21st August 2015: We have to beat Liverpool if we want to win the title

So it’s Friday already and that means Arsene Wenger held his pre-match press conference today and as usual, he was asked about everything from the latest team news at Arsenal, to the freshest furore in the wider footballing world – West Ham’s move to the Olympic Stadium.

And as he always does, the boss took time to answer every question put to him, no matter how irrelevant or far-removed from Monday night’s game with Liverpool – you now, the reason they were actually all there – in a typically thoughtful, insightful and balanced manner.

Sometimes I wonder why Arsene doesn’t just tell reporters to stick their questions up their to the subject but then I remember that’s what sets him apart from self-obsessed scoundrels like you find at bus stops in west London, who say they’re ‘unique’ because reporters have the temerity to ask them about their ghastly, public treatment of medical staff, and think a story which quite rightly dominated headlines for over a week, shouldn’t be a topic of conversation.

Anyway, Arsene spent some time discussing the importance of a strong home record for a title challenge and highlighted that although his side bounced back from an unexpected home defeat on the opening day of the season to secure three points at Crystal Palace, they must now get back to winning ways at Emirates Stadium:

If you want to have a successful season you want to be strong at home. Normally we are strong at home. This is an opportunity to show that. We missed our first game and we had to look at ourselves, and we responded very well. Now we need to come back to our usual strength that we have at home.

If we quantify ‘usual strength’ based on last season’s league table, that translates as 19 played, 12 won, five drawn and two lost – only the fourth best points tally behind champions Chelsea and the two Manchester clubs. So although that is a very respectable record in relation to most clubs, we were still three points worse at home than United, gained four fewer than City and finished eight behind Chelsea.

Our way record actually saw us fare better relative to the other members of the top four, finishing 3rd overall with a record reading played 19, won 10, drawn four and lost five, giving us a total of 34 – the same as City and four worse off than Chelsea. Remarkably, United finished seventh in the away league table last term, with Liverpool sixth, Crystal Palace miraculously fifth and our shadow dwellers Tottenham 4th. Amazing really.

But what all of the above does show is that although we may have had a ‘strong’ home record compared to 16 other clubs, it still needs to be fortified in comparison to United, City and Chelsea, and if last season is any kind of gauge, the margin for error is already very slim. Chelsea lost eight points at home over the whole of last season and we’ve already conceded three. That leaves leeway for just one more defeat and a draw so as silly as it sounds, with harder home tests to come, beating Liverpool is almost already a must if we want to be champions.

Luckily, as we prepare to host Liverpool, Arsene says his side should be confident mood after last weekend’s win and although he feels the game arrives too early in the campaign to be tagged a ‘title decider’, he did concede the match was ‘vital’:

Your confidence is linked with your last result and at Crystal Palace we responded well. You could see that we were a bit edgy at times but we responded in a very strong way. From that we should have enough confidence to go into the game positively against Liverpool. This is a very important game where the result will of course be vital. It’s not a result that will decide [our title chances] but in our heads we know it’s very important.

After a slow start cost us badly in the title race last term, losing two of our first three this term, or even five points out of the first nine, which would, in all likelihood, see us fall six points behind this City squad, would spell title trouble as far as I’m concerned, no matter how many games are left.

So If not a title decider, Monday’s game could easily prove to be a title eliminator. Let’s make sure its not boys…

See you on Saturday.

20th August 2015: ‘Wellington Silva is absolutely stunning’

Evening all. Not wishing to déjà vu you or anything, but only the briefest of posts today, because there’s very little going on.

Of course, we don’t play until Monday night, when we take on the most boring midfield in football history, as James Milner and Jordan Henderson bring their sleep-inducing, uncultured, club-footed ‘talents’ to Emirates stadium, to be side-stepped and passed around by Arsenal’s artisans.

But discussing Liverpool’s lynch-pins will keep, as there’s still a few days yet before the chuckle brothers come to town and also far more interesting issues to take a look at in the interim, like for instance, should I opt for just peanut butter on my toast, or go crazy and have peanut butter and margarine?

So much choice – a bit like deciding which Championship team to watch this year, after both clubs confirmed Wellington Silva’s season-long loan at Bolton today, taking Arsenal’s representation in the second-tier of English football to six.

