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.

Pummice stone the international break away

I must admit I watched last night’s En-ger-land game and had mixed reactions comes the final whistle yesterday. The positives were undoubtedly a brace of goals from Welbeck – one scuffed and one the epitome of perfect composure – whilst Jack Wilshere had a fine performance in the quarter back role that must have all gooners wondering whether we need to see Arteta and him at the base of the midfield on Saturday against United. But the disappointment comes in the lack of game time given to Walcott that won’t exactly help his recovery back to full fitness. Can you believe this? I’m actually wanting an Arsenal player to get on to the pitch for England. It’s an outrageous circumstance that makes me feel all dirty inside. In fact, post today’s blog, I’m showering, with an all over the body pumice stone rub.

Thankfully this desire to see Arsenal players trot out in white doesn’t extend any further than a fitness gathering exercise for Walcott, so I was pleased to see Chambers remain on the bench, as well as just five minutes afforded for The Ox. We now all just have to cross our fingers that Woy doesn’t through in as many Arsenal players as possible for the Scotland friendly on Tuesday night, because there’ll probably be a few of those north of Hadrian’s Wall that will be steaming in to tackles, so we could do without any more of our players being crocked. I think we’ve suffered enough this season for a lifetime.

One good piece of news was the confirmation from Debuchy that he is fit again now and is hoping to return in December. I am hoping that he is talking about the beginning of December, because if so it means we’ll start to bring together more of a first-choice back four in as little as two to three weeks. But the only downside is that Debuchy was, understandably, non-specific about when he’d return in December. A substitute appearance against QPR on Boxing Day, for example, would mean quite a lot of games needs to be played between now and then. Hopefully he’s being deliberately vague so as to surprise us all when Arsene names him in the squad for the Southampton game on Wednesday 3rd December. That would be sweeter than chocolate fudge cake sprinkled with Pop Tarts and drizzled with maple syrup.

Anyway, back to last night’s events and I have to say, I thought Welbeck had an impressive game with his two goals bagged. It will only do him the world of good in prep for a massive game against his former club and coupled with another good performance from Gibbs, I hope the confidence of the Arsenal players in that England team will help us when coming up against an old enemy in the shape of Man United. We need all the plus points we can grab on to at the moment, so my hope that we can see an Arsenal team that has players returning from international duty with confidence, as well as ready to strike back after another woeful display this season against Swansea, will work in our favour because we really do need a big win against a big team to stop our season from looking like it’s unravelling before November has even finished.

Perhaps, in some weird way, this International Break has actually worked in our favour, for a change? Only time will tell.

There’s not really a lot going on today, as you’d expect from an Arsenal point of view, so I’ll take my leave. I have to put up some of The Management’s thimble collection into wooden displays and hang them on the wall in thee downstairs loo. It is probably only a case of taking a few nails and smashing them into the plaster, but I’m no handyman, so it will most likely take the best part of Sunday.

Peace out.

Internationals helping the fringe players; the reality of online opinions

I know it was ‘only’ Gibraltar, but I thought it was really interesting that Poldi played – and well by the sounds of it – for Germany last night. He’s only started one league game for us this season and that was in the uninspiring defeat at home to Southampton. From what I hear he was deployed on the left and clocked up a couple of assists (one from an own goal), so although it’s painfully obvious that Arsene doesn’t fancy him as a first teamer any more, he has shown once again at international level that he can do it.

I don’t know if you’ve been the same as me, but I’ve been looking so much at Theo getting some game time and that being beneficial for the team, that I haven’t really paid much attention to the fact that there are a number of other fringe players at the club, for whom this international break is a much welcome opportunity to get some minutes under their belt. Just take Rosicky and Campbell for example. I believe Rosicky will most probably start this weekend, whilst the dotcom site confirmed that Joel got 86 minutes under his belt. I hope Le Boss has ordered some tapes or some kind of modern equivalent (series of 30 second Vine’s to patch together?) to watch the performances of the players, because I really think that e should be looking at mixing it up a bit after what we’ve seen so far this season. After all, it can’t get much worse, can it?

Actually, it probably could, because half of the draws we’ve had this season could have turned into defeats.

