Arsenal 0 – 0 Marseille : I’m not complaining

Morning Gooners…

I’m tired, I didn’t get enough sleep last night. I’m cranky enough at the best of times, when I’m short on shut-eye I’m a real treat…
 
But despite that and despite Arsenal’s inability to beat Marseille and seal qualification from the group last night, I’m not going to be making too many complaints this morning *NB – What follows is likely to contain some complaints but just not too many.
 
Reflecting back on the game without the aid of having watched the game back or read any match reports, I think we had the better chances to win the game – In the first half Rambo spurned a decent opportunity to move closer to his goals target of double figures for the season. Andre Santos’ cross across Mandanda’s goal was perfect but the Welshman was unable to apply the finish and his touch sent the ball high and wide. Theo also had a fantastic opportunity to at least test the French ‘keeper but rather than fire a shoot straight off he delayed, took an extra and unnecessary touch and the chance went begging. After his dazzling performance at the bridge on Saturday it was disappointing to see Theo revert back to the ineffective and indecisive player who causes so much frustration.
 
In all we had seven shots on target compared to Marseilles one, so talk from Deschamps suggesting his side should have won are maybe as far wide of the mark as an Arsenal free-kick (Assuming said free-kick gets over the wall). I will admit that the visitors probably just about shaded it as the better side on the night but it’s a bit of a stretch to suggest they should have won – I’m aware that doesn’t quite make sense but it does give further indication of our attacking impotence last night. I said in yesterdays post that I would have started Van Persie and had Park on the bench, Wenger thought the opposite. I really like the South Korean so I’m not going to rip him apart here but he was largely ineffective. It wasn’t for want of effort and endeavour, he kept going for the sixty-two minutes he was on the park (pun intended) and was always looking to be involved. It was just maybe one of those nights where things don’t quite click. I’ll say one thing for the former Monaco front man, as pointed out by Big Dave, he wins every header he goes for.. I’m not sure what that offers us this morning but on the whole it can be no bad thing, knowing that we’ve a player with the ability to use his height but not become reliant upon. The boss suggested after the game that he had made a mistake and that we may have been better off starting the Dutchman from the off (This is becoming a habit isn’t it Arsene…)
 
Gervinho was another of our front men who wasn’t quite at the races, I think the Ivorian created two or three good chances but on the whole it was another example of his poor decision making. There was a point where Theo was in acres of space but ‘Vinho (I just made that up, kudos to me?) picked out Ramsey instead but the Wales skipper was surrounded by blue shirts and quickly lost possession. To be fair to ‘Vinho (yep I’m sticking with that) he looked dead on his feet in the later stages of the game and it’s not surprise really, he has been working his socks off of late and he wasn’t the only one to suffer in that manner.
 
I thought Alex Song was the only player to pick up where he left off on Saturday. I know the Cameroonian has his critics still but I think that very quietly he is growing with every game and is starting to be a bit of a lynchpin in that midfield trio.
 
I expect that much will be made of the Varmaelen and Mertesacker partnership at centre half, the pair certainly played will together and it was nice to see us keep a clean sheet even when we have a goalkeeper pulling out Cruyff turns in the penalty box. Some might now suggest that Wenger has made his choice and Laurent Koscielny has been the unlucky one, but in truth the manager was surely giving the Frenchman a breather. Larry has played a lot of football so far this season and with Tommy V back this was the right choice by Arsene. I am starting to wonder if rather then the gaffer picking a first choice two from Tommy, Mertz and Larry he may just rotate a little? That wouldn’t be such a bad thing, I think we’ve seen that any permutation of pairing can work well so it could be the way to go.
 
A draw is far from the worst result but Dortmund beating Olympiacos in the other game in the group any two of the four teams can still get through to the knock-out stage so our home game against the Germans later this month is a key game. I think mathematically we can still progress with two more points from the possible six that remain on offer but we all know that we need to win the group and I don’t think two draws will allow us that opportunity.
 
There may be a few reports this morning saying we’ve crashed back down to earth and all that jazz but the level headed amongst us never considered that a run of wins including an away drubbing of Chelsea had cleared away all the early season doubts and fears and that we would hit a bit of a wall at some point. We’re not having to eat humility flavoured porridge this morning. Thoughts now turn to Saturdays game against West Brom and the players have a few days now to catch their breath.
 
My biggest disappointment of last night was seeing that Emmanuel Frimpong doesn’t quite know how to get into the ground. The Ghanaian drove up St Thomas’s Road in his DEEEEENCH Mobile about forty-five minutes before kick off (without stopping to give me a lift) and clearly got to the top of the road to find he had gone the wrong way. Two minutes later he was driving back down the street towards Finsbury Park… Silly Frimmers.
 
