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.

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Arsenal 2 -1 Olympiacos

Afternoon Gooners,

Well that was a somewhat scrappy win last night all in all but the important thing is, it was a win. That’s three on the spin now.

The last time we put together a run like this was the six game period between January 15th and February 1st when we beat West Ham, Leeds, Wigan, Ipswich, Huddersfield & Everton.  So in some ways you could say that we are starting to find a little form, but given the fact that defensively we look as suspicious as David Pleat on a walk through Soho so you also expect that form to dissipate at any time.

There were a couple of surprises in the starting eleven, Robin Van Persie and Aaron Ramsey were named on the bench and replaced by Marouane Chamakh and Tommy Rosicky respectively as even from his place up in the directors box Arsene Wenger had one eye on Sundays trip to arse end of North London (I obviously don’t mean ‘arse’ in an Arsenal sense)

Judging by the sides he has put out in our last two games against the Greek Champions you have to wonder if Wenger rates them very much, in fact by the time we travel to Piraeus in early December we could see a second string fielded, if qualification to the knock out round has been secured.

The game started well with Arsenal taking an early lead thanks to Oxlade-Chamberlain. The youngster was making his European bow last night and it took him a mere eight minutes to over take Theo Walcott as not only the clubs youngest ever scorer in European club footballs glamour competition but also the youngest ever Englishman.

AOC took a pas from Alex Song on his chest, he cut inside and managed to keep possession before cutting back in and firing a low shot through a defenders legs and into the back of the onion bag. Quite what Theo Walcott would have made of seeing someone cut inside with the ball and unleashing a shoot we just don’t know, but hopefully he’ll have made a mental note of trying to replicate the technique upon his return from injury.

It may have been all the excitement or it may have just been typical Arsenal but within minutes Olympiacos had a great chance to Pegg us back but thanks to a Mickey Arteta goal line clearance we kept our lead. What was pleasing about it was seeing the Spaniard following the traction of the ball, he moved along the goal line following the play thus meaning he was in the right place at the right time. All to often have we seen players stand static as if glued to the post at times like that.

Arsenal regained their composure and started to take look as if they would get a foot hold in the game. With just twenty minutes on the clock Andy Santos put us two goals to the good. Rosicky played the ball to the Brazilian who sprinted with it at his feet down the line before squaring for Chamakh. The Morroccan saw the ball blocked by an Oly defender and ping back towards Santos who stepped over the obstacle of an opponent who had gone to ground and fired in with his weaker right foot. 2-0 and we were maybe all preparing ourselves to see the Greek side collapse like their national economy.

Well the Greeks are obviously able to spot disorganisation from a mile away thanks to their country’s financial turmoil and rather than sporting ly bailing us out and letting us off the hook they decided to take advantage of our ramshackled attempts of defending from a set piece. From a corner David Fuster was left totally unmarked and whilst his leap and header were certainly impressive, the fact that no one was on hand to even attempt to pick him up was not so.  Two goals to one and you got the impression that the Greek side sensed a come back was not impossible. We held out until half time, but it was far from pretty.

The second half saw a marked improvement in our performance, especially at the back. Pat Rice, once again deputising for the suspended Arsene Wenger, must have given them a kick up the arse at half time. That said, Olympiacos certainly had chances to level the scoring. Our centre back pairing of Mertesacker & Song looked as impressive as any of the pairings we have seen this season at the back, neither made any false moves or suffered any mind farts. I’m not sure I’ll be too pleased to have to start with the pair alongside each other on Sunday but if that is the case then their second half performance should give them a morale boost.

Fairly late on RVP replaced Chamakh and I have to say that I thought that the much maligned Moroccan had his best game in an Arsenal shirt for a long while. Much of what he tried didn’t come off but he kept trying, his head didn’t drop and you at least knew he was taking part in the game. If he continues like that goals will come, he is looking sharper and just needs the shot in the arm finding the back of the net would be.

So we held out for our first three points of this Champions League campaign and we;ve now got a few days to rest and work on our defending from set pieces before the derby on Sunday.

With that game in mind let me tease you with the news that we have a fantastic guest writer tomorrow who has put together something that will really whet our appetites ahead of that game against our local rivals. Do not miss it.