Anyway, the games that these players will get will at least give them a chance to regain a bit of competitiveness and hopefully when they return back to the manager (fingers cross not broken) he will see that he has options and that he doesn’t need to run the same players into the ground week-in, week-out.

Of course, Alexis scored last night, but that’s becoming as frequent as minor delays on the Circle Line, so I’m becoming quite blasé about it now. It’s a nice feeling.

One other thing I wanted to touch on – having flicked through the official site this morning – is the poll that the club ran on who should be our first choice striker when Giroud is fully fit and fighting again. To my surprise, our handsome Frenchman got the largest proportion of the votes with 32%. Hold on a second, isn’t this the Giroud that we all lambast for his lack kof chance conversion? Isn’t this the Giroud who looks like he’s running through treacle and has an annoying habit which involves an Ali-G-esque flicky hand? Huh, turns out that he’s not as hated amongst the fan base as some corners of the world would suggest.

Shows you, Twitter, shows you real good. Or, perhaps it shows, as I have experienced over the last couple of years of being on social media sites and speaking to gooners pre-game, that most people actually have a more moderate view of players, and probably that those that are so extreme on Twitter are in fact a minority. That’s probably why when you see protests seemingly gathering pace about the manager online, rarely do they translate to anything substantial on matchday’s. People are happy to be vocal from behind a keyboard – hey, I’m just as guilty sometimes – but when all is said and done when they’re at the ground they just want to support the team and see us get a result. The last protest I saw at the ground involved a bedsheet and about 25 people. Hardly a vocal majority. Which is probably why the Giroud online poll shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it has. After all, Giroud may not be as quality as Sanchez or Suarez, but having seen how Sanchez can operate just as effectively alongside Welbeck, there are probably a lot of people thinking ‘hmm, I wonder how successful Sanchez will be if he had someone strong like Giroud to win flick-on’s, hold up the ball and release him into space?’.

For what it’s worth, I still think our best front three contains Sanchez, Welbeck and Walcott, mainly because with that pace you can always frighten teams, but I can certainly see that Giroud will provide us a different option. And not just from the bench either. There will come a time when the opponents that we have will sit deep and we might have to play the ugly side of the game, with balls up to a burly centre forward in a crowded box and, as much as Welbeck has a good go at that, you have to think that Olivier would be better, so Arsene can shuffle his pack accordingly with his attacking options over the coming months it seems.

If only he could do the same with our defensive options, eh?

Grumpy Arsene cautious on Theo and non-committal on Joel

Was it just me, or did Arsene seem like he was in a bit of a mood in yesterday’s pre-match conference? I mean, he was a little monosyllabic in some of his comments, more so than I would have expected. I get that you don’t want to give the media hacks too much to re-hash to their agendas, but it felt like he was a little grumpy yesterday. Normally you get one or two jokes from Le Boss, but he kept it to just the one yesterday with a comment about the fifth official having a seat and a nice book. A fair comment actually, because our game in midweek proved they are as useful as a chocolate teapot.

I suppose given the scoreline at home against the Belgian champions he was entitled to be a little grumpy. He was effectively shafted over by his team when they decided to push on to get a fourth goal but ended up conceding a third. I’m pretty sure Arsene wouldn’t have specifically said ‘EVERYONE FORWARD!’ with a minute to go. Whilst he must take some of the blame for his substitutions and the mentality of the team after we conceded the second goal, the players have been a bit shielded from blame thanks to the manager I think.

So we had a short presser and a grumpy-sounding Arsene with which to try and dissect thoughts on team morale in the camp. Arsene says the morale in the camp is very positive and that it is just the media that perpetuates the negativity. I understand that to an extent, but it’s hard to agree with him on the positivity if I’m honest. A positive and happy team would most likely be a confident one and you can’t argue that we’re playing with bags of that stuff. Sure, they might all be smiles and laughs when on the training ground practicing with each other, but deep down they will all be hurting and their confidence will have taken another blow on Tuesday night. It’s why I am a little fearful of the game tomorrow. The team has shown that confidence takes a long time to get back and can be shattered quite easily, so you do wonder what blowing a three-goal lead will do to them. Hopefully it will spark a response that sees some players step up.

