31st July 2015: Walcott and Cazorla sign extensions ahead of Wembley acid test

Happy Friday Gooners.

Some good news to begin with today because as widely expected for a while now, Theo Walcott has signed a new long-term contract with the club, and it’s reportedly a four-year deal which elevates the England international into our top pay bracket on around £140,000 a week.

And in a double boost for squad stability, Santi Cazorla has also extended his agreement at Arsenal, putting to bed recurring rumours of a switch back to Spain for the awe-inspiringly ambidextrous, former Málaga man.

Santi’s so good, he can take corners with either foot

Frankly, I’m elated. And it sounds like the manager is too. He told Arsenal.com:

We’re delighted to have extended the contracts of Santi and Theo. Both are top quality players who are hugely important and influential to our squad. As well as their huge contributions on the pitch, they both have a great deal of experience and are very popular off the pitch. We’re very pleased with them both signing contract extensions, as it provides our squad with further stability of quality.

I’ve spoken about the qualities of both players in recent posts (here, here and here) and in particular, the Spaniard’s vital importance in the smooth functioning of the side’s pass and move style in all areas of the pitch, so today’s announcement is very, very welcome indeed.

The news should also give the whole club a boost, and strengthen the belief amongst the squad, that if the stick together over a few years, on-pitch telepathy will forge, and team chemistry should become just acidic enough to melt away any opposition standing in our path to the biggest prizes.

And Theo Walcott, who if I’m honest, needs to work on lowering his pH levels, as he’s a little too neutral when it comes to corroding the more physical of opposition defences, has been speaking to Arsenal Player about Sunday’s Community Shield clash with Chelsea, highlighting the Wembley showpiece as an opportunity for the team to lay down a marker ahead of the start of the new Premier League campaign next weekend.

He said:

It’s going to be very tight and I think both squads have improved. Chelsea will grow as well but I think the way that we ended the season, just the whole culture around the club now and everything about it, there’s just something special that will happen this year. Some people will think it’s just another pre-season game but us players want to go out and win every game we can. A lot of kids dream of playing at Wembley so you’ve always got to take it in, put 100 per cent in and I will, like all my team-mates will do too. We won’t want to let our fans down because they’re going to make the game special for us, I’m sure. It’s important to actually put out a message to the Premier League that we’re ready this year, against the title champions. We did it last year against Manchester City so there’s no reason we can’t do it again.

Theo’s England colleague Jack Wilshere, has also been speaking to the official site, explaining how and why, the Gunners are geared up for an assault on the title. He said:

We worked a lot on the first five seconds when we lose the ball. If we can win the ball back in the opposition’s half where, most of the time, when we win it we’ve got the players up front and the quality in midfield to find them… then we’re always going to look dangerous. We didn’t start the season well last year but the way we finished it… if we had played the whole season like that then we could have been champions. If we continue our form from the end of last season when we dominated games with our possession, and we won the ball back in better positions high up the pitch, then we’ve got a real chance. We want to win the league, of course we do. We feel we’ve been together a few years now, we’ve brought in world-class players who have had time to settle, we’ve added a world-class keeper with all of his experience, he’s been there and he’s done it, he’s won everything. So we really feel we’re in a strong position.

Finally for today, the club have confirmed that two of our young prospects have secured loan moves away from the club, with Jon Toral joining Championship side Birmingham City for the entire campaign – which will be his second, successive season in English football’s second tier following his spell at Brentford last term – and Dan Crowley linking up with League One side Barnsley until January.

A third youngster, defender Isaac Haydon, has also reportedly left on loan to work under Steve Bruce at Championship side Hull City for the season, but Arsenal are yet to announce the move.

Best of luck to them all because realistically, with the wealth of talent already at the club, both young and experienced, they have to really impress if they stand any chance of breaking into our first team set-up.

Till Saturday.

30th July 2015: Ramsey reveals armband ambition

Evening all. It’s Thursday already, which means just three more sleeps until we get to see Arsenal finally end our Chelsea hoodoo, with an emphatic five-nil win in the Community Shield at Wembley on Sunday.

According to sources close to the player, Aaron Ramsey will open the scoring with a speculative thirty yard effort, which will ricochet in off Thibaut Courtois’s perilously long nose, before Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain bags a brace – bullying Cesar Azpillicueta into an on-pitch breakdown along the way.

The scoring will then be rounded off by a goal apiece from second-half subs Alex Iwobi and Jeff Reine-Adelaide, with the latter claiming the Man of the Match award despite only playing for four and a half minutes.

Well, either that, or Jose Mourinho will park his bus like the bus-parking, game-wrecking, misogynistic, enemy of football that he is, and they’ll nick it with an offside, fluke of a winner after their incessant diving and referee-haranguing, sees us reduced to eight men.

Anyway, Ramsey has been speaking to ESPN FC at a New Balance boot launch recently, about his worst period as a professional footballer, which followed the career-threatening injury he sustained at Stoke City back in 2010.

Here’s what he said:

It was a difficult time for me, but it’s important in those times never to doubt your ability, because if you start doubting yourself then you’re going to go down a slippery slope — and you never know, you can find yourself shooting down the leagues. That was important, never doubting myself — I always knew what I was capable of doing. It was just trying to figure out how I could do it. The boss [Arsene Wenger] always believed in me. He gave me a new contract in that period and he’s always known what I could do.It was just a case of figuring out how to put things to the back of my mind, psychologically, with what went on with my injury. Then I quickly rediscovered my form.

