World Cup goodness continues, but Arsenal injury rumours dampen spirits

Happy Monday to thee. How about this World Cup, eh? Every day it seems to be throwing up a really good game or two where you think you’re going to question the purpose of some of the teams in the competition. I’ve often thought that FIFA should do away with qualifying stages and just invite the top 32 teams to the World Cup (they’d have to sort their rankings system out first, mind) to ensure that the competition only has the best teams in the world competing, but having watched a six goal thriller between South Korea and Algeria, I’m glad they don’t because this is easily the best World Cup I’ve seen. It’s a shame that, y’know, England are pants and that, but heck at least Park is still at the World Cup!

Unfortunately though, it looks like Team USA won’t be for much longer, as the Portuguese managed a 1-0 victory over our cousins from over the pond. It’s a shame really, because any team with Ronaldo in it being happy, probably just shouldn’t be. Full stop.

The Ghana vs Portugal game later this week should be entertaining though, I suspect, because it effectively becomes a ‘winner takes all’ knockout game, so let’s hope that the Black Stars can deliver a wink-tastic victory over Cristiano and his back up singers.

UPDATE: I realise now, having been told by a few people on social media sites, that I may have got my scoring off, so you’re free to disregard the rant about the result, although the rant about Ronaldo remains as relevant as ever!!

No real Arsenal news at present, again, unless you count rumours of an Oxlade-Chamberlain ‘setback’. Provided it’s just a few weeks then hopefully that doesn’t dent his chances of fully recovering for the start of the season opener against Moneychester City for the worlds biggest metal decorative wall plate. His season was far too interrupted by injury last time out when big things were expected from him, not just by the fans, but also by the club I believe. And on last seasons opener against Villa he did look like one of the better players on the pitch before he picked up that injury, so getting a good pre season under his belt is crucial to ensure that he can hit the ground running, which means anything more than two or three weeks out would be a real dent for him.

We can all talk about transfers until the cows come home, but ultimately the vast bulk of any team that can win us the league will come from those players that have been around the club a while, so every team needs to have all of it’s players fully fit and ready for the new season. That Thomas Vermaelen never lasted until halftime yesterday is also a worry. It may be true that he is seeking pastures new for the upcoming Premier League season, but until we hear anything otherwise we have to assume that he’s going to be an important squad player for us, so watching him go down in the warm up, then taken off after half an hour in the game against the Ruski’s, it looked like it could be a serious twist that he sustained which could mean a lengthy spell on the sidelines if he’s exacerbated it further by playing on it. If that is the case, it’s another example of why we should take what every player says about their fitness with a massive pinch of salt because Vermaelen was obviously desperate to make an impact. You have to feel for the poor guy and I hope his World Cup isn’t over.

We now move into the week in which games come even thicker and even faster with an element of choice added in too, as four games take place today, with the Spanish playing their farewell to Brazil game at 5pm against Australia and Chile battling with the Netherlands for the top spot. I listened to a pundit on the radio yesterday talk about the problems with England’s team being psychological with all of the other traditional ‘bigger’ nations. If there is any element of that which is true, then it makes this World Cup even more harder to stomach, because there have been some big scalps that have already been taken and had England progressed to the next stages, the psychological barriers might not have been as large against a so-called smaller nation. Who knows, perhaps I’m just trying to find excuses of misfortune for what was ultimately a pretty average England side, but it does feel as though anything can happen in Brazil at the moment. The tournament feels wide open and available for shocks and that was the only thing English fans were banking on when it started and dreams of lifting the trophy began.

What am I saying?! I’ve already moved on and am backing my new adopted nation of Germany, so what do I have to worry??

Still…would have been fun n’ that….

Defensive solidity the key to our successful season

Howdy there fellow Gooners. Hope you are enjoying your Saturday. It’s a bank holiday here in Blighty, which is fan-diddly-tastic because it stretches the weekend more than Steve Bruce in under sized lycra.

Yesterday’s blog was supposed to be focused on reviewing how I think the defence performed but, with all of the noises coming out about Sagna’s mega deal at City, I kind of got side tracked. I guess the news that defenders are getting bumper deals is becoming quite the norm these days, what with Paris Saint Germain literally losing the plot and bidding £40million for the Brazilian Sideshow Bob, which will inevitably mean a massive payday for what is arguably the most overpriced player since Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll did the transfer deadline day merry-go-round a few years back. Financial Fair Play you say? Nah, that memo clearly didn’t get delivered in the capital of France. Either that or their billionaire owners simply retired to a cave in the Alps, stuck their fingers in their eyes and sang Sam Smith until the news sort of went away.

Anyway, today is a new day and it’s a day in which I want to have a look at our defence which, let’s be honest and say that it was probably the most impressive part of this Arsenal team this season. If we’re talking about a collective unit that is. For years since the Invincibles we’ve had defence after defence that has been dragged over hot coals by the press. In some cases it’s been warranted; Senderos, Gallas, et al have hardly proved to be the defensive stalwarts at the heart of the team, whilst a few of average full backs like Santos and Eboue have hardly managed to give us the types of players needed that we think could take us to the lofty heights that we’ve scaled this season.