One player who could help to be that catalyst is Theo and, despite the understandable caution from Le Boss, I do hope he gets significant game time tomorrow. The benefit that Theo has through his injury is that he will not have been affected by the indifferent start to the season. He is coming in with a blank sheet of paper and can paint whatever picture he wants through his contribution. He’s that kind of explosive player that can unlock games and in between his two big injuries last season and the season before he showed that he has matured into one of our biggest threats in front of goal. With him and Alexis the hope is – particularly away from home – that they can exploit that little bit of extra space you get to run in behind defences. Arsene was non-committal as to whether Walcott would start, but I hope he is starting sooner rather than later. Wenger was clear in his articulation not to expect a guy who has been out for 10 months to be the saviour, but I still think that his place in the team will give other players a lift and, when you’ve just been held back by a frankly average Anderlecht team, to have a player come in and pick you up is a welcome boost.

Understandably Arsene was also respectful of Swansea, talking about their style of football, which I think will also be a benefit for us. Swansea’s form has been patchy too this season, so it will be interesting to see how they line up. They will invariably play a passing game, but will they be a little bit more cautious, or will they treat this game as a ‘freebie’ and come at us? Either way, I’m not sure which is more beneficial for us. IF they come at us, it will prove the sternest test of the makeshift back four so far this season. If they sit, we could see another drab draw trying to break down a stubborn opponent. I don’t know about you, but I’ve just had about enough of my fill for draws this season.

Just finally before I knock off for the day, how about this situation with Joel Campbell, eh? Arsene was asked about whether he’s happy and said something like ‘you should ask him. I hope he is always happy’, then when later Joel Campbell was asked about it he confirmed he wouldn’t be leaving in January. I wonder if there is something going on there. Campbell has shown glimpses of a good player in the small cameo appearances he’s been getting, but in the last few games he hasn’t really been anywhere near the first team. Why? Is this one of those situations where Wenger just doesn’t fancy him? OR is there a plan to integrate him later on in the season? Remember that he did the same with Benayoun when he was on loan. He barely started for Arsenal until the latter part of the season, then he became a regular player for the club. I could never wonder why and a lot of people I spoke to felt that Benayoun was the biggest waste of a loan fee ever. But eventually he came good and maybe that is the situation with Joel? Or maybe Arsene will offload someone like Podolski in January and that will free up some space for the Costa Rican to get involved. Either way, it looks to me that he’s not getting anywhere now and so I suspect that unless his career takes a Benayounly turn after Christmas, it might be his last at the club.

Catch you tomorrow you sexy people.

The charm offensive is good

After spending a few days waxing lyrical about the form and effervescence of Alexis Sanchez, it appears everyone is getting involved in the love-in sessions, only this time the power of positive thinking is being spread around the Arsenal camp with players deciding to talk up their own happiness.

Whilst trying to scour the t’internet trying to find scraps of something Arsenal to talk about, I realised that I didn’t have to look beyond the official site yesterday evening, as both Santi and Jack have been talking up their happiness and pride respectively.

Santi talks about how he trains and plays for fun and that’s what allows him to enjoy his life so much, whilst Jack has been telling us about his own inner confidence to get back to former glories after a couple of stop-start seasons chocked with injuries. I’m glad that the players are being more positive about themselves at the moment, because let’s face it, we haven’t been playing too well of late so any potential confidence boost we could get as fans that the team is starting to perform is a welcome one.

The run needs to start now you see. I had a long chat with a friend who is a Burnley fan yesterday and he’s been telling me that he fears us and Chelski the most away from home because of Dych’s insistence on playing a more open and expansive game of football. I certainly hope so because whilst the football hasn’t been as flowing, the results look to be building and it feels to me as if we really need a comprehensive victory to make the Arsenal engine purr. We need that one catalyst to be able to say ‘ok, now we’re up and running, so let’s see how far this team can take us’ and as much as I like my Burnley supporting friend and have no real issues with our weekend opponents, I hope we smash them into the ground on Saturday afternoon.

