Wellington’s path is more blocked than Coq’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relief that The Arsenal are underway, with dominant display

I am a completely irrational football fan. Specifically, I am a complete irrational Arsenal football fan and if I’m completely honest, after the first weekend of football I was dreading anything but a positive outcome from yesterday’s game against Crystal Palace. 

That in itself doesn’t sound too irrational to you, I’m sure, but when I tell you that fears that we might not score again, let alone win football matches, you’ll perhaps understand how irrational my thought process can be. It’s stupid because I know that I support a team with a very long history of winning more football matches than losing them each season. Yet because it’s the start of a new season, because there is still that element of the unknown as to how Arsenal will perform, until that first win is chalked up I was always going to be this way. Regardless of what I told myself about my own stupidity.

So you can imagine my relief that we’ve got points on the board. You can imagine my pleasure at the way in which we’ve racked up those points too. A gritty and hard fought victory against a Palace side with plenty of threats. And done so whilst dominating large swathes of the game. The cobwebs of last weekend truly blown away and the application we expect from an Arsenal side returning. This team had their noses bloodied on the opening weekend and they did not like it one iota.

Straight from the off we were dominant. The passing was crisper, the pace and cutting edge was there and the only thing that stopped us going ahead in the first ten minutes was a flailing leg off the line as Alexis drove the ball goalwards. The chance had come from a lightning counter and despite the worry of a little less pace with the absence of Theo and the Ox, the team still had enough to catch Palace on the counter when we weren’t dominating possession.

But for most of the game we did dominate possession. That we went in to the half time break level was almost a travesty in itself, because Ramsey had a great flicked goal effort, Alexis missed a few chances (which we can legitimately put down to him still not being 100% match sharp) and there were a number of blocked shots from the Palace players on the edge of the box. Giroud’s fantastically executed semi-bicycle kick was the least we deserved from that first half effort, ably assisted by the majestic Mesut Özil, who was brilliant enough to get a special mention from the boss after the game. That’s the kind of performance that you point people towards when they start to question his importance on the team.

Ward’s equaliser was well struck and against the balance of play, but I can’t really look at Cech as being at fault. He would have seen it late and with a crowd of bodies in between the scorer and the goal, there aren’t too many ‘keepers that would have got to it, I don’t think anyway.

The second half saw a little bit more of Palace and our goal may have had a touch of fortune against the defender, but Alexis’ climb and drive to win it in the first place, means he deserved his reward of contributing towards putting us back in front.

From then on, the game had a very similar feel to it as the one played two years ago, with The Arsenal trying to keep Palace at bay defensively, whilst trying to catch on the counter. Ramsey, Cazorla and The Ox all had decent chances, but there was to be no late goal like that game.

I didn’t manage to watch the game in full, because I was at the Red Bull Air Race and my SkyGo signal was dreadful, but from what I’ve heard and red and partially seen myself, the games only other controversial point seems to surround Coquelin. ‘Pards’ used his post match presser to suggest the ref had bottled the decision not to send the Frenchman off, but I’ve got to be honest and say I think he was perhaps deflecting somewhat. Perhaps a culmination of the three fouls he made should have led to a ‘totting up’ yellow, but no more than that. Of course the Match of the Day ‘pundits’ saw it differently as you’d expect, but I think they’re just pandering to the masses, rather than objectively looking at each foul in isolation. We love an underdog in this country and if there’s an opportunity to find an excuse for one as to why they haven’t won it, then it’ll be taken. 

It does highlight the need for us to find a potential reinforcement though. I’ve been beating the ‘we don’t need signings’ drum all summer, but we’re an injury or suspension away from realistically just having Arteta as our holding midfielder. He actually had a very good cameo when he came on as a sub, but his injury record is such that were Le Coq to break down due to injury, I wouldn’t have 100% confidence we could rely on the Spaniards creaking limbs for an extended period of time. At the moment we’re just praying Shad’s magic sponge can work all season.

But these are concerns for another day. After the deflating feeling of the opening weekend, we have the uplifting feeling of three away points. We need to embracing that feeling and enjoy it whilst it lasts.

Until tomorrow.

Accommodating the best Arsenal players unbalances the team

Hello hello you wonderful peers of mine. I hope you’re not too caught up in your own inner torment and moroseness as we hit the halfway point in the week. The bad taste of a weekend defeat may still be lingering like a little morning breath (despite having brushed your teeth to within an inch of their lives), but at least we’re getting closer to the weekend, in which we can rinse and spit out that taste and replace it with something far more satisfying.