The Welshman then went on to explain how he worked on his game to become more clinical in front of goal – an endeavour which resulted in him scoring a remarkable 18 goals from 38 appearances in all competitions, from a deep-lying central midfield starting position during the 2013-14 season:

I’ve always been able to get into the box, but in the past I’d been very rash in my finishing, I wasn’t clear with what I was doing in the final third. When it came to shooting, I was very rushed, I wasn’t hitting the ball cleanly. Then [two seasons ago] I composed myself and was able to do it in front of goal, and I reaped the rewards from that.

Ramsey lining up another effort on goal

And he also expressed how he prefers playing centrally, would love to be handed the club captaincy one day having worn the armband in a preseason fixture last summer, and had a few warm words for his manager’s fabled skills in developing young, emerging talent. He said:

I much prefer playing in the centre of the park, that’s where I feel comfortable. I like to be involved as much as I can in the game, and in the middle you’re definitely the heartbeat of the team. When you’re on the right, you can go minutes without seeing the ball, and that’s a long time when you’re out on the pitch. I’ve made a load of appearances now, I definitely feel one of the leaders, but I feel this group of players all have their own leadership skills. It was nice to be given the armband, even though it was just a preseason friendly, but it’s something I would like to do one day, to be captain. It’s a great honour and achievement to do that, I’ve had experience of doing it with my country, it would be nice to do that [for Arsenal] one day. He [Wenger] likes to get young kids with talent and natural ability and turn them into world-class players. He’s done that on many occasions in the past – he’ll continue doing that. His experience, knowing how to deal with [young players] is quite remarkable. He gets his satisfaction from seeing them develop as a player – and as a person as well – and gives them information on the pitch, and opportunities to go out there, play, and express themselves.

I have to confess that Ramsey isn’t a player I’ve ever thought of as captaincy material before, I’m not sure why really, because if you’re looking for a player who leads by example and embodies the class of the club on and off the pitch, then there aren’t many better equipped than the former Cardiff man.

I suppose his relatively young age, plus the fact he doesn’t appear to be the most vocal of players on the pitch has something to do with that, but now that he’s thrown his hat in the ring himself, I’d be the last to trample on it.

All I would say is that there are plenty of contenders right now for that particular accolade and it’ll be interesting to see who Arsene goes with long-term, with Arteta now not first choice and in the twilight of his Arsenal career, and vice captain Per Mertesacker not too far behind him.

All that said, I’m not really one who places a great deal on emphasis on who wears the armband, especially when there are no absolutely outstanding candidates for the job like Patrick Vieira or Tony Adams were in the past.

If you’re basing it on experience then Petr Cech has a shout, on vocals, then I suppose Per gets it, on effort, it’s Francis Coquelin or Alexis Sanchez, on tenacity Coquelin or Wilshere, and if it’s based on coolness under pressure I’d give it to Laurent Koscielny.

In other words, take your pick. As long as they all compete as best they can, pass well and play with organised freedom, scoring goals and keeping clean sheets, I wouldn’t care if Hector Bellerin wore it, so long as whoever does is lifting at least one of the biggest prizes come May.

Back tomorrow.

29th July 2015: What to do with Wilshere?

Welcome back. It’s a bit scarce out there in terms of Arsenal news today, so I’m afraid I’ll have to keep this as short as Jose Mourinho’s memory when it comes to spending money.

But speaking of recollection, can anyone remember the last time a player was one of the first names on England’s team-sheet, yet not guaranteed a starting spot at club level? Because I’m struggling to think of one.

Yet having rounded off last season with a stunning two-goal showing for the national team, a little while after starting the FA Cup Final from the bench for Arsenal, that is exactly the position Jack Wilshere finds himself in.

Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla ended last season as indisputably first-pick for the two central midfield positions and whilst Aaron Ramsey has publicly stated that he prefers the central role, and has been afforded all his pre-season game-time there, Arsene Wenger says he sees Wilshere in a more advanced ‘creative’ role, despite the England management trying to develop him in a deeper Andrea Pirlo-esque position at the base of their midfield.

I suppose in one sense, it’s a compliment to Wilshere’s array of outstanding attributes that at 23, he’s still considered a Jack of all-trades when it comes to midfield play. But if he’s to find consistency in his game and take his level up a notch or two, he – and his managers – will need to figure out what position makes the most of his abilities.

Jack at our FA Cup parade

For instance, is he predominantly a tempo-dictater, spraying passes from deep and keeping his side’s game ticking over? Or is he an all-action number eight, who can track, tackle, pass, dribble, drive his team forward single-handedly and regularly contribute goals and assists? Or, is he a wide player, with the freedom to drift infield as one third of a fluid, attacking triumvirate supporting a lone front man, as he’s been for us in recent times from the right?

I think the answer is he can almost perform all three roles equally as impressively, which is partly why he finds himself in this positional limbo. But in terms of his prospects of a starting place in this Arsenal team, the question becomes can he perform any of the roles better than their current incumbents?

It’s a dilemma Arsene will have to confront sooner or later and although a season is long and football is increasingly a squad sport with so many fixtures crammed into a single campaign, for the biggest games, the ones every top player lives for, he’ll have some tough choices to make – as he did for May’s FA Cup final in fairness.

