Carling Cup: Arsenal 2 -1 Bolton

So here we are in the last eight of the League Cup, a competition we apparently don’t take seriously, for the ninth consecutive year.

I think it’s fair to say we didn’t stroll though last nights game, at times it was hard work, but the experienced players in an all changed starting XI made the difference on the night. They showed their quality and with a few of them making returns from injury lay offs they even helped, along with a few youngsters, to show that our squad is perhaps slightly stronger than it is sometimes given credit for.

The stand out players for me on the night were Ju Young Park, Yossi Benayoun, Thomas Vermaelen and Nico Yennaris. If you’ve read a fair few other match reports this morning you may well be asking why I’ve not mentioned Andrey Arshavin in that list, or you may well have been at the game and decided yourself that the Russian was the best player on the park. Judging by a lot of the tweets I’ve seen that seems to be the general opinion and whilst Arshavin’s quality was certainly a key element in our victory I still can’t help but feel slightly frustrated with him at points.

To be honest it’s not even his actual football so much, apart from those short passes that don’t quite make it to their intended recipients leaving me wondering if the little fella thinks that either some of our players are a little quicker than they actually are or if he sometimes doesn’t calculate the weight of the pass relative to the distance the ball needs to travel? But as I say it’s not just that, what I have a real bugbear with is the amount of time he spends on the floor. I’m not sure if Opta have a stat for it but surely the midfielder must spend more time on the ground after being fouled and/or falling over than any other player in the league. If you’re not hurt, get up and get on with the game.

I’m aware that all sounds a little negative on my part given we won, again, last night and I certainly don’t mean to it’s just I find it hard to fawn over a player who undoubtedly has so much more to give. But credit to him because he was the catalyst for both of our goals and playing behind the striker rather than being stuck on the left flank obvioulsy suits him, but that’s not really a surprise because he isn’t a winger.. 

Drifting out to the right and receiving the ball from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain the Russian moved towards goal unopposed by the backtracking Zat Knight before drilling a low shot past Ron Weasley-a-like Adam Bogdan and into the bottom left hand corner and put us back on level terms after former Gunner Fabrice Muamba had put the Trotters in front only six minutes earlier.

It took just three more minutes for the Gunners to get in front and it was Arshavin who set up the winner…

The impressive Park had made a few offside runs and as Arshavin picked up the ball and moved forward the South Korean had once again strayed into an offside position. Arshavin held on to the ball long enough for the Striker to check himself and then released the ball for Park to run onto and curl a lovely shot past Bogdan. It was a great finish and a goal the player’s performance deserved.

I know he has only played two games since his move, both coming in this competition, but on the evidence of last night Ju surely storms ahead of Marouane Chamakh in the pecking order. He was always looking to be involved always wanting the ball and whilst a few of his strikes on goal failed to give the Bolton stopper any real trouble it was heartening to see a striker who is prepared to perform his primary function and as long as your attempting to score goals will surely start to flow.

Yossi Benayoun was outstanding in my view, the Israeli has made only three starts for the Gunners since signing on a season long loan from Chelsea on deadline day and this is certainly his best of those performances so far. The former West Ham man worked tirelessly all night, I would wager he covered more ground than any other Arsenal player. Like Park Yossi has found his first team chances limited and whilst he is ineligible to play against his parent club at the weekend he certainly did enough last night to let the boss know he can play a pivotal role this season.

Another plus was the return of Thomas Vermaelen, the man just exudes class as a footballer and crucially a centre half. It’s such a rare problem for Arsene Wenger to have and whilst it’s one of those so-called good problems the gaffer must be suffering a slight selection headache when considering what his first choice centre back pairing will be. Mertesacker has improved with every game he has played in is starting to look assured at this level whilst forming an impressive partnership with Laurent Koscielny, in my view the ever impressive Laurent Koscielny. So the boss has to make three in to two, but that choice may now not need to be made until we play Marseille next Tuesday after Tommy was withdrawn after eight-five minutes last night and replaced by Daniel Boateng. There was some initial confusion after the game when it was suggested the Belgian had suffered a calf strain but it now seems that he was suffering from a touch of cramp and asked to come of as a precaution. Either way Wenger thinks the defender will be a little short for the trip to Stamford Bridge on Saturday, and after two months on the sidelines that shouldn’t be a surprise. You can’t not play for two months and then play two games in a week. We may see him named amongst the subs on Saturday but I really would be surprised to see him start. *Update – It now seems the club are saying he will be fit, in which case a quick return to the starting XI may not be such a surprise after all. Tommy to partner Mertz, with Koscielny moving to RB?

Iggy Miquel gave an assured performance at left-back and Franny Coquelin went about his work quietly but professionally. AOC had a fairly quiet night in relation to his recent performances and Emmanuel Fimpong was not quite at the races before being replaced by Ryo. The Japanese youngster really got the crowd excited but you can still see just how raw he is and we shouldn’t be expecting to see him make massive inroads to the first team in the near future – but all the youngsters mentioned above are exciting prospects we’ll see much more of.