I just hope the team reach for the mouthwash and not the toilet water on Sunday, because I don’t fancy having two weeks in a row in which Arsenal have stunk the place out.

I think it will depend entirely on where Arsène’s mind is at in relation to the team set-up. On Sunday he opted for Santi out wide and a middle of the park selection of Coquelin, Ramsey and Özil further advanced up the pitch. It didn’t really work. Santi came in field often and our balance was severely disrupted. Too many times Monreal was left isolated on the left and whilst the Ox was impressing on the right hand side (going forward at least), there was little on the left to get too excited about. which pulled Giroud into the space and as we know, left nobody in the centre on a couple of occasions.

That plays in to teams hands a little bit at The Emirates, because it means they can be more difficult to break down by being compact. All the technique in the world doesn’t allow for you to break through an organised, well drilled and relatively deeper-lying side, looking to hit you on the counter, when you set up as we did.

My worry is that Arsène might be tinkering with this formations and these players for a while though, because even if Alexis is fit to play from the start, Arsène will be mindful of overplaying him this weekend. He also needs to know what his options are if he loses players like Alexis through injury (ironically enough the possibility of that could increase if he doesn’t give him more rest time) for a sustained period of time, so I do wonder if we’ll start to see more of the accommodating of players in positions that are not as successful, like we saw last season towards the beginning of 14/15.

Last season we saw Arsène playing around with Özil out left, but we also saw Wilshere play in the wide positions, as well as Ramsey out on the right. In some games it worked, but personally I think that had more to do with the technical superiority of our players versus their opponents, rather than any kind of tactical master stroke. I’m old fashioned you see; players should play in their natural position.

The tinkering with player positions – putting square pegs in round holes because they’re a really polished and snazzy looking square peg – has never really worked 100% I think. I kind of get the tinkering with formations based on opponents, so at times last season when Arsène experimented with the 4-1-4-1 it looked a little clunky, but as players get used to a slight variation in playing style they adapt. But it’s the shuffling away from where they are at their best that I’m really not sure of.

Santi, for example, seems to only be shunted out wide when Arsène is accommodating another player and because he’s the most technically proficient at adapting. It happened a few years ago when Podolski’s Arsenal career was on the blink. But we’ve seen just how impactful he can be when he’s moved centrally and so for the life of me I can’t work out why he isn’t – clichéd as it sounds – the ‘first name on the team sheet’. Sometimes ball retention and having that guy in the centre of the park is vital to the success of a team, especially this Arsenal team, so what I don’t understand is why we didn’t have somebody in the middle of the field who can retain possession and release it without it going out for a throw in. In our team we have three players who just don’t seem to lose the ball: Santi Cazorla, Mesut Özil and Mikel Arteta.

NB: I know that these players do occasionally lose the ball – nobody is infallible – but it happens with much less frequency with those three players.

So, if Santi and Mikel are not ticking things over in the middle of the park and Mesut is occupying a more advanced position, what is the outcome? Ramsey and Coquelin spraying balls around and the system not quite working. 

There are many who think that Arteta’s days are numbered, but I don’t necessarily think that is the case, especially when you look at games like the one at the weekend just gone.

So why doesn’t Arsène just go back to the successful formula of the end of last season and play Santi and Coquelin close together? I have seen some people on Twitter speculate that Ramsey might have been given assurances of a central role; that Arsène is accommodating him and trying to build a team around him. That’s a possibility, but we have so much quality around the whole team, that I just can’t see Arsène building a team around just one player. When you have so many quality players, it just doesn’t make sense. No, I just think that Arsène knows his best 11 footballers who have the best technical ability, and he’s trying to fit them in some how. It’s ironic because he talks so much about balance in the team, that when we try experiments like last Sunday, it just unbalances the team.

One player that will bring balance is Alexis, which is why it will be interesting if he starts on Sunday, because I suspect Arsène probably felt he had a bit more time to play around with his team than what has happened. It will most certainly mean that a tough decision has to be made by Arsène: Ramsey or Cazorla? I hope he doesn’t switch Ramsey to the right and Cazorla in the centre to accommodate both in the team, because that would not solve anything in my opinion. He needs to make a tough call and choose one to ensure we have more natural balance and proper wide players. 

