Reading, Milner and Walcott

It’s the waiting that kills ya, I’ll tell ya that much, because this working week has already dragged and it’s only Wednesday.

With no Arsenal on during midweek, the footballing options were limited to listening in on how the Championship is going, versus enduring the Champions League. With no Arsenal representation there, there’s no way I’d want to watch Juve/Monaco, so I opted for a programme about calorie counting. See what no football midweek does to me???

The Reading game was interesting yesterday though. With not a lot to play for in the league, up against what looks like Champions Elect Bournemouth, I was expecting Steve Clarke to field a weakened Reading team yesterday. Instead he appears – although I couldn’t name the usual Reading first XI so perhaps I’m not the best point of reference for this particular set of assumptions – to have opted for a full strength team bar Pavel Pogrebniak. Reading have played plenty of games already this season (given the nature of the Championship) so to see their team playing whilst our boys would have been rested up ahead of this Saturday’s game, is certainly a plus point for me. Hopefully we benefit from a bit of fatigue from the Royals on Saturday. I know that even with a fully fit and rested squad we should still beat a Reading side who aren’t exactly pulling up trees form-wise, but as I’ve explained on this here blog before, I like to take comfort in any small advantage our team is afforded. Psychological or not.

As for what else is going on in the world, it all appears to be very transfer-heavy at the moment. I guess we’d all kind of expect it really. We’re in mid April, the season is winding down for some teams and as the number of games reduces for most of the top-flight teams, the papers need to fill their column inches. So stories of Milner to Arsenal and Walcott new deals to fend off Liverpool begin to take a more central stage. The Milner deal is a strange one. He’s a good player and has operated across a number of positions in Moneychester City’s team, but I’m not sure if he’s the type of midfielder we’re looking for, is he? After all, he has operated in a more forward-lying midfielder role every time I have seen him – where we are plenty stocked – where as what we are surely looking for is a longer term successor for Arteta and Flamini, to compete with Coquelin at the base of the midfield. I’m happy to be corrected, but I didn’t think that was a position that Milner occupied for City, especially given the signings of Fernando and Fernandinho. Perhaps Arsène will look to shift Milner’s recognised position to that like he did Arteta? Stranger things have happened and Milner does have that combative and snappy nature, so it’s not something that would be unheard of.

As for Theo, well your guess is as good as mine, because talk of new deals are almost irrelevant from a fans perspective if he doesn’t get on the pitch. With each passing game it feels more and more like Theo’s Arsenal career is a dwindling flame, a candle with very little wick left and unless something drastic happens and Arsène starts playing him more often after Walcott changes his game to become more of an all-round influence in matches, he’s not going to be part of the club’s long-term future. If he were to sign a new deal now, it really would be to ensure he’s still got plenty of spare change in his pockets, because it certainly won’t be for the position on the bench he’s occupying!

I hope it does get sorted out and I hope Theo does sign a deal. He may not command the regular starting spot he would have done 18 months ago, but when you have a player with the pace and ability to finish as he does, it is always an asset. The squad is looking strong all over the pitch at the moment and with the summer looking like the least disruptive to squad harmony in over a decade, this contract saga just feels like a bit of a blot on what should otherwise be a good period in Arsenal’s history.

Make my Easter Arsenal, re-write the media narrative

Happy Easter Saturday in which let’s all be completely honest with each other, unless we get a win this lunchtime, won’t make this festive season a fun one.

Liverpool come to town and it’s a Liverpool team in which Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana will no doubt have miraculously recovered from the injuries that conveniently left them out for the duration of the England matches played over the last ten days, but not any Liverpool matches at all. I’m pretty sure if Arsène Wenger tried a similar stunt he’d be metaphorically hauled over the coals by the media, but I guess one of the advantages of ‘Being Liverpool’ is that the media either fall over themselves to edge an unspoken bias about that club, or they completely sweep things under the carpet.