To finish off I just want to mention a player who I thought was brilliant last night and hasn’t maybe received as much praise as he should have…

Young Nico Yennaris gave a solid performance at right back, it is of course very early days and I’m not suggesting he should be coming into the first team on a regular basis as cover at right back during Sagna and Jenkinson’s lay-off’s. I’m not even 100% sure right back is the lads bet or preferred position but last night he did himself and the side proud and certainly didn’t look out-of-place and I look forward to seeing him develop and improve along with the other lads I’ve mentioned above

So another positive night for the club, we’re still not out of the woods but we may have come to a bit of a clearing which allows us to regroup and get our bearings. We’ve seen again the good work the club does at youth and academy level and had a peak at some of the players who could well be first team regulars in a few years, whilst a few summer accuasitions have maybe shown that their signings were a little shrewder than we may have previously considered.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

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Debuts, returns and a battle of shorts.‏

 

Tonight see’s Owen Coyle’s Bolton Wanderers return to North London in the Carling Cup a month after going down three nil during their Premier League visit.
 
With the Gunners on a good run of six victories in the last seven matches, a run that stretches back to the 3-1 win over Shrewsbury in the previous round, a win tonight would see Arsene Wenger’s side book a quarter-final place for the ninth consecutive year.
 
Ahead of the game the gaffer has been talking about last seasons League Cup final defeat at the hands of Birmingham City and has suggested that it will be impossible for him to ever overcome the hurt of that defeat telling Arsenal.com
 
“Yes [the Birmingham game] will hurt me forever because we never forget disappointments, that’s part of life at managerial level, you do not only have successes but disappointments too”
 
Whilst it may not completely banish the memory of  Obafemi Martin’s late winner I would imagine that seeing his side once again reach Wembley and go on to finally win the competition would go some way to numbing the pain. It’s quite amazing the amount of grief Wenger has been given for not taking this competition seriously during his time at the club but as I said above, we could reach the last eight for the ninth consecutive year.
 
During that time we’ve also reached two finals, I could be wrong but I can’t imagine any other side has had more success in the countries secondary cup competition during that period. Wenger himself maintains that he always takes the competition seriously saying –
 
“We have always taken the competition seriously” (Well I told you that’s what he said)
 
The Frenchman went on to say – “We use it as an opportunity to give a chance to some young players and people relate that to not taking it seriously but it is the opposite”
 
“Because we take it seriously we want to always offer two things – the desire to win and the opportunity for our fans to see some of the players who represent the future for this club
 
I really don’t think you can argue with that, if we were merely handing out first team debuts to our whole starting eleven and crashing out in our first game then you could criticise but the truth is most of the top sides and even a clutch of smaller clubs have gone on to follow suit and replicate our philosophy. The difference with Arsenal is that the quality of players we field, those ‘kids’ and ‘reserves’, are still a class above what other clubs have to offer when it comes to those categories.
 
Tonight will see that tradition of blending youth and experience continue and on paper we look set to field what I think is an exciting side and one I’m looking forward to seeing.
 
We’ll see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain come back into the team and if he performs anywhere near the level he produced on his full debut against the Shrews that in itself will make for an exciting evening, but alongside AOC we’re also set to see the return of Thomas Vermaelan make his return from a two month injury lay-off.
 
It’s seems as if it will be down to the boss to decide between the Belgian and young Spaniard Iggy Miquel for the left back position. Whilst neither player is a natural in the role, we’re in a position where we need to make do and mend as such and while one of the pair will be an auxiliary fullback for the evening the other looks set to partner another returnee, Seb Squillaci, at centre half. How timely that the man who looks like Skeletor returns from injury as we approach Halloween…
 
We can expect to see young Nico Yennaris make his debut at right back and make up the back four with Skellaci, Tommy and Iggy while Lukasz Fabianski will once again take his place between the sticks. The Pole has recently spoken of his desire to regain a regular starting birth in goal ahead of countryman Wojciech Szczesny in the build up to Euro 2012 and whilst it would take something spectacular from Fabs and something catastrophic from Szcz for that to happen it doesn’t hurt to have one player chomping at anothers heels, it can only boost the performances of both which is good for the club.
 
I expect we’ll see Emmanuel Frimpong and Franny Coquelin start in the middle but I’m not overly sure who’ll make up the midfield trio, I’ve heard suggestions of Thomas Rosicky but the Czech isn’t in the 18 man sqaud so that rules him out. It seems likely then that Yossi Benayoun will come in to add a touch of experience alongside the two youngsters.
 
I’ve already mentioned AOC, he’ll take his place on the right of our front three alongside Ju Young Park in the middle and Andrey Arshavin on the left (I’m guessing)
 
As I said yesterday we could really do with the South Korean replicating his international form and providing a tangible alternative to RVP if and when we should need one. It’s been a little surprising that he, AOC and Benny have seen their first team chances limited considering they are three of our few summer signings so they all have a point to prove tonight and hopefully they’ll all take their chance. It’s also a great chance for Arshavin to try and turn his recent cameo apperances in the league into something a bit more substantial, it’s certainly no good having the Russian replecating his performance in France last week.
 
It’s a strong side (if I’m right that is) and one I’m very much looking forward to watching. As well as the players I’ve mentioned above the squad also includes Ryo, Vito Mannone, Jernade Meade, Oguzahn Ozyakup, Sanchez Watt, Chuks Aneke and Daniel Boateng. Hopefully we can see Ryo & Chuks get a dedent run out at some stage too.
 