My concern is that I just can’t imagine Wilshere accepting not being an automatic, first choice selection for too much longer if he manages to stay fully fit for a sustained period. And that’s not to say I’d drop Santi, Francis or Aaron for him, or indeed Mesut, Alexis or the Ox for that matter, but we do have an overload of talent in the middle of the park and something, someone, will eventually have to give.

Anyway, one thing Arsene certainly isn’t in any doubt about, is Wilshere’s overall footballing quality. Speaking to the official site, the manager said:

He’s a top-class player with a top-class potential. No matter how good you are in life, you need to have a consistent presence at the top. Today, what top-level sport doesn’t suffer is to be in and out because it’s too demanding physically [to stay in]. What you wish for Jack is that he can compete now for six months without any problem, or for a year without any problem, and then you will see the player we all know he is.

And of course, even before considering where to play him, the main thing from Arsene’s perspective regarding Jack is the midfielder being fully fit, something he’s only managed intermittently so far in his career.

Moving on and the club have confirmed Wojciech Szczęsny is moving on, albeit temporarily, joining AS Roma on a season-long loan as expected.

A season in the Serie A sun should provide the Pole with regular first-team football and give him an opportunity to either convince Arsene he deserves another shot at being our number one stopper, or failing that, to secure himself a permanent move to the Italian capital, if not another top-tier club. Best of luck Wojciech!

And finally for today, Joel Campbell is reportedly being eyed by Palermo. Personally, I would agree to the move but only under the proviso that they let us have first dibs on the next south American gem they unearth. Because in recent years, they’ve introduced the likes of Edinson Cavani, Javier Pastore and Paulo Dybala to the European game.

Either that, or we poach their south American scout, as ours only seems to notice the Samuel Galindos and Pedro Botelhos of that continent.

See you on Thursday.

28th July 2015: Wenger and Mourinho singing from the same hymn sheet – ish

Evening all. I think it’s probably fair to say that Jose Mourinho and the man he’d secretly love to be, our very own Arsene Wenger, don’t see eye to eye – and not just because the Portuguese manager is comfortably smaller in stature.

The pair harbour a rivalry not borne so much of on-pitch battle royales, tied by a mutual, albeit grudging, respect for one another, as Arsene shared for so long with Sir Alex Ferguson, and not least because Mourinho’s Chelsea have never lost to Wenger’s Arsenal.

But more one rooted in political and ideological differences which have often descended, thanks mainly entirely to the Blues’ boss, into distasteful and juvenile name-calling contests, and on one memorable occasion, into physical, touch-line jostling.

Arsene promising the ref that he’ll stop pushing Jose around

Yet as their respective sides prepare to face off once more on Sunday for the Community Shield at Wembley, both have focused on the importance of improvement in their existing playing staff, as being vital in what is currently an ultra-competitive and cash rich top portion of the Premier League.

Forget for a minute the duplicitous drivel spouted by Mourinho yesterday regarding Arsenal’s recent transfer net spend in comparison with his own side, and his calculator quote, because it is, frankly, embarrassingly easy to expose as bullshit, and instead look at what Mourinho said over a week ago about his own squad:

It’s a big challenge. To be better with the same people, the players have to be better individually than they were last year. So when they think: ‘Oh last season I did great’, this season it is not enough.

Which is the same message in essence, that Arsene often conveys when talking to the press – that developing and improving players internally, can sometimes be as good as, or better even, than external recruitment. Speaking at his pre Community Shield press conference today, he said:

We want to improve. We know we will be better and we work very hard to be better. It’s difficult to know how much better our opponents will be. Everybody tries to be better. We want to do well and we enjoy to play together. I think what you want is not to listen too much to what people say, because sometimes in the same week I get two different reproaches: one I don’t spend enough and one too much. I believe if you want to create success, which we want desperately, is to focus on inside and try to do as well as we can, believe in the football we want to play, play it as well as we can and let other people talk.

The main difference between the two though, is that you sense Mourinho is playing the poverty card nice and early because he’s unaccustomed to not being the dominant force in the transfer market, whereas not only has Wenger worked for years with severe financial restrictions, I’m sure he actually gets as much satisfaction from developing a Francis Coquelin as he does by landing a world star like Mesut Ozil. Maybe more so even.

Mourinho on the hand, might talk of blooding say, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, but has seldom selected unproven, but promising and experience-hungry talent, anywhere he’s been. Mainly because youth development inevitably entails a learning curve which is often costly in terms of points and competitions.

And for a short-term specialist, as he’s been throughout his career so far, he’s had no real need or desire to develop players. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how he gets on on that front, if Roman Abramovich can stand him for more than a few years this time, and he gets his wish of a truly long-term stay at a club like Arsene and Sir Alex have managed.

Right, moving on from route-one bus drivers and focusing solely on a specialist in winning trophies, developing players and elevating an entire club to the upper echelons of the European club game organically, the boss explained today how new signing Petr Cech can still improve, even at 33 years of age.

He said:

Petr Cech was already at the top but I believe that you can never deny that you can improve. He’s at the stage of his career, between 33 and 37, where a goalkeeper can be at his peak and he has the desire. As long as you have the right attitude you can always improve in life. I don’t think it’s down to different training methods, it’s just down to him to keep at the top physically and with his experience he will always improve.