And in what is the first instance ever, I can recall Arsene Wenger speaking about the Brazilian winger, he’s been telling the official site why he thinks Wellington’s signature will prove a successful snare for Neil Lennon and his club:

He’s a creative, tricky, quick player. He’s absolutely stunning to watch and I believe Bolton will be surprised by his quality. I believe he will do extremely well because he has gained a lot of experience in Spain, he has come back to England and I am confident he will have a big impact in the Championship.

That is high praise indeed from the boss and also, music to my ears – a sort of semi-confirmation of my eye for a talent. That said, I also thought Arturo Lupoli and Quincy Owusu-Abeyie were destined for great things at one time, so…

But I’ll admit it freely, I rate Wellington very, very highly. He’s from the same generation of Brazilian players as Philippe Coutinho and Neymar and played at youth level with that illustrious duo. That of course doesn’t mean he’s as good as them but Silva was selected in higher age groups for his national side because he was so highly rated as a teen.

I think his work permit woe, lasting four years as it did, really set him back, denying him the chance to work with a manager known for his development of young promise into top-level performers and prevented him from realising his precocious potential much earlier.

And such is the nature of top level football, sometimes you can miss your chance through injury or as in this case, administrative barriers, and never be afforded another one, no matter how naturally-gifted you are.

So despite the delay in his arrival to these shores, I’m still backing our boy from Brazil to make his mark on the Championship, before returning to Arsenal next summer, rejecting serious interest from top clubs all around Europe to declare his undying love for the cannon and carry our club to every cup in sight. No pressure Silva son.

But first he has to prove himself at Bolton and their official club site caught up with Sky Sports’ Guillem Balague for his expert take on what Wellington can offer the Trotters, following four years in Spain at various clubs. Here’s what he told them:

Last season Almeria were a team that didn’t really create much going forward and they were on the backfoot for a lot of games. As a result they ended up playing long balls forward often and that was something Wellington struggled with. When he did get the ball in at his feet he was able to create opportunities. He’s useful in one on one situations and is a fast and explosive player. There are less and less of this type of player in the market, because nowadays players have to be more tactically aware and ultimately take fewer risks. He is someone who can improve and will want to impress. He can make the difference and be more effective in the shorter spaces, rather than over a long distance. He’s someone who will think in his own way when he has the ball and is someone to be excited about.

So that’s me, Arsene and Guillem bigging up the wizardry of Wellington now. What greater trio of talent-tipsters could you ask for? Time for our samba starlet to show he can be a bona fide samba star. Over to you Wellz…

Til Friday.

19th August 2015: Ramsey says reponsibility breeds confidence

Thanks for dropping by. It’s a little quiet in terms of Arsenal news out there, what with our next fixture not until Monday night and the transfer market being as inert as Wayne Rooney’s influence on the Man United attack these days.

Luckily however, Aaron Ramsey has been speaking with the official site about giving 100 percent in training and in games, and also how  a sense of responsibility on the pitch boosts his confidence. He said:

It’s pretty much like flicking a switch in my head. I give everything when I’m on the pitch or on the training pitch. When I’m at the training ground and working in the gym or whatever, I always give everything that I’ve got. As soon as you feel as though you have a responsibility in the team, you’re confident, you want to be out there expressing yourself and I’m in that place. In this team I feel comfortable enough to feel as though I can play my best football. I’m really happy on the pitch at the moment.

Which is great to hear from the Welshman, especially considering he’s not likely to be playing in his favoured central midfield position anytime soon, with Santi Cazorla in such fine form.

And despite enjoying a superb breakthrough campaign with Arsenal a couple of seasons ago in a more central position, I actually really like what he offers playing from the right hand side, particularly away from home.

Despite having the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck even, when he returns from injury, vying for a place in the team, Ramsey would probably be my preferred pick on the right – certainly for the biggest games at least.

Mainly because I like the defensive cover he provides our fullback through his outstanding stamina levels, as well as his goal threat and ever-improving understanding with Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sanchez from an attacking point of view.