I’ve no idea what sort of side Owen Coyle will field this evening, the Trotters are really struggling and the Scot could either send out a strong side in the hope that a cup run will help reinvigorate their league form or he’ll give his senior players a breather and a send out a second string. To be honest I’m not too fussed I think our side should have enough to see off any whatever team they face tonight and if I’m honest I’m more intrigued by the battle of the shorts between Coyle and Pat Rice…
 
It’s bound to be cold tonight, because it’s late October and that’s how things work, and with both men favouring a pair of shorts and proving that they’re real men, real old school football men, I do wonder if one or indeed both will back down or if they’ll stand toe to toe…
 
I most certainly won’t be wearing shorts, I’ll be wrapped up nice and warm and if I get cold I’ll just ask Big Dave to put his arms around me…
 
Ok, I’m going now before this turns weird(er)…
 
Enjoy the game, and if you’ve not got a ticket but fancy getting down to support the Gunners you can do so by clicking here.
 
Thanks for reading.
 
Paul.

Arsenal 3 – 1 Stoke City

Morning all,

Last Monday I commented on how Monday’s always seem brighter when the Gooners have had a win at the weekend, but three wins in the space of a week, climbing to the top of our Champions League group and now 7th in the Premier League has given me a real case of the Happy Mondays…

I foolishly suggested yesterday that we all knew what Arsene Wenger’s starting eleven would be. You would think that after fifteen years I would know better than to try and second guess the man.

The back four was as expected, Johan Djourou came in at right back whilst Mertz, Laurent Koscielny and Andy Santos all kept their places *Well obviously they did, the trio may be in fine form but it’s not like we’re blessed with defenders right now, not any who can stand up anyway. Aaron Ramsey came back into midfield in place of Thomas Rosicky to link up with Mickey Arteta and Alex Song while Theo Walcott kept his place on the right and Gervinho started on the left flank. The biggest surprise was the omission of Robin Van Persie. Wenger may have alluded to resting the front man during his pre match press conference on Friday but I’m assuming not many people took that seriously because it certainly wasn’t widely reported. So with Robin amongst the subs Marouane Chamakh was given his first league start of the season.

There were no defensive replacements on the bench (see above comment marked by *). We’ll assume that the boss considered he could sufficiently re-jig if required.

The two goals aside the first half didn’t provide much in the way of talking points, Stoke seemed fairly happy to dwell in their own area, sometimes sending Peter Crouch forward to test the miasma free air. I guess it’s the kind of thing they work on in their training cave.

The Arsenal saw plenty of the ball but until the 27th minute didn’t seem overly sure what to do with it. Our front line was incredibly static and devoid of inspiration particularly Walcott and Chamakh. I’m not suggesting neither man tried, in fact I thought the Moroccan worked quite hard but without him starting to put the ball in the back of the net or at least show some sort of creative spark he’ll continue to carry that monkey on his back and I’m pretty sure that it’s not at all easy to play football with a monkey perched on your shoulders. Perhaps had Jenkinson been playing he could have picked the forward out with his crossing? In fact down the right hand side we really could have done with either Jenkinson or Sagna, Djourou doesn’t have the pace nor the nous to bomb on in the way our regular right backs do and without a man running on in front of him Theo looked even more lost then has done of late.

Just before the half hour mark the Gunners jolted into life. An Arsenal move on the edge of the Stoke box broke down and the ball fell to Aaron Ramsey who played a lovely ball over the top of the Potters defence for Gervinho to take it down and slot past Begovic to make it one nil. The pass from Rambo was exquisite and the finish by Gervinho was equal to it.

It seemed that we might go on and apply some pressure on the visitors but just five minutes after the opener Stoke were back on level terms.

Referee Lee Mason, who was as consistently poor as he always is, decided that Laurent Koscielny had fouled Peter Crouch even though the defender had cleary out jumped the beanpole and won the header cleanly. Crouch pulls this trick so often that I can’t believe officials haven’t clocked on to it yet, any time anyone jumps above him he collapses to the ground and claims to have been fouled. From the resulting free kick the Gunners decided to parody recent defensive blunders and once the ball had pinged off of a few heads without ever being in danger of being cleared it dropped to Crouch who continued his good scoring record against us.

We should have had the chance to regain our lead from the penalty spot but as I said, Lee Mason was consistently inconsistent and whilst in his eyes a defender cleanly winning the ball is an illegal manoeuvre, flinging two arms around a players neck and hauling him to the ground within the penalty box is perfectly acceptable. That is just what happened when, I think it was Shawcross, performed the kind of tackle on Chamakh that would be deemed high and illegal in Rugby, not that Stoke are that kind of team or Shawcross is that type of player…

So the half came to an end and it all seemed a little flat about the place and when the second half kicked off we were initially treated to more of the same.

It took the initial introduction of Van Persie, on in place of Chamakh, to add some spark and bring us to life. The Dutchman instantly give the team and the crowd a lift, putting Pulis’s knuckle dragging giants under more pressure in the space of sixty seconds then Chamakh had done in sixty-six minutes, and once Arshavin replaced the ineffective Walcott five minutes later meaning a shift to the right for Gervinho, the Gunners really kicked into life and in the 73rd minute regained their lead.

Gervinho made a bursting run into the Stoke box before pulling the ball back for Van Persie who continued his incredible scoring run squeezing the ball between Begovic and the near post. Nine minutes later the pair combined again, this time Gervinho collected from Arshavin, who just like the game against Sunderland was impressive coming from the bench, the Ivorian again stormed into the box and cut back for Van Persie to add to his ever-growing goal tally.