Arsene also denied reports of a bid from Southampton to take their former player Calum Chambers back to St Mary’s on loan next season, saying:

They [Southampton] didn’t try to get him back on loan and I will not consider it. Not at the moment. I want to develop [Chambers] as a centre back and at the moment we have just the right number. He will get games here.

And responded to questions regarding the likelihood of Arsenal dipping back into the transfer market before the end of the transfer window, saying:

I don’t rule it out and I don’t promise it. As I said recently in the press conferences, if we can still strengthen, we will do it. We spend when we think we have to spend and do not listen too much to what people think or say. We just try to make the right decisions.

Finally, the boss provided the following update in terms of team news ahead of Sunday’s traditional season curtain-raiser at Wembley:

Ospina has just come back to training today. Alexis is coming back next weekend. Everybody else should be available apart from Welbeck.

And that’s your lot for today folks.

Back tomorrow.

27th July 2015: Sleepy Head Day and Arsenal stuff

Hei ja tervetuloa. It’s the brilliantly-named National Sleepy Head Day in Finland today, so bad luck to any of our Fennoscandian friends who were the last of their household to wake up this morning – I hope the water wasn’t too cold!

I have to admit, if the UK adopted the tradition, I’d be in as much trouble as the Olympique Lyonnais defence found themselves in on Saturday afternoon. Because I love a Lyon-in.

I’ll get my mac…

And speaking of the Emirates Cup, Arsene Wenger has been highlighting the positives from the weekend’s tournament, which saw Arsenal score seven, concede none, play with shape, pass with zip, and showcase a couple of our most promising young players in Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Alex Iwobi.

He said:

 First of all our defensive stability was very good. After that our game is well structured, we can create chances and our technical level is good. Physically we are already not far from a very good level and some young players have done extremely well. We could give them a chance and that’s very pleasing for our fans to see that as well. We had two different teams, two good games, everybody played well, we have no injuries and we had clean sheets. The young players who played were convincing as well so you could see that it’s a photo of the present and of the future as well. The team spirit is very good as well so everything is positive. It smells like we can score goals. That is something that is very positive. Around the box our passing looks incisive, dangerous, creative, and our finishing has not always been at the level that we want it to be in the last two days but we cannot complain.

No, we certainly cannot. But we might make a few observations. Like Mikel Arteta, to me anyway, looked a little shorn of confidence and a bit sluggish shall we say, on Sunday, which is far from unexpected, given how much football he missed through injury last year.

Arteta is replaced by Aaron Ramsey in our 3-0 win over Burnley last season

Arteta also admitted earlier this summer that the reason for the delay in him signing a new contract at the club was because he wanted to be sure in himself that he could still cut it at this level. An ambivalent yet refreshingly honest admission from the Spaniard, but one which again raises question marks over our lack of defensive midfield cover, should Francis Coquelin be unavailable for any reason.

I’ve said it before but even more than a top striker, I really think we need another high class alternative to Coquelin before I’d be really confident about our title chances this season. Because as the weekend showed, we’ve got plenty of goals, from plenty of places, in this squad, but we don’t have another out-and-out defensive midfielder of Coquelin’s calibre.

There’s still over a month of the window remaining so plenty of time to sign one, unless of course, there’s another surprise package waiting to be unwrapped, already at the club. Isaac Haydon for instance? That suggestion is based on nothing but the belief Arsene knows what his squad still lacks, if anything, in his eyes.

So if he has someone earmarked for the role within the club, someone who most fans haven’t considered, then great. Just so long as we’re not relying on Coquelin to play every game this term, or expecting Arteta to be a like for like alternative. Because he’s a very different player as far as I’m concerned, one who against the better teams, can’t provide anything like the energy and defensive dynamism the Frenchman brings to the side.

Something Arteta undeniably does still bring to our squad however, is experience and leadership, and he’s been speaking to Arsenal Player about the belief in the squad ahead of the new campaign.

He said:

We have been together a while now and we have this belief now that we are capable of achieving something important. It took some time to build this cohesion, this momentum. I think the crowd is feeling much closer to the team at the moment and together we can make it. I think pre-season has been good. The tour in Singapore was great as well, probably the best we have had. Here, the opponents were tough but we managed to play well and win both games.

And finally for today, Arsenal are reported to have added 16-year-old Ajax striker Donyell Malen to their list of summer recruits for our academy sides, beating off competition from Barcelona to secure his services.

If true, I wonder how much of a factor Yaya Sanogo’s loan to the Dutch club was in the deal. Because we seem to quite like getting a promising talent in return when we agree to let one of our players move on – we’re said to have negotiated the signings of Hector Bellerin and Jon Toral in the transfer of Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona back in 2011.

Or maybe Dennis Bergkamp and Marc Overmars just told the lad that the best club in the world is undoubtedly Arsenal. Yeah, I’ll go for that one.

Till Tuesday.

26th July 2015: Unbelievable Jeff lays on Walcott winner

Evening all. You know, sometimes, football really can be a funny old game for a fan to follow.

With Petr Cech so far being our only major signing of this summer’s transfer window, the Emirates Cup was no doubt marked in the diary by many, as the weekend we’d catch a first glimpse of our brand new world class ‘keeper in action on home soil, with the Czech cast as the main attraction for the tournament.

