Can we make that final step? City preview

Well Mr Matchday, you certainly took your sweet time to arrive, didn’t you? Keeping me waiting like a disgruntled commuter at a National Rail train station wasn’t my idea of fun, but you’re here now, so let’s not bicker and just get on with the rest of our Saturday, shall we?

It’s an early one for us all today, as the fates have conspired to drag us into the horrific world of early kick offs. Look, I have no real problems with the early starts in terms of the teams ability to be ‘up for it’ (it is ridiculous to assume that our players can’t be up for early kick off games based on the travesties of last season), my issue lies purely with the fact that an early start means getting up earlier on a Saturday which is not something I’m overly enamoured with. There’s also the reduction in hours of pre-match amber nectar supping. I like a beer, but I’m not starting my day at 10am with one, so it leaves me with just about enough time for a solitary pint before heading over to the ground.

All this is just the pre-amble to the main event though, so I suppose I shouldn’t be the archetypal moaning Brit and move swiftly on to our own raison d’être, which starts at 12.45pm UK time.

There’s no doubt this is by far and away the most difficult test that The Arsenal will have faced this season. The visit of Moneychester City represents the first litmus test of whether or not we have learned from our recent poor history against any of the top four clubs of seasons past. Last season saw us fail to pick up wins against City, Chelski, Everton and even the ailing Man United, so a marker of whether or not this team has the capability to challenge the top teams will need to be placed today.

I’ve said before that from a points perspective, you can easily win the league as long as you pick up points against the teams lower down the table, which is true if you think about the maths behind the logic. Home and away wins against teams from 8th position in the league downwards gives you 72 points, which is approaching a decent points tally to have a go at the league. But to get over the line you need to have wins against the bigger players not just for those few extra points, but for the psychological boost that big game victories provide. That’s why today is important. It’s not so much about the points, but about the belief that will be instilled in the team, through taking a scalp like Moneychester City.

Arsène has a litany of options at his disposal to draw upon, which is what also makes this game exciting to blog about this morning, because until those first whispers of the team sheet come in, we have no idea who is in the squad, let alone the starting eleven. I hope Arsène opts for ‘pace, pace, pace’ and we see Welbeck flanked by The Ox and Alexis, but I suspect that Özil or Cazorla might be moved to the left, as I think Arsène wants to include both in his team selection. I’m certainly not in the camp that believes having Özil out wide is conducive to getting the best out of his game, but that appears to be where his temporary home is at the moment, so we’ll all have to accept it. I also seem to be in the minority at the moment regarding Cazorla. I actually don’t believe that the diminutive Spaniard has had the best of starts to the season, flitting in and out of games far too much (an accusation oft levelled at Özil but not his teammate), so I wouldn’t be too worried if the Ox was preferred. I love Santi as a footballer and when he is on song his game is fabulous to watch, but I just feel like he hasn’t hit the form of when he arrived and it’s a shame that we’re not seeing the Santi that we all know can change a match. Perhaps I’m being too harsh.

The midfield also has a plethora of options to choose from, so Arsène’s difficult decisions don’t just stop at the pointy end of the team, as he’ll need to work out who from Ramsey, Arteta, Wilshere, Rosicky and Flamini occupy the two midfield positions if, as expected, both Özil and Cazorla play. I suspect the decision will hinge on how recovered Rambo is from his midweek ankle roll, as I’d think the first two names from that list I’ve just reeled off, will be given priority. It will be another source of irritation for Rosicky, but Arsène isn’t going to drop his captain or last seasons player of the year, so he’ll just have to accept it.

As for our opponents, a Jovetic injury is all I believe they are suffering from, so we know that they will be at almost full strength when they line up against us. Last season they were the free-scoring champions, but I wonder if Pellegrini will be as gung-ho in a match today as his team was at times last season. At The Emirates he needed only a draw realistically to ensure that his team kept on the march to the title. Today’s game is similar in requirements for his team I suspect, i.e. do not lose, so I wonder if he’ll look to try and stay solid defensively whilst catching us on the counter attack.

City will rely on the guile of Silva and Nasri, sure for a spicy reception as always, whilst Dzeko will occupy both Per and Kos at varying times. It’s a team that has threats all over the park, but despite our less than stellar start to the season, I think the openness of today’s game will give our players the chance to express themselves more freely and occupy space that wasn’t afforded to them against Palace or Leicester.