Part of it is down to finding stability. We’ve managed to field the same four or five defenders for most of the season and that intimate knowledge of what your other defenders are going to do is integral to building momentum. Perhaps injuries have been the key sticking point to why we haven’t found a defensive unit capable of snuffing out a game like this team has until now, but the results of this seasons exploits are there for all to see: twenty four clean sheets in all competitions and a string of 2-0′s that seemed to become the new ‘one nil to the Arsenal’ pattern of play at one stage.

And yet we’ve still managed to show signs of implosion that have dwarfed previous seasons in terms of the volume of heavy defeats. We all thought the defeat away to City would be a one off and, after stabilising the ship and managing to hold on to the top spot up until February it felt like that was the case, but heavy losses to Liverpool and Chelski still showed that for all the hard defensive work that had been done by the team, we still have problems defensively at times. What was most strange about those heavy defeats were that they came completely out of the blue. We hadn’t really been on big losing streaks before any of them, so it’s difficult to say that confidence was rock bottom, but the way in which we played in those big games was borderline suicidal some times. High lines, defensive wobbles, it all looked as though the players had been fed some Tottenham flavoured lasagna. It’s almost as if the karma gods (yes, here I go again) have approach Arsene at the start of the season and said “you can have a load of clean sheets this year, but we have to reallocate all the goals you would have conceded to individual games. Deal?”, to which Arsene literally would have bitten their hands off.

Certainly, if we’re to win the league next year, we need to have a look at how the team reacts in those big games. Perhaps there needs to be a bit more pragmatism in those games rather than a Rocky Balboa inspired slug-fest when we go away from home?

Anyway, let’s not dwell too much on the disappointing results because, by and large, this season has been a good one. The central defensive pairing of Per and Kos have looked immaculate at times. Per is the leader of the four; the talker, the marshal, built in the Tony Adams mould and every bit the captain of the side in my opinion. He doesn’t have the pace but has excellent positioning, something that Adams was always a master of. But even the great Tony Adams was only as good as long as he had the right man beside him, which is why having Koscienly in the team has been so integral to his success. Kos has the pace, the ability to track the nippy runner and despite having a penchant for the occasional tackle in the box leading to a penalty, he has saved us on a number of occasions. Their central defensive performances this season will probably have led to the exit door being opened wide for Vermaelen, but providing both remain fit next season, you can’t help but think we’re in safe hands for another go at the league. As Liverpool have already shown, you can’t win the league with a leaky back four, so if we can augment the team with the right reinforcements and bed in whoever replaces Sagna, then I think we’ve got a great chance to going that extra few steps and winning the league.

So to Sagna. We all know he’s off and, much like many bloggers and Arsenal fans that I have read/spoken to, it’s hard to shoehorn him into the mould of That Dutch Bloke, Nasri, or any of the other players that have bolted for places like Moneychester City. Sagna has given seven years, he’s played well this season and he’s shown that even with most of the world in acknowledgement that he won’t be playing for the club next season, he’s done everything he can to give Arsenal glory. He’s even shown his versatility this season filling in at centre half. He will be a tough player to replace, but at 31 he’s probably only got another two years of top flight football to play before he’ll need to be replaced himself and so all that’s needed to happen this season is that we fast-track a replacement a couple of years earlier than expected. For what its worth I’m not sure that Jenkinson is that player long term, but I certainly think he has a role to play and, if given games, who knows. I still think we need to fill the void left by Sagna’s inevitable departure, but that discussion can be for another day.

On the left hand side of the defence we’ve not looked as strong as we have done since Cashley Cole and Silvinho were duking it out for the left back slot. Gibbs has improved a lot this season and is clearly the better of the two left backs, but he’s been pushed all the way by Nacho Monreal, who I think has done well when he’s been asked. There are some that have chastised the Spaniard’s performances in games like City away, but I think we should be mindful of the fact that he has not been able to get too big a run of games in the first team. Momentum – as I said earlier in the blog – is very important in football and his season has been very stop-start in that respect, so I don’t think you can hold it against him.

Overall we’ve seen a massive improvement from the team defensively and that has been made all the more evident by our league position and the increase in clean sheets. There are still some kinks to iron out but it’s hard not to think that the effort of the defence this year have been outstanding in the most part.

Back tomorrow with a look at the midfield.

Nobody fancies us

Well here we are. At the end of a long week that was made positively Jack Bauerian after defeat to Chelski and then a sucker-punch at home against a very average Swansea team. Yep, it’s just me and you chilling, waiting for tomorrow to arrive, trying to deflect the cruel retorts of rival fans who have decided to further stick the knife in on our title chances.