So amongst all the suggestions this morning of us now being a one man team, Van Persie will take all the plaudits and perhaps rightly so but that does seem a little unfair on Gervinho who undoubtedly had his best game since joining the club. A goal, two assists and a 100% pass completion rate backs that up.

I’m not suggesting we don’t need to see other players chipping in with a few more goals because we certainly do, but it is a bit of a double-edged sword with Van Persie. We’re now being lauded as a one man team, but if the skipper wasn’t in such a rich vein of form, 29 goals in his last 36 outings for the club, we would be drowning in the weight of newspaper columns telling us we need a prolific striker.

Hopefully Gervinho will be boosted after his performance and can now replicate that form week in week out. I would be interested to see him start on the right in place of Theo but the question becomes ‘Who plays on the left?‘ Despite his impressive cameo appearances in our last two league games Ashavin did nothing during his start in Marseille to suggest he would make the most of a regular starting birth.

It seems that Ju will get a chance to slip on his shooting boots against Bolton in the Carling Cup tomorrow night, we could do with him bagging a goal or two and pushing for more first team involvement. He certainly isn’t going to be overtaking RVP but we do need another striker finding the back of the onion bag when called upon.

Koscielny and Mertesacker were once again fantastic at the back, the boss really will have a big decision to make once Tommy Vermaelen returns. Aaron Ramsey impressed me again, the boy has such a fantastic work ethic and it was brilliant to hear his name ring out around the ground a few times yesterday.  Andy Santos continues to improve and whilst Djourou didn’t set the world alight at right back he certainly didn’t let himself or us down.

It’s all very positive at the moment, not perfect but positive. All any football team wants to do is win games and we’re doing that, as fans we can ask for little more. Of course we will ask for more, we’re never content, but let’s enjoy the positive progression of this side.

I’m taking no joy out of the United result because it came at the hands of City, had Fulham or Everton pitched up at Old Trafford and hammered Fergie’s side I would be in raptures but City… Merh! I’m also not fussed about the Chelsea result because I don’t like Warnock and I don’t like Barton. I’m glad Drogba will miss our game against the blues at the weekend but that’s about as much as I care and anyway our most important game is tomorrow night against the Trotters.

Our form, NLD aside, since the Blackburn defeat has been frankly magnificent and whatever the line up, whoever the oppositions and whatever the competition we need that to continue because it keeps spirits high and helps us improve.

I’ll be back tomorrow morning with a look towards that league cup match but for now let us bask in the warm glow of yet another victory and dream of those that are to come.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

It’s Saturday, there should be football

Morning all,

Remember when football used to be played at three o’clock on a Saturday… Well because the skull smashers are involved in the ACME Europa League which has something to do with Thursday nights and Channel Five (Much like Spursdays) our game this weekend is taking place on Sunday lunchtime.
In terms of news it’s all much the same as it was yesterday morning, Jenkinson is out along with Kieran Gibbs and long-term absentees Thomas Vermaelen, Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby and Bacary Sagna. In his Friday lunchtime press conference the gaffer said he had yet to decide who would deputise at right back but that it would be one of Djourou and Koscielny. I mean obviously it will only be one of those two, it would be ridiculous for both of them to play there, they would just keep running into each others space, knocking each other, giving the opposition chances and generally getting in a right pickle – you just don’t ever see that from Arsenal defenders so why start now…
For my money it has to be the Swiss, with the back four all change once again there is no point in breaking up the ever improving centre back pairing of Koscielny and Mertesacker.
With regards to continued lay off Wenger says Jenkinson will be out for between ten days and two weeks, Vermaelan should be with us at some point in the same time frame as should Gibbs. Diaby is apparently a little further behind in his rehabilitation which frankly surprises no one and ‘ve only mentioned it here just in case we all forget who the hell he is.
It will be interesting to see who Wenger picks to start in the midfield, Alex Song is a certainty and I would be surprised to see Mickey Arteta lose his place. We’ll need the Spaniard to be every bit as scrappy and tenacious as he was in midweek but hopefully he’ll also be able to provide a bit more of a creative element to our play because there is little point in keeping the ball from Stoke’s evil clutches if we don’t do anything with it.
It would be a massive surprise to see Tommy Rosicky start his third game in a week so expect Aaron Ramsey to come back into the starting line up after his match winning exploits in Marseille to face the man responsible for stealing a hugely important slice of his career.
So actually, it seems fairly obvious doesn’t it…
Ok, so it’ll be interesting to see who makes up the front three… Please let it be interesting…
Robin Van Persie is a given, so let’s not cock about in a futile debate, but surely neither Theo Walcott nor Andrey Arshavin can be guaranteed a starting birth? They’ve done precious little to merit automatic inclusion but then the question is, who comes in for the pair?
Gervinho on the left in place of the Russian seems sensible. I still think the Ivorian’s decision-making is letting him down a bit, he does fantastically well when we gets possession of the ball making mazy runs, beating defenders and getting in and around the box but then he seemingly panics and fails to pick out the best option. To be fair to him, I’m not suggesting that happens on every occasion but it does appear to be a more regular occurrence then we would like to see.
While Wenger told the assembled media yesterday that he likes Arshavin and that the player has a great attitude he must surely be aware that the Russian isn’t bringing enough to the table at the moment and doesn’t warrant a start.
So who replaces Theo? Seemingly nobody…
We’re not going to see AOC thrown in, Shawcross would try and tear him to pieces. like a Yorkshire Terrier with an envelope freshly dropped through the letterbox but in a much more vicious, brutal, malevolent and barbarous manner. So I guess Theo starts on the right again, I just hope he does himself some justice this time around.
I do feel a certain degree of frustration on the lads behalf, he isn’t a winger yet he continues to be stuck out on the flank and expected to pull it out the bag. Sadly it just never really happens and the poor lad gets criticised by people like me.
That said I don’t really know which position would suit him better, we all know he wants to play through the middle but his finishing doesn’t justify it. Also I do think that if Wenger was ever going to give him the chance to prove himself as a striker it would have happened by now wouldn’t it?
I really do want to see Theo push on and become the player we’ve thought he would be and whilst I am not at all suggesting we cash in on the lad I do sometimes wonder if it’s one of those cases where a fresh start in a new environment would benefit the player. But could you imagine how frustrated we would all be if he left and started to turn it on game in game out at another club – I think I would have to peel my own face off and force myself to watch as a one-legged festering pigeon feasted upon it such would be my devastation.
We’ll look ahead to the game in a tad more detail tomorrow so for now the only other piece of interesting news is that I’m delighted to be lucky enough to be attending the Arsenal AGM at the Emirates next Thursday.
If it wasn’t for Fanshare and the Arsenal Supporters Trust I wouldn’t have a cat in hell’s chance so this goes to prove that if you want the opportunity to be involved with the club there is no better way then signing up to either/both FanShare and the AST. Hit the Arsenal Supporters Trust tab at the top of this page for more info on how to join. From as little as £2 a month it’s more than worth it.
I would also like to direct your attention to a new Arsenal based site – The Arsenal Collective a website designed to commemorate why we as football fans have chosen to become supporters of The Arsenal. You even find a little something written by yours truly if you hit this link
Right enjoy your Saturday and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.
Thanks for reading.
Paul.

