21st July 2015: Cech likes Arsenal, Szczesny follows Roma

Evening all. If you hadn’t noticed by now, Petr Cech quite likes it at his new club. I mean, who wouldn’t – it’s by far the best team the world has ever seen. Although in fairness, he has just spent over a decade at Chelsea, so falling scrum-cap over studs in love with Arsenal must feel a bit like marrying into royalty after escaping a long-term relationship with a lottery lout.

Anyway, the 33 year old has been gushing in his praise for his new colleagues, highlighting high morale, great work-ethic, shared visions for success and a healthy blend of youth and experience in the squad, as reasons to believe Arsenal can conquer all in sight in the upcoming campaign.

He said (I’m not sure who to, probably an assortment of reporters following the Everton game in Singapore on Saturday – I lifted the quotes from the official site):

What I’ve found is a group of players who work very hard and who are focused on what they are doing on the pitch to get ready. I found that the team spirit is extraordinary in the way that everybody pulls in the same direction. This is why I believe that we can have a successful season. We need to have that connection between players to reach the same targets. I’ve only been here a few days but I can feel that the team is together. We have a good balance in the team. We have players with a lot of experience and we have young players who want to prove their value by being a part of the first-team squad and playing as much as possible. There are hungry players, there are experienced players and in terms of the age category we have a good balance. We hope to use that to our advantage.

All of which is excellent to hear of course. No squad with fractious cliques or littered with over-inflated egos is ever likely to be a good recipe for success, particularly when things start to go against you at some point in a season, as they almost always do, and everybody needs to pull together.

And I think a lot of the praise for cultivating squad cohesion on a social level, must go to the manager Arsene Wenger, especially as he’s said to be meticulous in gathering as much information about a player’s personality and interaction with colleagues as he possibly can, when weighing up any new signing.

Moving on and Wojciech Szczesny is reportedly on the verge of signing a season-long loan deal with AS Roma, which would see him reunite with former Gunner Gervinho, as well as provide him with a new smoking buddy in the shape of the Giallorossi’s eighth choice left back Ashley Cole.

However, claims of his imminent departure are apparently mainly based on the Pole following the Italian club, and a few of it’s players, on social media site Instagram, so may in fact just be a load of balls.

Is Szczesny off to Roma?

What I would say, is that as far as Szczesny’s concerned, there’s no smoke without fire (I’m not even sorry) and given David Ospina recently joined the Pole in declaring his desire to remain at the club, and the Columbian ended last season as our first choice Premier League ‘keeper, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this deal was in the pipeline after all.

The other semi interesting thing about this story is the fact that a Roma delegation of officials were said to be in London last week to negotiate a transfer for their 20 year old central defender Alessio Romagnoli, with Arsenal reportedly one of the interested teams. Could it be that a deal was struck for both players? We’ll find out soon enough I guess.

See you tomorrow.

20th July 2015: Walcott wants stay but with increased pay – should Arsenal oblige? Or cast him aside?

Hello and welcome back. If rhyming riles you, apologies for the title of this post. I didn’t set out to construct a melodic headline, or even see it coming until it was here. It just happened.

Which I suppose is a bit like Arsenal’s forays into the ritzy realms of the transfer market in recent years, in that I’m fairly certain Arsene Wenger never envisaged signing Mesut Ozil at the start of the summer in 2013, or indeed Alexis Sanchez a year later, but when opportunity arose, he was all over it like our hyperactive Chilean is a football pitch.

And that seems to me the strategy again this window – bide our time and wait for a Benzema to become available – or keep our powder dry for when one eventually does.

But more on the Real Madrid striker later because I want to touch first on the news breaking late last night, which involved one of our current players, Theo Walcott, and his reported desire to sign a new contract with the club, albeit with the caveat, according to the Guardian, of a hike in wages.

Having let his previous contract run into it’s final six months before extending some 18 months ago, Theo and the club find themselves in a similar situation this time around with just a year remaining on his current terms and the start of the new season fast approaching. Here’s what he had to say on the matter:

My agent has talked to the club, I enjoy playing for this club so I am just letting them crack on with things and I’ll continue playing football. If it happens it happens. We’ll just play the waiting game and see what happens but I’m sure it won’t be long.

Which sounds to me a lot like brinkmanship borne of past experience in these matters. He’s been here, done this and found a compromise. Yet this time around, many argue the need of the club isn’t nearly as great due to a significantly strengthened squad. It’s a risky ploy by the player alright.

Theo, as he’s informed of Arsenal’s opening contract offer

And Interestingly, his sparkling form leading up to these discussions mirrored his outstanding performances in the build up to his last contract resolution, so if nothing else, to paraphrase Walcott himself, he knows which patches to be consistent in. Which may ultimately prove crucial in the managers decision on any improved offer, because aside from the very end of last season, he was rarely picked to even start, let alone in his preferred central role, after returning from a lengthy injury lay-off.