Nobody seems to fancy us tomorrow either. I’ve seen plenty of glum tweets on my timeline to suggest we’re facing an impenetrable wall and, whilst I’m not one to be blowing carbon monoxide into your back passage, I’m not sure whether the ‘we’ll lose 3-0′ is coming from if I’m completely honest. In fact, the one thing I’ve learnt from this topsy-turvy ol’ season, is that you can’t rule anything out. For example, we were sitting pretty at the top of the league and in-form when we went to Liverpool, yet they served us a metric tonnes worth of humble pie, so who’s to say we can’t do the same tomorrow? It’s a funny old game and all that…

Arsene was certainly taking that approach when he spoke to the official site yesterday and I think he made another good point: everyone is looking at Everton catching us at the moment, so why shouldn’t we look at doing the same to those above us?

Of course, the stark reality is that all of the teams around us appear to be bang in form at the moment, where as the only thing we’re ‘bang in’ on right now is an injury crisis coupled with a crisis of confidence. I’m not naive enough to believe that we’ll catch the teams above us, but on the eve of another big match at home I am full of that thing that all fans have in varying stages during the season: hope.

I hope that the players that haven’t had as much chance to prove themselves can step up to the plate and show that this team is capable of big results. I hope that we see the best of Thomas Vermaelen, The Ox, Santi and Giroud. But most of all I hope we can ditch the ‘big game bottlers’ tag that seems to be tightly affixed to our collective necks at the moment.

It’s hard to work out whether Arsene believes his own rhetoric when he speaks about taking positives from what was by and large a pretty poor performance against Swansea, so when he talks about Vermaelen ‘taking his chance’ you do have to wonder if it is more for the Belgian’s own confidence than actual belief that Thomas can usurp Koscienly for a starting spot. Against Swansea he did ok, but was still outmuscled for the Bony goal and when you’re up against an in-form Dzeko, who’s to say he won’t suffer the same fate? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. There’s also the fact that Swansea didn’t really venture forward too much during most of the game, which meant that defensively we had little to do anyway, so you could question how well any of the back four did.

Arsene will take to the scrummage of mic’s this morning in his first proper duel with the press since the debacle at Stamford Bridge and, whilst I’m sure many will think he’ll go a bit prickly on the assembled hacks, I think he’ll make it one of the most all-time boring pressers there is to be had. After all, what more is there to say, that hasn’t already been said? How much more can they dig the knife in more than he probably has dug in himself at this point? I’d wager not too much, so Arsene will be as vanilla as possible and hope that his team responds on the pitch which if we’re all honest, is all we want to see as well.

The team news will reflect the boredom of today’s presser in that there isn’t really any of note to report. Kos begins the second week of his ‘three-weeks-then-setback-leading-to-another-three-weeks’ time on the sidelines and Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil will be mentioned in dispatches as playing for Arsenal at some stage between now and the end of 2020, so it will be on the players who’s form is as indifferent as Wenger’s opinion of ‘out-tacticing’ whoever his teams are up against on any given week, to put in the effort to nab us three points against a Moneychester City team that are back to being ‘a little bit scary’ again.

I know I’m being a bit flippant with my remarks today, but I really do hope that Arsene can turn it around, because I hate to see a well-regarded man have his legacy tarnished by the latter part of his tenure. I want us to go on a seven game unbeaten run, win the FA Cup and have the manager declare that he’s ‘going big’ in the summer to make us a title challenging side (right to the end). I’m not sure that will happen, but I want it nonetheless.

You?

An amazing defensive piece of the ‘victory’ puzzle

Today I would most like to be talking about our defence. Because it has occurred to me that I simply haven’t given them the level of praise they deserve of late. In particular, those gentlemen that sit at the very heart of the defence; the foundation, the bedrock of our miserly back five and the fulcrum of which our successful campaign has been built to date.

Step forward Per Metesacker and Laurent Koscienly ladies and gentlemen.

Per and Kos

The defensive stalwarts

I think for me, when it hit home the most was on my way back home after a long day in The Smoke, reading a copy of Tuesday’s evening standard. In an article talking about how we had ground out another win, whilst somewhat critical of Arsenal’s ability to give hope to opponents by not killing teams off, the writer did praise the nature of our defence. He also highlighted an amazing stat. So much so that I didn’t really believe it at first. It reads: 28 games, 20 wins, 8 draws, 0 defeats. That is the number of games Per and Kos have played together for a full ninety minutes. Zero defeats at all. It’s remarkable stuff when you think about it. Not least because it spans a number of seasons. When these two lads have played together for the duration of the game, we haven’t lost, to which the writer of said article rightly said that when you have a defence as strong as that, it does afford an element of profligacy.

Just think the confidence it gives to the whole team to know that. To see what knowledge and understanding of one another’s game does for teammates. It isn’t a fluke. These two play together so regularly that they intrinsically know what one another is doing. Because I’m telling you now, there’s no way that you can play that many games and get results like that, by way of fortune alone.

One really good example I can think of in recent memory is the home game against Cardiff on New Years Day. Kos had been caught higher up the pitch as Cardiff broke and, with Campbell turning Big Per quicker than two week old milk, the German hauled down his marker on the halfway line. It was cynical and deserving of the yellow card it got, but from my side I watched it unfold and knew that Mertesacker, without any knowledge of Koscienly’s exact positioning, knew he had to ‘take one for the team’ because he knew he had no back up.