Anyway, Ramsey also revealed he’s not one who eats, sleeps and breathes football 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and instead uses his down time, especially after a defeat, to clear his head by spending time with family and indulging his love of golf:

You’re disappointed with the result but there’s nothing you can do with that now so it’s important to put that to the back of your mind, learn from what went wrong there and focus on the next game. You have to prove what you can do and that you can get back to winning ways. I’m not one of those people who goes home and has to put football on the TV straight away or has to watch Sky Sports News. It’s important to take your mind off football otherwise you become too obsessed and you look into things too much. You could have problems when you do that, when you then go onto the pitch and play, so it’s important to take your mind off it. When you’re there and playing it’s important to focus 100 per cent on what you’re doing. I play golf to take my mind off [football]. I have a family who are very important in my life as well and they help me to take my mind away from it. When you are playing football you have to give everything and focus 100 per cent on trying to do your best but it’s important to have the right balance.

Elsewhere, captain Mikel Arteta, speaking to the Arsenal Weekly Podcast, says he feels the current Arsenal squad is the best in terms of strength and depth for quite a while and has been galvanised by sharing ‘difficult moments’. He said:

This is the best group of players in terms of numbers and quality that we have had for many, many years. The unity we have is really good as a group. The cohesion we have around the club and with the fans is probably the closest it has been because we had periods when we had difficult times and things weren’t breaking down between anyone. When you go through difficult moments together, that really helps to get where you want to get to afterwards. We haven’t broken in difficult moments and that is very important. I am really confident in this group – if we maintain it and start adding little things in the next few years then we have a very strong team and club.

I have to say I’m not too sure about the ‘in the next few years’ bit. I mean, I think we’re almost there now in terms of really challenging for the top honours, providing we address the need, ironically, of a better option than Mikel as cover for Francis Coquelin, and also do our best to sign any ‘world class’ forward we have even the slightest chance of securing this summer.

Back on Thursday.

18th August 2015: Wellington Trotts to Wanderers as Zelalem Geds to Glasgow

Evening all. There is just under two weeks remaining of this summer’s transfer window and while no new arrivals seem imminent, two more of our young guns appear to be on their way out of the club on season-long loan deals.

After Chuba Akpom, Isaac Hayden, Jon Toral and Emi Martinez all the left the club to join Championship sides on loan recently, Wellington Silva has been snapped in Bolton Wanderers gear – strongly suggesting he’s signed on loan with the Championship club.

Because if he hasn’t, the 22-year-old Brazilian, who finally secured a work permit to ply his trade in England after four years on loan in Spain with various clubs obtaining dual nationality, has some explaining to do.

Perhaps he became a Trotters’ fan in his youth, laughing out loud to Only Fools and Horses, or maybe Bolton have a big following in Brazil. But most likely I’m guessing, is the club haven’t had time to draft the ‘player has joined club on loan – we wish him the best’ article yet.

I have to say I can’t wait to finally see the former Fluminense winger in action on these shores, which will come as no surprise and also quite an understatement for regular readers of this blog. It’s been a long, arduous journey past the red-tapes-worths seeing as though we clearly don’t have whatever contacts Chelsea used last week, to reportedly gain a work permit for young Brazilian beast, Kenedy.

Now 22, Wellington has it all to prove to Arsene Wenger if he’s to return to the club and compete for a first team place but if he can reproduce some of the sublime skill he showcased in his younger years before his move to Arsenal, and in glimpses in Spain on loan, in a far more physically demanding league like the Championship, then we’ll undoubtedly have another special talent on our hands.

But it’s a big ‘if’, because his time in Spain wasn’t exactly spectacular, despite a fine season appearance-wise, with Almeria last season. He’s also said to have played no part in pre-season for either the first team or our academy, as he’s been working on a specially designed fitness regime at London Colney to prepare him for English football.

I’m a little disappointed he’s not been deemed worthy of a punt by a Premier League side but that said, he’ll surely be afforded more minutes a league lower and at his age, playing must be paramount in his thoughts. A fifth reason to watch more Championship games then, and Silva will no doubt learn a lot from legends of the game like Emile Heskey and Alan Hutton.

Elsewhere, Gedion Zelalem has been linked with a move to Scotland with Glasgow Rangers. As with Wellington, Arsenal are yet to confirm any deal and the reports I’ve read suggest Zelalem has traveled north to hold talks.

I have to say a move to the second-tier of Scottish football seems a bit bizarre to me considering how highly rated the midfielder is at the club but the Guardian have reported that Wenger feels the teenager will benefit from playing in front of a big crowd at Ibrox. Never underestimate the benefits a big crowd can have on ball-control…

Anyway, he’ll also have to bulk up to make an impact up north based on what I’ve seen of him and I just hope the Scottish club have players of a similar technical calibre to Zelalem to make use of his superb pass and move qualities, as well as the runners to receive his pin-point through balls.