I feel cautiously optimistic about today’s game. Let’s hope it’s not misguided optimism. A win would be a perfect catalyst for a good run against a number of difficult opponents, but I think we have the firepower now to cope with our schedule and demonstrate to the rest of the league that we’re serious title contenders.

Victories against teams like City feels like the final piece in our league title puzzle. That one final step. That’s all we’ve got to overcome.

Come on Arsenal!

The evolution of Jack (but maybe not this weekend)

Halfway through the week and we close down on the international break, casting our attention (thankfully) to the Premier League once again, as well as the build up to a massive game at The Emirates against Moneychester City.

Of course, none of us really believed that our squad was capable of going through an international group of matches without somebody important picking up a knock, did we? So it was that Aaron Ramsey limped off against Andorra during Wales’ pointless group stage game against a team that looked more reminiscent of the Vatican Swiss Guard than a football team. I’m sure David Seaman once wore an England jersey that looked like a rainbow had been regurgitated onto his shirt that looked a little like that travesty.

I didn’t watch the game, but have seen some of the still images of the incident and despite what Chris Coleman said about him being ok for the weekend, you can’t help but think that Arsenal are in a better position to judge when Rambo reports back today or tomorrow with them. It feels like it’s almost built in as part of their remit as international managers when players come back to The Arsenal broken and battered around the edges, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Coleman is downplaying a knock that could see Ramsey out of this weekend’s clash. And to be honest, if there’s any element of doubt, we need to be playing caution with players that have picked up knocks, because over the next three weeks we play a host of football matches (six or seven I seem to remember seeing) so we should not be risking players.

If Rambo isn’t risked, it will be interesting to see Jack once again step into that box-to-box role that Aaron has made his own, which will be a continuum of the position that Wilshere occupied (to a degree of success I feel) in the Besiktas game. There’s no doubt that a loss of Ramsey will be a big blow, but when you have players with the quality of Wilshere able to step in and deputise, it doesn’t fill me with the same fears as a couple of injuries to the centre halves would.

It’s perhaps also ironic that Jack, having played as a deeper lying midfielder for England on Monday, will be moved back to a more familiar midfield position if Ramsey doesn’t pass any impending fitness tests. Having spent most of the Switzerland after glow of the match talking about an adapted deeper role, going on to highlight players like Pirlo who he will start to watch videos of over the next month or so, you wonder if both Roy and Arsène have already spoken to him about changing his position in midfield.

Perhaps he is looking at his place for both club and country and seeing his options limited, or perhaps he genuinely sees himself as somebody who can improve and nail down that slot as a holding midfielder, I’m not sure. I’m reluctant to use the words ‘defensive midfielder’ because that’s not what I think he’ll ever be. Sure, he likes a tackle and sure, it’s not the most difficult position to adapt to. You just really need to have discipline and not mind the dirty parts of the game like mopping up after defenders or breaking down impending attacks. But to me that would be a waste of Jack’s talent. He’s a player that can travel with the ball, is good at quick interchanges of pace and passing and that works well in right spaces with opponents who sit deep and defend in numbers. So to give him a position as ball winner and then quickly distributing to some of the more creative talents I think would be a bit pointless.

Or perhaps Arsène is looking at a bit more fluidity in midfield, looking to mix it up a bit, asking the question “do we really need a defensive midfielder?”. When I say that, I don’t mean that there should be no cover or protection for the back four, but rather that the team should be more fluid in the roles it has in midfield. If Jack is pushing forward, for example, why should not one of the other players adapt to become the ball winner and distributor whilst he is pushing forward? Or vice versa if Ramsey is in the opposition box. Perhaps Arsène is looking for players that Championship Manager used to call the ‘complete midfielder’. A 27 year old Mikel Arteta with the ability to sit, whilst also good enough on the ball to push forward, would be a prime example of the type of player that Jack could become. Perhaps, after all of the pontificating, it is actually Jack who is being groomed as the heir apparent for that role?

Who knows. But what I do know is that the next year or two is massively important for Wilshere. He needs to nail down his place in the team and make sure that he can be as flexible and adaptable when called upon as Wenger needs him to be.