These two are Ying and Yang. Per loves his role as Gandalf (‘YOU SHALL NOT PASS’) in putting in those big blocks, plus his positional sense makes him a perfect captain; a role he’s deputised in during the ongoing Vermaelen absence and when Arteta is rotated. Conversely, Koscienly relishes his status as Aragon, the all action runner that mops up and uses his recovery pace when Big Per falters.

How long can these two stay unbeaten

together? I do wonder what the football betting at William Hill online make of it and whether or not we will see a season of these two together undefeated. One things for sure, keeping those two together will have a massive bearing on where we finish this season.

I will be really interested to see if we can keep them both fit for our two spells of really tough games at the beginning of February and the end of March. If we do, well, that’s a massive piece of the ‘victory’ puzzle already clicked into place, my friends. It’s why Arsene also now has to think very carefully about rotation, because a fatigued player is a player that is more likely to succumb to injury, so I hope he uses Vermaelen where he can. Providing of course the Belgian also remains fit!

So share a little love with me for our two defensive stalwarts. And pray that they can stay together at the back until mid May.

No more Mr Orange, but Arsenal still need to be wary

Trying to predict what Arsenal side takes to the field this evening is a little like trying to convince a hormonally charged teenager that Justin Bieber is in fact “a bit of a tit”. Or, if you prefer a more Arsenal related analogy, it’s like trying to explain to Nik Bendtner that actually, no, the world does not see him as the saviour reincarnate. He too, is just a bit of a tit.

But it’s a Matchday, I’ve got an hour tube journey to assimilate some thoughts, and by joining me on my journey you obviously feel like reading some of my prose. I can’t think why, The Management and family roll their eyes anytime I open my gob. But thank you anyway. So, shall we talk about this evening then?

When the fixture lists are set in stone (only to be recast once Sky and now BT Sport have their grubby mits on them) at the beginning of the season, there’s probably not many people that earmark this game as a ‘big one’ and if truth be told Hull are hardly a side with which we have any real animosity. There was that time when they tried to burn the retinas of all opposing teams by hiring a manager so orange he started his own gravitational pull and a mini solar system exploded from within him, but thankfully the Phil Brown era disappeared a long time ago, along with his Premier League managerial credentials.

It’s a totally different side that will take to the field tonight from a Hull perspective, with the only potential exception being Paul McShane, who seems to be one of those ageless midfield journeymen. Whether or not he’ll start tonight I’m not sure, but I know that they’ll be missing one of their main defensive stalwarts tonight through suspension: Curtis Davies.

I don’t really know too much about our opposition tonight, except that they made Kolo try to dismantle the Hull turf on Sunday with his mammoth fist. They have a tidy ‘keeper in McGregor and a load of ex (or on loan) Spuds players, so we’ll need to keep an eye out for that ‘let’s get a bit of revenge for our former club’ mentality, but there’s no doubt that we’re overwhelming favourites tonight.

We will need to be wary though. The dispatching of Liverpool on Sunday showed that this team are capable of an upset. Yes, the game was on their own turf and yes Liverpool were a bit pants, but we need to be wary of the scabby corner of set-piece delivery followed by a game of defence versus attack as Hull show no ambition to get forward after scoring their only effort on goal after seven minutes.

We should have enough though, even if as Arsene has suggested, he rotates a little bit. The one enforced change will be Jenkinson for Sagna, who picked up a knock against Cardiff, and the young right back will be eager to make amends for his horror-show against Chelski in the Capital One Cup over a month ago. I, like you I’m sure, hope that Carl can recapture some of the form that earned him an England call up last season, but concentration needs to be something he needs to get better at. It’s games like tonight where that is most important. In defence, at home, against an opponent that will attempt to frustrate, he might only be called into defensive action a couple of times during the 90, so it’s important that concentration levels remain high. On the positive side, he’s one of the best distributors of the ball from out wide in the whole squad, so if he’s spending most of the evening getting forward it could be good for his confidence and the managers that he can step in when needed.

As for the rest of the team, Arsene has said he will have to rotate, but caveated his comments by asserting that he prefers to do it by smaller numbers per game, which means that I’m not sure that we’ll see too much switching around in the same areas of the pitch. That means I think we’ll see either Monreal or Vermaelen miss out a start in the side because of the forced change at right back. Le Boss mentioned something about the full backs getting more tired in games in his presser, so I wonder if the captain misses out and Monreal gets another shot at left back.

In midfield your guess is as good as mine. Personally, I’d like to see a three of Arteta, Rosicky and Wilshere, with Theo, Cazorla and Giroud up top. That’s not a slight on Özil, but I just want to make sure he’s fully fit and firing on all cylinders for Everton on Sunday. Likewise for Ramsey who, let’s face it, has covered the equivalent ground as Forrest Gump did in that film, I forget the name…

This is a classic ‘nosebleed’ game in my opinion. Everyone expects us to win and complacency could easily set in. But the one thing you have to say about The Arsenal this season is that we have been able to dispatch the so-called lesser teams with a lot more ruthless efficiency this season. With that in mind, we should be hopeful of a win and demanding of a good and positive start, but we shouldn’t take anything for granted.