Yet following today’s 1-0 win over Wolfsburg which secured us our first Emirates Cup since 2010, and yesterday’s destruction of Lyon, the name on everyone’s lips isn’t Cech, but another of this summer’s arrivals at Arsenal – 17 year old Frenchman Jeff Reine-Adelaide.

When plucked from the Lens academy and announced with zero fanfare as one of three new ‘young professionals’ by the official site in early July, few had heard the name Reine-Adelaide let alone seen him play. But boy has that changed over the course of the last two days. Following yesterday’s highly impressive cameo, the youngster made his first start for the club this afternoon and capped off another silky smooth showing with a fine assist for the only goal of the game.

Receiving a pass from Mikel Arteta midway inside the visitors’ half, Reine-Adelaide skipped past a challenge, strode forward and bided his time before passing perfectly into Theo Walcott’s path, who had peeled away to the left. The England man promptly applied a poked finish past the on-rushing goalkeeper to settle the match. Exquisite stuff.

It has been quite an introduction into the Arsenal fans’ conscience for Reine-Adelaide and afterwards Arsene Wenger revealed the midfielder would not be loaned out as he continues his development.

Speaking at his post-match press conference, he said:

He is 17 years old and he looks very promising but he needs to work with us for a year in the first team. To be an adult, to play for the under-21s and to develop. There is fantastic potential there but he will stay with us. I don’t know (how much he will play). I honestly don’t know. But today was a good opportunity to see him. In some situations of course, he has the game of a 17-year-old player but on the other hand he has shown great potential as well and looks very advanced physically for his age, and I’m sure he has learned a lot these last two days.

Arsene also had some warm words for the goalscorer Walcott, who had started the game as our central striker, but grabbed his goal having wandered infield from wide following Chuba Akpom’s introduction at half-time.

He said:

Another goal for Theo and I’m not surprised by that because I played him through the middle. I’ve always said that he’s a goalscorer because he has the movement, he has the timing of the run, the speed for the finishing, and he has an eye for taking his chances at the right moments. When he gets into these positions he finishes well. Yesterday he nearly scored when he came on as a substitute, today he scored. I believe that Theo will score goals. He has his own way as well. He’s not an aggressive striker, he’s a mobile striker. He’s the striker who lives from the quality of his movement and the speed of his movement. He turns up in the right spaces in the box and you cannot give that to a player. He anticipates well, he understands quickly and when that is linked with his speed and execution it always makes him very dangerous.

And when asked what he felt was Walcott’s best position, the boss said:

It’s a good question because it’s a complicated answer. I think in all the three positions. If you ask him where he loves to play, I believe that even he will say that it depends a little bit on the period. Sometimes he prefers left. When I’ve played him on the left he likes it as well because if he makes a good run he can score goals as well. In his ideal world he would like to play with a strong guy next to him, a player who is very strong physically, and he play off him. We have so many offensive players which makes that very difficult to combine all of them together.

Which tallies with how I’ve thought we could get the best out of Walcott all along – playing him next to a more physical forward in a two man attack (think Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn), or from the left (as I mentioned in a recent post) allowing him to cut in onto his favoured right foot.

Wenger says Walcott likes the left-flank

I just feel he looks far more comfortable on the opposite flank to which he’s most often been deployed in his Arsenal career so far. And I think it was an away Champions League qualifier against Udinese (I may be wrong) a few years back where he raced away from their defence from the halfway line to slot home at the near post, having started his run on the left.

There are a few other examples including a great effort for the England Under 21s, his goal in the League Cup Final in 2007, a finish on the end of a brilliant team move heavily involving Alexander Hleb – the list goes on. The only surprise for me is he hasn’t played from that side more often.

And with that bit of positional opinion, I’ll call it a day.

Back tomorrow.

25th July 2015: Six of the best as Iwobi nets and Reine-Adelaide’s cameo wows

Greetings. Only one place to start today and that is with the six nil spanking we handed out to last year’s Ligue 1 runners up Olympique Lyonnais in our opening game of the Emirates Cup this afternoon.

Olivier Giroud opened the scoring sixty seconds before the half-hour mark, guiding Mesut Ozil’s cross from the right past the ‘keeper with a deft, headed shouldered finish. And within nine minutes it was four, as Arsenal produced a prolific period of opposition-paralysing dominance, which was reminiscent of our first half goal glut against Liverpool in the league at Emirates Stadium last season.

Five minutes after Giroud’s opener, we launched a counter attack which Theirry Henry and the Invincibles would have been proud to call their own, as we transitioned from defence to attack through Aaron Ramsey and then Giroud, before Alex Oxlade Chamberlain took up the baton at full pelt and buried a low angled drive into the far corner.

It was a show of truly TremendArse composure from the Ox, at the end of a brilliant burst of pace, which gave us a tantalising glimpse of the penetrative, goal scoring potential we’re all so eager to see realised by the England international on a more regular basis this coming campaign.

Jay Jay Okocha’s nephew Alex Iwobi, who had impressed enough in the Singapore tour last week to be handed a start on the left of the front three today, grabbed our third just a minute later when Ramsey fed him the ball inside the area and he stabbed home a first-time finish into the near-post top corner with his left foot.

Iwobi in action for our under 21 team

What a moment it was for the 19 year old and after the game, he admitted he was a little dumbstruck after scoring in front of a home support which included several of his family and friends.