Rambo Strikes Late

A late winner away from home, three points and climbing to the top of our group – what more could we have asked for last night?

The match itself, whilst not a total doozy, wasn’t a shining example of European football at it’s best so I’m not going to try to force anyone to re-live it through written word. Instead lets focus on the Television coverage and a few of our players…

Saving the savage ‘slagging-off’ for last lets start with the players –

Aaron Ramsey – The young Welshman has come in for a little criticism of late which I think has been harsh, but not totally without merit. At no point has Rambo lifted up Andrey Arshavin’s blanket and asked ‘Can I hide under here with you?‘. The Welsh skipper keeps going and gives his all in every game he plays for club and country. I know I keep saying it but with the Spaniard gone and Jack out injured  a lot is being asked of Ramsey this season. I was thrilled that he got the winner right at the death after coming on in place of Andrey Arshavin in the 78th minute (The Russian had given another outstanding impression of the invisible character portrayed by Kevin Bacon in the film Hollow Man) Given that the chance came so late on Ramsey showed great composure to put the ball past Steve Mandanda and win the game, had the chance fallen to someone else we may have been cursing at the final whistle rather than celebrating. That brings me on nicely to…

Theo Walcott – It’s not happening is it? At times it happens, but then for the majority of the time it fails to happen and we all forget those rare occasions when it does happen. There were few clear-cut openings in front of the L’OM goal aside from the one that produced the winner, but the best of the rest fell to Theo and he chocked. For someone who repeatedly states a desire to be played down the middle he really doesn’t do his chances of being picked to play there much good when he wastes the kind of opportunities like last nights or  the one against Bolton last month. I saw some people were asking yesterday why there was so much surprise around AOC’s omission form the 18 man squad, well in my view it’s because the Ox should be there putting pressure on Theo because no one else is. I suggested in yesterday’s post that he should have been replaced by Gervinho and may have been more effective coming from the bench late on but it seems the Arsene still won’t listen to me. At the moment it’s almost taken for granted that Walcott will start out on the right, I’m not sure how much of a fight he is having to put up in order to keep his place – seemingly none. I think the biggest problem is he either has it in him and shows that on a regular basis or the times when he has looked mustard will just start to look like a fluke. It’s all a little similar to Ashavin really and at a time when we’re maybe lacking a bit of creativity from midfield and we’re failing to provide sufficient support for Van Persie up front we can hardly afford to carry one player let alone two.  But it’s not impossible for a player to take the bull by the horns and show a marked improvement, look at…

Carl Jankinson – I was delighted by Jenk’s performance at right back last night. There were suggestions prior to the game that the youngster should be dropped to the bench and a centre half take his place on the right but you’ve got to play players in their best positions and not only that but you could clearly see that after completing the game against Sunderland on Sunday, and admirably so, Jenkinson grew in strength as the game went on last night and it was a real disappointment to see him leave the field with a knee injury in the 62nd minute. We’ll wait to see what the reports are on the extent of that injury today but I really do hope he’ll be fit to face Stoke on Sunday, the more he plays the better he’ll become. He is improving as a defender but you’ve also got to applaud his crossing, we saw it out in Asia in pre season and he delivered again in that department last night – as Arse2Mouse Tweeted last night why not see if he can be as prolific with his delivery from corners? Fair play to Johan Djourou also, he did well when he came on in place of Jenks. If the former Charlton lad is out of this weekends clash with SCRFC then the Swiss would be my choice to deputise because frankly…