Leaving the contract wrangle aside for a second though, I think it’s safe to say that as a player, Theo, now 26, still divides opinion among fans and pundits alike. Some love him, some not so much. Some consider him a valuable, maybe misunderstood, and perhaps even mis-used, attacking weapon, others a brainless, over-rated liability with poor work ethic and even poorer technique. And of course there are the inbetweeners who might appreciate his strengths, bemoan his shortcomings but do so with an air of indifference. To them, he’s no Thierry Henry, but he’s certainly not Aaron Lennon either.

For what it’s worth, I’m firmly in the former camp. I’ve rated Theo since I saw him live, make his debut in Arsenal colours at Havant and Waterlooville’s West Leigh Park for the under 21 side in February 2006. He wasn’t particularly impressive overall but scored a goal out of nowhere, arriving late to the scene to bury a loose ball past the Portsmouth ‘keeper in a blur. He was just 16 at the time, having arrived from Southampton the previous month.

And that’s what I think he’s all about really – scoring goals. Be that from wide or on occasion through the middle, Theo guarantees goals. In 82 starts in all competitions for the club, he’s managed 76 goals. That’s a rate of 0.93 goals per game which compares favourably even with his legendary predecessor in the number 14 shirt Henry, whose rate stood at 0.74 with 226 goals from 305 starts during his first spell at the club. Far less games of course but not so few as to skew the statistics into having no meaning.

Incidently, of the three forward positions, wide right would be my third choice in terms of where to play him as I think coming onto his right foot from the left and having the option to go either way from the middle gets the best out of him and his instinctive strengths, as opposed to when he’s forced to face a left-back from a standing start on the right. Anyway Theo also added the following when speaking after Saturday’s win over Everton in Singapore:

I won’t let that (ongoing contract talks ) delay the way I’m going to be playing this season. I can’t let that affect me, I want to do well for this club. I didn’t want (last) season to end. It was a frustrating season for me. When you have been out for such a long time, it is difficult to get into a winning team. It’s my first pre-season for two years now so I want to work hard and get fit. It’s a really exciting year for myself personally and I think this team can go very far. I’m always going to be judged on goals, I’ve been very happy with my goal record when given the opportunity. That is all I can do. I have always played with a smile on my face, always enjoyed playing for this club. It is one of the best groups I have been involved with. I want to be involved with that squad as well. I want to work really hard and make sure I’m in that starting lineup come the first game of the season.

Reading between the lines, I think Theo genuinely wants to stay but also wants to maximise the value of what could be the biggest contract of his remaining career – just like every other player on the planet would. It’ll come down to whether the club value him as highly as he does himself and looking at his stats and assuming he can maintain fitness, I think they probably should.

Back briefly now to Karim Benzema and despite there being no update or development in his rumoured move to Arsenal whatsoever, several outlets have today carried headlines declaring ‘Benzema refuses to rule out Emirates switch’ and ‘Arsenal keen on Benzema’ and ‘Benzema bid beckons’ and ‘Wenger snapchats compatriot Karim’.

As far as I can see, someone on twitter ‘confirmed’ that Arsenal had bid 45 million euros for the player a while back, but that it had all now gone quiet on that front. So yeah, nothing basically. He’s still a Madrid player and we’re still on the hunt for that prolific goalscorer with a top goals to games ratio.

Oh wait…

Till Tuesday.

19th July 2015: Asia Trophy reaction and Aubameyang

Sunday greetings. With little else in terms of Arsenal chat today, I’m going to dive straight into yesterday’s post-match reaction like Ashley Young at the peak of his hornswoggling, penalty-area powers.

Steam in like Ryan Shawcross at his ‘committed’, ‘not a malicious bone in his body’, ‘not that type of player’, ‘I’m the real victim here’, Franco Baresi-esque best. Cut to the chase like Louis van Gaal telling Robin van Persie his new role at Man United. Get to the point like Raheem Sterling’s agent in contract negotiations with Liverpool…

And I’ll start with manager Arsene Wenger who speaking to Arsenal Player after the game, permeated his pleasure in seeing his players tune into the pass-and-move wavelength that defines his footballing philosophy, and putting that into practice, both individually and collectively, in beating Everton to lift the Premier League Asia Trophy. The boss again also took time to praise the tournament’s host nation and revealed his relief at rounding off the tour without picking up any injuries.

He said:

What you want to do in preparation is to find the quality of your team play back as quickly as possible, and I think that tonight for long periods we played with real quality. It’s very satisfying and it looks like everybody shares the way we see the game. We created many chances and the individual performances over the last two games were all good. [The Singapore trip has been] perfect for us because we came here with 27 players and we go home without any injuries. We won our games in a convincing way and I must say that the facilities, the welcome from people, the huge support we have here was all perfect.

Next up is Jack Wilshere, who enthused over the players’ conditioning in what he felt was a tough game against Premier League opposition, explained the team’s desire to dominate possession and talked tailored training plans. He told Arsenal Player:

I thought we looked really fit today, as we did against the Singapore Select XI. It was a different test – Everton started well. They liked to keep the ball, so we didn’t really want to give the ball away and, if we did, we wanted to win it back straight away. We did that brilliantly. They started to tire in the second half and our fitness levels really showed through. I’m feeling good. I’ve been back in training for two weeks now. I’ve played two games and there are another two games coming up next weekend after another tough week of training, so I’m feeling good. I think you feel better day by day. The fitness staff here are really good. They make the sessions individualised, so they know what you need in your position. Each session gets harder and harder. I’m feeling better and better and hopefully that can continue.

