day football. Nor, might I hasten to add am I, but I’m just a fan blogger and not somebody trying to earn a buck by getting my opinion heard of TV. Messieurs Alan Shearer, Steve McManaman, Robbie Savage and Garth Crooks take note please.

But again, back to The Arsenal, and the excitement. Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud are playing with our heart strings and talking up our title challenge this season, aren’t they? Both have spoken about the harmony in the group – which feels like something forged from last summer – and how all of the players are close, with the necessary additions to add depth to the team. Yes, we need a little more to add to the squad – a couple more cookies to make the biscuit tin all full and yummy looking (no coconut please) – but the nuts and bolts of a league challenging side is there.

What I find interesting (and enjoyable) is the talk amongst us Gooners as title contenders. Last season we were just hopeful of being in it until the turn of the year, but there wasn’t really the expectation that we can win it. Now, along with some of the players, there feels like the expectation is there. It ‘feels’ like last season was a build up to the crescendo that is 2014/15. I don’t know about you, but I ‘feel’ like we’re ready for that league title. Much like Moneychester City did when they won the FA Cup in 2011 (I think), it feels to me like we’ve wrestled with the ‘no trophy’ demon and now we’re ready for the glory.

I certainly hope so.

See thee tomorrow. Or on Twitter or something.

So many positives, even if it’s a friendly

There have been many days over the years that it has felt slightly painful to be waking up as a Gooner. Some of the stinging defeats to the bigger teams last season smarted a bit.

Today is not one of them.

Today is a day in which you and I get to smile at the fact we swept aside the Champions, whilst at the same time, feel nothing but incredible excitement at the prospect of this upcoming season.

Yes, the Community Shield is nothing but a glorified friendly with a piece of silver at the end for the winner, but as a radio presenter remarked last night as I was basting my roast beef (no, that is not a euphemism!) they made a remark that nobody can contest: it’s better to start your season with the confidence of having won it than not.

You can’t say the team will lack any confidence after that performance.

They may well have been mitigating circumstances – as a BT Sport were at pains to point out throughout the game – with the number of absences that Momeychester City had, but don’t let anybody tell you that Pellegrini wasn’t fussed about winning the thing or not. When you reach the top of any sporting profession, you do so because you have the desire and drive to be successful at everything to put your hand to, so Pellegrini would have prepared his charges in the same way they will prepare to face Newcastle next weekend.

As for the absences, of course City will be stronger, but very little seemed to be mentioned in the commentary that I watched about the fact that Arsenal had Mertesacker, Özil, Podolski and Walcott out, whilst Giroud was clearly still not fit. But perhaps that’s because everyone is used to seeing Arsenal depleted by injuries. Moneychester City fans had better hope they don’t fall foul of a similar fate this season (although I acknowledge that there is an argument that we won’t fall foul as badly if Arsene rotates a bit more than usual, so we can keep players fresher throughout the season, less susceptible to injury), because based on the performance yesterday they are as reliant on their ‘big’ players as any team in the division.

As for the game itself, well, that was as perfect a blueprint that you’d want to see for any start to the season. From kick off it was obvious we were better prepared than the Citizens and more composed on the ball. We dominated the opening 15 minutes, then 30, then right up until halftime. When we conceded possession I was really pleased to see us win the ball higher up the field, which alleviated any pressure on the defence and meant we could turn defence into attack quite rapidly.

And we were rapid, weren’t we? Sanchez has that element of trickery about him that reminds me a little of Rosicky, but he’s got bags of pace about him and looked to be a real handful for the City defence. There will still be questions as to his best position as he finds his way into the team, but you can tell he’s going to be a great asset. What I really loved in the first half was seeing him race through one-on-one against Caballero, because Theo aside, we haven’t had another player able to do that on a frequent basis since Thierry. So when Mesut Özil is fit and fully integrated into the first team, I’m quite excited about the prospect of a few searching balls in between defence and goalkeeper, from the German to the Chilean.

There were so many positives from yesterday’s game. Just look at the opening scorer. With all the furore around the new signings over the last two summers, little Santi Cazorla – our player of the season two years ago – has almost taken a bit of a back seat in the limelight of the team. He also looked terribly unfit at last weeks Emirates Cup. Yet yesterday I thought he looked a bit more like his old self, keeping hold to the ball, being involved in the build up to chances and with his goal came a classic Santi feint before tucking the ball away with his left foot. There are so many good players at our club these days and Santi is a prime example of a player that might find his game time a wee bit more limited over the course of the season, but nobody should be under any illusion on how important his role in the team will be.

I loved how Jack was getting into spaces in between the City defence and midfield time and time again. He looked up for it yesterday and as Arsene has already said, this is the first time in a few summers that he’s had a full pre season under his belt. Again, he’s another one that we can rightly expect big things for this season and regardless of what Mr Adams says, he will kick on and show his value I’m sure.

Goal number two’s recipient had an element of inevitability about it, didn’t it? Aaron Ramsey stepped up and slotted a great ball home after the impressive Sanogo had held up the ball and fed him in. A quick aside for Sanogo – I get the feeling he’ll be in the similar mould to Giroud, in that he won’t be the scorer of as many goals, but he will bring others into play and be very useful indeed. Aaron’s finish was what we’ve come to expect from him and there is certainly confidence amongst Gooners everywhere that last season was not a one off but the norm now with the Welshman. What was so clever about that finish was actually the touch just before the goal. It was a kind of little mini chip into his own path so that he could hit the ball on the half volley. That’s the sign of a player that is not only full of confidence, but full of ability too, and I hope we can see more of that next weekend and throughout the season.

Defensively there were plus points too. Debuchy looked like he’d been in that right back slot for years and Calum Chamber has the assured composure of a 29-year-old, not one ten years younger. Arsene remarked after the game that he’ll try to bring in someone for Vermaelen as cover in central defence, but if Chambers has more displays like that, then he’ll rightly find it hard. There was one moment in the game where Jovetic was gifted the ball from Chambers and looked to be through on goal, but the lads recovery pace looks to be pretty decent and he was quite rapid in retrieving it from his opponent.

Again, all this positivity and I haven’t even mentioned the good performances of Gibbs or Arteta, or the few commanding catches Szczseny made in his own box. And I haven’t even mentioned the stunning finish of Giroud, who sheepishly took the man of the match performance much to the surprise of most people I think, because he was quite in the most part. Olivier hasn’t exactly become know for his long range radar and there was a couple of occasions last season where we could have done with a pearler like that (Everton in the last minute where he hit the bar springs to mind), but if we see a few of those this season there should be few that argue he hasn’t upped his game in the face of more competition for his place.

It augurs well for what will be a very different game next weekend against Palace. Pulis will attempt to borify the world with stifling tactics and reduction in space in the final third for Arsenal, so we shouldn’t use this game as the benchmark for a season of clean sheets and large scores. Next weekend I’d take any form of win no matter how ugly.

So enjoy the day today, enjoy the fact that pre season appears to be going as we’d hoped, but temper it with an understanding that the real stuff starts at 5.30pm next Saturday.

Peace out