So have at it lads, bring home the three points, and we’ll all sing up for The Arsenal.

Will confidence allow us to rotate?

I’m up early before the sun, I’m back home after the sun, jeez it can be a bit depressing, you know? Still, I have a football team that is casting shadows over the rest of the Premier League at the moment, so it’s not all bad right?

Yes, I know it sounds a bit too much of a chirpy statement, but if you can’t make hay whilst the sun shines ‘n all that (although admittedly right now there isn’t and sun whatsoever)…

It’s good stuff at the moment. We’re looking strong, we’re putting teams to the sword and we’ve not slipped up against some of the more, shall we say, workmanlike, teams in the league. We may only be 13 games into the season, but the signs are positive. Every interview that comes out of the club from the players is one that oozes belief. Mikel Arteta is the current man to sound the confidence klaxon. He spoke to the official site about the statement we made by picking up three points against a resolute and decent Cardiff side on their own patch. The score line looked comprehensive, although we know it was far from it in reality, which Tricky Micky says that it has made another statement of our Premier League credentials. And he’s right. Opposition players are talking about us more. Nasri (aka ‘The Punk’ – ask Oaf12) has spoken about the gap that City need to overcome sooner rather than later and he’s certainly right. Our consistency thus far has meant that the teams at the top of the league know they can’t afford to drop points because we have capitalised to date.

Of course we all know it means nothing at this point and you’ll certainly nee find this humble blogger trotting out tired cliches about no trophies before May. But tomorrow night we play Hull at home and a win followed up by another win on Sunday against Everton would put our rivals in a position where they know that anything other than 100% victory would result in us nosing ourselves further ahead. Both games will be tough and a challenge, but I’m in confident mood, as this round of midweek games means that all teams will be feeling fatigue come tomorrow and Sunday. It’s not as if we’re playing an opponent who has had the week off to recover. Does the fact that Hull and Everton not regularly play twice a week mean that they are not as battle-hardened to this much football at this time of the year? Maybe, maybe not, but one things for certain, our confidence and our experience of regular midweek matches will certainly put us on the front foot tomorrow evening and hopefully on Sunday.

Arsene will no doubt plant himself in front of the waiting media today and give us an update on who’s fit to play and who isn’t. Predicting the starting-line up has been as easy as predicting how many grains of rice there are in a jar at a summer fete these days, but until Le Boss gives us an update of who will be ready for tomorrow I’m not going to try. What I will hope for though is that we see a little bit of rotation. I want us to use some of those players that have been knocking on the door of Arsene, those that are ever-so-slightly on the outskirts of the first eleven, be given a chance. If some players are feeling a slight degree of tiredness, then they need to be saved for the Everton game. I’m thinking Vermaelen and Monreal specifically to be given the nod. With all due respect to Hull City, If you can’t rotate at home against a newly promoted side, how can you expect to challenge for the Premier League crown?

All of the squad should be buzzing. All of the players should be chomping at the bit to be part of the match day eleven and my hope is that those on the periphery are even more resolute and determined to play well when they are given the chance. Just look at Szczesny. As soon as he got himself some competition, as soon as he knew his place wasn’t guaranteed, he stepped up and has been superb ever since. Times that by the rest of the team and you have a hunger and mentality that can drive forward those squad players to go that extra mile. Perhaps that is what also had an impact on squad players of the last few seasons? Yes, I know many were not good enough, but if they’d have been able to give an extra 10-20% in games because they knew they were coming in to a winning team, how much would that have affected our overall ability to be successful? Players are human and if you can provide the right environment, then you will see them thrive, and that is what I think is happening now. That is why when a player comes in like Monreal did against Marseille, they look composed, because they’re coming into a team of confidence, they are desperate to show they deserve a place, they give that extra 10% as a result and we as fans benefit by feeling like we have a squad that can compete, not just a scrape top four each season.

Anyway, I’m rabbiting on, so I’ll leave it there for one day. You have a good one and I’ll catch you in the pub on Wednesday.

You can’t teach concentration

I do wonder why so many people get worked up with the invoice of that lot along the Seven Sisters Road. Seeing the Spuds to to a penalty shoot-out and then squeeze through against newly promoted Hull, I couldn’t help but feel a bit ‘oh well, never mind’ about it all. Yet I read some people who genuinely seemed a bit cut up about it. Let’s look on the positives, the first team players that played for them last night will have gone through 120 minutes so there will be an inevitable tiredness for players like Vertonghen. And, without attempting to jinx the future, if the Spuds lost or drew this coming weekend, wouldn’t you see it as a more preferable result? Of course they’ll probably end up winning and you can blame me, but hey-ho.