Let’s hope he does.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ‘yeah but’ brigade circling Coquelin

This morning I read Mr Positive himself, Paul Merson, talking about this weekend’s Community Shield. He’s predicting an Arsenal win, which is nice, irregardless of the context of the game or whether either side can truly be as ‘up for it’ as a Premier League game. But that’s not what drew my attention to write something about it. No, what drew my attention was the fact that he questioned whether Arsenal could really win the league with Coquelin, as well as how far they could go in the Champions League with him as our main holding midfielder.

Everyone’s entitled to their opinion and if he doesn’t believe that Le Coq is good enough then that’s his prerogative, but i was more surprised that his argument was less about his actual technical ability as a defensive midfielder, more to do with the fact that he has never won a Premier League before.

Now I’m not suggesting that having had the experience of winning the league isn’t a serious bonus, but am I really being told by a pundit that you can’t win the league with players who don’t have experience? Is t there a now infamous quote from the inaudible Alan Hansen that springs to mind here? 

I don’t really understand the logic, if I’m honest, because if you don’t win the league with players that have ever won a league, how can anyone ever win the league? Why isn’t the league won every season by one team? 

Because experience is only one side of the coin. The other side is desire and drive and having seen what Coquelin can bring to this Arsenal team, who’s going to argue that he hasn’t got that in abundance? Who’s going to contest that a man who has wrestled his Arsenal career from the jaws of oblivion, doesn’t have the sheer willpower and determination to try and drive his team forward as much as the man who has won leagues in Spain, or Germany, or even in England?

It’s all ‘yeah but’s from the media. 

‘Yeah, but this team hasn’t shown it can win ugly’. 

‘Yeah, but this team doesn’t have a big enough squad’

‘Yeah, but this team hasn’t won a trophy’

There’s always a first time and why can’t Coquelin’s first time be this season? What sort of a logic is it to dismiss his ability to win a title because he hasn’t won a title? How many titles had Paddy Vieira won (and been a serious contributor towards) when he joined Arsenal? Yet he came in to the Arsenal team, never looked back and bagged a hatful of medals. He was a determined man and even though I don’t hear much Coquelin talk, his actions on the pitch show me he has the same tenacity.

Nemanja Matic walked in to the Chelski team and nobody said Chelski couldn’t win the league with him, yet he shows similar traits to Coquelin, so why the difference? 

I think this season is going to be a big one for Le Coq and having seen him keep up his ball-winning ways in Singapore and The Emirates Cup, I think we’re in for much of the same as we did earlier in the year. He’s the cover we never had at the start of last season and the result will be, I hope, a more comfortable defensive unit even when we’ve had to rotate due to injury.

For the record I think we could potentially do with another player in the same mould as Coquelin. But if we don’t, I’m not convinced Arteta can’t do a job in rotation with Le Coq during the season. And if both fall to injury, whilst Flamini is not ideal, how many other teams have somebody who is a third choice defensive midfielder with his experience. Flamini is a ‘in an emergency, break glass’ player and in that instance I’m happy that he hasn’t moved abroad. Yet.

We have all the tools this season to be successful. I’m convinced of that. What we will need is a good start, then a replication of what we did in the second half of the season, then we’ll see just how close we can get to Chelski and just how much the drive and determination of players like Coquelin can get us over the line.

Catch you tomorrow.

Arteta’s deal raises questions that Arsène must ponder and answer

Monday came and went with players returning to training and, unlike in places like Southampton where the odd chap doesn’t show for his first day back with his current club, everyone at Arsenal came back who was supposed to come back. No Szczesny stuck in a wishing well, no Wilshere falling in to the Grand Canyon and certainly no Flamini stuck on a boat 10 miles from Somalian pirates. All appears to be gravy in The Arsenal world. 

It’s nice. I like it. Having spent a few seasons with a settled squad, my ever hazy memory is beginning to remember the times in which we just got stronger every summer under Arsène’s stewardship. 

News wise there still isn’t much though. Arteta might be on the verge of a new deal and whilst that will have some Arsenal fans spitting feathers and chewing the inside of their mouths, I’d be quite happy to see our experienced captain receive the backing of the manager with a new deal.

Sure, there will be those of you that might think “but what does that mean in terms of a replacement in holding midfield??”, but I don’t really think that decision taken by the manager will have had that much of an impact on his decision to strengthen in the defensive midfield position. He signed an extension to Rosicky’s contract, but do you think that means Rosicky is going to play more regularly? I don’t. I do think that Arsène is making sure we have enough cover by keeping Tomas and I think Arteta is in that position too. 