Meanwhile Petr Cech reflected on a memorable first outing in Arsenal colours, expressed his delight at a ‘trophy-winning’ start to his career at the club, pointed out that the main goal of the tour was to improve fitness and tellingly, provided an insight into the winning mindset he brings to our squad by highlighting the need for victories even when not at 100 percent physically.

He told Arsenal Player:

It’s great to win a game. The main importance was to get fit and to play well, to get ready for the Premier League and the early competitions. It was the first game for me and the first game for some other lads, but I really enjoyed the team effort we put in and in the end we had a very good game. I’m very pleased because the first game is very important and I obviously wanted to have a successful debut. I’m happy – my first game and my first trophy. If it can continue like this I will be delighted. It’s been a great week because we’ve been working hard. We had two very positive games, and we can go back home to London happy and glad with what we achieved here. The main target was to get fit and it’s important that even when you are tired you win games. Everything has been great but [the most memorable moment was] probably my debut. When you play your first game, everybody has a big expectation and you win a game, [so] it is something to always remember.

And finally for today, Borussia Dortmund’s CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke (no relation to Julian) has gone on record to say striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was their top-scorer last season with 25 goals in all competitions, including 16 in 33 Bundesliga games, is not for sale. He told German publication Bild:

Aubameyang stays with us this season. He’s not for sale.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is all about the pace

Which sounds pretty adamant, although this comes after RevierSport reported that the player himself wouldn’t be against a move to either Arsenal or Paris St. Germain just a few days ago. My take is that if there is any genuine interest on our part in the player, it’s only as a contingency in the event we can’t agree a new contract for Theo Walcott because the Gabon international is a similar player – very quick and efficient in front of goal.

Even then though, I’d be skeptical, a bit like I am with the Alexandre Lacazette rumours, as I’m not convinced they’re better players than we already have. Gonzalo Higuain, Karim Benzema, Edinson Cavani or a re-positioned Julian Draxler on the other hand…

Back tomorrow.

18th July 2015: Arsenal outclass Everton, Petr Cech debuts and transfer talk galore

Evening all and there is only one place to start after Arsenal rounded off their Far Eastern tour this afternoon with a classy 3-1 win over Everton to win this year’s installment of the Barclays Premier League Trophy.

With the Emirates Cup to come in a week’s time and a Community Shield date with Chelsea the weekend after that, Arsenal could conceivably begin their Premier League campaign with three ‘trophies’ already safely tucked away – not a bad way to prepare for a season which many feel could see us end our long wait for the title.

Theo Walcott, starting the game in Alexis Sanchez’s position on the left of the front three, rediscovered his goalscoring form from the FA Cup final by latching onto Santi Cazorla’s pin-point pass and guiding a first time half volley past the Everton ‘keeper to give the Gunners the lead in the 22nd minute.

The England international’s run and finish – intelligently controlled by manoeuvring his right foot over the ball and striking it downwards off the turf and skidding past the goalie – made a mockery of the misconception that Theo can’t finish and lacks a ‘football brain’. This was Walcott at his best; a superbly timed and directed dart from wide combined with a clinical strike on goal. From coasting to celebrating in the blink of an eye.

As for Cazorla’s chipped assist from inside the centre circle, well, the vision and execution using his ‘weaker’ left foot was as majestic as his all-round display. We’ll have a real problem replacing Santi’s outstanding skillset when he does eventually depart, because for me there isn’t another player in our squad right now who can replicate his talents in the middle of the park – a velcroed virtuosity that has become vital to our performance and overall pattern of play this past year or so.

Santi Cazorla

We then doubled our advantage 13 minutes into the second period when Ozil fed Cazorla on the right following a short corner and having weighed up his options, the Spaniard decided to go it alone, twisting and turning to bamboozle the defending James McCarthy on the edge of the area before drilling home at the near post leaving the ‘keeper motionless.

And Cazorla was at it again just four minutes later, exchanging passes with Mesut Ozil to allow the German to sidefoot emphatically into the net for three nil, making it two assists and a goal for Arsenal’s captain on the day. I would tie him to as long a deal as possible as he shows no sign of being debilitated by age.

The one sour note in a dominant display arrived with 15 minutes to go when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – otherwise his usual, buccaneering best down the right flank following his introduction at half time for Jack Wilshere, allowed himself to be dispossessed by Gareth Barry who in turn fed Ross Barkley to strike a venomous left footed shot past a helpless Petr Cech.

The former Chelsea ‘keeper had looked confident and composed throughout, producing one brilliant, finger-tip save to turn a Stephen Naismith header onto the crossbar in the first half, before parrying away a fierce long distance strike by Luke Garbutt in the second.

Overall a pleasing start to life in Arsenal colours for the Czech and you can be sure the Ox would have received a bit of a rollicking from the ‘keeper had this been a competitive fixture. He’ll have no doubt been disappointed not to keep a clean sheet but impressed by his new team’s controlled yet expansive display. Especially after a decade and more of pragmatic, painfully dull ‘football’ at Stamford Bridge.