Well that is me done for now, so thanks for reading and enjoy your day.
 
Cheers.
 
Paul.
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Marseille Preview: All to play for

 

Tonight we face Marseille in the Champions League – A win will up our points tally to 10 and open a clear gap between us and the other three sides in the group regardless of the result in the Dortmund – Olympiacos game. However, should we beat OM and Die Schwarzgelben pick up their first three group points we’ll see our qualification to the last sixteen secured.
 
At the moment the group is pretty tight and all four sides currently have at least a mathematical chance to progress to the knock out stage so we’re set to see a fairly open game at the grove this evening. While we’ve been busy swatting aside all comers of late L’OM have been busy putting together a little run of their own since our win at the Stade Velodrome beating AC Ajaccio, Lens & Dijon in the three games. So we can expect the French side to be reinvigorated and with the chance to take our place at the top of the group on offer it all has the makings of a great game because I think we can all agree that we won’t be sitting back and looking to take a point or hold onto a lead – we just don’t do that.
 
What is important is winning the group, taking our foot of the gas and finishing second last season presented us with a two leg knock out tie with Barcelona. Now I’ve always been of the opinion that if you want to win a competition you’ve got to play and beat the best sides at some point, but at the same time I understand that facing ‘lesser sides’ as such is an advantage and you also hope that the further you go in a knock out competition the more confidence and belief you build. I’m not suggesting we’ll go on and win the Champions League this season but if you’re not going to aim to win then why bother taking part (aside from the masses and masses of millions it earns you) ? Also we’re the Arsenal, we should never ever settle for a quarter final place (or fourth place in the league) at least not while it is still possible to achieve much more.
 
In terms of team news, we’ve suffered no fresh injuries from Saturday. Yossi Benayoun returns to the squad after impressing in the Carling Cup win last week and being ineligible to face his parent club Chelsea. Thomas Vermaelen and Carl Jenkinson are pushing for starting births. While their injuries are not related to Saturdays win Marouane Chamakh and Abu Diaby miss out again with knee and hamstring injuries respectively. The Moroccan (That is a country nowhere near Iraq so if you’re a singer of that ridiculous song just stop it right now. There is almost three thousand miles between the countries) has a knee injury, but there has been no time frame put on his absence and Ab-Who is set for another three weeks on the sidelines, Wenger says he is worried for his country man but not as worried as he was three months ago when he was worried
 
The boss said yesterday that he hasn’t decided on his line-up yet but I think we may well see a few changes from the weekend but with qualification and top stop still in the balance I’m not sure this is the best time to go resting too many players – I’m thinking of Robin & Rambo in particular here.
 
If the Dutchman is rested then the only replacement we have is Ju and in I think it would benefit the South Korean if he does get some game time, but my choice would be to see him come from the bench.
 
I know that Stan Kroenke has been talking and that is something I’ll be taking a bit more of a look at during the international break. I know it will be old news by then but we’ve got two big games before we have to spend two weeks being bored to tears and frankly I would rather concentrate on those games. But if you want to know what our Stanley has been saying then you can have a read of the Mirror’s full transcript here.
 
Sadly I have to do the job that pays me now, rather then just do parts of it like I have been since I got into the office just after half past seven…
 
I’m really looking forward to the game tonight, I think it will be another big test for this team but one we can overcome so here’s to another Arsenal victory.
 
Enjoy the game wherever you are watching it and lets get together about this time tomorrow and discuss it shall we?
 
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.

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.

When I grow up…. I want to be a Football Agent

John-Marc Bosman has a lot to answer for doesn’t he?

With a bit of hindsight, I wish I’d found out what qualifications a Football Agent needed when I was at school. I would have done it, because now (at age 31) I think I could have retired – Let’s face it; I was never good enough to be a professional footballer, so surely becoming a rich man on the back of them is the next best thing.

The Bosman ruling came into force in 1995, I don’t think anyone could have imagined the effect it (plus the increase in TV and Champions League money) would have on the value of a player’s contract.

We have seen this summer (with Samir Nasri) that when you get to a certain stage of your contract, the player holds all the cards. I won’t bleat about this! Let’s face it; we have been the beneficiaries of such situations in the past. Obviously most people won’t be too overjoyed how we benefited from Bordeaux with Marouane Chamakh, but let’s not forget our ultimate scoop in getting Big Sol from behind enemy lines. We have also made the most of this country having a differing employment law to that of the continent, being able to offer players full-time contracts before the country of their origin (you know who I’m talking about).