Still, it is what it is and whilst Liverpool will have the collective threat of Sturridge and Sterling to concern us with, at least they are weakened defensively with the absence of Skyrtel. Whether Gerrard would have played is questionable, but in Lucas they have a combative player who is a dirty little scummer, so I’m sure Brendan is happy that he has more than enough to give us an uncomfortable afternoon. And no matter what anyone thinks, it will be uncomfortable for both sides I think, because United at home a fortnight ago aside, Liverpool were in great form and you’d probably say it was almost as good as ours. They’ve been picking up clean sheets and winning on the road and their home form has stabilised too. This is a massive game for them because three points keeps them well in the hunt, so much like we were desperate for a good performance against Monaco away, I think Liverpool might just try to take the same approach against us come 12.45.

For us it’s a chance to continue our momentum, but also put some very real daylight between us and the scousers, so we have to be massively up for it. Our returning players coming back from internationals all appear to be ok and when you look at the form of some, it’s hard not to fancy us from getting something in the game, although I’ll not go as far as pronouncing our victory just yet. Far from it, actually, as I still have the same old big game nerves I usually do.

The manager has an almost entirely fit squad to choose from, so needs to make some serious decisions about who his best XI are, as I’ll be darned if I know. I can have a stab at it, but it’s just as likely to be bailed on as it is a totally different side altogether.

I think Ospina starts in goal, with a back four of Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscienly and Monreal. Three of that four in defence haven’t played any internationals and so would be fresher for today’s challenge. Having said that, Gabriel offers more pace than Per and there are two pacey attacking players in Sturridge and Sterling, so it wouldn’t be unthinkable to see the Brazilian from the start.

Midfield simply has to have Coquelin at its base. Arteta may have returned to action in a friendly against Brentford, but Le Coq has been superb and his ability to break up the play will come in handy when creative players like Coutinho are on the ball. Ahead of him you’d expect to see the form player of the season, Santi Cazorla, whilst Özil’s displays also warrant inclusion I think. 

I’d be surprised if Alexis and Giroud don’t start, but who will get that third spot? Theo may have been unimpressive against Italy, but in games like today, with opponents that are a little bit weaker defensively, I just wonder if this might suit him. Welbeck picked up a knock and The Ox is still injured I believe, so Theo may just find himself given an opening to the first team. If he is, he needs to take it with both hands, which means goals, threat going forward and work rate. 

Whoever is left out, at least we had a mighty strong bench to choose from, with some very good players that won’t even make the squad.

We can’t afford to be timid today. Liverpool may well try to catch us cold by getting at us quickly with a high pressing game, so we have to be able to react, either with our own high press, or containment for the start of the match. The last time we played Liverpool for a Saturday kick off we were smashed to bits and the narrative that seems to have been built is that we don’t prepare properly for early kick off games. We need to re-write that media rhetoric. We need to win on our own soil and move on towards the goal of a top three finish.

Come on The Arsenal!

horrendous scenes in Italy and Mesut’s high midi-chlorian count

If you could have written a more horrible ending to an England match, would it have been far off from seeing a host of Totteringham players celebrating a goal from the nation with which you were born? That’s what I and many other English-born Arsenal fans had to endure last night, as Andros ‘The Saviour’ Townsend scored an admittedly good goal against a pretty lame Italian team. The scenes then cut to a four-man huddle in which all of Townsend’s fellow Spuddies surrounded him. Not sure if anybody else did; perhaps all of the other players hate the Spuds as much as we do? Here’s hoping.

So that was my evening unfortunately. The Management smirked a little when reminding me that despite my profession that I hate internationals, I still watch them, to which all I had in my locker was “it’s football tho, innit”. But she’s right to a point I guess. I should stay true to my feelings and ignore their existence completely.

I’ll admit there was a bit of intrigue in seeing how Theo would perform up top against the Italians but, given that he was subbed off on 54 minutes having only had a handful of touches, I think it’s fairly safe to say that particular hope was one that was quickly doused with realism very early in the game. He just wasn’t effective at all and although he was strangely played as a number 10, he still could have done more to show for the ball, at the very least. But I still understand that when you don’t play to a players strengths, you rarely get a top notch performance. Theo’s problems of not being versatile enough have been his undoing this season, but last night it was that Woy just wanted to shoe him in to a formation that only works if you have players with the vision to find him peeling off the shoulder of the last defender. I saw Rooney find him with the perfect Theo ball once in the first half and but for a great block it probably would have been 1-0, so whilst we can roll our eyes at the fact he only had 14 touches, we should also roll our eyes at the inadequacy of the Englabd coaching staff not to realise that it was never going to work.