Afterwards, manager Arsene Wenger praised his side’s victory and the cohesion of our play, saying:

I’m pleased with the performance because the focus in pre-season is to find the quality of our game back and I think for long periods we played in a very convincing way and the way we want to play – together, with good team play. Everybody shared the same vision on the pitch of the game we want to play. That’s positive.

He then shared his views on Walcott’s work in the win, and explained how the modern-day footballer no longer returns from his summer holidays three stone overweight after a few weeks of hard drinking and binge burger eating:

He is sharp and prepared well. He is like every player – they look fit, close to full fitness. It’s quite amazing how the players are back to a good body shape and a good [level] of fitness because they prepare well. Now football has changed – they come back after holidays and they don’t start from zero. They have done their homework and he is one of them

Moving on and there are a number of Arsenal-related transfer whispers to either get super excited about, or dismiss with the scorn that horseshit clearly deserves, including Mathieu Flamini moving to Galatasaray, our interest in Napoli’s left back Faouzi Ghoulam (with a first name like that, he was born to be a Gunner), which ties in neatly with advances from Athletic Bilbao for Nacho Monreal, a bid for Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubaeyang and finally, ongoing negotiations with Roma for highly-rated Italian central defender Alessio Romagnoli. And breathe…

Till Sunday.

17th July 2015: Bellerin signs new deal as Benzema link played down

Hello and welcome to Friday on TremendArse. I don’t know about you, but for me, this week’s flashed by like Hector Bellerin overlapping an opposition left-back. Frighteningly fast. Perhaps next week will feel slower – I certainly hope so – because at this rate, Euro 2016 will be upon me in about a month.

And speaking of our Spanish speedster, he’s put pen to paper on a new long-term deal with the club following his remarkable rise to first-team prominence last season. Bellerin made 28 appearances and scored twice in his breakthrough campaign, having started the season as third-choice right-back behind Mathieu Debuchy and Calum Chambers and finished his first season with an FA Cup winning flourish.

Bellerin breezes past opponents for fun

Manager Arsene Wenger has revealed that despite being convinced by the 20 year old’s ‘special’ desire to develop into a top-level competitor very early on, even he didn’t envisage the progress Bellerin would make quite so soon. He told Arsenal Player:

His progress has been huge because if you had asked me that question last year, exactly on the same day, I would not have guaranteed you that Bellerin would be a regular player in the club by the end of the season but he managed to do it. He’s a very serious, mature boy. I met him when he was 15… and I could see straight away that there was something special on the hunger side, on the desire and maturity side. He was a very mature boy very early.

But the challenge now for the former Barcelona youth team product says the boss, is to prove he can continue his form into the new season – a gauntlet he also laid squarely at the feet of last season’s other surprise story, Francis Coquelin:

Bellerin and Coquelin were not necessarily planned last season to come out and they have to confirm that this season. That’s always very difficult, to produce a similar performance in the second season. That’s their challenge. He’s a very mature and very focused player. I’m confident he will have a good season again.

Arsene alludes to it above and the phrase ‘second season syndrome’ is often bandied about the year after a player’s arrival into the first-team fold but for me, it’s no more than a mythical malaise for the most part, tending only to affect the few who were only ever convincing due to circumstance in the first place, or at an age when a natural decline was almost inevitable. I think what Arsene’s highlighting here, is more the need for mental focus from the duo.

For instance, Phillipe Senderos played an integral role in our run to the Champions League final in 2006 but never looked close to being accomplished enough, purely as a footballer, to make his form last into the succeeding season and over a sustained period. It’s just that he was part of a well-drilled defensive unit that heart-breaking year, and as harsh as it may sound, was made to look far better than he ever was.

Bellerin and Coquelin are different I think, with both still relatively young and so improving all the time, but crucially, both outstanding individual footballers in essence, as well as being cohesive components to the Arsenal collective. With the pair also said to have fantastic attitudes, I’d say only injury could prevent them from at least reproducing the level of performance they managed this past season. Don’t prove me wrong lads!

Moving on and as we prepare to face Everton in the Asia Trophy final on Saturday afternoon, Wenger has praised the level of fan attendance at the tournament, the facilities in the Far East and revealed his expectation that Roberto Martinez’s men will provide a stern test for his team.

He said:

I must say that I’m surprised by the number of fans and overall the Asia Trophy is a good surprise for us because it was on a good pitch, good training facilities and the quality of the games has been surprisingly good at this stage of the season. The first half was very, very competitive between Stoke and Everton. The challenges were Premier League challenges and I expect that from Everton. They came out of a season where they did less well than the season before and they certainly want to start strong. They look focused and prepared.

Elsewhere, Ajax have confirmed a season-loan loan for Yaya Sanogo, CEO Ivan Gazidis has been waxing lyrical over Wenger, whilst the manager himself has distanced the club from any imminent move for Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, without completely dismissing interest in the player.