Besides which, every successful team has a balance of skills, enthusiasm and experience, so why wouldn’t we want Arteta around to support his teammates? He’s proven himself a great person to be at the club; eloquent, honest, and on top of that many people seem to forget just how good he is. He’s a master at receiving and distributing accurately from our back four, relieving pressure, as well as setting the rest of the team up to find space and start attacks. He’s an organiser on the pitch. He’s brilliant at the tactical yellow card in the middle of the pitch. He’s also versatile. In his career he’s been a playmaker, a left midfielder and a holding defensive midfielder. He’s had his injuries – particularly last season – but when he plays he will be an asset to the team, of that I have no doubt.

 Unusually for me, this summer I’ve taken the approach that I’m not sure we really need that much in order to compete with Chelski. We’ve bought a great ‘keeper capable of salvaging us points. Last season I remember saying that neither Szczesny or Ospina were that type of ‘keeper I felt. So we’ve addressed that now. But with Coquelin established as the first choice holding midfielder, surely it makes sense to have a calming and mentoring influence in the shape of Arteta, for him?

I think so. I also think that unless a player is available for a realistic market value, Arsène won’t do any type of deal in any position, because he’s not going to want to have his fingers burned by playing £30million for Schneiderlin. No matter how much the player wants to come or how many French Caps he has won.

There’s also the small matter of Krystian Bielik who, with such big things expected of him in the coming years, would probably see his path all but blocked up if Arsène signs another 24-25 year old for the position he offers. I know Bielik is only 17, but we like to blood them young at Arsenal, so it wouldn’t surprise me – assuming he’s good enough – to see him emerging within two years. By that time you’ll have a Coquelin who will be at his peak at 26, Arteta will have hung up his boots and young Krystian can act as Padawan to Francis.

I know I know, it’s all very hypothetical and a lot of ducks need to be lined up before it happens, but I’m just trying to put myself in Arsène’s shoes with Arsène’s thought process. Why go out and spend £30million on a player when you have a £30million player (as he believes) in that position already? 

I suppose he has form in the shape of Monreal signing for £8million when we had Gibbs in the team already, but that move was partially justified based on the Englishman’s injury record, so it made sense. Coquelin hasn’t really established himself long enough in the first team to work out if he has injury problems, so for all we know he could play 40 times next season and the whole question over having good enough cover becomes a bit of an irrelevance.

I guess that just goes to show you the delicate nature of the decisions Le Boss has to make with his squad at the moment. The team feels to me like it’s standing on the precipice of greatness, it really does, so to unbalance it with a host of Galatacicos – for example – doesn’t make sense. However, there needs to be sufficient depth, with a blend of young hungry players and experienced elder statesmen to compliment those in their prime in order to see us lift the Premier League and/or the Champions League. 

Anyway Arsène, over to you sir.

Glass half empty or full?

Thank some sort of deity that it’s Friday. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’ve had a shocking week – Arsenal result aside – I’ve just had enough of the proverbial stuff thrown at me work-wise that I’ll be grateful for a few days off. 

Plus the league have deemed it acceptable for us to finally have a game on a weekend instead of a Monday night, so that gives me something right at the end to look forward to, Arsenal-wise. Or dread, depending on how full your glass is.

If it’s half-empty, then you won’t have been too encouraged with the news that The Ox, Debuchy and Arteta are all out for the weekend, whilst Rambo and Welbeck are uncertainties. It’s a shame if neither of the latter pull through and it undoubtedly weakens us somewhat, but if you’ve got a half-full glass, you’ll be happy that we have the depth in the team to make these absences appear minimal. Bellerin for Debuchy, Coquelin for Arteta are familiar swaps, so it’s just the Ox that I think we’re really missing out on.

Not least because I’m convinced it would give the manager a serious decision to make with Ramsey. The Ox is a more naturally suited player out wide right and I think he’d definitely be playing if he was fit, but this ongoing injury which seems to have no return date appears to continue to linger, so much so that I’m starting the think we won’t see him again this season.

Who knows? Arsène’s squad selection decisions may be so numerous that he’s decided a normal six week injury layoff gets an additional two ‘just to be safe’ but also to avoid a difficult decision and cheering a player off. That’s probably what I’d do if I was in Le Boss’ position. So maybe we will see if the same happens with Ramsey and his knock from the Swansea game, or Welbeck too.