In the Arsenal world there’s a few interviews knocking around the official site. Thomas Vermaelen talk about how close the two sides were – bar a couple of individual errors – and whilst my red and white tinted eyes agree with our Belgian Captain, it is scant consolation for the fact that we got knocked out to that lot. In some respect I’d have preferred us going out to a ‘lesser’ team, as it saves the blushes of having to deal with the ‘Johnny-come-lately’s of the football world, but C’est la vie and all that.

We have to look forward and to a weekend where the top two clash. Arsene has promised a response and certainly I hope we get one. I still haven’t heard any news about the Flamster yet, which probably isn’t a good thing, but I would hope that the players that take to the field on Saturday evening will want to atone for the midweek display and get all three points. It won’t be easy, but they are capable, providing the basic errors that have cost us so far are ironed out. I think it was on a couple of Podcasts and Blogs that I read last season, but I vaguely recall hearing about how our team conceded more goals due to ‘individual error’ than any other team in the Premier League last season. That’s quite sobering when you think that teams like Reading and a QPR team that included Armand Traore and Jose Bosingwa were in the division. When you look at the defeats this season (and some of the victories) you can point to the same flaw in our game. Whether you think it was a second penalty for Villa on the first game of the season (I happen to think it wasn’t), Koscienly didn’t need to make the challenge on Agbonlahor. Bacary Sagna was nowhere to be seen for Lewandowski’s match-winning goal. And let’s not even run back over the mistake poor old Corporal Carl made in midweek.

With situations like the above described, I’ve always though it was just a bit ‘unlucky’ or ‘could happen to anyone’. Indeed, just look at the Hart/Nasastic mix up from the weekend that Chelski profited on. But the more it keeps happening, the more you start to wonder if it’s endemic in the squad, concentration is often lost in games. Perhaps in every game, but it just depends whether or not we are punished by a team that is quality enough, or not. The scary thing about that is that you can’t work on concentration levels on the training pitch. I don’t know how you can eradicate that at all actually. Maybe some sort of electric shock treatment? I’m sure there’s probably something human rights activists would have to say about that.

The players are only human and humans make mistakes. Some humans make more mistakes than others, but you hope that they learn from those mistakes. With a ball over the top like that one on Tuesday, perhaps next time Carl will take an extra glance to see where the opposing player is, or perhaps he’ll just head out for a throw-in? There’s no way of telling unless we have some sort of super-awesome mind-penetrating device that can get into players brains. We just have to hope that they don’t make those types of mistakes too often, or when they do, it doesn’t prove costly. The positive I take from Jenkinson is that he doesn’t want to hide. He’s happy to face up to the media, the fans, the world and to admit his mistake and show a desire to learn and get better. Arsene Wenger will show faith in that kind of attitude. If Carl shows that determination and learns from his mistakes, he’ll only get better and that can only benefit Arsenal as well. We have to remember as well that he is being asked to do a job on a sporadic basis, which means building your own personal momentum is difficult. Where he has been successful last season was where he had a run of games to play himself into form. It is true that at the top of the tree you don’t get that kind of time to find form, but I still hope that there is a player in there that can emulate Lee Dixon and be at The Arsenal for years to come. The next 18 months or so will tell us whether he’s a Dixon or an Eboue I think.

We should find out a bit more about the availability of players from the cheeky Arsene interview he does with the official site, so let’s hope for some good news on Flamini, or at least no more bad news on players. We’ve got enough injuries as it is so could do without the existing ones getting any longer. I doubt we’ll see the Flamster this weekend, but I’d see it as a massive bonus if he’s back for the United game.

Anyway, I’m offski to the Big Smoke, so I’ll catch you later.

Manny needs a move, Thommy needs games and a Polish boss that can see into the future

Morning Gooners, hanging in their? Chin up friend, we only have but a few more days before we can did ourselves of the international window beast that has plagued us thus far for that last week.

Even Arsenal.com is getting a little desperate. They have a Frimpong ‘Twitter Takeover’, presumably because nobody else was around to answer questions about their eating habits or favourite footballers when they were a kid six years ago. We all like Emmanuel as a person – he’s a Gooner at heart after all – but as a player I think his days are numbered and he appears to be slowly backing himself out of the exit doors at The Arsenal very slowly. He promised so much when he came onto the scene – a Flaminiesque ball-winning, no nonsense, hard-tackling midfielder – but he’s never really managed to step up and as a result I think he’s stagnating. We all know it will happen eventually, we’ll be sad when it does, but I think a permanent move away beckons sooner rather than later. After all, what chance has he got being Flamini’s replacement when we signed the actual Flamster in the summer anyway? Manny shouldn’t be waiting around for a chance for another year – he needs game time to get his career going.

Elsewhere, it’s all very quiet on the Western Front. Which can only be a good thing because it means that our players are all available and fit and haven’t had limbs severed off by their national team excursions. Even Koscienly played for France, despite sitting out a training session, so that’s positive. Still, there are another round of games tomorrow, so there’s plenty of time for Arsenal players to be struck down with the plague and be out for the rest of the season.