Thanks for reading – I’ll next be posting on Sunday morning due to a stag weekend in Edinburgh. I’m already envisioning that I’ll be doing so from the comfort of my bed in some Scottish hotel room whilst in a very alcohol educed fragile state, so apologies in advance if all it consists of is the ramblings and complaints of a drunkard.

Paul.

 

 

 

 

Olympiacos Preview

Tonight we see the return of European football to the grove as Greek Super League champions Olympiacos are the first of our group F opponents to visit London.

The last time we faced Ernesto Valverde’s side was during the 2009/10 season – Valverde wasn’t at the helm of Erythrolefki at the time, having lead the side to the Greek double the previous season, his first at the club, his contract was not renewed after he found himself on the wrong side of a financial dispute at board level. The Spaniard moved to Villareal where he replaced Real Madrid bound Manuel Pellegrini on a one year deal, however Valverde could not replicate the success the Chilean had enjoyed at El Madrigal and after suffering an embarrassing 0-2 home defeat at the hands of Osasuna he was torpedoed by the yellow submarines. By August of the same year he was back in Piraeus and once again led Greece’s most successful club side to yet another league championship.

Valverde

During that last encounter between the two sides Olympiacos enjoyed a rare victory over English opposition winning the game 1-0 thanks to a goal from Leonardo. It was our final group fixture of that seasons competition and with qualification to the next round already secured, after the Gunners had won group H, Arsene Wenger fielded a side made up of reserve and youth team players. Mikael Silvestre captained the side out in Greece that night in a back four that also included Kerra Gilbert, Kyle Bartley and Thomas Cruise.

Cruise

Francis Coquelin was an unused sub that night and young Franny could find himself in the starting line up for tonight’s clash.

During his press conference yesterday Wenger revealed that Laurent Koscielny, Gervinho and Theo Walcott would all miss the game having joined Abou Diaby, Jack Wilshere, Thomas Vermaelen, Johan Djourou, Sebastian Squillaci and Yossi Benayoun in the treatment room. Even young centre half Iggy Miquel picked up a knock during the warm up prior to the reserves 1-0 win over Blackburn at Underhill on Monday night. So all in all we’re incredibly thin on the ground when it comes to the centre of our defence.

It’s likely that we’ll see Alex Song step in alongside Per Mertesacker at centre half, it’s a position the Cameroon international is familiar with and whilst we have to hope he won’t be required to play there at White Hart Lane on Sunday I would expect him to cope with any threat the Greeks may pose. I must admit, casting an eye over the Olympiacos squad list there are very few names I recognise. The one that immediately catches the eye is Olof Mellberg, the former Aston Villa defender and first player to score a competitive goal at the Emirates. Aside from the Swede there are very few players I am familiar with, Jean II Makoun is on loan from Villa and may well face his compatriot Alex Song.

That's a quality beard

Wenger will once again have to choose between Kieran Gibbs and Andy Santos at left back, personally I would like to see the Englishman continue from where he left off against Bolton on Saturday. With our back line already disrupted by Koscielny’s absence it would seem somewhat negligent to force another change in that area after Saturdays clean sheet.

So with Song taking up central defensive duties instead of defensive midfield there is yet another decision for le gaffer to take, who deputises for the Cameroonian, Franny Coquelin or Manny Frimpong?

Franny

I think that over the past few weeks the Frenchman may have edged in front of his Ghanaian team-mate in this particular race. He was something of a bright spark when he made his debut in the crushing dark of Old Trafford and was pipped to the man of the match award in last weeks league cup win over Shrewsbury Town by an outstanding second half display from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. So for my money it would be Franny making up a midfield three alongside Mickey Arteta and Aaron Ramsey.

Up top Arsenal goal scoring centurion Robin Van Persie will again lead the line as well as captain the side and along with Andrey Arshavin I would like to see the skipper flanked by AOC ahead of Thomas Rosicky. I think the young Englishman would relish the opportunity to take on the Olympiacos defence and would pose more of a threat than the Czech. Also with Theo & Gervinho both unavailable we’re a little light on pace, again something The Ox has in spades unlike Tommy.

A starting XI of: Szczesny – Sagna – Mertesacker – Song – Gibbs – Coquelin – Arteta – Ramsey – Oxlade-Chamberlain – Van Persie – Arshavin would be my choice and should have the ability to see off the Greek champions and claim our first three European points of the season.