Haven’t really looked at what else is going on in The Arsenal world at the moment, but maybe we’ll get a soundbite from Arsène about Danny Welbeck.

Hope it isn’t the media microphones catching him in training at London Colney saying “shouldn’t you be back at Carrington? I thought England training was over?”

Catch you tomorrow.

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.

The ‘walk with me’ presser and accepting our lot

Morning, morning, morning.

Hope all is well and you’re excited about how your Thursday is/has panned out. My week is dragging I have to say. Longer than usual hours due to volume of work at, err, work, means that I’ve become a bit of an early bird. The net effect of which is that I have aching limbs in every part of my body and I feel like I’ve been punched in the face. By Lennox.

I wonder if Arsene has days like this. I wonder if there are certain parts of his job that he’d just rather roll over to Annie Wenger and say “not for me today, dear, do me a favour and call in sick for me”. I’d imagine it probably is a day like today actually, as he’ll have no doubt bought forward his press-conference duties by a day so his team can be on the road and ready to go tomorrow. Personally, I’d use it as a really good excuse to leave a press conference early, if I had a bus to catch for an away game. In fact, to really put those pesky hacks off, I’d tell them they have two minutes, then I’d get them to follow me to the bus and in the five minutes it takes to get to the bus they can ask questions until I board and they can physically no longer even hear my responses. But hey, professionalism in sport and all that.

The big question marks that you and I want answered is how long Arteta and Gibbs are out for. They have been the latest casualties for the last week and will be the most pressing concern for the manager. There are people that I’ve seen suggest that because Arteta is only potentially going to be out for a couple of weeks, that it will scupper any chances of buying another defensive midfielder, which I don’t really buy if I’m honest. Every noise from every corner of the Arsenal online and offline community is that he’s on the lookout for a ball winning midfielder as well as a centre-half. He’s not going to have his thinking swayed based on a minor injury to a first team player, so I don’t think there’s too much to be gained from hoping that Arteta is out for long enough for Le Boss to pick up a replacement over the next two weeks.

The reality is that we have cover in both players’ position if we need it, and I don’t think any of us should be too overly concerned in the short term about the ability for Flamini to slot into that holding role, as well as Monreal to fill the good left by Gibbs’ untimely injury. For the last two games I actually think Monreal has performed very well. Once or twice he was overloaded against Besiktas, but he wasn’t helped by the complete absence of Santi during stages of the game.

Transfer season is also called ‘silly season’ for a reason (hey that rhymed!), so it doesn’t surprise me to see people suddenly clamouring for replacements in injured positions. I guess then, it shouldn’t surprise me that after a shoddy performance in Turkey, the “Giroud needs to be replaced with a world class centre forward” opinions have been more vocal over the last 24 hours. I should caveat this current direction of the blog by saying that I don’t think Giroud is world class. Given the pedigree of the last three or four of his predecessors (That Dutch Bloke, Adebayor and Henry), I do think we have become accustomed to brilliant strikers and so the expectation level is heightened in that position, and I wonder if Giroud will ever get close to becoming that 30 goal a season striker. But it does make me smile that people have become even more desperate on the back of one game. It’s almost as if many spent the summer trying to convince themselves that he is something he is not.

Look, let’s all be realistic with each other here. Olivier Giroud is a target man. He’s a Gallic version of Duncan Ferguson. He was good in the air, popped up with a few goals and was a very useful Everton player, but was never the all-singing, all-dancing, goalscoring centre forward. Not to my ageing memory anyway. Yaya Sanogo looks to be in the same mould, which I think is telling actually, because it does show that Arsene’s preferred style is to have a big target man who can hold up the ball with his back to goal and bring others into play. It’s always going to be difficult to bang in goals every week when you’re facing the wrong direction most of the time!

So that being the case, you have to look at the way we are set up, and wonder if Arsene has a specific job for those two Frenchman, and it ain’t to Luis Suarez up the division. Goals, obviously, not the bitey racism stuff. Their role in the team is to ensure that they bring midfield runners and pacey wide men into play by keeping hold of the ball, distributing well and weighing in with a few poacher goals. That’s how I’m seeing this team line up, anyway, although I admit I’m no tactical genius when it comes to analysis of modern day professional football.