The only difference with Welbeck is that he appears to be Arsène’s only real preferred choice to Giroud up top, which I’m sure is why we’ve seen a slight tailing off of Giroud’s form in the last couple of weeks, as his competition in the squad is reduced. It’s not the sole factor; as has already been pointed out the shunting out wide of Ramsey probably has had an impact as he has one less wide man to get in behind defenders and put the ball in for him, or the fact that he’s a confidence player and when ex-stars like Thierry Henry say you can’t with the league with him in the side who knows how he will react? He’s a confidence player and if that gets knocked you can see the impact.

I think it might have a small effect, but competition from Welbeck and the position of Ramsey have had more of an impact than anything else.

So I wonder if Welbeck is rushed back to the first team ahead of the other players, especially if he is given the extra incentive of another opportunity to prove Louis van Gaal wrong by playing well against his old club. 

All of this and there’s not even the slightest mention of Walcott who, I have to admit, I find it staggering that his stock has fallen so much in 18 months. He’s gone in the summer, almost certainly, but I hope that he keeps his Arsenal legacy by moving abroad. I’m sure it won’t happen and he’ll be bound for an English side, but it does feel like a sad way for a player who was once a lynchpin of the team, discarded like an old Cornetto wrapper.

That’s football I suppose. Eventually it will happen to every player. Just ask Rosicky how he’s feeling at the moment.


Searching where we need; Santiago the Spanish Prince

So it appears as though the club are finally shifting gears in the transfer market, with Legia Warsaw publicly announcing that they have rejected a bid from us for their highly rated youngster Krystian Bielik, no doubt in an attempt to sound out other teams and engage in a bidding war. Whether or not that is enough to have Arsène and co. running for the hills remains to be seen, but it is perhaps positive that the club are looking to strengthen.

But perhaps most shockingly of all, he plays in a position in which we actually need cover for, as a defensive midfielder. Now, I’m not going to suggest that he’s a player that can saunter straight into the first team, as he would clearly be earmarked as a long-term successor to Arteta. But at least we’re going after defensive midfielders. You never know, we might even be able to muster enough courage to pick up a defender in this transfer window, rather than our usual tactic of buying players where we already have an abundance of talent (anybody for a Sissoko?). You there at the back, stop laughing…

So at least there’s been some early movement there. Now, let’s park the shitefest that is the transfer window, taking some time to admire a certain Santiago Cazorla, who I think has a first name that has been massively underused since his arrival to this country. It makes him sound like a Spanish Prince who will come and steal your wife with his good looks, tall and strapping physique and long, flowing hair. Thankfully, he has none of those physical attributes, but he is a remarkable footballer and has stepped up in a big way since we had The Great Arsenal Injury Crisis of 2014. Which was way worse than The Great Arsenal Injury Crisis of 2013. Or 2012. Or 2011. Or perhaps it wasn’t. Perhaps it should be renamed The Annual Great Arsenal Injury Crisis?

Anyway, I’m digressing my main point, which is to heal much of the praise I have for today onto our diminutive Spaniard, who has been a revelation over the last month to six weeks. He has relished his role as the ‘Playmaker-In-Chief’ and has been central to the good football we have seen (in patches) since the beginning of December. The way in which he has been able to find those killed balls in behind defences has been joyous to watch and on top of that, he’s also added more of a goal threat to his play, which has spread the burden away from Alexis and the other forwards.

With a host of players returning over the next few weeks, including a certain Turko-German number 10, it will be pleasing for Arsène to know that he has options and in-form players that mean that it won’t be easy for Mesut to win his place back.

It’s the same with Theo. The form of Alexis and the role that Giroud plays, effectively means that Walcott is fighting with The Ox, Welbeck and to a lesser extent Campbell, so whilst he gives us something that others do not – direct running in behind defenders with great pace – we’ve already seen that he’s not going to be fast-tracked into the first team and his inclusion from the start is far from a foregone conclusion. Arsène has already said post-Hull, that the fans should not expect too much from Walcott, having been out for so long. But perhaps it is a positive sign that I look at our forward options and I have less of a concern or pressing desperation to see Theo thrown in and banjaxed so quickly because we’ve had to rush him back.

Hey, perhaps this will show Arsène that when you have enough cover in certain positions, you don’t have to rush players back or run them into the ground because there are no other options? Nah, you’re right, probably not.