The issue we have now, is that a few of our first team squad will be in the same position as Nasri was this summer unless they sign a new deal in the next 6 months. More importantly, our captain and vice-captain are included in their numbers.

Overall, I don’t criticise players for wanting to get the best deal for themselves, but there is definitely a limit to where my empathy will go. What a lot of us fan’s struggle to come to terms with, is that everyone in the first team squad is on more money a year then we will earn in a lifetime (*if this doesn’t apply to you then congratulations). Therefore, why are they being so greedy? The thing is, it’s all relative. We may consider £30,000 pa a decent wage. For a footballer, that’s the weekly for their first decent contract. I don’t like it, but the money’s in the game, where else is it going to go?

Before I discuss the players in question, let me first admit that I have no links with the players and the club. My knowledge of their contracts comes purely from what I think is common knowledge, and what a basic internet search tells me. If I’m wrong, then please feel free to put me right in the comments section.

From what I can make out, Thomas Rosicky’s contract is due to expire at the end of this season. I think many people will reluctantly say, ‘thank you and goodbye’ to the Czech. From a move that promised so much when he signed just before the 2006 World Cup, he has disappointed in the last few years. Granted, injury’s have taken their toll, and robbed him of some of the prime years of his career, but it’s time to say goodbye.

The players that are more interesting are those who contracts expire at the end of 2012. There may be more, but Robin Van Persie, Thomas Vermaelen, Theo Walcott and Andre Arshavin are the focus of this article. I put them in this order intentionally too, as it is (in my opinion) their order of importance to the club but.. I’m going to look at them in reverse order starting with Andre Arshavin.

The diminutive Russian has flattered to deceive for many Arsenal fans in the last three years. We have been treated to moments of brilliance, but they have been too few and far between. After his heroics at Anfield in 2009, we all thought we had signed a world beater, but that would prove to be a flash in the pan. My main problem with him is his work rate. The formation we play means that it leaves our full-backs extremely exposed, and this is amplified when the person playing in front of you doesn’t work hard enough. He would argue he should have been given more of a chance playing centrally (in the midfield), but I don’t think Wenger can trust him in there due to his lack of physicality. With respect to his contract, he is going to be 31 at the end of this season. How much money would we get for a 31-year-old player with only a year to go in his contract? The answer should be not much, but with some of the silly money rolling around in Russia at the moment, we can’t be too sure. If both Zenit St. Petersburg and Anzhi Makhachkala are interested in the Russian captain, there is a chance we might get a few quid for him. If that’s the case, I definitely think we should cash in. If they are not too interested, then I would be inclined to hold onto him and let his contract run down.

Theo is a totally different kettle of fish to Andre. Firstly, he will only be 23 at the end of this season. Secondly, he is English! Theo is a very frustrating player for Arsenal. He is capable of turning a game on its head with his pace, but just as capable of looking like he has never seen a football before let alone kicked or controlled one. We understand, however, that Chelsea made an inquiry for him this summer. Reports out in the continent suggest that Juventus are also interested in the speedster. His pace is such a threat that it scares teams to death, they defend deeper, and that creates more space on the pitch. We need to hold onto Theo in my opinion. It wouldn’t surprise me if he is looking for some element of assurance that he’s going to be given a chance as a central striker – For this to happen on a regular basis, I think we need to change our formation. I can’t see our manager doing that, so Wenger’s silver tongue will be needed to convince Walcott of his future. This isn’t as so when the manager’s own future is being brought into question. My initial inclination is that Theo will sign a new deal, even if there is a clause in it that he can leave for X amount of money for a Champions League club (presuming we do not make it).

The missing link for us last season, and the start of this one, could arguably be Thomas Vermaelen. He has been fantastic since he signed for us two years ago. The partnership he built with William Gallas looked as solid as we’ve had here for a long time. As the song went at Craven Cottage at the end of last season, ‘we missed him all year’ last year. He has also been the most quiet about his future, and so it is hard to gauge what his stand point is. There have been no rumblings from other clubs, and hopefully that is because is agent isn’t agitating for movement. That fact is though, teams throughout Europe will be interested. There is a massive linchpin in Thomas’s situation though, and that’s how he returns from his latest injury. All parties (Arsenal, Thomas, his agent & prospective buyers) will be looking to see if he can regain his form of 18 months ago. If he gets a few good months under his belt, you will start to hear noises from other clubs. My view is, we should try to tie him down before he looks the finished article again. Then, hope our faith and loyalty will be reciprocated by the player. It’s a very difficult one to gauge but I’m hoping he will stay, and provide what we’ve been missing for the last year or so.