I’m afraid that’s where I’ll leave it for today. Pretty short I grant you but there’s plenty of post-match player interviews over on Arsenal.com to catch up with if you’ve haven’t already taken a peek.

Back tomorrow.

17th August 2015: Wenger hails fluency and fight plus crucial Cazorla

Welcome to a brand new week on TremendArse. There is plenty of post-match reaction to look at following our win at Crystal Palace yesterday, so I’ll get stuck straight in like Alexis Sanchez returning from his summer break.

And first up, it’s the boss Arsene Wenger, who expressed his pleasure at seeing his side display a number of different qualities in beating Palace to claim our first three points of the season. Speaking at his post match press conference, he said:

We have shown our strong response and we have shown different aspects in our game that are vital in the Premier League. We had a good, fluent game in the first half and when they came back to 1-1 it was a mental test to see how we could respond. We managed to find a second goal and after that in the second half of the game we just had to dig in, fight, and we did it as well. I’m pleased because we have shown many different aspects that will be very important in the season.

‘Fight’ aside, the most pleasing thing about yesterday’s performance for me, was the rediscovery of our fluid, attacking football which was so glaringly absent against West Ham. Against the Hammers, we lacked accuracy in our passing and shape in our formation, with our forward six often taking up similar positions, too often abandoning their designated roles in the team and failing to find any collective rhythm whatsoever.

Yet against Alan Pardew’s men a week later, all those problems appeared hugely improved and I think there is one obvious contributory factor for that  – Santi Cazorla’s return to central midfield. And Arsene hinted after the game that he’s over his nonsensical, temporary tinkering and the Spaniard is back in the middle to stay:

Cazorla is important for the start of the game when the ball comes from our defenders, because he can pass from deep midfield to high midfield better than everybody and get out of pressure. That’s why I positioned him more central. He is not any more a player on the flanks who can overlap and cross the ball.

I actually remember Arsene being asked whether Cazorla was now a permanent pick in the centre after a game last season and his response was to utter the most emphatic ‘certainly, yes’, I’ve ever heard him say. So to see Cazorla moved to the left flank on the opening day confused me like hearing Jose Mourinho plead poverty. I mean, how? And why?

Giroud and Cazorla

Anyway, as long as our double, Double-winning, unbeaten season overseeing, six-times FA Cup lifting, stadium-building, world class player developing manager has learnt his lesson, I think I’ll let this one slide. Any more Cazorla kerfuffle though, and I’ll be forced to demand he’s replaced by Owen Coyle.

Next in line for praise from the boss was the majestic Mesut Ozil, who provided the assist for Olivier Giroud’s opener at Selhurst Park and generally played very well, passing with typical poise and precision and also displaying quite a turn of pace out wide on a number of occasions:

He had a very good performance. He was important getting out from the back, getting out of tight areas. It is a pleasure to watch the quality of his passing and the intelligence of his passing. What I told you is what I want from him more is a few more goals this season. For the rest of the build-up in the game he was magnificent. He works harder than people thinks he does. He is not spectacular in his defending but he wants to do the job, he wants to help the team. What I liked in his game today was he made many runs without the ball behind the defenders, which is a bit new as he likes to come with the ball. Today he mixed up his game better.

Mesut mixes it up then. Now we just need for Giroud to start producing finishes like yesterday every week and we can save the money for his replacement and instead spend it on a competitor for Francis Coquelin or research into cloning Cazorlas. But speaking of Giroud, Arsene said he felt the striker ‘needed’ a goal and described his current striking options as ‘strong’, saying:

He needed that [goal]. We have good strikers. Walcott was not used today and he’s an exceptional striker, Welbeck is coming back, we have Alexis. We have a strong striking force. What is important is that we show the team performance we have shown [against Palace].

Indeed. Team play is key to success and key to team play, is a central Cazorla. Now we have that established, we should go on to win every remaining game he plays this season. The Septuple is in sight.

Back on Tuesday.