Due to our defensive depletion expect to see Daniel Boateng on the bench just 48 hours after completing ninety minutes for the reserves, and he may not be the only one in the dug out to have done so. Of course Arsene won’t be down there with them as he sees out his touchline ban.

Boateng

It should certainly be a good game, the Greeks will try to get at us as much as possible and their support will no doubt make themselves heard across north London. The one big hope I have, aside from three points, is that we don’t suffer any further injuries. This is certainly a game we need to win but with the first NLD of the season barring down on us we can ill afford to lose anyone else.

Enjoy the game wherever you’re watching it and I’ll be back in the morning with a post match report.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

Borussia Dortmund 1 – 1 Arsenal

Champions League Group F – Borussia Dortmund 1 – 1 Arsenal.

Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller – Subotic – Hummels – Piszczek – Scmelzer – Kehl (Blaszczykowski – 67) – Gotze – Grosskreutz (Perisic – 68) – Bender – Lewandowski – Kagawa (Zidan – 83)

Goal – Perisic – 88

Arsenal: Szczesny – Sagna – Gibbs – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Song – Arteta – Walcott (Frimpong – 76) – Gervinho (Santos – 84) – Benayoun – Van Persie (Chamakh – 84)

Goal – Van Persie – 42

With Arsene Wenger confined to the stands Pat Rice led Arsenal to what should be considered a valid and well deserved point against the Bundesliga champions.

I stated in the Arsenal’s Talking Heads section yesterday that we would have a tough time against Dortmund’s centre back pairing of Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic and that certainly proved to be the case. The two international centre halves are absolutely outstanding defenders and it was obvious to see why they’re both highly admired and sought after. But it was the defensive discipline of Arsenal that was the most impressive and in particular the performances of Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny, Alex Song and Wojciech Szczesny.

I mentioned yesterday that Alex Song would need to be disciplined, shield the back four and curb his enthusiasm for getting forward at inopportune moments and as the went on he grew in stature and did just that. If the Cameroonian can perform like he did last night, and at home against Chelsea last season, week in week out we could be talking about a world-class defensive midfielder – maybe after his in discipline at St James’ on the opening day and subsequent domestic ban and Frimpong now chomping at his heels he’ll buck his ideas up and we’ll see performances of this stature on a regular basis.

The opening minutes of the game were certainly scrappy and either side could have taken an early lead – Gervinho was unfortunate not to get a shoot off after make a smart run into the box, Hummels was on hand to get back and do enough to disrupt the Ivorian. At the other end Shinji Kagawa, for the first but certainly not the last time, raced clear of the Arsenal defence and struck his volley over the bar. It was an early warning from the Japanese midfielder who is in only his second season with the Borussians. I mentioned him in yesterday’s blog as one of the German sides danger men and at just 22 years old the former Cerezo Osaka playmaker signed in 2010 for just £250,000 has a big future ahead of him and it’s no surprise that Arsene Wenger has already been credited with an interest in the youngster.

Another of the German teams young stars, who was reportedly a target of the Gunners this summer, Mario Gotze also started the game brightly and as the minutes ticked by it was Jurgen Klopp’s side who looked increasingly likely to take a lead with Arsenal seemingly getting more jittery with every wave of Dortmund attacks.

When possession of he ball was gained it was striking how inafective our players seemed to be with it and at points seemingly unwilling to receive the ball at all – there seemed to be a growing tendency as the half wore on for players to be left isolated with the ball at their feet and no team-mate moving towards the ball, in fact around about the half hour mark it got so bad that after receiving the ball from Szczesny, Kieran Gibbs was so devoid of options that he passed it back to the goalkeeper.

Theo Walcott and Gervinho were both guilty of running straight into opposition players with a degree of regularity – have to say that I do feel that once Gervinho gets a real run of games under his belt he will be dynamite, at the moment it’s his decision-making which lets him down. He could so often lay the ball off or play a pass for a team-mate but chooses to take his man on every time. *In fairness, he was often devoid of that option last night as I said.