Laurent Koscielny is far too good a centre half to be fannying about as a makeshift right back. The Frenchman was absolutely outstanding last night, our best player by a country mile and certainly the Man of the Match. Again he is a player who has come in for criticism at times and again I’ve considered that criticism to be harsh and in the main totally unfounded. The £10m we paid Lorient in 2010 looks an absolute bargain, especially when you consider that from before we signed him and up until this summer we were being urged by many to spend £15m and upwards on Jagielka or Cahill. I know which player I would rather have and as I said in a post a while back, I believe that Kozzer and Vermaelen can forge an outstanding partnership at the heart of our defence. Last night was Koscielny’s 54th game for the Gunners and in truth not even Arsene could have envisioned that a guy who just three seasons ago was playing in the French second division would have clocked up so many Arsenal appearances in such a short time. He has formed a solid partnership with Per Mertesacker, who was also on fine form again last night, and it will be harsh on the big German if he is relegated to the bench once Vermaelen returns but it would be even harsher on Koscielny. The level of performance he produced last night should come as no surprise to anyone, yes he is prone to the odd mistake but which player isn’t? It reminds me a bit of Martin Keown, rightly regarded as an Arsenal legend now it took a while for the defender to be given the plaudits he deserved upon his return to Highbury.

I’m not going to go into so much detail with every player, I thought they all performed well last night so I’ll just say briefly that…

Mickey Arteta put in another dogged shift in midfield, I know he has always had that in his locker but you have to give credit to him, he may have thought, as many did, that he was going to shoulder the creative burden this season but he is yet to be afforded much of an opportunity for that in the short time he has been at the club but has dug in and performed the task assigned to him as well as you could ask. Tommy Rosicky continued his renaissance, it’ll be interesting to see where he starts Sundays game and despite the early and needless booking Alex Song had another good game in the heart of our midfield. RVP gave his usual committed skippers performance but in truth didn’t get much support up front, Szszesny was rarely called into action but was ready and alert when he was and lastly Andy Santos blew hot and cold in my opinion. The Brazilian in him comes out during those surging sorties into the opposition half but as a defender he has yet to float my boat and at this moment in time Kieran Gibbs, when fit obviously, would be my choice for that birth.

So in summary we got what you want from a Champions League away game – three points. The bonus is another clean sheet, topping the group (for now) and keeping our good run going. Despite our flaws five wins out of six is good going by any standards and if we can take advantage of our extra days rest and put Stoke to the sword on Sunday then things will continue to look brighter.

So finally I’ll say a quick word about ITV’s coverage last night – Shocking.

Actually that is maybe a little unfair, it’s the hosting, the punditry and the commentary that are shocking.

About thirty seconds in Martin O’Neill took the opportunity to reaffirm the fact he doesn’t like Arsene Wenger. Clive Tyldesley told us it was the first time Wenger had managed an Arsenal side on native soil since 2002 thus clearly neglecting the 2006 Champions League final, which he no doubt commented on, was held in Paris before Adrian Chiles rounded things off by suggesting that after a last gasp one nil win Arsenal fans will start to think our team is better than it is…

Great stuff ITV Sport you have once again proved to the nation why you are the television equivalent of John Terry…

Thanks for reading.

 Paul.

Tommy’s New Deal & L’OM Preview

Morning all,

Well we’ve a fair bit to crack on with this morning which makes a nice change…

That’s start with the most positive – Arsenal announced yesterday that Thomas Vermaelen had signed a new long-term deal with the club. The new deal will keep the Belgian centre half at the club until 2015 and it is without doubt a major boost at a time when we are again being told that players want to leave the club.

Tommy told Arsenal.com

“I am really happy to have signed a new contract with Arsenal. I always had the intention to stay here. I feel there is a big belief in me from the Club, from the boss and from the fans and that is one of the reasons why I stayed. Arsenal is a fantastic Club. We have great supporters, we’re doing well financially and we are playing with some quality young players now and they will develop, which is very good for the future”

It’s great to hear the defender speak in such positive terms about the club, it may seem odd that he has mentioned the clubs financial status but perhaps it shows that it’s an area of the football club that some players are interested in. Who wants to sign a deal to stay on a ship that is sinking into the financial mire?

The boss was equally delighted to have tied down one of his senior players saying: “We are absolutely delighted that Thomas has signed a new long-term contract. Our plan is always to sign top quality players and with Thomas extending his contract, we have done just that. Thomas is a special player, who has always made a huge contribution on the pitch and we are looking forward to him being a part of our future at Arsenal Football Club”

Now some people have been questioning the sense in extending the deal of a player who has made just nine appearances in the last year, clocking up less than six hours of playing time in total, but we all know that with the former Ajax man in the side we look a much better unit. We win more games and concede less goals with him in the side and whilst it may be a gamble due to his fitness record I think it is a minor one and certainly one worth taking. Hopefully he’ll be back from his current spell on the sidelines in the near future, Chelsea away on the 29th is the target, and can go on to have an injury free run in the side – Wenger has suggested that once Tommy comes back he can play 50 games on the spin, I’ve nothing against that kind of optimism but do wonder if the gaffer is including the start of next season in that or is expecting us to have a run in a cup competition?