The talk around this particular rumour seems to suggest the player is happy where he is but with a new manager at the helm at the Bernabeu, any change in his status as a first-choice starter may lead to his departure. We’ll see.

See you on Saturday.

16th July 2015: Big season ahead for Ozil, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wilshere

Evening all. A very short round-up for you today and I’ll begin with our vice captain Per Mertesacker’s belief that we haven’t see anything yet, from his compatriot and assist king Mesut Ozil.

As the former Real Madrid schemer prepares to start his third full season at the club, Mertesacker says that after two injury disrupted campaigns in north London, Ozil can take his game to a whole new level – providing he stays fit.

He told Arsenal Player:

He is one of our key players. Him in good fitness, him at his best – there’s a lot more to come from him and the second part of last season when he came back from injury, you could see how important he is for us as a team with his key passes, being in between the lines and always carrying a threat to the opponent. We need to find him and make him better, then he can show his real potential. The key will be not to get any injuries or niggles. He’s a good player when he’s fully fit but obviously he needs to gain that little extra, that confidence, to play his best. We will see – I’m pretty confident that he has his best and his first full season in front of him.

Mesut Ozil can get even better says Per Mertesacker

I think I know what Per means when he says ‘we need to find him’, because if they’ve lost our number eleven somewhere in Singapore, then they really ought to go and look for him. Of course more likely is the suggestion that the team needs to play to Ozil’s strengths, which for me would entail giving him the ball at every opportunity and providing him with a plethora of intelligent runners to aim his perfectly weighted passes to – something we do very well already in truth.

Fitness aside, the other slight issue with Ozil initially has been his oft-varying starting positions and the lack of a settled side around him. But the second half of last season saw a far more consistent selection with Ozil as the primary playmaker behind the striker and I can’t envisage Arsene Wenger changing that now unless he’s forced to.

Elsewhere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been speaking about the importance of pre-season and seizing his chance to cement a place in Arsenal’s starting line-up this season.

He told Arsenal.com:

Everyone looks to pre-season and getting going – it’s a good opportunity for all of us to get fitness back. It’s a step in the right direction to getting back to full fitness, not just for myself but for everyone. We’re looking forward to the start of the season. I’ve seen every year as a big one for me and this is no different. I did suffer from injuries for the last two seasons now, which is always frustrating and isn’t something you want. I do see this season as an opportunity. First and foremost, you have to do everything you can to stay fit, so I’m working on that. Then you never know what can happen in football. You’ve got to be positive and take any opportunities you get.

And finally Jack Wilshere, fresh from scoring against a Singapore Select XI on Wednesday, has been speaking about the intense competition for places in Arsenal’s midfield and the need to play a possession game in a climate as warm as in the Far East.

He told Arsenal.com:

It’s unbelievable and it’s down to us as individuals to make that place ours. That’s going to be tough, of course it is, but I’m up for the challenge and I’m sure all the other boys are as well. We want to win every game and the boss tells us that before the game, and stuff that we can work on during the game, but the main thing here is fitness. Especially in this heat, you want to work on winning the ball back high up the pitch and when we have it, we want to keep it because you don’t want to be chasing too much. Everton like to keep the ball so we want to keep it as much as we can.

And I’m afraid that’s where I’ll have to leave it this evening. Have a good one whatever you’re doing and if you happen to be in Singapore, keep your eyes peeled for Mesut Ozil – he may be lost.

Till tomorrow.

15th July 2015: Where is Chuba in our Ranks?

Welcome all. Irie. Today we played the first of just four warm up fixtures before our Community Shield meeting with Chelsea, and one man’s showing left fans wondering ‘who needs Lacazette when we’ve got the predatory prowess of Chuba ‘Mr Lovergoal’ Akpom in our Ranks?’

Actually, it probably didn’t because we were playing a Singapore Select XI in a pre-season game, but still. The 19 year old Londoner, who made his first team debut for the club on New Year’s Day at Southampton this year and who impressed, winning a penalty in the home Premier League game against Aston Villa a month later, provided a reminder of his talent with a clinically dispatched treble as we ran out comfortable four nil winners at the Singapore National Stadium.

Jack Wilshere got the other goal – one of two penalties we were awarded and scored – and our pack of promising young guns who have made the trip to the Far East, including the likes of Gedion Zelalem and Dan Crowley, were all afforded some game-time as several first-team stars were saved for Saturday’s Asia Trophy final against Everton. For full match details including substitutions etc, take a look at the official site here, because instead I want to talk a little about Akpom and where he stands in terms of our striking pecking order.

Despite a prolific record for our under 21 side, Akpom has failed to score in three separate loan spells away from the club at Brentford, Coventry and most recently Nottingham Forest. Yet when his contract was almost up last summer, the likes of Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool were strongly linked with trying to snare his services which perhaps gives an indication as to how highly he is rated by scouts throughout Europe.

Akpom has been a consistent goalscorer through the youth ranks at Arsenal

Of all of Arsenal’s promising young players, with the exception maybe of Serge Gnabry, who have yet to cement a regular first-team slot, Akpom increasingly looks the best prepared to make the step up but faces the daunting prospect of usurping at least Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck for a central striking role.