Mickey Arteta and Yossi Benayoun seemed unable to really get into the game for much of the first half and while each showed flashes of their undoubted ability they were unable to provide that creative spark we’re expecting from the pair, until…

Benny found RVP on the edge of the Dortmund penalty box with a delightful through ball, the skipper maybe had slightly more time then he realised and didn’t quite hit the shoot with enough power to trouble Weinedfeller. Ten minutes later the Dutchman made up for it…

Robin himself intercepted a poor pass from Sebastian Kehl and the ball fell to Theo Walcott. The captain continued his run towards goal and Theo played the perfect ball back to him. This time Van Persie did everything right and his finish summed up why he is so important to the side and must be kept fit and signed to a new deal. It was a great goal to give us the lead as the clock ticked towards the end of the half.

As the second half began Arsenal’s attacking threat improved but the home sides own prowess in that department didn’t diminish. Kagawa continued to shine and game started to open up a little more.

Gervinho had another decent chance, and while he battled well to keep pushing forward in the face of German interceptions ultimately he couldn’t get his foot through the ball after recovering well from loosing his footing and momentarily falling to the ground.

What followed from then on was wave after wave of German attacks and it felt like only a matter of time until the equalizer came. Szczesny was once again commanding of both his area and the Arsenal defenders in front of him and Koscielny and Mertesacker were the busiest men on the pitch making interceptions and clearances, along with the ever impressive best right back in world football – Bacary Sagna. I have to say that our German centre back could quite easily come in for some criticism going forward but I don’t really think it would be fair – due to his height he can give the impression that he is gangly and unimposing, much in the same way Peter Crouch often is (actually I think the Soke front man is)

Koscielny just keeps impressing me and I still maintain that when Vermaelen is back it is the Frenchman who should partner the Belgian at the back.

Dortmund had a clutch of spurned opportunities as they continued to threaten us and Pat Rice replaced Theo with Emmanuel Frimpong. The Ghanaian lined up alongside Alex Song to offer more protection and Benayoun switched to the left flank in front of Kieran Gibbs.

Neven Subotic and Mario Gotze had great chances to level the score but the Serbs header was directed straight at Szczesny and the teenage German playmaker hit a shoot just wide of the goal.

It started to look as if we were going to see the game out and take the three points home. Andre Santos made his debut coming on in place of Gervinho and it was another push at shoring things up as the minutes ticked by. Chamakh came on at the same time and replaced our captain and goal scorer, so clearly we had decided not to attempt to extend our lead and put the game beyond the home side.

Despite being only minutes away from a hard-fought victory the equalizer came in the form of the all too familiar wonder goal.

With only two minutes of the regulation ninety remaining Dortmund won a free-kick which was cleared away but subsequently fell to the Dortmund sub Perisic who hit a wonderful volley on the edge of the area and into the top right hand corner of our goal.

It was a real body blow and I felt so disappointed for our players, whilst you can argue that the home team deserved a point (and I’m sure they will) I think we were equally deserving of the victory. But in the end perhaps a draw was a fair result especially as BVB had the chance to nick all the points in added time only for Szczesny to make a fantastic save and secure our point.

We all expected this to be a tough test, and most likely our toughest of the group stage, and were all prepared to accept a draw at the outset so all in all there is no room for complaint or disappointment here.

While we were never really able to play an exciting and attacking game credit must go to all the players for putting a shift in and making sure we didn’t start the campaign with defeat. I’ve already mentioned Szczesny, Sagna, Song and Koscielny but props must also go to Benny and Mickey who showed that they can tough it out and mix it with the best of ’em when it’s needed. Praise also has to go to Robin for yet another vital goal, even if it again highlights our reliance on the fragile Dutchman with the dwindling contract.

And also massive credit to Pat Rice, so often derided and criticised. It was telling that in his post match interview Woj said: “Pat motivates us and shouts at us a lot”

I don’t think the Pole was just talking about last night.

Considering we’re so often criticised for not being able to scrap it out this was a performance to take heart from. It’s another step away from what happened at Old Trafford and the players will take the confidence into Saturdays game at Ewood Park.

My post match thoughts have been added to ‘Talking Heads’ on Arsenal.com where you’ll also see  post match reaction added to yesterdays musings by Dan Roebuck & Martin Hayes.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

AST – BVB & Talking Heads.

Well this morning I’m a little bleary eyed and would like to be at home drowning in coffee and Pro Plus but instead I’m at work drowning in a sea of unrelenting voices – I’ll never understand why people feel the need to be so noisy so early in the day?