Hopefully this news can help convince Van Persie to sign a new deal, it can certainly only act as a positive and will go down as a Pro on the skippers list of reasons to put pen to paper.

Tonight the Gunners take on French side Olympique de Marseille in the Champions League.

While L’OM may be struggling in Ligue 1, they currently sit in 15th and have won only once in their last ten games, beating newly promoted Evian, Didier Deschamps side currently lead ‘Group F’ by two points so I don’t think we should be dwelling on league form too much (especially as ours isn’t exactly great)

In terms of European competition Les Phoceens have beaten both Borussia Dortmund and Olympiacos without conceding a goal so it’s likely that they will sit deep and soak up any pressure we put on them and try to catch us on the counter attack which will undoubtedly cause us problems at the back where will need to put in the kind of performance we saw from our defence in the opening group game against Borussia Dortmund (but without conceding a late goal)

A look at the French sides squad shows  they certainly have quality throughout their side but the danger men are expected to be French Striker Loic Remy, who has been likened to Arsenal & France legend Thierry Henry by Arsene Wenger this week, and Argentine Lucho Gonzalez who was reported to have been close to joining Arsenal on loan during the summer. Another Marseille player who has been linked with us in the past is Andre Ayew who could provide young Carl Jenkinson with a torid evening, so whoever plays infront of the young left back is going to have to provide him with some support.

In Arsenal team news it’s disappointing that Kieran Gibbs misses out due to the muscle injury he picked up during Sundays win over Sunderland but it does give Andre Santos another chance to show what he can do. Aaron Ramsey returns to the squad but it is somewhat surprising that both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ju Young Park have been left at home. AOC has scored two goals in his two starts for the Gunners and has been in fine form for England U21’s, at a time when we’ve not been at our attacking best the youngster may have been expected to take a place on the bench this evening. The omission of Ju is even stranger, having been plying his trade in Ligue 1 with Monaco prior to joining us this summer the South Korean forward certainly has experience of playing against our opponents but that said Marouane Chamakh has similar experience of the French top division and has made the trip. With our over reliance on Van Persie’s goals of late it does make you wonder why we’re not attempting to utilise the talents of two proven goal scorers but I guess that as the saying goes ‘Arsene Knows’.

My personal view on our starting XI is that Theo should start from the bench, I think his pace could be better utilised coming up against a tiring defence late on. Arshavin impressed upon coming on against the Mackems and should start on the left of our front three with Gervinho, who is another Gunner with experience of Ligue 1, moving over to the right. So my starting eleven would be –

Szczesny – Jenks – Koscielny – Mertz – Andy Santos – Song – Arteta – Ramsey – Gervinho – RVP – Arshavin.

That said, I suspect that Wenger may keep the Ivorian on the left and Theo on the right. We’ll wait and see if furtehr conclusive proof of why I’m not a top level football manager is produced…

With Dortmund taking on Olympiacos this evening the Germans will be expected to pick up three points, so we really need at least a draw to keep our noses in front of the Bundesliga champions in the race for qualification. Of course Deschamps and his players know that a home victory will put them five points clear at the half way stage of the group phase so we’ll hopefully see an exciting and attacking game.

As a little aside there may well be an unwelcome reception for Boro Primorac. Wenger’s right hand man was in charge of Valenciennes in the early ’90’s when L’OM player Jean-Jacques Eydelie and General Manager Jean-Pierre Bernes attempted to bribe three of his players, Jacques Glassman, Jorge Burruchaga and Christophe Robert to throw a game. Boro blew the whistle and was integral in the fight to bring down Eydelie, Bernes and former OM chairman Bernard Tapie, as was Wenger.

Bernes is something of a super agent now, but is embroiled in a row in France due to his representation of a number of French international players as well as coach Laurent Blanc. You might be interested to know that Bernes had a hand in a certain former Gunners lucrative move to Manchester this summer…

Enjoy the game wherever you’re watching it and thanks for reading.

Paul.

Sunderland Preview

So this weekend football returns – Gorgeous, beautiful, adorable football. Such a shame that amongst all that beauty and attractiveness will be the appearance of my old mate Steve ‘Wash my face with a hammer’ Bruce* at the Emirates for the game between his struggling Sunderland side and our own troubled Arsenal on Sunday afternoon**

*Steve and I are not mates, we’ve never met. That is the only fictional part of the above.
**I suspect that this post may serve as both today & tomorrow’s entry because frankly I don’t know or care enough about Sunderland to include them in two days worth of blog posts.

As I said in Arsenal.com’s ‘Talking Heads’ this week (yes that’s a plug and yes I’m happy with my current level of self-publication) an uncomfortable glimpse at the league table suggests that there is little between us and the Mackems right now. in fact in his pre game presser yesterday afternoon Arsene Wenger told reporters “Sunderland are a bit like us. You feel there is potential but they have not found confidence yet“. Well let’s hope Big Steve’s side display all the confidence of a 14 year old with a novelty clip on moustache and a stutter trying to buy a keg of beer from that off licence in Teen Wolf. (If that joke makes no sense to you I suggest you download and watch Teen Wolf right now because quite frankly you have wasted your life up to this point. NB – If you watch the half-assed new TV drama rather than the 1985 Michael J Fox movie you will continue to waste said life)

I’ve just had that uncomfortable glimpse at the league table and it was actually worse than I expected. Mathematically it is possible that we could find ourselves in the bottom three come full time on Sunday but of course that won’t happen because that involves Wigan, WBA and our opponents winning and frankly, as bad we have been at times this season those sides are all worse. Plus I never consider anything mathematically.