He told Arsenal Player:

When Aaron passed me the ball I couldn’t believe it. I just swung my left foot at it and fortunately it went in and I was like ‘oh my gosh.’ I couldn’t believe it, I was in shock. I didn’t know what to do or how to celebrate but I enjoyed it! I have dreamt about it so many times but I never thought it could feel as good as this. My family, my friends, my close friends even my uncle was here today so I was glad to get a goal for them.

My gosh indeed, because just three minutes later, Ramsey started and finished another swift break, setting Ozil free down the left before the German’s perfectly weighted through ball was intelligently poked in off the upright at the near post by the Welshman. Lyon must have felt like they’d just been combo’d by a cross between Anthony Joshua and Iron Mike.

But how cruel football can be, because they were forced to come back out for the second period and were it not for mass substitutions, which inevitably disrupted our rhythm, they could easily have conceded double figures given the mood we were in.

As it was, Ozil capped his brilliant display with our fifth after 62 minutes, drilling home Giroud’s pass with a sweetly struck half volley across the ‘keeper. That goal turned out to be Ozil’s final contribution of the afternoon because he was immediately replaced by Santi Cazorla who capped off the scoring with a skidding, left-foot free-kick which he cleverly directed under the air-borne Lyon wall, with six minutes remaining.

Overall it was a very encouraging display and although people will rightly point out that Lyon were certainly not at peak fitness as it’s only pre-season etc, the same can also be said for us, and the fact remains that we battered them. Arsene could not have asked for much more from his players than such a confidence boosting performance as we gear up for Chelsea at Wembley next weekend and the start of the Premier League season a week after that. More of the same tomorrow please lads!

But before I leave you, a quick word on Jeff Rene-Adelaide who made his first appearance for the club following his summer move from Lens. The boss had described him as an attacking midfielder capable of playing centrally and on both flanks and he took up a role on the right of the attack when he entered the action after 71 minutes. Of course at just 17 years of age, the Frenchman has a lot of developing to do but from the little I saw today, he looks a great player in the making.

Those who know me will vouch for my over-exaggeration and very early appraisal of new players, but one piece of close control and through ball to Chuba Akpom from Reine-Adelaide was, I thought, ridiculously good for one so young – all the more so against experienced opponents.

He showed a Zidane-esque languidness, which oozed the arrogance all gifted footballers possess. And I know, I know – pre season, he has it all to prove, he’s only played 19 minutes, he’s 17, there’s no way of knowing how he’ll turn out etc, etc. But still. Wow.

The teenager was originally named in the squad for our tour of the Far East before being replaced due to what I’m assuming was an injury concern, but his brief showing today tallied with reports of his skilful showings in first team training.

And the boss was in agreement after the game, saying:

Reine-Adelaide is something special you know. He is a great talent and when he came on you could see that – 17 years old let’s not forget that. In fact I don’t remember how I played at 17 but I didn’t play like that!

With the likes of Gedion Zelalem and Dan Crowley also emerging as highly promising midfielders at the club, we’re certainly well stocked in the starlet category and it does make you wonder how we’ll manage to make use of them all. Yet you can never have enough good players and it’s a ‘problem’ I’m certain Arsene will relish resolving over the next few years.

Right, I’m off to go order my new replica kit with ‘Jeff’ on the back.

Till Sunday.

24th July 2015: Lord Harris blabs ‘budget’ and striker target

Welcome back. If you haven’t been in London today, then lucky you, because it’s been raining all day like John Terry’s face in Moscow in 2008. So much so in fact, that an Arsenal XI’s fixture against Boreham Wood scheduled for this evening has been called off.

On a a brighter note however, one of our club directors, Lord Harris, has hilariously decided he’s had quite enough of Arsenal’s undisclosed fees fetish. He’s tired of our insistence for sworn secrecy from other clubs and agents. And he’s had just about as much as he can take of our penchant for cloak-and-dagger transfer deals.

So he’s defiantly disclosed that not only do we have £200 million burning a big, fat striker shaped hole in our club coffers, but that we’re so minted, only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are beyond our financial reach.

He said:

We could go into the market and probably buy any player in the world, apart from half a dozen who are un-buyable. In the accounts, there’s over £200million in the bank. You could say to Arsene we’ve got no money and he wouldn’t worry, or you could give him £100m and he might not spend it. At the moment there are no plans to sign anyone, unless he finds a real superstar like Mesut Ozil or Alexis Sanchez. He’s looking for one of those but there aren’t many available. We would back him to break the club’s transfer record. If he wanted the man, he could have him. Apart from Messi and Ronaldo, he could have any player. We will probably have to break the club record to get the man he wants.

Arsene must have needed a couple of stiff Evians, followed by a lie down when he read that. Unsurprisingly, the boss was quick to back-track on Harris’ behalf when he spoke at his pre Emirates Cup press conference this morning, saying:

He has gone a bit overboard because that’s not true. We are in a situation – I explained many times – where we are working hard if an opportunity comes up to do something, but we are not in the need.

But Harris wasn’t satisfied simply by broadcasting the club’s bank balance. He also brazenly divulged that we’re hot on the heels of a new centre forward, one who is eager to make the switch to the Gunners, saying:

We get a list of the players that Wenger wants. On the list is a centre forward, but I’m not going to tell you who he is. You’ve got to get the other team to want to sell him, but I think he wants to come. It basically comes down to whether the other team can find a superstar to replace him, because they don’t have to sell.