The fact that he has all the attributes to play wide in a three would help his case for inclusion if it wasn’t for the fact that Welbeck and Walcott can also do likewise. But he is far younger than that trio and also possess more mobility, or at least smoother mobility, than Yaya Sanago – the other young contender for a place at the tip of the Arsenal attack.

A Premier League loan spell at one of the lower ranked clubs did to me at least, seem the best option for him to get games and develop and I think along with the likes of fellow attackers Gnabry and Wellington Silva, Akpom has it in him to make a mark in the English top-flight. But the player himself was pretty clear in his desire to remain at Arsenal for the coming campaign when he spoke to Arsenal Player after today’s game.

He said:

I’m buzzing for the hat-trick but most importantly I’m buzzing for the win. It was a good team performance but it was even better to get a hat-trick. I’m just hoping I can carry on my form for the rest of the pre-season and take it into the season. You’ve got to give 100 per cent because you don’t get this chance often, so when you get it you have to make the most of it. Hopefully the boss has seen that I’ve been working hard in training, that I’ve been working hard on the pitch, and hopefully I can get more game time in the season. I’ve been at Arsenal since I was six years old, so that’s a few years and I really want to stay here. This season could be a big season for me and with a lot of hard work it could be a breakthrough season for me. The main thing is to stay here and I think the loans have helped me gain experience. I’m just getting better every time.

Manager Arsene Wenger also dismissed the idea of sending Akpom out on loan, saying:

I sent him out on loan last year because I thought he needed that. This pre season, during the season I plan to keep him with us.

The boss then discussed the striker’s likely role in the first team, cautioned against getting carried away by a pre season performance and challenged his charge to prove his worth through a consistently high level of performance. He said:

That’s up to him. How much? (will he play) I don’t know but I just believe that it’s an encouragement to do well and to work even harder. He’s a young player and it can lift his confidence. The confidence in the dressing room that you sense from the other players is important as well and that can help him. Let’s not forget it’s a friendly. He’s a good talent but he has to work and show that in games. It’s down to performance and attitude. He has that grade to make between being a big talent and after an efficient talent week in, week out. That’s of course the target.

You sense the league cup remains Akpom’s best hope of a start next season and if we were to exit the competition early, I still wouldn’t rule out a loan spell later in the season for the player nick-named ‘Titi’ – after Thierry Henry – by some of his colleagues.

The wealth of young, and established, striking talent at the club highlights just how difficult a balancing act Wenger faces in meeting fans’ expectations for tangible, trophy-winning success, while simultaneously sating the desire of so many to see players rise through the ranks at the club and make a lasting impact.

Having joined Arsenal at six years of age, Chuba is certainly ‘one of our own’ and I really rate him. His first goal today was an unerringly opportunistic, first-time finish, his second a cooly converted spot kick which sent the ‘keeper the wrong way and his third a towering, close-range header, albeit into an empty net.

He certainly knows where the goal is and has nimble feet and great close control to compliment his naturally outstanding athleticism. But whether I’d be willing to let him learn his trade at the expense of a ready-made, world-renowned striker who would immediately guarantee us goals at the highest level, is another matter entirely.

Till Thursday.

14th July 2015: Words from Wenger as new away kit is officially unveiled

Greetings. I have a crammed, quote-tastic, kit-alicious offering to bring to you today, as Arsene Wenger has been speaking at a press conference ahead of our first game in the Asia Trophy tomorrow, and the club have unveiled our new away strip at an official launch event in Singapore this afternoon.

But first the boss and he’s expressed his hope that the squad can ride the crest of the confidence wave our FA Cup win in May created, whilst also highlighting the importance of concentrating on our own improvement as a team and avoiding any preoccupation with the relative strengths of our opponents.

He said:

We moved forward in the second part of the season but as well the cup means something to the team because on the day, whether it’s the semi-final or the final, you have to win. The trophy improves the confidence of the team. I believe in England, we are always worried about each other because we have so many teams with the potential to win the league that everyone looks around and thinks, ‘What are they doing? How strong are they?’ What we want to do is focus on ourselves, focus on our strengths and see if we can develop on what we did last year. That is the most important thing, not to waste too much energy on looking around us.

The boss prefers to focus on his own team

Which is true to an extent, because clearly nobody should waste time worrying that Liverpool have signed Danny Ings to partner Rickie Lambert, or that they’ve bought Adam Bogdan to battle it out with Simon Mignolet.

But if Man City add Kevin de Bruyne and Paul Pogba to their purchase of Raheem Sterling or Man United land Edinson Cavani and Nicolas Otamendi or Chelsea snare an upgrade on Gary Cahill and Oscar, I’d say we’d be silly not to afford their new line-ups at least a glancing appraisal. You can’t take a pen to a sword fight, or something.

But of course Arsene knows that full well and followed up those sentiments with his now very familiar line about being ready to buy if the right player becomes available. He said:

I don’t close the door (on more signings). If we can find any player who can strengthen the squad then we will.