But hey, at least he and Gibbs appear to have come off without any issues and so hopefully we have a decent squad to call on against the Scousers this weekend, with Danny Welbeck apparently even looking like he’s recovered from a knock. All of this means that Arsène has some squad selection choices to make and the official website is running a story on how he does it. Unsurprisingly there is nothing that will stop the presses – choose the team the night before, talk to the medical staff to see if anyone has a col or a knock, see who performs well in training, etc – but it’s still worth 30 seconds of your time to read I think. Even if only to wash away the grubbiness of having to endure international football for over a week.

There’s also a story in which Özil says that he, Alexis and Cazorla see things on the football pitch before they actually happen, in some sort of Anakin Skywalker midi-chlorians count kind of way. Obviously I added in that last bit because I have an unhealthy obsession with Star Wars, but it is nonetheless interesting that Mesut has singled out those two specifically. All three have impressed in different parts of the season and all three are certainly players with more vision than most in the squad. There seems to have been some mention in some quarters of the Arsenal observing world that neither Özil or Alexis have been able to peak as yet, but I put that down to injury or fatigue rather than any kind of inability to play with each other. Arsène places so much emphasis on balance and le’harmony in the side, that I don’t think he’d be playing both in the same side so often if he wasn’t convinced of their combined benefits to the team, so I suspect we’ll soon see both at full flow and firing on all cylinders in the same matches together. It just needs time.

So we’ve managed to wrestle free of the horrible grip of the Interlull and now we can look ahead towards the game at the weekend, one in which it would be amazing to win, not least to make Phil Neville look like a bit of a plum for predicting we’ll not get top four and our form will most likely start to fall apart over the coming weeks. Come on Arsenal, let’s make a plum out of the stupider Neville brother.

Catch you tomorrow.

fanciful Walcott hypothesising

With one more pointless set of internationals to play, we’re still knee-deep in the thick of it, footballistically speaking. 

We had the worry of Welbeck’s injury that still looms on the horizon but, with Arsène probably not going to speak to the press until Thursday at the earliest, there’s still plenty of time for us to lose men to rogue challenges or loose tackles. 

I haven’t really been paying much attention to the games themselves, so I’ve no idea whether Alexis or Gabriel played or even starred at The Emirates, nor can I tell whether Giroud’s performance and goal was a great one. But given that there are no major stories about players breaking down, I am hopeful that we will have a relatively full compliment to choose from, come Saturday lunchtime.

Most of the chatter I’ve been seeing online has seemingly revolved around Theo Walcott’s current contractual wranglings, which appear to be mirrored to those of Raheem Sterling, also currently deadlocked it appears. But much like the last time we had to deal with Theo and his advisers demands, it appears the scousers are having trouble convincing the 20 year old that a £100k+ per week deal is acceptable, the poor diddums. 

As we will be all too painfully aware, the situation at a club can influence these types of negotiations quite a lot and with Gerrard offski, Suarez departed and Torres before him, Sterling and his ‘people’ have probably seen how strong their hand is and are poker-facing it all the way to the last.

So naturally the speculation from an Arsenal perspective is whether or not we should be giving a ‘heads up’ to Camp Sterling to say we’re interested, as well as Liverpool to talk all things exchange between their contract rebel and ours, perhaps with a bit of cash going the scousers way in addition. 

Now I’m no expert on transfer negotiations, or deals, but this appears to me to be some fanciful stuff from Arsenal fans talking about the possibilities of it happening. Firstly, it would appear to be too good to be true, because Sterling is younger, with more potential and Liverpool will be desperate to avoid any kind of action that strengthens a rival. Whether or not it does actually do that to such an extreme extent also appears to be very dubious to me. Not least because those advocating a move seem to have forgotten the impact that Walcott has made when fit over the last two seasons. Sure, he’s been a peripheral player since the turn of the year (and most of this season), but remember how long – and how many games – it took Ramsey to get to before his form exploded last season? Players need game time to be at their best and right now Theo just isn’t being given a chance.