My tiredness is due to attending last nights Arsenal Supporters Trust meeting (Well actually it’s due to going to the pub after the meeting and getting home six hours before I was due to get up)

It was the first time that Dave & I had attended an AST gathering and I have to say that if you are a member it is well worth getting along, and if you’re not a member then join now. It really does give us supporters a voice and a line to the club and not only that but it also allows for a better understanding of certain club issues and dismiss some of the stories bandied about by the press, a few of those that I found significantly interesting last night were –

  • Mickey Arteta did not take a pay cut to Join Arsenal – The Spaniard had three years left on his contract at Everton and Arsenal have given him a four year deal worth £70k pw.
  • As Arteta has no resale value he will cost the club £25m in total
  • The club made a £15m profit during the transfer window which puts the Transfer Proceeds Account (TPA) at around £50m.
  • Abou Diaby earns £60k per week which is significantly higher than the £48k Luka Modric earns down the road.
  • Arsene Wenger is in total control of all footballing matters including player purchases, sales and salaries. This includes the spate of late signings made by the club as the transfer window closed. There was no pressure put on Wenger by any board member, executive or owner before or after the 8-1 mauling at Old Trafford, in fact up to that point Arsene was content with the signings he had made earlier in the summer but in the wake of that result and the injuries sustained by Jack & Tommy the manager decided to change tack.
  • The fan share scheme has gained more than 2000 members in less than a year but as there is a shortfall of available shares the scheme may have to be paused. Indeed the best source of available shares are those of the dearly departed.
  • After initially backing the fan share scheme Stan Kroenke has cooled his interest since taking control of the club, Alisher Usmanov has followed suit. The Russian has mooted that he would match any funds/shares committed to the scheme by Kroenke and indeed is doing just that at the moment, the joint level of investment by the clubs major shareholders currently stands at 0.
  • Usmanov is a regular attendee of games and now has a ‘Super Box’ at the Emirates having knocked through and joined two boxes. The money for this came from his own pocket.
  • The AST are in constant dialogue with the club and in particular Ivan Gazidas, further meetings are planned and the trust are pushing for Stanley to address the supporters and set out his ambition and direction with regards to the club

Fellow bloggers Le GroveAshburton Grove have also posted their thoughts on the meeting which I recommend reading, if you haven’t already. And also cast an eye over  this piece by Gooneroobs.

And so on to tonight’s Champions League game against Borussia Dortmund –

On paper this is arguably our toughest game of the group stage, Dortmund are the reining Bundesliga Champions and whilst they saw the departure of a key player this summer with Nurit Sahin moving to Real Madrid, the German side certainly have a squad capable of reducing the impact of that loss. In Mario Gotze they have a readymade replacement, who is himself much sought after and was subject to interest from Arsenal. But while Die Schwarzgelben are certainly strong in midfield where they have Sebastian Kehl, Shinji Kagawa & Sven Bender as well as Gotze, It’s at the back that I believe they are at their strongest and in particular the centre back pairing of Neven Subotic and Mats Hummels.

We’ll need to be at our attacking best against the two solid centre halves and Mickey Arteta, making his Champions League debut for the club, could hold the key to unlocking the German defence and creating openings for the likes of Van Persie.

That said the Borussians last line of defence is equally as talented as any of their outfield players. Whilst Roman Wieldenfella may not be a household name the young goalkeeper has certainly caught the eye of former Arsenal stopper Jens Lehmann who has called for his compatriot to be installed as the number one of the German national side.

In defence Per Mertesacker should be able to provide us with the inside track on our opponents having just switched leagues and the big defender should be right at home facing players he is familiar with.

Whilst we see Alex Song and Gervinho return to the 18 man squad we’ve lost Aaron Ramsey and Tommy Rosicky to injury. With the attacking threat the German side pose I think it likely that we may see the reappearance of Frimpsong tonight, the pair would allow an extra level of protection to the back four whilst similarly allowing our attacking players to get forward. However in order for that to work both Song & Frimmers will need to be disciplined enough to work in tandem and the Cameroonian in particular will have to curb his own attacking instincts.

My line up would be – Szczesny – Sagna – Koscielny – Mertesacker – Gibbs – Song – Frimpong – Arteta – Walcott – Van Persie – Gervinho.

I’ve been lucky enough to contribute on the official club websites ‘Talking Heads’ preview of the game along with Dan Roebuck & Martin Hayes and you can see that by clicking here.