16th August 2015: Acrobatic Giroud and forceful Sanchez secure win over Palace

That was certainly much more like it from Arsenal. A 2-1 win over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park this afternoon, secured thanks to a stunning strike by Olivier Giroud and an own-goal forced by Alexis Sanchez, sees us shoot up this embryonic Premier League table to 11th.

Arsene Wenger thankfully opted to correct last week’s bizarre decision to move Santi Cazorla from central midfield to the left flank, and the Spaniard returned to partner Francis Coquelin in front of the defence today.

Alexis Sanchez came into the starting 11 at the expense of a benched Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, to play from his usual left-sided role, with Aaron Ramsey moving to the right. At the back, Hector Bellerin replaced Mathieu Debuchy at right fullback.

On what was a newly-laid Selhurst Park pitch, and by the look of it, a widened one too, we immediately appeared a far more composed, cohesive, and hence creative, attacking unit than against West Ham on the opening day. It’s hard to pick out an individual for praise in that opening spell because they were all outstanding and the hosts were left chasing shadows for the most part.

But at the heart of it all was Cazorla, who regulated our passing from deep and proved no less a defensive asset, taking up great positions on several occasions through sheer intelligence and game-reading, to halt Palace attacks.

For me, and I said this after our pre-season win over Everton last month, Cazorla is critical for our functioning as a side and must be played where he was today. If that means the likes of Ramsey and Jack Wilshere have to play in roles they wouldn’t consider their first choice then tough luck I’m afraid, because they simply cannot replicate what Cazorla produces in that position.

And with all the talk of a new striker need amongst fans and pundits alike, Giroud showed he has plenty to offer at the tip of the attack by acrobatically volleying home Mesut Ozil’s considered left wing cross to put us one nil up after 16 minutes.

It was undoubtedly a world class finish by a player who may not be in the very top bracket of strikers, and even today showed signs of frustrating more refined team-mates (especially Ozil) with his, shall we say, less than nimble footwork, but who can be a potent poacher against a lot of defences in this league. It really was some effort to kickstart our goals scored column for the new campaign.

Inevitably though, we didn’t maintain our hypnotising opening spell of football for the whole of the first half, and Palace punished some rare bad defending by Laurent Koscielny to restore parity through Joel Ward’s skidding long-range strike after 28 minutes.

In truth, it was a criminal lack of closing down by our otherwise impeccable number six and all the more baffling as it smacked a little of complacency – something the manager said was partly to blame for our defeat seven days ago. It was almost as if the Frenchman did’t think that player would trouble Petr Cech from that range. Unfortunately for us, Ward produced a great strike and Cech could do nothing to stop it arrowing into the bottom corner to his right.

Cue a social media maelstrom of ‘Mesut’s sh*t’, ‘we’re all f*cked’ and ‘Wenger’s a wally’ until that is, we regained the lead courtesy of a Bellerin cross to the back post, which was met by the whirlwind that is Sanchez, whose header may well have been en route to the inside of the far post, but was instead diverted into his own net by Damien Delaney ten minutes into the second half.

The impressive Coquelin, who was cautioned in the first half and clearly targeted by the home support and players as a man they could help to get sent off, was removed from the action and replaced by the Ox just after the hour mark, with Ramsey moving into the centre alongside Cazorla.

It was a timely intervention by Arsene as Coquelin had been warned one more foul would result in his dismissal. We then made further changes to shore up our defence as Palace chased an equaliser, bringing on Mikel Arteta and Kieran Gibbs for Sanchez and Ozil to help close out the game as we did against Chelsea in the Community Shield at Wembley a fortnight ago.

Overall, we produced the necessary result against an improved Palace outfit who will no doubt make life difficult for all the top teams when they visit south London this season. Our first three points of the season safely on the board and a return to a more fluent formation before we entertain Liverpool a week tomorrow – the best possible response to last week’s defeat.

Meanwhile up in Manchester, Jose Mourinho hooked his captain after 45 minutes and saw his reigning champions get handed a lesson in expansive, expensively-assembled attacking play, as Chelsea hilariously lost 3-0 to ensure zero wins from their opening two games for the first time since the 1998-99 season.

So almost the perfect Sunday, and I say almost, because although it’s always a pleasure to see Mourinho and Chelsea get beat, the best result from an Arsenal title challenge perspective, would surely have been a draw between last year’s top two – especially considering the commanding manner in which City have started their season.

Back tomorrow with post-match reaction etc.

Until then.