But that doesn’t mean we should all mentally ship him out and look to the North West for a solution. It also doesn’t mean it will happen. In fact, when was the last time you saw a player exchange between two high-profile players take place? It’s early in the morning for me writing this so I can’t exactly reel off any recent ones (unless there aren’t any?), but the last one I remember was Gallas/Cole. Before that I remember Anelka/Suker. But I’m running out of any other ideas after that. 

We should probably also take note that Sterling appears to want megabucks. We’ve shown that we’re not averse to going down that route, but with a club as fiscally conscious as we are, would we really break the bank for a player that has shown brilliant patches but like Theo, also had his inconsistencies? 

And with players wanting megabucks, there’s usually an oil-whoring club sniffing around too, so we should probably recognise that any move would probably be scuppered by one of the oligarch-funded teams.

So often in football transfer negotiations are complex and fraught with difficulties, which is why player swap deals are so rare, so that leaves me to question: would a deal between those two players ever actually be possible? Highly unlikely. Both players’ representatives find it challenging to negotiate with their existing clubs, so how would a deal be done that included them both?

We should probably also not discount the fact that Liverpool will have been pretty cheesed off after the Suarez incident and, if we’re honest, Arsenal were probably equally cheesed off when Liverpool made it public.

So all of this hypothesising is probably worthless. But I guess it keeps us all busy until the football starts. 

Which is why I’ve just spent most of the blog doing the same. Oh well, back to normality soon, so hang in there kids.

Catch you tomorrow.

Walcott PR machine underway, but club just as culpable if he doesn’t sign

So here we are, at the precipice of the week and about to jump lovingly into the weekend, the only real negative being that there is no Arsenal to embrace us warmly like a parent seeing their child come home from university for good. Still, let’s not let that get us down, eh? After all, if you’re a pen pusher like myself, the likelihood is that you’ve got two days off work with which to sleep in and enjoying doing the square root of naff all. Maybe. 

There is some football, but it’s not really football is it? Because cheering on players who were born in the same country as you, but play for domestic teams you want to fail miserably during most weeks, just ain’t natural in my book. But England play tonight and the middle of next week and I suppose I’ll have to endure the usual drivel if I want my footballing fix.

The only other stuff to talk about is Theo Walcott’s contract situation. Firstly he’s denied that any arguments have taking place on the training ground with Arsène – of which a public denial is usually tantamount to an admission that it did happen – then in today’s papers he’s been quoted as saying he hasn’t even been spoken to about a new contract by the club yet. 

I can see that as true, actually, because even Arsène has said that the process is long-winded and drawn out, so whilst a contract may not be freshly penned and on the table, I’m sure they’ve already had preliminary discussions. After all, given how long it took Theo and his representatives to draw out the deal a couple of years ago, it’s hardly surprising that the club are taking their time. They are probably expecting a war of attrition with Camp Walcott, so as Arsène already said in a press conference, negotiations with “the embassy” have to start first before they talk contract.

This time around it’s the club holding all the cards and as much as we’d all like to believe that they are without fault when it comes to player recruitment and retention – operating on a morally appropriate footing where it’s always the greedy player that is the cause of much anguish to the fans – I think we all know that the club is probably as culpable half of the time as well.

I must say though, Team Walcott are ramping up the PR activity well enough this time, with John Cross putting a piece together today that says Walcott just wants game time to sign rather than guarantees that he will play through the middle. I am not going to believe that in two years Walcott will have changed his mind and suddenly is happy with his lot, if only he was played more rather than through the middle, so I’m inclined to believe that this latest round of public gesturing from his camp is just there to curry favour with the fanbase. 

