Hoping Besiktas aren’t the first roundabout

I don’t know about you, but in the space of the last 24 hours I’ve suddenly become acutely aware that we could be staring down the barrel of a Europa League game, should the worst befall the team tonight. It’s a feeling that, whilst I have felt before with these Champions League qualifiers like the one against Besiktas, I’ve not felt as ill-at-ease in the preamble to the game.

I don’t know whether or not it’s the news that we could be reliant on Sanogo as our target man for the first half of the season as a result of the Giroud injury, or that Alexis will now have even more pressure on him to play that central striker role, but I approach today’s match preview blog with a feeling of slight trepidation.

Perhaps it’s because of the slow start we’ve had. Counting aside the excellent Community Shield victory against the Oil Whores, we’ve stuttered our way to victory over the car crash that is Palace and two draws against Besiktas and Everton. It feels like we haven’t yet got into our stride and, as a result, I kind of wish this game was coming in a couple of weeks time given its importance. Our season right now feels a little like the old red Ford Sierra Sapphire I used to own. On a cold winters morning, once she had got herself on to the dual carriageway between Hertford and Harlow, she was fine. But switch her on first thing and try and drive off without letting her warm up, and she’d cut out on you once you reached the first roundabout, which is what I’m hoping won’t happen to us tonight. Man, I really hope Besiktas aren’t our first roundabout.

Logic should dictate that I’m less worried about this game. After all, when you compare the teams pound for pound, even with our mounting injury problems we should have enough to overcome a Turkish side that didn’t even win their own domestic league. Factor in the age old adage that both Greek and Turkish sides tend to not travel so well, and you and I should not be concerned with worry about ensuring the team does its job tonight.

But this is Arsenal we’re talking about here folks. This is our Arsenal and we all know that we’re perfectly capable of tripping ourselves up against Slaven Bilic’s charges. Heck, we nearly managed it a week ago in Istanbul, to which only Besiktas’ own profligacy afforded us a draw against an inspired Turkish side. Take anything for granted this evening, and my additional cup credits won’t seem as appealing this season (although I will go to every game possible regardless, I hasten to add).

The threat from the Turks will undoubtedly come from their star striker Demba Ba, who I’m sure will want Arsene to rue the day that he didn’t snap up the Senegalese, but aside from that I’m not going to go all YouTube scout on you and pretend that I know the intimate workings of our opposition. Why would I? Turkish football is hardly something I wax lyrical to you on a weekly basis, so rather than try to pull the wool over your eyes, I figure I’ll base my assessment of the opposition on pure guesswork.

And it is guesswork, because I’ll be very surprised if Besiktas are as open and attacking as they were a week ago. Bilic will know that his team has to do a bit of a Palace on us and frustrate, looking to hit on the counter. We were a minute or so away from an opening day draw against a team that had little interest in venturing outside their own half, so a repeat of that performance and the goals scored (minus the absent Ramsey last minuter) would see us out on goal difference.

Goals will be the key to tonight. It’s kind of the most obvious statements one could make, but I use the plural of the word with much emphasis, because if we can grab a couple of goals within the first half without reply then we should have this game sewn up. It should lead to their heads dropping and may mean that we could pick them off as they elect to counter. But as it stands right now, we are in a precarious position. 1-0 to The Arsenal is a horrible score line to have for any prolonged period of time tonight. Especially if we’re entering the final five to 10 minutes of the game. Remember when we played PSV all those years ago? A single goal from them changed the complexion of the tie from a 2-0 comfortable result, to a 2-1 victory but a knock out on the away goals rule. That’s what we want to avoid tonight.

Our team news is slightly concerning, but when you look at the players we have available, we have to be looking at the side and pleased that our injury problems haven’t stretched too far. The back four look solid with Monreal looking good and the possibility of Koscienly coming in for Chambers, whilst Flamini in front of them will add a bit of yellow-cardiness to proceedings, but also that little bit of bite. Jack will play the box-to-box Ramsey role and, with the Welshman out of the side through suspension, I just wonder if that will give him more freedom to express himself. Jack and Rambo are very similar players in my opinion and I have heard some murmurs from friends about how it’s not outside the realms of possibility that it is because of that, that we have not been as fluid when both of them are in the team.