As I’ve said in the preview I think we’re capable of nabbing three point but I would certainly be happy with one. It promises to be a great game, both sides like to play attacking football so we can expect it to be end to end stuff.

Thanks for reading & enjoy the game wherever you’re watching it.

Paul.

Swansea City Preview

So here we are then, our first game since the crushing defeat at the hands of Manchester United and a chance to get back onto that splendid animal – the three point pony.

Bigger than Arshavin

Since the Old Trafford trashing we’ve seen the make up of our side change significantly thanks to the crop of new signings and the batch of further departures – by now you all know the players who make up those two groups so I won’t attempt to cover old ground.

Today is the first chance we’ve have to see some of the new guys, and that anticipation has certainly helped to whet the appetite of Gooners and make the brain numbingly dull international break just about bearable. It’s been a very odd few weeks, almost like a mini close season, signing players but having to wait for the chance to see them play. In some ways it’s almost like the season stopped and is about to burst back in to life. Well that’s brilliant because we could certainly do with a fresh start and fresh impetus, although it’s slightly disappointing that we can’t wipe out everything that has happened in our previous three league games and start from scratch for real but this is real life and not the work of science fiction, the league table is still as depressing to look at as a bus timetable in a remote town that doesn’t have any buses – until you spot Tottenham right at the foot of the table.

Skeletor

The really great news is that Sebastian Squillaci is ruled out of the game – the Frenchman has a calf injury and whilst I have provided the clubs medical team with my thoughts on amputation as treatment, they seem unprepared to go down that route. I must admit I do feel slightly sorry for Skellaci, he really has become the target for all our ire since the departures of Clichy, Eboue, Traore, Denilson & Bendtner. The fact that old skull face can come in for such criticism when he hasn’t even set foot on a football pitch this season doesn’t seem to be a deterrent for our frustrations however.

Squillaci

Other absentees include perma-crock Abou Diaby (I’ve included a picture of the Frenchman just in case you’ve no idea who he is). It’s interesting that during the past week I’ve bemoaned Diaby’s permanently injured state of being to four Gooners on four separate occasions and in each case they’ve all said “I think he could still be a quality player for us”. I don’t necessarily disagree with that outlook, he is undoubtedly a talented footballer but when he has been able to literally stand on his own two feet it often appears to have an adverse effect on his brain and he begins to play football like a jellyfish trapped in a Pringles tube.

Print & Frame

Jack Wilshere and Tommy Vermaelen are also missing through injury and we’re unlikely to see either player return to the side until we’re all cursing the sun for setting at four in the afternoon. I’ve seen a couple of rumours that Tommy’s injury and subsequent operation are thanks to him tripping over a mop bucket whilst showing Jack around out medical facilities with which the Belgian became so familiar with himself last year, these rumours are not true and neither are those that suggest Tommy Rosicky will be missing this weekend because he is busy making sure neither Jack nor TV use his favourite treatment table, but sadly the rumours that the Czech midfielder will miss the game after suffering a knock whilst on international duty are true.

Alex Song & Gervinho see out their suspensions and Andre Santos may not be fully match fit. Other than that we have a full squad too choose from, so in Arsenal terms it’s pretty much a full squad. Incredible scenes.

And so we turn to who may make up the starting eleven for the visit of the newly promoted Welsh side…

I’m sure Arsene is sat there now alongside Pat Rice, photos of Szczesny, Fabianski, Mannone & Almunia spread out in front of them and dramatic music playing in the back ground. Don’t let any video footage of that situation fool you, it’s all for dramatic effect – Wojciech must be the first name on the team sheet these days.

Woj

In front of the Pole, and slightly to the right will be the returning Bacary Sagna from illness and what a welcome return it is. On the opposite flank Kieran Gibbs can expect to start the game as Andre Santos while included in the squad is short of match fitness. It’s still no clear which man will become the regular left back, on the one hand Wenger has often noted his reluctance to “kill” a players career whilst on the other hand you are unlikely to see the Frenchman splash millions of pounds on a Brazilian international to then just leave him sat on the bench.

Get up Gibbo, you're playing!

What is good is that Gibbs has competition for the spot, he was never going to get that from Armand Traore after Clichy joined City and whilst we’re all disappointed with Vermaelen suffering another injury it’s a blessing in disguise when you consider that the signings of Santos would have been unlikely to happen had Tommy been fit at the close of the transfer window.