So hearing the players go on a charm offensive, no matter how obvious and possibly doctored the interviews might be, is a-ok by me at this stage.

Elsewhere there’s…well…not a lot really. The COC was played last night and aside from Bournemouth taking a Premier League scalp, there were no real upsets. League Two Shrewsbury were outdone by Chelski, who I now note are being described as ‘undefeated in all competitions’ Chelski. Good lord I hope someone turns them over in the League soon. It will make the world a better place. Seeing Jose Mourinho smirking his way to the Premier League trophy will be painful enough for the next seven months, but to take away the last bit of bragging rights we have will be all the more painful. And the fans…blimey…they’re already the worst fans in the history of the world, so to throw in an undefeated season will be like some divine power appearing before your very eyes only to tell you the world is going to end about thirty seconds later.

I made the mistake a few years ago that thinking that there can be some kind of karma in football for oil-whoring clubs, then Chelski skanked their way all the way to the Champions League final before winning it, so I’ll not make the same mistake and say that they can’t go unbeaten.

This is all too much doom and gloom for a Wednesday morning. How about we just take a second to imagine a front line of Theo, Alexis and Welbeck playing a high line in a league game with Mesut feeding them a platter of delectable through-ball delights?

*Pauses and looks up at the sky for six seconds*

Ahh, that was nice. Can we have some of that please soon Arsène?

Again, relatively short one from me today, but I promise to be more contemplative tomorrow. Or the next day.

You have a good one.

Walcott’s return needs realism

Jack says that Theo looks faster and stronger than before he was injured in January. Given that he has seen Walcott a lot closer up than I, he’s a better judge on that being a true statement, but if it does prove to be true then we can all start to get quite excited about his impending return.

Excitement mixed with a tinge of realism though. After all, he’s spent the best part of ten months on the sidelines, having spent a significant part of last season on the treatment table before that too. But his impact when he does get underway and back to full fitness cannot be underestimated. Let’s not forget that Theo was our top scorer two seasons ago and, even in the short period of time with which he played for us last season, he was still able to bag a few goals.

Statements about his pace returning and then some (fears from many fellow Gooners that the injury could have slowed him down a tad now put to bed) are great to hear, but it’s the comment from Jack about his timing that I found most interesting, because I think that was a telling admission from our midfielder. Perhaps there is an element of the new attacking players not quite being on the same wavelength of the existing established first-teamers?

At the beginning of the season I remarked that we have the option of pace for those teams that want to play a higher line this season against us. That we do indeed, but in order for us to be successful, we also need the players to provide those balls in behind defences too. Jack talking about the importance of Theo’s timing – whilst showing that Waddle knows very little about football, Walcott not having a ‘football brain’ I’m sure you recall – shows that perhaps he can add something different to our game that is not just pace, but a different type of threat, when he is up and running at full strength.

I will probably be caveating all of the potential Walcott benefits for the next couple of weeks. After all, think how long Jack has taken to get back to form, or Aaron before him. So expecting Walcott to bag a hat-trick this weekend against Sunderland (surely tomorrow’s game is too soon??) is probably asking a little bit too much.

I think we should also temper the excitement of Walcott’s return with a reminder of what life is like at the moment. Teams know we have bags of pace in Alexis, Welbeck, The Ox and now Walcott. They know that to play a high line is folly, so we are treated to repeated displays like the one at the weekend where our opponents are more than content to sit deep, let us retain possession and find them very difficult to break down. I think it will probably be a pattern of play when Villa, Burnley, Leicester, West Ham, West Brom, all come to The Emirates. I’ve noted at times that sometimes Theo is rendered a little bit redundant in these types of games because all of the play has to be in front of an opponents back four rather than behind, so whilst I too am excited about his imminent re-introduction into the first team, I am mindful of what to expect when the ‘smaller’ teams come to town.

Even if Theo plays this weekend in some capacity, he will most likely come across a Sunderland team more concerned with proving to their fans that they can actually defend, so I think the upcoming weekend game might even play out like a home fixture. Potentially. Sunderland could just as well come out all guns blazing and give us more space, but we’ll wait and see for that, saving the speculation on who might start for later on in the week methinks.