One person who must have been a little optimistic after hearing about Koscienly’s injury is Thomas Vermaelen. He’s not even getting a game for his national team any more and, with Kompany out injured at the moment, he would surely have hoped that he would be given a chance for the national team. But their squad is one of those ‘golden generation’ types by the looks of it, which means the Belgian coach can afford to drop players when they’re not playing. That sort of rejection will be affecting Vermaelen. Last night I did the first of hopefully a few Suburban Gooners Podcasts and the subject of Vermaelen cropped up. I said I hoped that he uses his bench time to be a motivator and when he’s called upon show how good he is in the same way Szczesny has done at the beginning of the year. Arsene doesn’t like to rotate, so seeing the Belgian starting will only become a reality dictated by cup or injury, but when he gets his chance he has to take it. If he doesn’t get his chance? Well, let’s put it this way, if he hasn’t made six or even appearances by January I think he’ll be looking at heading elsewhere.

There really isn’t much else out there at the moment, so I’ll leave you with the strange scenario Poland had by naming both of our Polish ‘Keepers on the subs bench at the weekend. I thought that was a strange one, unless you’ve been granted the gift of hindsight and know that you’re going to lose two ‘keepers in a game. Unfortunately the Polish national team boss must have been duped on that one, because he didn’t even need one spare goalie on the bench, let alone two. Maybe he needs a new flux capacitor.

Anyway, I’m done for the day, so I’ll catch ya on tha’ flip side.

Out.

A pressing need for pressing

Do you know it’s been bloody ages since I wrote a blog about something else other than topical subjects that was happening in the world of Arsenal right now? So I find myself this very day quite bored of the ongoing transfer nonsense and inclined to pluck some thoughts from my cerebrum and dump them on to this here online parchment I see before me.

The title pretty much gives away what my focal point of personal discussion is today, but I’ll spell it out anyway for consistency:

What in the name of all that is Dennis happened to our pressing game?

You know, the one where all players would close down quickly and win the ball off the opposition as early as possible so we could turn defence into attack quickly, that type of pressing.

I remember being at a BBQ a few years back and not getting the chance to get anywhere near a TV, radio or online for a prolonged period of time on the first game of the season. Arsenal were away to Everton and when I got to a radio I was nervous. Everton are a good team and a result there was always going to be difficult. I needn’t have worried. As the news announcer declared the final result of 6-1, I heard of a team that had torn apart an industrious Everton side that simply couldn’t handle the attacking flair, even of a new centre-back who rocked up with a goal on his debut. Thomas Vermaelen was his name. But what really stood out for me during that short synopsis of the game by the commentator, was how he waxed lyrical about our high line of pressing, never giving Everton a moments peace.

And that’s how the season continued. We pressed from the front, worked hard from attack to defence, and picked up results, going on to compete for the title until at least March time. Yet here we are, three years later, with a team whose fitness levels are certainly no worse than the 2009/10 batch of players, yet I rarely see us engage in that type of activity.

And I have to tell you, I find it really odd, not least because we all know and are told that Arsene prepares his players really well and they are some of the fittest in the league. And we all know that if they wanted to, they could all do it. Yet we don’t for some reason that is unbeknownst to me.

You only have to look at one of the best teams in Europe over the last three or four years – Barcelona – to see what effective pressing can do. The last time Barcelona came to The Arsenal, that’s what stood out for me, their ability to press quickly all over the pitch. Don’t get me wrong, we are all amazed at their overall play when going forward and when they retain possession so well, but they were equally impressive without the ball too. If we adopted the same approach without the ball as that Barcelona team, the number of unforced errors we’d push our opponents into making would probably result in at least a dozen extra goals scored for the team at the end of a season. That ratio of extra notches into the onion bag could be the difference between finishing 16 points away from the champions and level pegging with them.

I think the thing for me that is also frustrating is that it’s not as if to teach a pressing game, winning the ball higher up the pitch, is a difficult one. In fact, it’s one of the easiest things to coach in football. Closing down your man and denying him space all over the pitch doesn’t require the skills and flair of Messi and Ronaldo. Heck, even Ryan Shawcross can do it, although you probably have to tell him there is a raw steak for his supper and a fresh bowl of water to motivate him.

So whilst we’re all looking towards what transfer activity could and should be done over the summer – and I must stress I advocate action too – there is a change I’d love to see from our Arsenal side in prep for the new season, and that is more emphasis placed on closing down the spaces that other teams have to do us damage.

For me, there most certainly is a pressing need for us to do more pressing in 2013/14

Say it out loud: defensive stability at Arsenal

Ahh Thursday, how are you? It’s been almost a week since I saw you last, hasn’t it? No, you’re right, it’s been exactly a week. A week in which we learned our fate lies in the Champions League (qualifiers at least) and where hope has now sprung from the possibility of a proactive summer that will strengthen the team and put us in a position where we can hopefully look upwards to challenge rather than downwards to who is catching us up.