I wonder if Arsenal slapped a new contract in front of him for the same money, if he would sign it, regardless of whether he was playing regularly or not? I suppose that’s hypothesising on a scenario which would have a totally different outcome though. Because if Walcott was playing every week, you can bet your bottom dollar that he’d be stalling on a newly penned deal, so that he could maximise his return. It’s all ‘what if’ and ‘maybe’, but the reality we find ourselves in as fans, is that we’re safe in the knowledge that we have a squad who is not so reliant on Theo like we once were, that the club have been building a very good squad of players that are showing that when fit there is genuine competition and that there is every chance they could make this season very successful indeed.

For the record, I don’t think we should offload Theo. I think he adds something different to our approach and that despite his limitations, he probably should warrant more game time than he’s getting at the moment, but I suspect he won’t be an Arsenal player in a year’s time. If the club can get a premium price for an England international, I think they’d take it, so I think we are unfortunately drawing to a close in Walcott’s Arsenal chapter. 

On that somewhat sad note – and it is a sad note because he’s been good for the club in the main I think – I think I’ll call it a day for today’s blog thoughts. Have a good Friday and hopefully you haven’t been sent mad by boredom by this time tomorrow.

Byesie-bye.

Taking all advantages, but will Theo get any?

Yesterday pulled up some interesting outcomes from the two matches played that we give a monkeys about, didn’t it? Firstly you had the United win which, if we all want to be nice and mathematical about it you would probably say was the second best outcome for us behind a draw. United have a tough run in, but it would be better if one of the other teams around us would pick up points and leave the others a bit further adrift, so a Liverpool defeat leaves them six points behind us I think.

With eight games to go that’s a decent advantage for us to have. Sure, it could be halved if we lose to them in our next game over the Easter period, but conversely a win for us will put an even bigger gap between the two teams, so we have to look at that next game at home as an extremely significant one in our season and bid for Champions League football in 2015/16.

Then there’s the Gerrard and Skyrtel ‘incidents’. Gerrard will play no part in the game at The Emirates because of his red card for stamping, where as Skyrtel could also face the same punishment, assuming the FA aren’t like the British media and completely in love with some sort of supposed ‘romance’ associated with the team from the Mersey. If he does pick up a ban, it will weaken Liverpool further for the game against us and whilst some fans prefer to see us beat teams at full strength to prove our ability, I am one of those people who loves every little advantage that life can chuck in my direction. If we have to face a depleted Liverpool side through suspension – hopefully even mentally fragile after a home defeat – then that’s a-ok with me.

The other game that some of the fantasists might have argued would have an impact was the Chelski away trip to Hull. They were rocking at 2-2 and even Remy’s goal had fortune about it, but it would be frivolous of us as Arsenal fans to think that Chelski won’t be champions. There are too few games left for us to catch them and yesterday’s game needed to be a draw at least for us to even come close to getting within a couple of points of them unfortunately. But hey, I’ve made peace with the fact that the worst football team, with the most evil manager, evil captain, evil players and evil fans, will win the Premier League. Life is unfair sometimes and sometimes the bad guys wins. I’ve accepted it. 

Anyway, life is more enjoyable when you just focus on Arsenal and right now our form is dictating that life is very enjoyable as we pack our form with good home performances and nervy but ultimately acceptable away victories. I’m still feeling good after the Newcastle win and i’d imagine that will stay with the players too as they head off for yet more international interruptions at the worst possible point in the season. Well, for most of them it would be positive, because for a certain Theo Walcott he’ll be joining up with his teammates wondering when his next club level start will be. Heck, he’s probably also wondering when his next sub appearance will come along, because he looks like he’s started down the dark alley that Arsène pointed Podolski down before he was shipped out in January. 

Poldi was one of the highest earners at the club. He was reliant on an exceptional left leg that could drill the ball home like I’ve not seen before at The Emirates. But he only had that in his locker. He didn’t offer much more and the result was that when Arsène found himself an upgrade in terms over overall contribution – Alexis or Welbeck – he edged him towards the exit until the German knew it was his only route through occasional substitute appearances and then eventually not even getting on the pitch. The final nail in the coffin was to not even be included in some Matchday squads.