Anyway, that’ll do for one days incessant rambling, I think. See thee tomorrow.

Injuries abating, history fears not

So, Le Boss hath spoken, decreeing that we have no new injury concerns ahead of this weekend’s massive game against United. In fact, the injury situation doesn’t seem as terrifying as it has been over the past month, as players are beginning to return. As usual with The Arsenal, players are returning in all of the positions that we are currently well stocked in but hey, beggars, choosers, etc.

It might have only been a brief update to the official site, but it was still welcome to get Arsène’s ‘all clear’ on some players. Arteta, for example, will be needed in the base of that midfield if Flamini’s recent performances are anything to go by. The tenacity and cardiness of our Gallic enforcer still seems to be there in his system, but Flamini seems to have lost positional sense and his ability to find another red (or yellow) shirt of late, so the metronomic movements of Tricky Micky will be welcome for our back four.

We may still see a duet of the Flamster and Arteta just in front of the back four, to provide extra cover against the obvious attacking threat United possess, but at least if a scenario like the one that led to the first Swansea goal two weeks ago happens, we know that Mikel is taking down an oncoming player closer to the centre spot.

The other good news is that Giroud will be back, which will certainly please Aaron Ramsey of all people, who thrived from his hold up play last season. It would be remiss of me to suggest that Rambo is not versatile enough to perform without the big Frenchman, but there’s no doubt he profits from Olivier’s place at the top of the field. It will probably be a few weeks before he’s ready to effectively challenge Welbeck for a starting spot, but just seeing him in the squad will be a welcome boost, not least because it will push poor old Sanogo further down the pecking list. I feel for the fella, but he’s not at Arsenal level yet and without games he never will be, so Arsène needs to January loan his ass to another club. Preferably in the Premier League. After all, he only needs to watch Match of the Day to do his scouting. Plus, we’ll save a few pounds on travel expenses if he stays in this country. No need for booking flights for any of Steve Rowley’s crew then, you see.

Anyway, back to the team and thankfully both Kos and Debuchy are out and about running. Arsène still thinks it’s three weeks but the fact that Kos is actually alive is pleasing to hear. We’ve had both Vermaelen and Rosicky in recent past disappear for injuries expected to be a couple of weeks, only to see them gone for an entire season, so I’m sure you’ll join me in breathing a huge sigh of relief there. The sooner we can get the first choice back four together, the better, as far as I’m concerned.

What was interesting about yesterday’s update, I thought, was that there was no mention of Welbeck. Perhaps that’s because there was no need to. After all, Woy said he was fine and if Arsène doesn’t even feel the need to mention it, surely it’s a non-story, right? RIGHT?? I hope so. But the trouble with supporting this club is that usually ‘surprises’ don’t fall into the ‘nice’ category. They usually fall into the ‘dropped your car keys into a poo-encrusted toilet so now you have to since when you dip your hand in there’ category. I’m trying to stay positive. Welbeck will be fit. If I have to avoid three-drained manhole covers all day between now and the game tomorrow evening I will. I’ll do it I tells ya!

So, finally, before I wrap up for the day I thought I’d give you a little ‘heads up’. I am terrified about tomorrow. I’m terrified because at home, against the poorest United side in my living memory, with the injuries they have, we’ve never had a better chance of picking up three points. Yet I’m terrified because we never seem to get the run of the green against that lot. I think back to 99, when we’ve dicked on United and gone down to a wonder goal after Bergkamp missed a penalty, or two when Owen Hargreaves (of all people! He could barely walk for most of his United career) scored that free kick after we’d outplayed them in their own back garden. Or when Almunia and Diaby’s 50p head caused a 2-1 defeat that I witnessed live in the flesh. Or when Sagna went for a meaningless challenge two seasons ago that cost us three points. Or even last season’s 0-0 bore draw. Every time we come up against United we rarely have the beating of them. We’ve had one win in 14 since 2009. I’ve been a season ticket holder for six years and I’ve never seen us beat United (I was away for the Ramsey goal that got us our only win in that time). That’s why I’m terrified. I’m terrified because of history. Because history is rarely kind to The Arsenal. History against United is the person that unscrews the salt pot so you spill all of your salt on your dinner and can’t enjoy it. That history is one in which I am haunted.

I fear another haunting. I fear us totally dominating and losing. Or drawing. Another draw. Don’t let it happen Arsenal. Please.

Anyway, more of my terror tomorrow. Adios for now.