The subject of transfers will be a hot potato for the next few months and, whilst we would all agree that we need strengthening, one area of the team that surprisingly needs probably the least bit of surgery is our defence. Last year we leaked more goals than Julian Lestrange leaks politically sensitive material. We were subjected to abominations like the 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford and you wouldn’t find too many Gooners that could argue that we had the basis of a sound and solid defensive unit. We looked beleaguered and devoid of any confidence at the back and going into every game you wondered what defensive lapse would occur today.

Fast forward to today and you find (this blogger at least) Arsenal fans that are looking at our defence and praising their stinginess when it comes to opposition strikers. We’ve conceded four goals in our final 11 games of the season and our defensive unit has been resolute in ensuring that we get into that top four spot. Most of those clean sheets came with a one goal victory, so it just goes to show how important the defensive side of the game has been. It’s true that our attacking impetus has perhaps been curbed somewhat since this defensive side of the game has been worked on, but in reality I’m sure you’d all agree that shipping very few goals and hoping we out score opposition is certainly more preferable to trying to play catch up after going behind. Although I appreciate that wasn’t the case at the mod point in the season – the 2-2 draw at home to Liverpool is a case in point.

We’ve got the second best defensive record in The Premier League. I’m going to let that sink in for a minute. Second best. As in, there are most other teams in the league that don’t have as many shutouts as we do. The perpetual knocking of Arsenal defensively over the last few seasons has been blown out of the water by some of our displays towards the latter end of the season, and it bodes well if we can continue that form into next season.

But it’s not just the back four that should be praised for the defensive aspect of our game and the improved work. In the latter part of this season the role that Arteta and Ramsey played in screening the back four has been vital in ensuring our solidity. That ability to track runners into the box and close down space in between defence and midfield has been a key component of how we’ve been able to build from the back.

Second best defence in the league. Just say it to yourself out loud.

At left back we’ve seen the arrival of Spanish international Nacho Monreal and, whilst it had many of us scratching our heads at the time and wondering why we hadn’t signed a striker on deadline day, there can be no doubts that Arsene made a good move in bringing the Spaniard in. Whilst doubts over Gibbs’ ability to play a whole season remain, the arrival of Monreal means that not only do we have genuine competition, we have two internationals vying for it. Both have been used effectively this season and both have helped to significantly contribute to our run in. Gibbs provides a bit more pace going forward, but Monreal has an assuredness about his game that puts us at ease about a million times more than Andre Santos ever could.

In the middle of the defence we’ve found our number one partnership, at the expense of the captain, Thomas Vermaelen. I feel for Thomas. The year of his captaincy has coincided with a dip in form that was probably at its worst during the 2-1 defeat at United when he mis-kicked his clearance straight into the feet of That Dutch Bloke. He was dropped for the Bayern game and the form of Koscienly and Mertesacker has meant he never really had a sniff at regaining his place in the side.

Mertesacker has been the one player that affords me a smug grin. All non-Arsenal companions that I have, have made comments about the BFG last season about Wenger buying another dud. It was the same the season before with Koscienly. But between the two of them, they have ended the season in tremendous form. I can say it now because the game has well and truly ended, but I think back to that last game of the season and if truth be told, for the majority of the game the Newcastle front line had slim pickings to feed from both Kos an Mert. They compliment each other so well. Koscienly has the recovery pace and Mertesacker has the positional sense. Unfortunately for Vermaelen, he’s not the strongest in either position and so he finds only a place on the bench right now. I’m sure he’ll be knocking on the managers door in pre-season, but it’s hard to argue your case when you have rivals for your position that are so miserly when it comes to conceding.

At right back we’ve had an interesting turn of events. At the beginning of the season there were real fears about losing Sagna to a free transfer or at the end of the season. As it stands now, there are some sections of Arsenal fans that I have heard say they wouldn’t be too fussed if he departed to Paris Saint Germain in the summer. Personally, I would like him to remain at the club. His form has not been its usual consistent self, but he has still been a valuable cog in that defensive unit. Perhaps the desire to see Carl Jenkinson become first choice has more to do with how far he has come this season, to the extent where he received an international call up for England, and now has many Arsenal fans hoping he can establish himself as first choice in the team next year. It’s understandable; Jenkinson is an Arsenal fan, he’s one of us, so we naturally want to see players who love the club as much as we do in the team. But he is still somewhat raw and with the experience of Sagna in the side, we have been in the fortuitous position that we can be afforded the luxury of questioning who could fill that right back slot, rather than a few years ago when we looked like we had to scrape the bottom of the barrel for a square peg in a round hole.

Should we be looking to strengthen in the summer defensively? If I’m completely honest I don’t know. I guess it will come down to whether or not Sagna is moved on. I rate Jenko, but I’m not sure whether or not he’s ready to be the number one choice without a player who can challenge him for his place so if the Frenchman is moved on then i would say a definite ‘yes’. Jenko probably needs another 12 months of games and growth before he is ready. That is why I hope Sagna stays on. His experience will be useful, even if we lose him in the summer next year for free, so on that basis, I hope we don’t need to make reinforcements. There are other areas that are more in need of strengthening.

Have a good one Gooners.