The front four I’d like to see would include Özil, Sanchez, The Ox and Podolski. With Giroud out injured and none of the above able to effectively act as a target man, I’d like us to try and be a bit more fluid with the front three, interchanging who plays at the top and on the flanks throughout the game. If we move around our players and add that mobility to a side sitting deep, it might just pull open some spaces for Özil to work his magic on. But I don’t think Arsène will do that if I’m honest. I suspect we’ll see Cazorla on the left, The Ox on the right and Sanchez up top. There was a bit of talking up Sanogo as that main front man, but going over his limitations and rawness is like treading on already well-worn ground, so I’ll leave that for now.

Jack described tonight’s game as a ‘cup final’. It’s a clichéd expression that often sees football fans roll their eyes because you just can’t play cup finals every week. So whilst I shall resist the temptation to agree with him, stressing that this could be make or break for the season for us when you consider what could be at stake in terms of transfers and confidence, is something that I cannot emphasise enough.

Come on Arsenal. Do the job, do it well, then let’s get that old Sierra back on the dual carriageway. Or something.

Catch you tomorrow.

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.

Points first, pretty football second

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So many positives, even if it’s a friendly

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

Today is not one of them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace out

Bit of work to do for Arsene

It’s a first day back for yours truly today, after a couple of weeks in Portuguese sun and a spot of corporate hospitality at yesterday’s Emirates Cup, which was a first for me and was certainly an interesting experience. How I’ve never thought to concoct a ‘Yorkshire Wrap’ – roast beef and onions within a wrapped Yorkshire Pudding – during my time on this earth is beyond me. That it has taken me nearly 32 years to savour the flavour is cause for disappointment, but at least I’ve had one now, I’m the better for it too.

I thought I’d start with something non-football related to be positive about this morning, because what happened on the pitch was hardly full of the same Arsenal swagger that the home fans had been treated to on Saturday afternoon, so looking for the joys of life away from the pitch seemed appropriate.

And look, let’s be realistic here; this game doesn’t really mean too much and is all about getting the team ready for that first game of the season against Palace in two weeks. I don’t know about you, but I don’t even mind if we’re that poor against Moneychester City next weekend, as long as we iron out any kinks by the following week.

As Arsene said afterwards, we looked very lethargic yesterday, sluggish with the ball and not really looking like we’d fashion a chance in that first half. Giroud lasted only a half and Arsene even said that he was not really ready. There was a couple of occasions where I thought he and Sanchez exchanged passes well and one delightful through-ball from the Chilean only for Giroud to be called offside, but other than that his movement compared to Falcao was quite a contrast. Of course there are mitigating circumstances and Giroud had a World Cup where Falcao sat out through injury, but I suspect the fact that the Colombian is a worthwhile £50million footballer, probably had something to do with the difference between the two as well. His movement is very clever and he drifted across the Arsenal defence for the whole time on the pitch. Giroud did not and has never been the most mobile of players.

I thought our new players all had positives about their game. Debuchy slotted in and looked like he’d been part of the team for years – probably something you’d expect from an international quality full back whose just spent two years previously in the Premier League – and it’s easy to feel more comfortable about the fact that we’ve replaced Sagna adequately enough. Chambers was the big plus point for me; he looked composed on the ball, won a few tackles and his distribution was effective enough. You can see why Wenger rates him enough to spunk £12million on a 19 year old. In a similar way to how Falcao and Giroud look different levels of class, the difference between the composed Chambers and shaky Miquel was quite obvious. Our Spanish centre half didn’t really look like he’d kicked on much from the promising player we thought we had three years ago and, if we’re all honest, it’s hard to see how he has a long-term future at the club. Yesterday he looked really leggy, was done for pace at least once and his touch left a little to be desired of, so if he is still at the club – either permanent or a loan move – by 1st September, I’d be surprised.