Arsene has stocked up with pacey wide men and midfield runners for a reason, and I’d be surprised if it’s because he’s going to buy a Falcao to be the focal point of the team (would be nice though I admit).

I had a very quick discussion with http://www.twitter.com/yankeegunner last night about the Giroud situation, to which I mentioned that the word on the Marvin Gaye is that Arsene is planning on using Alexis through the middle, which again would suggest that we’re unlikely to see another centre forward. I know this would blow my theory about a big strong front man out of the water, but I perhaps it just shifts the thinking along slightly. Perhaps it shows that rather than having the same thinking as the days of the Invincibles, i.e. We have the best 11 players in that position in the world so we don’t need to worry about the opposition, Arsene is shifting his mindset so he can alternate the attacking style of the team to one of three quick runners that can get in behind high lines. Away from home to a Moneychester City, or against an Everton, this might prove to be a good tactic (although injuries will probably dictate that Giroud is up top and Alexis is out wide this weekend), plus it gives Arsenal a little less predictability in the line up.

Whatever players or style Arsene picks, I guess my underlying message here is that I don’t think that however many people are desperately hopeful we will sign a striker, we probably won’t. So we should probably accept our lot and hope that Giroud is effective enough to give us an improvement on goals this season and that the other members of the team also step up and support his efforts with decent tallies.

That’s me done for the day. Once more unto the work-related breach dear friends. Once more.

Until tomorrow when I have to do it all again.

Lacklustre draw isn’t the end of the world

I’m not quite sure how I feel about yesterday’s 0-0 away draw to Besiktas in Istanbul last night. I mean, it’s good that we don’t have any kind of deficit to overcome in the second leg at home last night, but at the same time there are a couple of things that are nagging at me at the moment about the performance.

Obviously we didn’t play well. You and I both watched the game and we both know that. At the start of the season and with a few new players in the team it’s always going to take time to slip into a rhythm. But there were just a few additional warning bells that sounded with me, so I thought I’d pick them out for you, then perhaps round off with a bit of perspective, because ultimately it’s not doom and gloom and with a decent performance at The Emirates we should be able to progress to the group stages of The Champions League.

So, some of the elements of yesterday’s game that worry me: Olivier Giroud. Now, you won’t get me shouting from the rooftops that he’s a terrible player and we should slap £80millon down for Falcao, because it’s not a realistic option and quite frankly would be a waste of hot air if I did. Giroud is a decent £15million striker who will get us around 20 goals a season if he plays most of the games. But what he does need to bring to the team is that ability to bring others into play. That strength to receive the ball, hold off a defender and bring others into play. We’ve seen him do it last season and I’m sure he’ll be doing it this season. Having said that, yesterday was clearly not one of those nights that he was effective, because he offered very little throughout the duration of the game. His hold up play was poor, his pass completion in finding teammates was woeful, and his finishing was wayward. We know that he fluffs his lines occasionally on the finishing, which I’ve come to accept as one of his limitations, but the hold up play and ability to find a teammate like Ramsey, or either of his wide men, is something that just wasn’t there.

There will be people calling for Alexis through the centre, or for a new signing like Cavani, but to my mind that simply shifts the longer term issue. Arsene has clearly decided – and I’m happy to be proved wrong here and am open to opinions – that he wants a strong striker who can bring the pacey wide men and midfielders into play. It’s one of the reasons why Ramsey can be given more licence to get in the box to bang in the goals. So whilst I’d love another striker to come in, I just don’t think it will happen, because Arsene likes keeping harmony in the team and he won’t replace Giroud with an upgraded version of a target man. Not when he also has clear faith in developing Sanogo. So we have to deal with it. But what we do expect from him – if goals are not his strong point – is more link up play and that is what let him down yesterday.

Besiktas were alright, but nothing more than that. In fact, I’d probably put them more in the category of a side with the same level of ability as Crystal Palace, which gives you an idea why I think we should be disappointed. Like Palace, Besiktas pressed higher up the pitch (although as the game at the weekend wore on Palace were penned back further. I make the comparison based on a Palace side we could have played if the game was at Selhurst Park), were a little profligate in front of goal and had they had a little bit more quality about them in the final third, we’d be licking our wounds this morning and wondering how we’re going to qualify into the Champions League proper this morning. So I’m glad we don’t have that concern this morning, only the concern of a poor performance from some of the players, and the senior ones at that.