15th August 2015: Who will play against Palace?

Welcome back. As is the norm after a defeat like last Sunday’s against West Ham, it’s been a looooong week. We’ve had six days of introspection and castigation but at Selhurst Park tomorrow afternoon, we have an opportunity to put our false start behind us and secure our first Premier League points of the new season.

Of course, it won’t be easy. This is a stronger Palace than the one we did the league double over last year and we’re coming off the back of a wretched display. In terms of team selection, I’m tempted to suggest we should be unchanged personnel-wise, and look perhaps at finessing our formation by playing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from the left, Aaron Ramsey on the right and shifting Santi Cazorla back in alongside Francis Coquelin.

I think Palace’s pace down their right flank would be too much for Santi if for instance Wilfried Zaha or Yannick Bolasie are played and more importantly, we miss his passing in the middle when he’s deployed wide.

Speaking of flanks, although Alexis Sanchez has been declared fit and available by Arsene Wenger, judging by how off the pace our Chilean magician looked against the Hammers, I’d be surprised if he was in peak condition just seven days on. Barring that cameo, he’s had no match practice since his summer break after all.

Here’s what Arsene’s had to say yesterday on Sanchez’ fitness and what he expects from the former Barcelona man this season:

He came back reasonably fit. He practised for two weeks before he came back. He did not start from zero. In training now, he looks alright. I knew before the start that, once he was here, he would be difficult to stop. So I gave him a long enough break. He had four weeks off, which is quite reasonable. He finished on July 3 and he came back on August 3. He works extremely hard in every single training session to show that he is ready. I think what he does is, for me, normal. It is what everybody should do. You wonder if he has created a beach at home, and runs along the living room! He is a hyperactive guy. He needs that to be happy. He played 52 or 53 games last season, plus the Copa America. That means somewhere he has an instinct that shows how far he can go. It is difficult. In March, April, May, you could see he was a bit jaded. But he is still a guy who can make a decision in a game. And once he is out there he gives 100 per cent. This season, he knows what is expected from him, and he will do better than last year.

Alexis will no doubt be chomping a the bit to be involved from the start because that’s just the irrepressible nature of the man, but If there’s any doubt he’s not completely ready, I’d give him another place on the bench and expect not to have to introduce him out of desperation like last week.

Up front, with goals on consecutive visits to Palace and the physical nature of the hosts’ game, I can’t imagine Olivier Giroud won’t start. On a similar note, on our last visit, Calum Chambers was picked ahead of Hector Bellerin, presumablly for his added height more than anything else, so it will be interesting to see if Arsene adjusts his defensive lineup at all.

I mean, we have more than one position now where the first-choice is far from certain so we could, contrary to most of the above, actually see a number of changes. One or more of Gabriel, Bellerin, Mikel Arteta, and Theo Walcott could all conceivably start the match.

But whichever 11 are picked, they’ll need to be far more measured with their passing on what is a new, hopefully slick, pitch and far better organised all over the field than we were against West Ham.

Lets see.


14th August 2015: Happy thoughts

Happy Friday folks. Let’s hope this weekend ends rather more positively from an Arsenal perspective than the last, because frankly, the negativity after a defeat leaves me feeling more nauseous than the result itself.

Why? Simply because too many fans and pundits are far too reactionary and it’s draining. The default remedy for many, involves buying someone, anyone, as if the transfer market offers some kind of guarantee for points and wins.

And love him or hate him, the manager Arsene Wenger, not for the first time, made this very point when he was inevitably asked about potential new additions to his squad at his pre-match press conference today. He said:

We are as open (to buying) after that bad result (West Ham) as we were before. We were working very hard and we are focused to do what can strengthen our squad. The availability is not big. If we find somebody anywhere who strengthens our squad then we will do it. It is not easy, it is not supermarket stuff where you go in and say, ‘I would like this, please can you give it to me.’ The availability is not easy. When you lose a game you always get that kind of demand, we have to be honest enough and ask, ‘Could we have won the game without any addition?’ and I would say yes. Always the solution comes from outside, lets look inside at ourselves and produce the performance that is expected of us. I think that would be much more intelligent than always expecting a miracle from outside.

Which is spot on. My criticism of last week would involve asking why the players seemed so rushed in their passing? Perhaps even why Santi Cazorla had been moved from his central midfield berth of the second half of last season? And also why a clearly unfit Alexis Sanchez was on the bench, and then quite astonishingly, thrust into action?