As many have pointed out, it’s all about incremental improvement for Arsenal now. The squad is at a stage where barring a like-for-like, quality deputy/competitor for Francis Coquelin, we don’t need a lot to mount a realistic challenge for honours at home and abroad.

My hunch is that we’ll still spend, and spend big, on one or two players even if they have limited resale value or come in at the expense of an established squad member. Mainly because we can now. And also because on pitch success is vital for the continuing growth of our commercial income, the maximisation of which goes full circle to helping us improve the team – the commercialcircle©®™ of footballing success, if you will.

Arsene also spoke about the importance of pre-season for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in particular, after the England international’s injury-plagued second-half of last season, saying:

Alex played the first 20 games last season and was after that injured, so he is of course one of the regular players in our team. He is not directly always in competition with Alexis because he plays more on the right side than the left, but it is a good opportunity for him because he is not injured. Pre-season will be very important for him.

And he then outlined the likely time-scale for Alexis Sanchez’s return following his Copa America exploits for Chile this summer, praised his performances in winning the competition for his country, and hinted at the Chilean’s superhuman recovery powers. He said:

He will be back on August 3 and it usually takes three weeks to be competitive. He will miss certainly the first game of the season but with Alexis, it takes a little bit less. When he had to turn up in the final [of the Copa America], he was there. He was the one who was dangerous, he was the one who was always provoking opponents, and he was the one who had the guts to take the final penalty to win the cup. He contributed to his country’s achievement and it’s something special that they’ve done. He was a big part of it.

Elsewhere, club captain Mikel Arteta has become the latest Arsenal player to praise new signing Petr Cech and the ‘keepers difficult but ambitious decision to cross London. He told Arsenal Player:

Even though he has won everything in England and probably in Europe, he is still ambitious. Those types of signings give the team a lift. The decision he made to come here after being a legend at Chelsea is not easy. I don’t think many of them would do it at his age, and he is still hungry, he wants to prove himself at the top level and I think it is a really good decision for us. He could have gone to another league and thought, ‘My name is in England forever with Chelsea and it’s only going to be with Chelsea’. He knows he’s going to get some criticism coming here and that the pressure is going to be on him a lot but he just wants to take it. He says, ‘Okay I’ve got another chapter, and challenge and a chance to make Arsenal champions’. I have no doubt [he will cope well with the criticism. He is very cool, he’s been training really well and that’s what he’s here for. He’s not here just to sit on his back, he wants to compete and he wants to keep winning.

Finally for today, our new away kit is confirmed and available for purchase and I have to say I like it a lot. It’s 2002-ish and we all know what happened that year.

At the launch event, two teams of Arsenal players were formed on stage – one wearing the home kit and one the other the away strip – and in a freestyle skill-off, Santi Cazorla outdid Hector Bellerin to win it for the away team.

Oh and Oliver Giroud mouthed ‘f*ck off’ at a team-mate who was clearly baiting the Frenchman for his perceived, over-zealous penchant for self grooming. Brilliant bantz by all accounts.

Right, I can cram no more.

See you tomorrow.

13th July 2015: Sterling value rallies as Manchester moves the market

Welcome back Blogees. Quite a lot has happened in the transfer market since yesterday’s post and it all involves moves to Manchester.

Morgan Schneiderlin was forced to settle for his second choice destination after Arsene Wenger witheringly told him ‘non merci, vous Coquelin du pauvre’, and has reluctantly signed for Manchester United, where he’ll be joined by Bayern Munich’s Bastian Schweinsteiger.

But in what will be the biggest move of the market so far, a fee has been agreed between Liverpool and Manchester City for the transfer of Raheem Sterling. I must say I didn’t see that coming, Sterling always seemed so enamoured by life in Liverpool. I was under the impression he adored working with Brendan Rodgers, longed to captain the club and had agreed to sign a new 14-year contract. Truly a turn of events as confusing as his reported price-tag.

£49 million is loose change for City’s owners but their largesse inflates the market for others

I mean, how are players’ prices evaluated? If a 20 year old Raheem Sterling, with 18 goals in 113 appearances for Liverpool, and with a shot as tame as a baby’s bitch-slap, is valued at £49 million, then surely it’d take the GDP of Germany to buy a ready-made, bona fide, world star of Alexis Sanchez’s ilk? Evidently not, as we paid approximately £35million for the Chilean just a year ago and not just because Wenger’s a wily old wheeler and dealer.

As widely acknowledged, the reality for so long now is that English footballers come with a premium. You could argue a major reason is that any transfers involving English players are almost always inter-league – due perhaps to an inherent aversion to trying new countries and cultures – but which means prices are raised due to rivalry. Yet this phenomenon isn’t really reflected abroad.

Maybe then, it’s just as simple as supply and demand and the supposed lack of English talent drives prices higher in an era of home-grown quotas. And of course a player’s marketing potential, his ability to shift shirts etc, all contribute in the concoction of a figure. But even with all that considered, £49 million doesn’t tally talent-wise, with the reported £20 million Chelsea were willing to pay for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain this summer.