Does this sound familiar at all? It looks to me as though Theo is being led down that same path. His overall contribution – end product and pace – is being countered by the form of others in the squad (Welbeck and Alexis for pace, Giroud for end product) and the net effect is no game time for Mr Walcott. He wasn’t even given a sniff at Newcastle, a game I’d have thought would have been perfect for him. No doubt he’s asking questions of the manager, but whether he’s getting the answers he wants is another matter entirely, so I think the only way he’s getting a sustained period in the team is through injury to one of the forwards. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen because we’re playing well enough now to know that we need all of our form players fit and playing well between now and the end of May.

We’ll have to wait and see how this pans out, but I suspect many of us already know the answer.

Taking all advantages, but will Theo get any?

Yesterday pulled up some interesting outcomes from the two matches played that we give a monkeys about, didn’t it? Firstly you had the United win which, if we all want to be nice and mathematical about it you would probably say was the second best outcome for us behind a draw. United have a tough run in, but it would be better if one of the other teams around us would pick up points and leave the others a bit further adrift, so a Liverpool defeat leaves them six points behind us I think.

With eight games to go that’s a decent advantage for us to have. Sure, it could be halved if we lose to them in our next game over the Easter period, but conversely a win for us will put an even bigger gap between the two teams, so we have to look at that next game at home as an extremely significant one in our season and bid for Champions League football in 2015/16.

Then there’s the Gerrard and Skyrtel ‘incidents’. Gerrard will play no part in the game at The Emirates because of his red card for stamping, where as Skyrtel could also face the same punishment, assuming the FA aren’t like the British media and completely in love with some sort of supposed ‘romance’ associated with the team from the Mersey. If he does pick up a ban, it will weaken Liverpool further for the game against us and whilst some fans prefer to see us beat teams at full strength to prove our ability, I am one of those people who loves every little advantage that life can chuck in my direction. If we have to face a depleted Liverpool side through suspension – hopefully even mentally fragile after a home defeat – then that’s a-ok with me.

The other game that some of the fantasists might have argued would have an impact was the Chelski away trip to Hull. They were rocking at 2-2 and even Remy’s goal had fortune about it, but it would be frivolous of us as Arsenal fans to think that Chelski won’t be champions. There are too few games left for us to catch them and yesterday’s game needed to be a draw at least for us to even come close to getting within a couple of points of them unfortunately. But hey, I’ve made peace with the fact that the worst football team, with the most evil manager, evil captain, evil players and evil fans, will win the Premier League. Life is unfair sometimes and sometimes the bad guys wins. I’ve accepted it. 

Anyway, life is more enjoyable when you just focus on Arsenal and right now our form is dictating that life is very enjoyable as we pack our form with good home performances and nervy but ultimately acceptable away victories. I’m still feeling good after the Newcastle win and i’d imagine that will stay with the players too as they head off for yet more international interruptions at the worst possible point in the season. Well, for most of them it would be positive, because for a certain Theo Walcott he’ll be joining up with his teammates wondering when his next club level start will be. Heck, he’s probably also wondering when his next sub appearance will come along, because he looks like he’s started down the dark alley that Arsène pointed Podolski down before he was shipped out in January. 

Poldi was one of the highest earners at the club. He was reliant on an exceptional left leg that could drill the ball home like I’ve not seen before at The Emirates. But he only had that in his locker. He didn’t offer much more and the result was that when Arsène found himself an upgrade in terms over overall contribution – Alexis or Welbeck – he edged him towards the exit until the German knew it was his only route through occasional substitute appearances and then eventually not even getting on the pitch. The final nail in the coffin was to not even be included in some Matchday squads.

Does this sound familiar at all? It looks to me as though Theo is being led down that same path. His overall contribution – end product and pace – is being countered by the form of others in the squad (Welbeck and Alexis for pace, Giroud for end product) and the net effect is no game time for Mr Walcott. He wasn’t even given a sniff at Newcastle, a game I’d have thought would have been perfect for him. No doubt he’s asking questions of the manager, but whether he’s getting the answers he wants is another matter entirely, so I think the only way he’s getting a sustained period in the team is through injury to one of the forwards. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen because we’re playing well enough now to know that we need all of our form players fit and playing well between now and the end of May.

We’ll have to wait and see how this pans out, but I suspect many of us already know the answer.