Santi Cazorla was another player whose absence in the second half was worrying. I thought he was poor against Palace and gave the ball away too easily. Yesterday he gave the ball away a couple of times. Not as many as the weekend, but it was his lack of time on the ball which was indicative of our overall performance yesterday. At one stage in the second half, I wondered if he was still on the pitch. I said as much on Twitter, to which somebody responded to say they’d just started watching the match and didn’t realise he was playing for ten minutes.

I know his natural position is not out wide left, but he has played there on a number of occasions last season, so I wouldn’t expect him to be be so lacklustre in a position he knows so well. One of the frustration I’ve laid at Wenger’s door before, is his unwavering belief in hierarchies within teams, but also his favourites. He does like to continue playing out of form players some times and, you have to say that another performance like last nights for the diminutive Spaniard at Everton, and you’d expect him to be dropped. However, I suspect he’ll be given more leeway than someone like Poldi would be given. I hope Santi can turn in a grand performance against the Toffees on Saturday, because he’s a fantastic player who has given us so much joy over the last two years, that I’d love to see him continue to weave his way through defences again. So let’s chalk this last week down to a bit of early season rustiness and move on, shall we?

There might be one or two that have a bit of a finger-wagging session in the direction of Jack today, but actually I thought he did ok. He wind some tackles, got stuck in to the opposition and showed that he wasn’t afraid to through his short but stocky frame about, as well as try to bring something to the attack. I’d certainly like to see more from him. What I’d like to see less of is the silliness of Rambo’s sending off. Yes, it was a very soft second yellow to receive, but with a crowd on his back – not to mention the Ice Road Trucker wannabe Slaven Bilic yelling at him every thirty seconds – it was a foul Rambo didn’t need to make. I guess it pretty much summer up an evening in which we were laboured and unconvincing.

He’ll serve a ban now for the return leg, which will be a massive blow, but we have cover in that part of the pitch thankfully. Well, we do right now, but if we keep picking up injuries like Arteta’s yesterday then we’re going to find ourselves patching up Ray Parlour to get back into the side. I sincerely hope that Arteta is not out for a prolonged period of time, because whilst Flamini can slot in to the role of marshalling the space in front of our defence, after that we’re getting into Coquelin territory who, whilst I rated highly before he went on loan last season, is clearly not in the managers plans and will most like be sold on within the next couple of weeks.

The injury list is already mounting. Gibbs, Arteta and Ospina are out, Koscienly is being patched up to play, Mertesacker, Özil and Poldi won’t be match fit and Giroud still doesn’t look match fit. It’s hardly the amazing start to the season that we all wanted, but hey, remember how I said I would try to shove in some perspective? We’re only two games in and we haven’t suffered any confidence sapping defeats yet. In fact, quite to the contrary, we have two wins (if you count the Community Shield) and a draw and whilst everyone is salivating over Chelski at the moment, let’s not forget that they played a newly promoted team who I think we’re a bit over-awed by the occasion and will also most likely be one of the teams that is down the bottom of the league at the end of the season.

Also, let’s be positive about the contributions of our newbies. Calum Chambers, ladies and gentlemen, Calum Chambers. To quote a Championship Manager phrase, I am simply ‘running out of superlatives to describe his performances’. He’s such a talent and once again showed what a purchase Arsene has made by bringing in this kid. I can totally see why Southampton fans were more disappointed to lose Chambers than Shaw. Per still comes straight into the side for me, but Chambers will push him all the way for a starting spot, which is great to see.

Debuchy was, well, Debuchy. He was good going forward, look decent defensively and gave another seven out of 10 performance. As did Monreal. He does get caught out once or twice and there will be times against better opposition that he’ll need more support from whoever plays in front of him, but he performed well and with Gibbs out should get more game time over the coming weeks.

Alexis was also more impressive too. He troubled the Besiktas left back with his pace, played a couple of decent balls in for the off-key Giroud, plus he was combining a little better with the midfield than I thought he did on Saturday. With each passing game you can see him improving his understanding with his teammates, which can only be a good thing.

Right, that’ll do for one day I think, because you’ve probably had enough of my rambling. I know I have. See you when I see you.

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.

Season success for the midfield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catch you tomorrow.