Alexis Sanchez played well too. His movement looked good, he fed a couple of good balls to Giroud, he had some nice interchanges of possession with The Ox (who played really well yesterday and I hope starts next weekend) and has one heck of a leap on him for a small fella. He looked like he’d snuck a step ladder on to the pitch in his shorts on a couple of occasions, such was the impressive spring he had. It’s easy to see that he’ll be a positive influence on the team and with Walcott also available from September, they’ll be some frightening pace in this Arsenal side.

That was pretty much all of the positives we could take from this friendly tournament. It was interesting to see that the press asked about Cazorla’s weight, because my compatriots and I thought he looked like he’d been carrying a bit of additional baggage across the midriff yesterday, so the fact it was asked in the post-match presser shows that we weren’t the only ones raising a few eyebrows. Arsene denied it of course, but I suspect he’ll have asked Santi himself whether he’d been a bit liberal with his paella portions after the World Cup finished for Spain.

It’s clear that Arsene has a bit of work to do in terms of conditioning for the players. He all but said as much in his interview after the game, but he now has time to work with the players and I suspect we’ll also start seeing the integration of the Germans into the side soon, so let’s not forget that we are still trying to pull together the bones of the first team that will be the foundation for our (hopeful) league title attempt.

Oh, before I forget, a really slow and sarcastic hand clap for Martin Atkinson. The incompetent referee was about 10 yards away from the action when Akpom was scythed down by the Monaco ‘keeper a yard inside the box, but he saw fit to give a free kick on the line of the box rather than the penalty. My only hope is that the phrase ‘they even themselves out come the end of the season’ rings true, and we can profit from a shocking decision in our favour by him, when the actual football starts.

My day ended on a high however as we were treated to a picture with a quick chat and picture with Tony Adams, so despite the poor performance, we were able to get a snap with a genuine Arsenal legend.

Catch you tomorrow you wonderful humans, you.

Santi’s turn, Poldi’s sling shot and Mesut performs

And today’s spurious rumour of an Arsenal player leaving the club is…

Santi Cazorla!

Come on down!

It’s almost as if the tedium that was yesterday’s bore draw between Nigeria and Algeria has re-awoken the dormant transfer demons as they are offered a ray of light to make up rubbish that will get attention during the World Cup. I mean, now that I think about it, I haven’t seen an ITK on my timeline producing any gutter trash stories for at least a week now. That may be because I’ve blocked a lot of them through Twitter, but still, it does feel like it’s been confined to just NewsNow articles by the usual suspects of Goal and Caught Offside. For this I am grateful.

But apparently Santi isn’t grateful and he wants to return to Spain, with newly crowned La Liga Champions Atletico Madrid sniffing around him, so naturally he’s already booked his Easyjet flight, packed his bags, clichéd up London Colney by ‘clearing his locker’ and is now just waiting for a confirmation. I wonder if the players actually have lockers? And what would be inside them? Pictures of Lorraine Kelly and Carol Vorderman? Some maths homework? A sling shot? I bet Poldi has a sling shot. And a few stink bombs for the fitness coaches. Yeah, that’ll teach them not to make old Poldi run lots…

Anyway, I’m treating this rumour with the contempt it deserves, because let’s face it we’d be mad to let Cazorla go without a replacement. I can’t see us dropping Sagna, Vermaelen, Monreal (another mischievous link), Cazorla and Podolski, whilst still trying to strengthen the team in other positions, can you? Nope. So whilst it is always annoying to. Hear stories of our players linked elsewhere, let’s not forget that 90% of them are unfounded and will never come to pass.

Here’s another way of looking at it: of all the players we’re linked with, only 1% of those players actually get to put on an Arsenal shirt, so why would the reverse not be true of players leaving the club?