Of course we would all love to see Vermaelen at the heart of our defence tomorrow but as that isn’t going to happen we’re set to see yet another centre back pairing for the third game in a row. New Arsenal ‘Wunderverteidiger’ Per Mertesacker will undoubtedly be paired with Laurent Koscielny and I think that the two could work very well alongside each other. They’re both readers of the play who like to watch and intercept the ball rather than defend by pushing people over and closing out space but I think it could be a successful combination at least in the short term. I should make it clear that while I consider Mertesacker to be more of a cultured defender than a John Terry type of player I certainly think the German has the fierceness and battling qualities required at this level, and don’t expect him to give much away to opponents less they want to receive a good kicking.

Mertz won’t be the only Arsenal debutant tomorrow as Mickey Arteta is certain to line up in midfield with Aaron Ramsey and the returning Emmanuel Frimpong against the swans. Our new Spanish heartthrob has been wowing youngsters and first teamers alike during training this week and I think he’ll provide that creative guile we’ve so obviously lacked more much of the season so far but as we know he is quite a combative player too so he’ll be offering a bit more of a defensive element to our midfield which will be a benefit to Frimmers.

Dreamboat

Mickey’s introduction also elevates some of the pressure from Rambo – those who, unlike me, saw the Welshman against England on Tuesday night will know that he was sensational but as I’ve said before we can not expect that level of performance from the lad every game, it just isn’t fair to put that on him at this stage in his Career. We all know that the time will, hopefully, come when alongside Jack, the Welsh captain will be considered the lynchpin of our side but we can’t have that level of expectation now.

It’ll be good for Frimpong to get back in the fold after his dismissal in our previous home game, and without doing Swansea a disservice it’s maybe an easier ride then the Ghanaian received against Liverpool. It’s great that the mystery ankle injury that kept him out of Stuart Pearce’s clutches seems to have cleared up without any medical intervention. You may even say that it is DEEEENCH!?

DEENCH

Up top I’m expecting to see the trio of Theo, Robin & Andrei. There have been suggestions that we could see Banayoun make his debut but personally I think that, again no offence to Swansea, after the restricted side he fielded against United Wenger will want to play as strong as an experienced side as possible. Whilst Yosi certainly has plenty in the way of experience, particularly of this league, I just think that le boss will err on the side of caution and stick with the little Russian who by all accounts gave a great account of himself in his countries recent internationals.

I suggested via Twitter earlier in the week that I thought that AOC could be given his full debut this afternoon but with everything I have just said about playing a more experienced side then think it would be remiss of me to suggest that the young Englishman, who made an explosive introduction to the U21’s on Monday night, could be granted a starting spot.

National Treasure

That said we do have to consider that we have a tough game against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League on Tuesday night and whilst our first three points of the season are most certainly the priority first and foremost we should have half an eye on that game and be making sure we can field a strong side at Signal Iduna Park.

Talking of Park’s, see what I did there…? Yesterday afternoon Ju was stranded in Paris due to problems with his visa, so looks unlikely to play any part in the game.

Set for a weekend in Paris

With regard to tomorrow’s opponents I’ll admit that I know little about them and aside from their opening game, and subsequent defeat at the United Stadium I’ve seen nothing at all of them this season. They certainly gave a good account of themselves against City on that Monday night and whilst the Mancunians allowed the Welshmen to play the football they enjoy and which helped them gain promotion last season it was ultimately futile as the score line reflected the one sided nature of the contest.

Could be Mannone's Dad...

Brendan Rodgers side are yet to score a league goal in their opening three fixtures but we certainly shouldn’t be taking their threat lightly especially when we think back to the two home defeats we suffered in the early part of last season at the hands of newly promoted sides. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the swans get of the mark, in terms of goals scored, but this really is a game we should win comfortably and expect us to do so.

Big Dave is here tomorrow with a post match report so be sure to come and have a read of that.

Right here’s to three points and a glut of goals.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

Travels, Villains & Heroes

Well with Champions League qualification secured, the draw for the group stage complete & a trip to Old Trafford coming up on Sunday it feels like the season has really kicked up a gear after a somewhat whimpering start.