But too much of the post-match talk entailed lampooning players like Olivier Giroud for supposedly being the cause of the team’s malfunction. If anything, the one position you would say we needed an improvement based on the opening 90 minutes of our new Premier League campaign would have been goalkeeper!

The reality of course, is that we had a bad opening day at the office but still have almost the entire season to make amends. In fact, we’ll have more of those days like last Sunday, as every other team will, the crucial task is for us to limit them as best we can through preparation, hard work and executing our style to the best of our collective capabilities.

All that said, football is an emotional pass-time for millions of fans and disappointment is obviously understandable, something the manager was quick to appreciate today:

[Our fans have] passion, love and that’s why it hurts [to lose]. We have a big following and disappointed people are emotional and that is understandable. It hurts us to disappoint people who have a high level of expectation. On our side we have to put things in perspective, we come out from a very strong run and we have 37 games to go. It’s how we respond [that matters]. Our job is to deal with this kind of reaction and just to keep your mind on your job, that means play football well and enjoy it. I believe we have a great group, we have a fantastic mentality and we have a united group of players. We were disappointed with the result [against West Ham] and with our performance. We have analysed what happened to us but we don’t have to go overboard with what happened. It is a defeat and it hurts but that shouldn’t take our belief in our potential away.We have the history behind us in the second half of the campaign last year that we have the quality to respond always and to be consistent. Defeat is part of the season and of course that was not planned but we know it is how we respond to these kind of things that will make our season.

It’s worth considering that last point again I think – we’ll lose again this season in all probability and although we can take great pride in being able to boast an unbeaten league campaign in our history, the lower-ranked teams in the division are perhaps improving at a greater rate than the top sides, making a repeat of 2004 all the more fanciful. This of course is due to significantly increased revenue across the board, combined with a lack of available, genuinely world class talent for the top four to significantly improve their squads. Again, Arsene made the point:

It will certainly be a tighter and tougher league because the quality of teams in the lower half of the table has improved. I believe in every game… what gives you a good indication is if you look at the bench of the team you play against, and when you look at the teams in the second part of the table and you look at their benches, it indicates that you will have tough games. I never had many easy matches in my life but it is always getting more difficult, that’s true.

Which brings us almost full circle to the training field. If everyone can buy, the difference will be made in the management and preparation of players, which should in turn lead to an improvement in the quality and consistency of the football they produce.

See you on Saturday.

13th August 2015: Phone calls and alarm bells

In a couple of hours time, it will be 19 years to the day since Arsenal signed arguably the greatest all-round midfielder these shores have ever seen – the one-man midfield that was Patrick Vieira.

The Frenchman’s reported desire to leave the club on a couple of occasions at the start of the new millennium obviously plays a role in this, but I think on the whole, Paddy’s influence on our success in his time with the club perhaps isn’t quite afforded the acclaim it deserves. Maybe I’m wrong but that’s the impression I often get and certainly in comparison to the likes of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp.

Anyway, as we approach the anniversary of his arrival, Arsene Wenger has been speaking about the vital role he played in Vieira’s capture, despite not being manager of the club at the time. Speaking to Arsenal Player, he said:

I knew him very well because he played his first game with Cannes against Monaco in a post-season friendly. He played against one of my players who was quite tough and he dominated him physically. He was 17 years old at the time and I said after the game that this player would make a big career. I wasn’t wrong there. I had a big hand in [signing him], yes. I did it from Nagoya. I think he trusted me because when I called him on the phone, he was in Amsterdam to sign for Ajax. He was in Holland, he was there to sign but I knew his agents. I spoke to Patrick and said, ‘Please, stop. Come to Arsenal.’ They were waiting at a hotel to go to the headquarters of the club to sign and I could just stop it. The next morning, he flew from Amsterdam to London. My whole history could have changed [without convincing him to join Arsenal]. That’s the coincidence and the luck in life. I just had the right luck to intervene at the right moment.

Of all the successful signings Arsene’s made in his tenure at the club, Vieira for me, remains the pick. Not only was he a complete midfielder of the highest calibre, he was a leader’s leader whose qualities we haven’t come close to adequately replacing since his departure.