I mean seriously, who do they think they’re trying to kid? And by poking the the Arsenal fans’ hornets best by declaring that we’re after Tom Cleverly? Pull the other one, it’s got bells on…

Anyway, back to actual football and with Germany ripping a new one for Portugal, it was pleasing to see so many of our players being happy. I did think it was a bit strange that there were still some people who we’re making statements about a poor performance from Özil, because from the few highlights I saw of the game, he looked to have made quite an impact in the team. I’m not sure if it happened in the whole game, but it looked like Mesut was positioned on the right hand side of the front three, which if it was the case is an interesting consideration for him for The Arsenal in future. He should always be one to float across the front line with a free role, but having him cut inside from the right more often is definitely something I’d like to see him do more of next season (not that he didn’t do that much this season just gone, but I’d love to see him do it even more).

You’ve got to hand it to Portugal though. Along with Spain, they’ve managed to make England fans feel mighty better about the performance against Italy with their implosions. The Portuguese look like Southampton of the nineties. Everything must go through Ronaldo like everything went through Le Tissier. Players know that they just give the ball to Ronaldo and he will do the rest. But the glorious thing is, at the very highest level, no team can be that reliant on one person. I’d almost feel sorry for Ronaldo and the pressure of a nation he has if, y’know, he wasn’t Ronaldo n’that.

And finally from me for today: how much would you pay for a Thomas Müller? I mean actually pay. What a fantastic and versatile player that I only wish was born in France, because Arsene eats those kind of transfers up for breakfast and he’d probably have been an Arsenal player for five or six years by now.

Anyway, enough of this pointless daydreaming, I’m off to learn something about management.

Season review: did the attack cost us the league?

Today’s blog is my final one of the season for an overall review of specific areas of the team and, whilst the first three were relatively lengthy, I don’t feel like making this a ‘War and Peace’ analysis of the front line.

This is mainly in part down to the fact that the ‘feel good factor’ still exists amongst Arsenal fans. We’ve won the FA Cup just over a week ago, we’ve celebrated the 25th anniversary of Anfield 89 yesterday, and the spirits every seem to be high. So I’m loathed to take on board too much negativity and dish it out to you in any kind of volume at such a good time to be a Gooner.

Let’s also not forget the fact that this season has already seen a concentrated and rather drawn out series of collective sighs when talking about our front line, as we have seen a league title slip from our grasp, due to a manager unwilling to strengthen in that much needed position for two transfer windows. Where he once collected strikers, he now covets creative midfielders, so it seems.

Everyone has talked enough about the issues, including myself, so I’m going to try to focus on the positives of our front line. Because there are positives. Injury aside, Theo Walcott looked like he could continue his fantastic form of 2012/13, had injury not struck him after being played so intensively when back from injury. His season may have been ‘cameotastic’ in the most part, but he still contributed to some good displays during that period of time, which should bode well for next season. It would be a delight to see what he and Özil could achieve together if given an extended run of a dozen or so games. He has the pace, he has the finishing ability and whilst Santi did excel in the Özil role before Mesut’s arrival, we’ve already seen (right at the beginning of the season) what could happen when Theo and Mesut are put together. Think Sunderland away, where Theo was put through three times in the first half and had he had his scoring boots on that day, it would have been a rout.

Perhaps that feeling of ‘what might have been’ is a common theme across all of our front line. After all, the Ox was a preferred starter on the right wing for the first game of the season against Villa, which was a heck of a statement by the manager that he thought the season might be a good one for him. Who knows what kind of Ramseyesque form Oxlade-Chamberlain might have exhibited had he not picked up that knee ligament injury. As it was, he returned to the team and put in some stellar displays at an important time, dominating both Cyrstal Palace and Bayern Munich away games. Arsene says he will become a central midfielder eventually, and we certainly have seen evidence of that, but I suspect his punctuated season last time out May have extended his apprenticeship in the attacking three positions and we’ll see more of him there next season too.