Finally, and most importantly we have our captain – Robin van Persie. For obvious reasons, he has been the most talked about player. All reports (the validity of them could be questioned though) suggest that Robin is looking for assurances that we are going to compete on the pitch. Unfortunately, on this season’s evidence, we haven’t really put much weight behind our argument. Maybe he is waiting to see what Ivan and Arsene have up their sleeves for the January transfer window? Many Gooners would argue (me being one of them) that the amount of time he’s spent in the treatment rooms in the last 8 years warrants a little bit more loyalty than his current posture is perhaps suggesting. I know loyalty is becoming rarer and rarer in football, but I’m a romantic and think there could still be a place for it the modern game. Saying that, I don’t really blame our club captain for asking questions about where the club is going. Let’s face it; we’ve been doing the same thing recently. We will be asking him to sign a (minimum) four-year contract. Who knows what sort of position we will be in then? I don’t think you can underestimate how important Robin’s commitment is to the short to mid-term future of the club. What message does it send out to the current squad, and prospective imports, if your captain and talisman’s future is uncertain? One of the worrying factors is Robin has moved to Darren Dein for his agent services, a man who has previous for engineering players moves away from North London. I hope it doesn’t set a precedent. I’m going to lead with my heart rather than my head on this one, and predict that we convince Robin that his future lays at the Gunners. Fingers crossed.

You will notice that I haven’t talked about wages for the four players in question. It may sound ridiculous, but I don’t think that money will be the ultimate motivation for their departure or stay. I think Thomas, Theo and Robin will be given their desired pay deal (even if it involves breaking the current wage structure).

These are pivotal months for the current playing squad. You cannot replace players like this very easily. That said, we are Arsenal, we will continue to be a big club even if they do all go. This is not going to be a rarity in the future. Every season we will have similar battles to retain our top stars. It’s not just an Arsenal issue; every team around the world will have the same problem. Thanks a lot John-Marc Bosman…

Thanks for reading.

Dave (Follow me on Twitter @bigdavetaylor)

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.

Jack: Why… and what now?

Sunday’s revelations that young Jack Wilshere is going to be out until November has been met with much distress by many an Arsenal fan. Injuries are of course a part of the game, and every club has them. The question we all seem to be asking is; why do we always seem to get more than anyone else? *This morning we’ve awoken to the news that Thomas Vermaelen is set for another spell on the sidelines, but we’ll get to that at the end of Dave’s post (Paul)

Jack loves a tackle

Let’s start with Jack. One of the things that endeared him to us all (apart from his fantastic vision and skill) is his ability to take knocks – pick himself up – dust himself off – and get on with the game. I’m sure Wenger had no intention on him playing the 50+ games he did for club and country last year. It was a culmination of Wenger being under intense pressure, other players having injury’s (Cesc/Rambo/Diaby/Rosicky) and ultimately Jack playing in a manner that was making him undroppable. It’s very easy (and I see many doing it) criticising the manager in hindsight, but if Arsene had dropped him last year, we all would have been up in arms demanding the reintroduction of our talisman, which at the time he undoubtedly was. It does show, however, why Arsene was so against him going away with the Under 21’s. Personally I don’t understand why, after getting his way about the U21 situation, he didn’t give Jack an extended holiday and let him recover fully. I could then go on to say how we should have brought Arteta/Benayoun in July so he wouldn’t be missed as much, but I’d just be covering old ground.

At the end of the day the manager made his decision, and now he must deal with the consequences. I’m sure he regrets playing him ‘in the red zone’ but what choice did he have. If he’s rested him for any of Liverpool (H), Spurs (A), Bolton (A) or United (H) last season there would have been mass hysteria amongst the fans.

Going on to the larger picture of the injury history we’ve had over the last few years, I’m a little bit undecided. Firstly I’m in no doubt that our players are some of the fittest in the game. It’s one of the reasons we seem to be able to cause major problems in the final ten minutes of the game but, like a precision piece of machinery, the more highly tuned and intricate it is, the more chance there is that it will go wrong. There is also a school of thought that we just seem to have accumulated fragile players (although I think that’s a little bit too simplistic).

The good doctor

I have heard people criticise our medical team, but I refuse to believe that we haven’t got the best we can get in that department. I’ve always felt a little bit sorry for Colin Lewin. Since his cousin Gary (still the only physio I’ve heard have his name sung by fans in the stands) went to work full-time with the England set-up, Colin seems to have taken flack from some quarters as if to suggest he isn’t as good a physiotherapist. Now, this might be true, but none of us really know. What I am sure of is that if Colin wasn’t as strong as Gary, Arsenal would have replaced him before now. We do have a wealth of experience in the medical team. Club doctor Gary O’Driscoll (who is also Brian O’Driscoll’s cousin) has worked for the Irish Rugby team and the British & Irish Lions as well as Arsenal. Although rugby is a totally different sport with different injuries, if he felt we were doing something wrong then I’m sure he would make it known or at least be attempting to improve things.