Because the Ox for me, is a better player than Sterling and just a year older. Which leads me to conclude, there’s no point trying to rationalise it. That would be an endeavour as pointless as Jose Mourinho’s ‘offer’ for the Ox. So next summer, I’m tipping Ross Barkley for a £97 million switch to Chelsea, which will also be trendily nonsensical, because he’s not better than Gareth Bale, has less potential than Neymar and can’t sell replica kits like Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s just that £97m seems about right I reckon.

Moving on and the boss has dismissed the ridiculous recent rumours of a move to Juventus for our record signing Mesut Ozil. Speaking from Singapore, he said:

Ozil is our player, he will remain our player and he wants to remain our player. During this period the newspapers are creative, and have to be creative, but many times the stories come from agents.

Which is about as emphatic as he can be without telling the Old Lady to get back on her mobility scooter and ride off a cliff. The boss then went on to highlight Ozil’s importance to our team and his development at the club, saying:

It is a big season for him because he had a difficult start last year and in the second part of the season he was very important. There are many offensive players who have an important season in front of them but I’m confident because I think they have the quality. Ozil understands the rhythms of English football and he has improved his defensive attitude. He works hard and offensively he is a top class player.

Elsewhere, Yaya Sanogo is reportedly wanted on a loan deal by Ajax, which would give him the opportunity to develop under the tutelage of a certain Dennis Bergkamp. If Dennis could just teach him how to strike a football towards a goal that’d be brilliant. Sorry, that’s more than a little harsh but the former Auxerre man is as raw right now as any first team player I’ve ever seen Arsene buy.

Yet he does have a certain street-fighter something about him, has shown he can be a real handful for defences with his physicality and can easily still improve his range of skills. He was also a prolific goalscorer in his early teenage years in France if that means anything, before serious injury hampered his progress. Good luck to him and I hope he finds his feet in Holland before returning to Arsenal a player ready and able to stake his claim.

And one man who will do just that (not find his feet in Holland, return to Arsenal) appears to be Carl Jenkinson after he reportedly signed a new five year contract with the club before securing a second, successive, season-long loan spell at West Ham. Carl really impressed at Upton Park last year by all accounts and another similarly successful showing this time around may be enough to see him revive his first team hopes at Arsenal. We shall see.

Till Tuesday peeps.

12th July 2015: A short, superstitious, Sunday Cech-list

Sunday salutations. For those with a belief in supernatural causality, Petr Cech has a treat for you. He’s chosen to wear the number 33 he says, because he’s 33 years of age, has made 333 Premier League appearances and because a human spine has 33 vertebrae and he’s now, you know, an integral bit of Arsenal’s backbone. I’m with Petr personally – If that alignment of arithmetic isn’t a sign, I don’t know what is.

Cech’s back bone showed up red during his medical

Other reasons he’s rumoured to have plumped for 33, but didn’t disclose, include:

  • According to the Newton scale, it’s the temperature at which water boils (useful for when he lets David Ospina have first dibs in the changing room jacuzzi),
  • it’s the jersey number of Tom Cruise’s character in the 1983 film All The Right Moves (his favourite film),
  • +33 is the code for international direct-dial phone calls to France (for ringing old Rennes colleagues),
  • it’s the jersey number retired by the Chicago Bulls, in honour of the Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen (he loves the NBA),
  • and by the New York Knicks for another HOFer, Patrick Ewing (see above),
  • It’s the number once worn by Cech’s goalkeeping idol and Gunners’ great, Graham Stack (the Barnet player-coach taught him everything he knows),
  • it’s the atomic number of arsenic (for Jose Mourinho, plus it’s just 2 letters from ‘Arsenal’).

They did say he was a well cultured, knowledgeable, thinking man’s footballer, and here is the unequivocal proof.

And as you may have guessed, it’s a slow news day. Not so slow though, that I can’t bring you Arsene Wenger’s admission that signing Cech was far from an easy decision, but one he feels will benefit the squad in many ways.

He told Arsenal.com:

It was a very, very tough decision [to buy Cech] because I have two great goalkeepers. I think Cech can make them better as well. He has huge experience and the fact that he has won more big trophies can strengthen the belief of the team. That can help them to develop and that’s what I expect from him. You always want to improve the experience level of your squad and I thought he could help us gain something on that front. I still think he has a huge hunger. When I saw him with Chelsea last year he was always convincing and I’m happy that we could do it. His kind of knowledge and experience can help us.

Elsewhere, West Brom are reportedly eyeing a loan deal for Serge Gnabry, which makes a lot of sense, given his need for games as he returns from such a lengthy injury spell. It would also be a chance for him to prove that his breakthrough with the Arsenal first team during the 2013-14 season was no flash in the pan, and that he can kick on and really challenge Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and co. for a wide attacking berth at the club.

And there are some other bits and bobs doing the rounds including Morgan Schneiderlin being on the verge of choosing Arsenal or Man United, Alexandre Lacazette’s potential arrival, the Napoli owner’s desire to sell Gonzalo Higuain so he can buy eight new players and my favourite, Arsenal’s imminent bid for Johnny Evans.


Good one. We’ll be following up his purchase with a concerted effort to secure the services of Scott Dann.

It’s not silly season, it’s the wind-up window.

Back Monday.