But one man who is certainly making a good fist of replicating Vieira’s authority in the middle of the park at the moment is his compatriot Francis Coquelin. Of course Coquelin doesn’t have the height or rangy ball carrying capabilities of Paddy in his prime, yet he does share a certain tenacity and ball-winning prowess.

Unfortunately last Sunday, Coquelin, like may of his colleagues in fairness, seemed to forget their lines and contrived to let West Ham win at Emirates Stadium with relative ease. But the midfielder says the squad have heard the alarm bells loud and clear and are determined to use the loss as a spring board for future success, starting at Selhurst Park on Sunday:

It’s been a wake-up call for everyone. Considering the recent results we had before that, going really well in pre-season, it’s disappointing and it was not an Arsenal performance. However, in bad things, good things can come out too. It’s good that it happened in the first game so that now we can pull ourselves together with 37 games left. We’ve got time to put things right and that needs to start on Sunday. Everybody realises that we need to put more in. When you look at different teams I think a lot of them are ready. You look at Manchester City when they played against West Brom, I think they played really good football. We need to pull ourselves together and it’s going to be a real test on Sunday because Crystal Palace have a really good squad. We know the quality we have and we need to respond straight away. We’ve been working really hard in training and we need to put all of the training effort into the game.

And speaking of our next game, the manager has revealed the latest team news, which sees Alexis Sanchez and Hector Bellerin declared fit and ready to play, with Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and Danny Welbeck all still on the treatment table.

Back Friday.

12th August 2015: Ozil adapts + deep-fried shake

Welcome all. The briefest of posts today, mainly because there is nothing to talk about and I’m feeling about as creative as James Milner.

In fact, I’ll start with a few bits of actual, real, hot off the press, ‘news’ to kick things off:

  • A month’s worth of rain is to fall on the UK over the next two days, according to reports

From a life perspective, that’s pretty sh*t. But on the bright side, those clubs and managers who purposely instruct groundsmen not to water their pitches when Arsenal are in town will be gutted and slick passing shall prevail. Unlucky Alan.

  • A chip shop in Lancashire has started serving a deep-fried battered milkshake

I don’t even know what that means. But Wayne Rooney and Luke Shaw will be drooling and delighted in equal measure.

  • The launch of London’s night tube service will be delayed, it has been announced

Not really an inconvenience for me I must say, given how infrequently I use the network but I’m sure the news will come as a huge disappointment for millions. Get a car or go to sleep would be my advice.

  • A man trying to impress women on a nightclub dance floor in Cardiff poos himself

That’s rather unfortunate and also pretty gross. It does however provide a lot of reputable outlets with a truly newsworthy story to share with the masses. And no, I didn’t link to it, your eyes will thank me.

Moving swiftly on and Mesut Ozil says Germany are a shining example to wider society of how people from different cultures can integrate and co-exist in a positive manner. Speaking to Arsenal Player, he said:

Integration is a difficult topic. The best example is the German national team because lots of people from other cultures come together and play with respect. That’s how it should be in general life. You should be open with one another, you should treat each other with respect. If that happened, things would look different, also in general.

And the 26 year old master passer also discussed his own ability to easily adapt to new countries and cultures, saying:

I’m the sort of person who can integrate quickly. I’m a normal person and people who know me know that I’m quite quiet and just like doing my thing. That was the case here, with the German national team and in my youth. For example, when I experienced things changing, like if I changed class at school, it wasn’t the case that I would worry about how I would cope not knowing anyone, it was the opposite. I was and still am very open when I meet people. It was like that at Arsenal too. When I joined the club, I knew some players from playing alongside them in the national team or at Werder Bremen. But in general, I enjoy being able to meet new people and experience new cultures. I lived in Spain and got to know the wonderful culture and people there. Now I’m in England, where I’m learning the language and the culture. I love what I do and I’m thankful that football helps me develop myself by learning new languages and different cultures. I’m proud of that.

Mesut’s words again bring to my mind at least, the issue of our domestically born players and, in 99.99 percent of cases, their unwillingness to experience foreign leagues and foreign living.

It’s a real shame because one solution to the supposed problem of a lack of opportunity for young British players because of the influx of overseas players to the Premier League, is staring them in the face, if only the’d be brave enough to get on a flight, perhaps forego some money in the short-term and enhance their game through international experience.

Til Thursday.