Potential purchases in the striker’s department have already been discussed by most of the internet so far this window, and the consensus reached is that one of Karim Benzema, Edinson Cavani, Gonzalo Higuain, Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Robert Lewandowski must be the mystery target. I don’t think Alexandre Lacazette or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang come close to that calibre if I’m honest.

Who is our mystery striker target?

Yet looking at those first five names, not one seems attainable. Karim Benzema’s agent insists his client is staying in Madrid, Napoli’s owner is said to wants silly money for Higuain, Lewandowski makes no sense, unless Pep Guardiola’s pining for a false nine, which leaves just the PSG duo.

Yet Ibrahimovic is clearly past his peak as he nears his mid-thirties, and although he’s rumoured to be for sale, a move back to Milan has been strongly mooted. So we’re left with Cavani but if the Swede leaves then surely PSG won’t also discard the Uruguayan? All that considered, I can exclusively reveal that no-one, especially me, has any f*cking idea who the man in question is most likely to be.

Elsewhere, with the Emirates Cup kicking off tomorrow, Arsene has revealed Wojciech Szczęsny won’t be involved as he’s close to a loan move to Roma, whilst Danny Welbeck and Mathieu Flamini will also miss out through injury.

A bit of a short one today but that’s your lot I’m afraid. I’ll be back tomorrow with some thoughts on our game against Lyon, plus the latest revelations from Lord Harris, in which he discusses how Arsenal are in advanced negotiations with Neymar about a sensational switch to north London.

See you then.

23rd July 2015: Wenger on Emirates Cup plus Lewandowski linked

Evening all. As we approach the weekend and ready ourselves for this year’s installment of the Emirates Cup, Arsene Wenger has been telling Arsenal Player why he loves the competition like Wayne Rooney loves lard.

He said:

Personally I love the Emirates Cup because it’s competitive without having too much pressure on the games. It’s the first time that we reunite with our fans in our local stadium and I find that great. It’s always a sell-out, and gives opportunities to people who usually cannot come to watch the team. It is vital for preparation. The international players came back quite late on July 11, so when you think that they have less than four weeks to prepare for the first Premier League game, it’s very short. The Emirates Cup on a preparation front is very important.

The best thing about the annual tournament for me, is the fact Arsenal play on consecutive days – something that never happens otherwise. Second, is the chance to see new signings and the best of our academy players play without the extra nervousness that competitive fixtures induce. And third, depending on the invited teams of course, the opportunity to scout highly-rated opposing players at close quarters.

This year, from an Arsenal perspective, I’d love to see Wellington Silva finally don the red and white and also, Krystian Bielik, Dan Crowley, Gedion Zelalem plus our two young summer recruits from Lens.

As for the opposition, I’ll keep an eye out for the likes of Nabil Fekir, Samuel Umtiti and Alexandre Lacazette of Lyon, as well as Kevin de Bruyne, Ricardo Rodríguez and Luiz Gustavo (who by chance, happened to turn 27 today – we still need a DM) of Wolfsburg. But how could I forget the star attraction of the weekend, one half of that legendary reserves strike partnership with Arturo Lupoli – the irrepressible goalscoring machine that is, Nicklas Bendtner. Welcome home your Majesty.

Moving on and the boss has been a bit of a chatterbox today, also talking at length on various other subjects including his thoughts on retirement and Sir Alex Ferguson’s equine past-time. Here’s some of what he said:

Retirement? Yes, it crosses my mind sometimes but for no longer than five seconds because I panic a little bit. When we played at Man United, he [Alex Ferguson] came to meet me after the game. I said: ‘Come on, you don’t miss it?’ He says: ‘No.’ He had enough. He goes to every game. But he has horses. I have no horses. Enthusiasm? That is not a problem, honestly. I am more committed than ever for that. I just think the number of times you have done it doesn’t count. It is how much you love what you do that counts. And the love of what you do is not necessarily diminished by the number of times you’ve done it. Football is new every day. That’s a big quality. It makes you question. Because with every defeat people say: ‘What is this guy doing?’ Every three days you are questioned. You have an exam every three days. You have no way to look back. You have to prepare the next exam and come out of it with success. So it always demands 100% commitment. Of course [there were times I didn’t think we could win the league]. Why? Because when you lose your best players it is impossible. And see opponents strengthen their squad and they are already stronger than you. You just get into the top four because you managed to win and grab every single point and see others still strengthening and on top of that you are losing you’re best players, it is difficult to be convinced you can still win the league.

Wenger’s not ready to wave Arsenal goodbye just yet

Arsene also revealed how he’d love to see a Premier League landscape where each team was restricted to spending £100 million each year, so we could all “then see how good you are”.

Take that Jose Mourinho, Mr ‘I have to make do with my billion pound squad because I haven’t got as much money as the other top teams to buy an Eiffel Tower.’ I must have imagined Chelsea signing Rademal Falcao this summer then. And his club outspending everyone in existence this last decade and a bit.

It won’t happen of course, but how great would it be to see Mourinho forced to compete on a financially level playing field? He’s had blank cheques wherever he’s been after all. I’d wager he’d get found out faster than John Terry facing a pacy striker.

And finally for today, Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski has become the latest big name striker to be linked with a move to the club this summer. Although the boss has admitted trying to sign the Pole in the past and is clearly on the lookout for a marquee forward, I can’t see Bayern letting him go at all.