The visitors have lost games to the three promoted clubs, Norwich City, Swansea & QPR already this season as well as the Tyne-Wear derby. Asamoah Gyan has naffed off to United Arab Emirates side Al-Ain on a season long loan only a year after joining the Black Cats in a £13m deal from French Club Rennes and whilst anyone vaguely connected to Sunderland will tell you that the Ghanaian has moved purely for the money I think the rest of us are clued up enough to know it’s because he was scared to death of having his legs broken by Lee Cattermole in training.

Pretty Boy Bruce’s side were knocked out of the Carling Cup by Brighton & Hove Albion for goodness sake… Yep that’s right, beaten by a side that last season were plying their trade in League One. I bet it was Bruce and his chairman Ellis Short who made sure the papers were full of guff about us only having a crowd of 46,539 for our League cup victory over League Two Shrewsbury, a cunning ploy to take the heat off of their early exit from a competition which should realistically represent them with a chance of silverwear – even we managed to make the final last year…

Ok so Sunderland did beat Stoke 4-0 so maybe they’re not that bad a bunch up on Wearside. I’ve got time for anyone who can upset Tony Pulis.

In terms of Arsenal news I guess it’s fairly good…

Aside from Jack Wilshere, Tommy Vermaelan, Abu Diaby & Bacary Sagna we have everybody fit which I think may be some kind of club record.

The gaffers biggest decision is who will replace the almost ireplacable Sagna at right back, it seems that the most likely choice is the most obvious one – Right back Carl Jenkinson. I know the young lad has had his critics, I may even have been amongst them, but the truth is he is still learning his trade and whilst this is a massive step up from the level he has been playing at previously he must have been expected to play a decent amount of games this season and rightly so. Sagna, as reliable as he may well be was never going to feature in every game was he? It matters little that Wenger suggests that Koscielny and Djourou have the ability to fill in at right back, as they both have on previous occasions. My own view is that we should be playing players in their best positions (That the squad should be strong enough to ensure we have the ability to replace like for like across the board is another argument all together). Jenkinson has to play because the alternative is he becomes the right sided version of Wayne Bridge, a footballer who gets paid a footballers wages but doesn’t do any of the work. Now whilst the life of Bridge may be appealing to many – Date a Saturday (The girl band not the first day of the weekend) and earn a fortune all whilst holding a massive grudge against John Terry – Jenks is an Arsenal fan and ultimately is living his dream. He hasn’t gotten there by fluke, he is a good young footballer who hopefully will grow into an outstanding footballer at Arsenal.

It’s a chance for us to build on our home form, aside from the blip against Liverpool we’ve looked pretty solid at the grove so far this season and I can’t see why that shouldn’t continue against Sunderland. The Mackems may have signed something like nine players in the summer but their squad of former Manchester United players looks pretty threadbare to me. With Gyan enjoying the warmth of the sun again & the worlds greatest striker ineligible to play the biggest threat will no doubt come from former Gunner Seb Larsson (unless Titus Bramble is hanging around somewhere)

Both Arsene Wenger and Captain Robin Van Persie have been talking about the Swede’s quality over the past few days and the skipper got a first hand refresher course in facing Larsson as the pair squared up during the international break. Robin has told the official Arsenal match day programme “Seb worked really hard on Tuesday, we were up against each other the whole game. I Was playing at right midfield and he was at left wing. But he was tracking back the whole game, so I was playing against two men basically”

Now I’m pretty sure that when Larsson was at Arsenal he was only one man so if he has now gained the ability to be two men then that is incredibly impressive although I do wonder how that fit’s in to the rules of the game? Do Sunderland only name ten men now or do they have a player over?

The midfielder was mooted with a return to London upon leaving Birmingham in the summer, how true it all was I don’t know but the suggestion is the player felt he was more likely to get regular football elsewhere. Given the unexpected and devastating loss of Jack Wilshere for the lions share of the season maybe Seb could have found himself as a regular in this Arsenal side but why am I bothering to blather on with this futile conjecture?

Reading back you may suggest that this whole post has been little more than a written exercise in blathering, and I wouldn’t be overly quick to dismiss that view myself. I guess if the truth be told I’m a little nervous about the game. Say that out loud and consider we’re talking about a home game against an absmyl Sunderland side and it sounds farcical but that is what our showing so far this campaign has led us to.

I honestly think we’ll win the game, and I would normally expect us to win it comfortably even now, but you just can’t take anything for granted with this Arsenal side can you.

So let’s hope that Seb Larsson forgets how to tie his laces and spends the ninety minutes falling over, that Andrey Arshavin can start meeting expectations, that whoever plays in front of Jenkinson makes an effort to give him some support and that the lad himself has the kind of game that will fill him with confidence going forward. Let’s also hope that after saying something along the lines of “I’ve never felt so great” Van Persie doesn’t get crumpled by John O’Shea or indeed Lee Cattermole (or both).

I know that’s a lot of hope to be doing but while we’re at it let’s also hope for a glut of Arsenal goals, a clean sheet and three lovely points.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

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