A quick one on our rivals for third and fourth spot. We are fortunate enough that our inability to effectively ‘click’ yet hasn’t cost us too much ground in our annual fight to be also-rans. If you can look for any positives from the weekend’s football, it’s that the Spuds, United and Liverpool all showed their respective frailties. So whilst we’re labouring, so are others. What we need to do now is to start building the momentum with a minimum of two wins within the next five days. We have the players to do it, as well as the ability over our rivals, but we need to see more belief from our team. Arsène often talks about the ‘mental strength’ of the team, but we haven’t seen that much of it so far this season (particularly against Hull where the second goal was down to ‘lack of focus’. What is that if not a lack of mental strength?), so we need to have some of that stuff delivered to our door for immediate injection into the players please.

Until tomorrow, where thou shalt be delivered unto the a match report so pure, it will grant you back your virginity. Or something.

Patiently waiting for Walcott…and Mesut…

Hooray! A long term injured player returns to the squad, as opposed to being omitted, due to a long-term injury! What a novel feeling it is to be pleased to see players like Theo Walcott back in the fold and taking part in full first team training.

He was a massive blow to have missing for most of 2013/14 due to two long-term injuries, so to have him back in the squad and available for selection is a timely boost, like being given a bottle of Lucozade after running a 10k. He will add yet more depth to our attack and his direct running and finishing will mean we have another option to try. Hopefully he can stay fit and we can finally ditch the whole ‘Mesut Özil out wide’ experiment that everyone is still a little bit baffled about.

Whether Theo will be able to start and have a serious impact for the next month will be debatable though. After all, Jack has spoken about his own recovery from long-term injury and he’s only now finding his form after some quarters of the footballing world questioned whether he’d ever get back to his best. So to expect anything from Theo for the next two to three games would be folly I think.

Still, that doesn’t mean he can’t have an impact and get himself off the mark coming on from the bench now, does it?

One question I saw on Twitter yesterday that I thought was very pertinent indeed, was posed in relation to Theo’s pace, whether or not he’d have the same level of pace as he did before the injury and whether anybody at the club has tested him. Now he’s back into full training I’m sure the fitness and medical team are monitoring closely, but with a player who has had plenty of historical injury worries, I suspect they’ll be über careful with everything Theo does for a while. At least I hope they are. I mean, they have bodged a few players’ returns by over playing them as soon as the return, or not properly resting them. So we’ll have to wait and see how sparingly he’s used.

It’s a shame that with Walcott back, Özil has now disappeared from the team for the immediate future, because upon the German’s arrival over a year ago, Theo was one of the players that profited the most from Mesut’s vision. We have pace in Welbeck and Alexis already to feed from Özil, but Walcott as a wide man loves to play very high up the pitch and look for runs in behind the back four, more so than any other player at the club I think. So I would have love to have seen those two link up upon Walcott’s rerun. Hopefully he can stay fit and when our playmaker returns they can rekindle that understanding that existed when Mesut made his debut at Sunderland last season, when he put enough balls on a plate for Walcott, that he could have dined out on them for a month.

Speaking of Mesut, he’s got a clever little PR team, eh? After the frankly ludicrous rumours of a return to the Bundesliga under Pep surfaced, he took to Twitter to thank the Arsenal fans for the messages and dismiss the Bayern Munich rumour with all the subtlety of a hashtag, using the Bavarian phrase ‘Mia San Mia’ (we are who we are) to message ‘#miasanarsenal’. In this world of reading too much into everything, I think that will do nicely to dispel any rumour and even the faintest chance that Mesut will ever leave Arsenal other than to retire when he’s 38 and having played 350 games for the club and got a bazillion assists. Simples.

Of course in the summer if Bayern were to actually come knocking in a Barcelona-esque fashion, who knows what the reaction of the player might be, but I’d like to think he’s happy and only wants to improve at The Arsenal. And he will.

We’re still waiting for the tedium of the International Break to subside, so there’s not really a lot going on, other than the relief that Welbeck should be fine for Saturday. But then again, is an ‘everything is ok’ alarm (see The Simpsons for reference) really that necessary in this instance? Probably not.

Adios amigos!