Back on Friday folks.

22nd July 2015: Samper’s visited London Colney. Plus OMG! Gotze follows Gibbs!

A warm Wednesday welcome. Thanks for dropping by, particularly my American and Norwegian readers – you’re becoming TremendArse diehards – and as this blog is barely a month old, currently with fewer spectators than a Chelsea trophy parade, I hope you’ll continue to visit, share your thoughts via the comments and spread the word!

Shameless promotion done, I want to start today by saying that as much as Barcelona football club have irritated me, and I’m sure countless other Arsenal fans the world over, with their recurring recruitment of some of our best players ever since Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit opened the floodgates back in 2000, I still admire them more than any other rival club purely because for me, they regularly raise the bar on how the beautiful game is played.

In recent years, their academy has rightly been heralded as the best in the world for acting as a conveyor belt of talent schooled in the pass and move mantra, valuing footballing intelligence above all other attributes, and the results have been stunning, both for the Catalan club and the Spanish national team.

All of which is to say that when we’re linked with another one of their up and coming players, not only do I feel a sense of karma in terms of player trading, but I’m excited by the prospect of a new Cesc, a new Hector, even a new Fran Merida (who I think was on course to build a big career at Arsenal had he not decided to jump ship back to Spain just as he was on the cusp of a regular first team slot) bringing their La Masia-moulded abilities to north London, to be polished into top Premier League performers by Arsene Wenger.

And if today’s report in El Mundo Deportivo, the Spanish nationwide daily sports newspaper published in Barcelona, is to be believed, 20 year old defensive midfielder Sergi Samper may soon become the latest young star to make the switch from Catalunya to north London.

Sergi Samper

Oriol Domènech , a reporter at El Mundo Deportivo, wrote a piece about Arsenal’s interest in Samper back in September last year, explaining that Wenger had first tried to sign the player at the same time as he persuaded Hector Bellerin and Jon Toral to join the Gunners from Barcelona in the summer of 2011.

On that occasion he says, both his club and the player’s family flatly declined our ‘dizzying offer’, although Samper did take a trip to England to take a look around Arsenal’s training base at London Colney.

In the same piece, published on September 9th, Domènech then says Arsenal returned ‘a few days ago’, with Wenger this time offering to activate the 12 million euros release clause in the players contract, which runs until June 2017, and promising him an immediate place in Arsenal’s first team squad.

Again though, the proposal was turned down, as Samper had his heart set on establishing himself in the first team of the club he has been at since the age of six, with both Barcelona’s manager Luis Enrique and his assistant Joan Barbara (also Samper’s coach for the Barcelona B team until the summer of 2014) said to have assured him he would soon be a regular part of their first team set up.

The player is also believed to have felt another season in the B team would be beneficial for his development at the time, but now a year on, Domènech today reports things have changed ‘radically’.

The player is no longer convinced he’ll get much first-team playing time, after learning Enrique has told fellow academy graduate Sergi Roberto that he will play in Samper’s ‘pivot’ position, which already has Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano as established first choice selections.

Portuguese club Porto are also said to hold a firm interest in securing Samper’s services and their manager Julen Lopetegui has called the player personally reports Domènech. Yet with childhood friends and former Barcelona teammates Bellerin and Toral already at Arsenal, and given Wenger’s persistence in signing him, you’d imagine Samper would choose Arsenal over Porto given the choice.

And as highly as Barcelona are believed to rate the player, and as much as they’d like to keep him, a modest release clause, which we’re reportedly more than happy to meet, would mean they’d be powerless to stop him leaving. Arsenal’s hopes of completing a deal then, appear to rest firmly in the high-rated player’s hands.

In addition, Domènech reveals that Samper has been mulling over his future all summer, but remains undecided and also writes that his agent, Pere Guardiola, will meet with Barcelona’s Director of Football Administration, Raúl Sanllehí, and their newly appointed Technical Director Robert Fernandez, in the coming days once club elections conclude, with Samper likely to finally decide whether to stay at Barcelona, or make it third time lucky for Wenger and sign for Arsenal.

For what it’s worth, I YouTube’d Samper back in 2011 when we were first linked with his signature and at the time he looked to me a typical La Masia player – lightweight but a great passer and technically flawless.

Four years on, and having watched more recent compilations today, he seems to have developed into a robust, highly energetic cross between Xabi Alonso and Busquets, with lots of character and great leadership qualities for one so young, albeit with perhaps just a slight over indulgence in the Cruyff turn. I’m talking every time he gets the ball.

But if he’s half as good as the reviews he’s had from those who have watched him regularly over the course of his fledgling career, we could be about to ‘steal’ the best Barcelona youngster we ever have. Over to you Sergi…

Elsewhere, after yesterday’s Instagram activities by Wojciech Szczęsny, which in the end, were pretty revealing considering Roma are now widely reported to be in talks to sign him on loan, Bayern Munich star Mario Gotze has today followed Kieran Gibbs on the very same photo sharing site.

Now I know we were strongly linked with a move for Gotze when he was still at Borussia Dortmund but that was before we signed Mesut Ozil and I struggle to see where we’d play him. False nine? But if we do somehow end up buying him this summer, I’m doing away with Twitter and Newsnow and Sky Sports News HQ for the next window, because when it comes to breaking transfer news, Instagram’s clearly where it’s at.

Till Thursday.