On the left we have flitted between Cazorla and Podolski throughout the season, both square pegs in round holes to a degree, but both able to play that position to some effect. Cazorla’s flexibility affords him the ability to be effective in any of three positions across the attacking four (if you include the Özil ‘in the hole’ role) but we’ve also seen that his flexibility has allowed Mesut to move around the pitch more freely at times. I think to that Everton FA Cup match when Santi found himself in the centre supplying Özil on the left for the first goal, or the cup game against the Spuds when he leathered in Gnabry’s pass whilst timing his run to appear on the left.

Podolski is an entirely different enigma and one that I don’t think any Arsenal fan will ever understand. He is 100% end product and that is both delightful and infuriating in equal measure. Arshavin was a bit like that; an ‘all or nothing’ style player but, unlike the German, he was nowhere near efficient enough and after a couple of seasons was soon feeling the burden of crowd disappointment on his shoulders. Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to Poldi. We all love his personality, his goals, his style when scoring. In fact, if you’re like me you’re praying that he could just give an extra 30% more to his game, he’d be one of the worlds best. It doesn’t have to be through technical ability – we know he doesn’t have that in spades – but even if it was in application and a bit more drive, he’d quickly find himself undroppable by the manager. Still, he’s shown us some fantastic goals and he is certainly a scorer in big games too, as he’s proved in his two seasons at the club. I hope he stays for next season, as he most certainly does have a place, especially with the return he gives the team in goals.

So, finally, let’s have a look at the position at the top of the tree. Currently held by Olivier Giroud but with small cameos from Bendtner and Sanogo. And when I say small, I really do mean small. Bendtner has played in a tiny proportion of games and still managed to score, but Sanogo is yet to break his duck, despite looking a bit of a gangly handful at times. Oddly enough, his overall performances haven’t been that bad, he just looks like he is nowhere near ready for the first team and one hopes that this little foray into the starting eleven fold hasn’t damaged his confidence. It doesn’t seem to have. He seems to be a confident sort of chap. Not Niklas Bendtner confident, thankfully, but enough to ensure his mind remains strong in the face of adversity. As for Bendtner, he helped set us on the way to victory against Hull, but ultimately this season has been more about finding out which stupid stunt he has pulled off this week and quite frankly, most of us are glad to see the back of him.

So to Giroud my thoughts now turn as I wrap up this blog. Yet another enigma in our side. A player capable of that deft touch and finish against West Ham only four odd weeks ago, yet still able to drag the ball wide from just outside the six yard box, as I seem to recall him doing against United at home. He is a strong centre forward who looks like his hair holds him up in the wind when the ball is put in front of him to chase, but he has still managed to convert twenty-two of his chances this season. There will be many that will question whether any half decent striker in that Arsenal team wouldn’t be able to bag between 15-20 goals a season, but I think that does a bit of a disservice to him, as he is not just a goalscorer within the team. His deft back heel to give Ramsey his cup winning goal is testament to the additional role as supplier that Giroud plays. He is certainly not without his faults, and I certainly hope priority number one is for another player to compliment his attributes rather than match them with some improvement, but to look at his season as a whole and not agree that he has improved would be wrong in my opinion.

Of all of the areas of the pitch where the team did not quite match what is expected of them, the front three would be one that I would point out as being the stand out this season just past. It has by no stretch of the imagination been an outright failure, to say such things would be incredibly harsh, but it has not quite delivered enough to give us the league title that we all craved so much but ultimately fell short.

More pace needed. That’s for sure. Injuries may have robbed us of that at times during the season, but the failure to address that at a time when we could have done so in January should go down as one of Arsene’s major mistakes of the season. Sure, the addition of a pacey striker would not have led to us conceding less goals in some of those big games, but you don’t need to win all your big games, as victories against Swansea, Stoke and Southampton earlier this year would have given us the extra seven points to be level with the Champions.

Some positives, but certainly some addressing of the faults is needed in the summer, if we are to win the league. See you tomorrow.