Feeling overly sensitive, worrying about Saturday

Yesterday I had a wee bit of a Twitter monologue as I commented on the Walcott ‘I’m a fan’ story that appeared on the official site yesterday. It wasn’t so much a rant as it was a musing, that the club hasn’t helped him out with the headline which specifically referenced the term ‘fan’ as if he himself had said it.

Before I elaborate, let me just say I have no issue with Walcott, his contract situation a couple of years back, or him as a person. He seems a perfectly amiable chap.

Instead, my thinking was more along the lines in of ‘the club don’t help the players our – PR wise – sometimes, do they?’, because in the subsequent article that I clicked on, not once did Walcott say ‘I’m a fan now’. He did talk about seeing the game differently, trying to remember the buzz fans get when a player does something special, etc, etc. all positive stuff and I have no issue with it. I just think the club could have chosen their article title a bit better.

Because he’s not a fan, is he? Not in the sense that you and I are a fan. Not in the same way, anyway, I don’t think. I don’t think there are many actual ‘fans’ that are professional footballers these days. I just don’t see it. They are not like us. They earn more money, they do it as a job and they see the changing of clubs like we see the changing of companies in our own working careers.

And hey, I don’t begrudge that, because I had had a number of ‘clubs’ in my working life. But much like I would say I hold an affection for each of the ‘clubs’ I’ve worked for, I have not been loyal enough to stay there since I left university.

Which is why I don’t think the use of the term ‘fan’ did Theo any favours, because my immediate response to seeing the headline was to dismiss the sentiment before I’d even read the article, which is wrong because what was said in the article didn’t reflect the title.

Are the official site looking for some extra clicks for advertising? Who knows. Maybe. After all, the Marketing Team might be tasked with bringing in £x,xxx before the end of the year and maybe a few extra clicks will help drive up the advertising revenues. But it’s not something we’re used to seeing on the official site (click whoring, I would call it), so it’s taken me by surprise somewhat.

Or maybe I’m just being a little too sensitive and should just learn to chill, Winston.

Perhaps I’m just a bit more tightly wound than usual because it feels like there’s more riding on this weekend’s game than there would have been a month ago. After all, we’ve played pretty average so far this season, never really getting into our full flowing rhythm and looking like we could end the season with 25 draws on the board come May. But this game on Saturday represents an opportunity. It’s a chance for us to drink in some much needed confidence if we can overcome United, who are still a very good side, one in which we have an appalling record with over the last five or so years.

It feels like a game like this weekend – should we win it – could be a catalyst for us to final break through the malaise that has been the opening third of the season. We need something. Some kind of NOS fuel injection or whatever similar metaphor you can think up in your head. Which is why I’m so tightly wound, because I fear the spiral of the team if we once again succumb to what is fast looking like a United team with more injuries than Ryan Shawcross could count to. Although admittedly that’s just double figures.

We need a win this weekend. And on home soil too, to give the fans a lift, so I’m naturally exceedingly nervous.

Anyway, enough of my own insecurities, because it’s not proving too therapeutic to re-read them on the blog. Just getting me more nervous. Shall we talk about Danny Welbeck? Hopefully he is fully fit, because he’ll be a very important player on Saturday. One suspects that of all the players looking to prove a point, he’d be front and centre when it comes to wanting to get one over on his former employers. Tricky Micky Arteta’s been kicking his heels at the training ground this week, and having very little to do, he thought he’d tell the official site how Welbeck is tailor made for The Arsenal.

Micky tells us that it is the technical element of Welbeck’s game that has surprised him and, whilst I have noticed the effervescent running and ‘chase-em down’ attitude of Welbeck as a positive, the technical ability of the lad must be something that is also important for a player to quickly adapt to life at The Arsenal. After all, the pace in which the game is played, the importance of quick interchange of possession, is all-important in Arsène’s world. So you can see why he’s found it easier to settle in.

He also looks stronger than I remember seeing him beind at United. He holds up the ball better and is better in the air than I thought. The fact he’s only 24, plus that he is still getting to know his teammates, all bodes well from my perspective. Let’s just hope he’s fit for Saturday. Otherwise it’s Sanogo time. We all saw how that worked out against Leicester, so let’s keep those fingers crossed for ‘Welbz’. We’ll find out soon enough, as Arsène is sure to give an update to the dotcom later this afternoon.

Anyway, enough of my jibber-jabber, I’ll leave you in peace. Have a good’un.