The balls of fate

Lets start with our Champions League group shall we –

It isn’t the easiest group (F) we could have had but it certainly is one that I believe we can qualify from. What immediately strikes you is the fact that we’ll have no marathon travels with our opponents Olympique de Marseille, Olympiacos and Borussia Dortmund being based in France, Greece & Germany respectively. The fact we’ll be playing in local Europe rather than the far off former outposts of the Eastern Block is a real positive as is the fact that we’ll see decent continental opposition visit the grove over the next few months.

You have to look at how our fixture list has worked around these group games and see that as a massive result.

Don't go back to Dortmund... I mean Dalston.

After the home game against Swansea (Sept 10th) we travel to Dortmund to face Tommy Rosicky’s former club on September 13th. The home tie with Olympiacos on September 28th is sandwiched between the visit of Owen Coyle’s Bolton Wanderers to the grove (Sept 24th) and the first NLD in Riotsville on October 2nd. We travel to the south of France on October 19th which is either side of home games against Sunderland (Oct 15th) & Stoke City Rugby Club (Oct 22nd)

Marseille come to London (Nov 1st) just a few days after our annual visit to Stamford Bridge (Oct 29th) & a few days before the trip to the Hawthorns (Nov 5th). We travel to Norwich on November 19th, play host to Borussia Dortmund on the 23rd then have a day out by the river & face Fulham on the 26th. We face Wigan at the DW on December 3rd then travel to Greece for the return against Olympiacos on the 6th before facing David Moyes Everton back at home on the 10th.

So all in all there isn’t a great deal of travelling to be done, even with our away games in the league, which you would like to think will be a real advantage. There is no doubt that the three foreign sides will make life anything but easy, especially when they are on home soil but I think that we can progress from the group and into the knock-out rounds.

Run by Steve Williams

I hope Samir Nasri is disappointed that he has missed the chance of facing his former side, I hope it is eating him up inside, that he didn’t sleep last night and that he’ll have to spend the next six months in a medical room at the United Stadium which is most likely run by someone who was once associated with our club (As that seems to be the way that City operate)

"Yeah, Sky Walker... Like 'im good player, good player"

Speaking of former players & people we don’t like… I see Adebayor has joined that lot down the road for a seasons loan. What a coming together of the forces of darkness that is! I wonder what pop star the Togolese journey man will compare his new club too? I’m guessing if by his reckoning AC Milan are Beyonce then the spuds can’t be anywhere above Susan Boyle? I give it two days until old ball bag face is lauding his new signing as the best striker in Europe & two months before the two of them are slagging each other off in the current bun.

Right enough of horrible bastards we don’t like lets focus on a proper Gooner –

A new hope

Wojciech Szczesny has been talking about the teams self belief & also how his wonder save against Udinese was nothing of the sort. Jeez, he is modest too – what a guy!

The Pole isn’t the only one who has been discussing the sides self belief RVP & Jenks have been at it too whilst Tommy Vermaelen has clearly been reading this blog because he has also started talking about ‘Positive Thinking’.

We’re still being linked with the players we’ve been linked to for months but as yet we’re seemingly no closer to securing signatures, that said it was telling that Ivan Gazidas wasn’t at the Champions League draw yesterday. You can only assume (and hope) that he is busy down in the bat cave attempting to bolster the ranks. In fact David Miles was at the draw and intimated that we are indeed pressing on with trying to get deals done and will be doing so until the transfer window closes.

A foot note to that is that in order for any new player to be eligible for the trip to OT on Sunday deals must be complete in their entirety by mid day today. Doubtful is the word that comes to mind, followed by unlikely…

"Oi! Woolnough, shut it!"

Now apparently Arsene won’t be speaking to the men from the written press today for reasons which are unclear, but on the day that old red nose kissed and made up with aunty  many journos including Matt Law from the Express jumped on Wenger and criticised him for it via Twitter. In fairness to Matt he reigned in his criticism when it was pointed out to him that Wenger was more than willing to talk to him and many others in Italy on the day of the Udinese clash which was incidentally the day we sold Samir Nasri. It’s all something and nothing really but it’s somewhat telling that as soon as Wenger has lifted his reputation out of the gutter, when many said it couldn’t be done, they find a new stick to beat him down with.

Well that’s it for today – we’ll have a bit more of a look towards Sundays clash with United tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.

Paul.

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