Bad techniques?

The one thing left to analyse is our training techniques. We all know Wenger has been credited with revolutionary training systems since he arrived in England 15 years ago. It is now, however, coming under scrutiny. Wales’ Dutch conditioning coach (Raymond Verheijen), who has a huge amount of experience in both domestic and International football, has openly criticised Arsene Wenger’s set-up. He seems to think we train at too high an intensity. I suppose you are then in the catch 22 of not being as fit (as I’m sure that’s why our players can keep going when others can’t) or having more injuries. I don’t know enough to judge it myself, but I do know Arsenal have had their training independently reviewed recently, so maybe times they are a changing. It doesn’t bring Jack back any quicker though does it!?!

So, we have to get used to life on the pitch without young Mr. Wilshere for now. Let’s face it at least we have an alternative option now. Obviously, in the immediate future, a lot depends on what condition people return from International duty in. Rambo has almost been expected to take on the mantle this season, somewhat unfairly as he & Jack are different types of players, and the Welshman has a massive (and I’m sure bruising) game against England to get through unscathed tomorrow night before we can start counting on his inclusion against Swansea. I’m sure many people will assume that Arteta will just slot into the advanced midfielder slot and therefore be a direct replacement for Cesc. If you have watched Arteta over the years for Everton though, since he moved centrally from wide right, he sits a lot deeper than people realise (much the same as Jack). He also is a lot more combative than people give him credit for (much the same as Jack). In fact, I think our new signing would be more comfortable filling Jack’s boots than he would Cesc’s.

A new hope

This still gives us the problem of who is going to fill the advanced role of the midfield trio. Well Yossi ‘No medical’ Benayoun could play that role, but I’m not sure having two new signings in the midfield straight away would be wise. This is especially poignant as the third is likely to be the young and inexperienced (albeit highly regarded) Emmanuel Frimpong. I think for the Swansea game (injuries permitting) Rambo will play and he and Arteta will share the playmaking responsibilities. Are we then in danger though, of getting into a similar position with young Aaron as we are with Jack? He is (along with Monkey Boy Bale) the poster boy of the Welsh team and at the moment I can’t see him getting much rest!

There is a school of thought that Arshavin should be given the chance to show what he can do centrally. The Swansea game would arguably be an ideal time to do this, but with the start we’ve had I think we just need to get three points and build.

What is the Russian for 'Pull your finger out'?

I always get a little bit restless during the Interlull, but I can’t wait for the two home games we’ve got coming up. We will get the chance to see all the new signings (if not against Swansea then against Shrewsbury). Plus I think many of us see Saturday as a chance to get back on the horse again after licking our Manchester United inflicted wounds. League wise, we are entering a three game run where we should be looking at a minimum 7 point haul if we want to take something substantial into the derby on the 2nd October.

Either way, it’d be nice to talk about football again rather than transfers and injuries.

Thanks for reading.

Dave

*Well sadly its injuries that are once again the major Arsenal talking point. As reported at the top of this post Thomas Vermaelen is set to miss the next two months after undergoing surgery on his ankle in Stockholm yesterday.

Broken again

It’s a major blow to both the player & the team, we’ve only just got used to having the Belgian back after he missed much of last season with an achilles injury.

It seems that this is just pure bad luck, the centre half took a kick in the game against Udinese and has failed to recover sufficiently during the intervening fortnight leading the club to sanction surgery in the hope that Tommy can avoid another lengthy enforced absence. The nature of the injury and indeed the medical procedure undertaken to treat it are not as yet clear but all this means that Per Mertesacker is going to have to hit the ground running & form an understanding with Laurent Koscielny.

Instant impact required

There are still many Gooners adamant that we should have signed Gary Cahill ahead of the German, or indeed as well as, and no doubt those voices of discontent will now be crying out again and will go into hyper drive should the German international make even the smallest of mistakes in his first few appearances for the club. If there is indeed an error made by the giant German then I hope that there isn’t a flurry of outrage and cries of ‘Not good enough’ because we’re once again asking a player to step into a team devoid of some of its best and most pivotal players, expecting new additions to instantly fill the breach and look as if they had played in this team their whole careers. Hopefully that is what will happen but we can’t go heaping expectations or indeed throwing tantrums and call for heads to roll at the sight of slight mishaps.

With any luck Vermaelen will be back much sooner than two month window that has been suggested but until then it is yet another center back partnership for the Arsenal – Mertecielny.

Paul.

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