11th August 2015: Arsenal undefeated for over 20 years

Evening people. Hopefully everyone’s starting to get over Sunday’s defeat because given our pre-season form leading up to the game, it was undoubtedly a seismic shock to the system. A bolt from the claret and blue. As shocking as Jose Mourinho’s treatment of his medical staff.

But with the club in no mood to talk, our fanbase evidently distraught and transfer news starting and ending with the Twitter-powered Karim Benzema saga, I thought I’d take this opportunity to look back on the club’s history against our next opponents.

Forget 49 games, Arsenal are undefeated in over 20 years to Crystal Palace in all competitions, having won the last five, all in the Premier League. Since their promotion back to the top flight for the 2013-2014 campaign, we’ve scored two goals in all four fixtures, winning the first 2-0 at Selhurst Park in October 2013 with goals from Mikel Arteta (pen) and Olivier Giroud.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain then settled the return fixture by grabbing both goals from a central midfield assignment in another 2-0 win in February 2014.

Last season, we opened our Premier League campaign by hosting the Eagles of course, and responded to Brede Hangeland’s opener for the visitors by scoring through Laurent Koscielny, before Aaron Ramsey grabbed a last-minute winner.

And our last trip to Selhurst Park in February earlier this year was settled by goals from Santi Cazorla (pen) and Giroud, with Glenn Murray tapping in a late consolation for the hosts, to induce heart palpitations in us all for a couple of minutes.

But before this recent quartet of clashes, we have to go all the way back to Valentine’s Day 2005 for the last meeting between the two sides, when a brace from Thierry Henry (one from a well-worked corner routine if memory serves) and a goal apiece from Dennis Bergkamp, Jose Antonio Reyes and Patrick Vieira secured us a handsome 5-1 win at Highbury. Andy Johnson got their solitary strike.

The first fixture that season was the last time Palace managed to stop us winning, with the Finn, Aki Riihilahti, quickly cancelling out Henry’s opener in the second half of the game at Selhurst Park in November 2004.

Arsene Wenger has faced the south London club on a further four occasions as Arsenal manager. His first two games both ended in 0-0 draws; a league game at Selhurst Park in October 1997, before an FA Cup clash in February 1998 at Highbury.

In fact, we played the Eagles three times in just ten days that month, with a 1-0 league win, secured courtesy of Gilles Grimandi’s solitary strike at Highbury, being sandwiched by our FA Cup replay, won thanks to an early goal by Nicolas Anelka and another later that half from Bergkamp, before Bruce Dyer pulled one back for the hosts.

Our overall record against Palace, stretching back to the first meeting in January 1934 – a 7-0 Arsenal win, including a brace by Cliff Bastin, third on our list of all-time top-scorers with 178 – reads played 37, won 24, drawn 10 and lost 3 in all comps.

What does all of the above indicate in terms of our next meeting? If you’re a sucker for sequences, I guess it depends on how far back you go. But I wouldn’t look further than 2013 because before that, the squads of both sides contained completely different personnel.

In which case we should score twice and win, Giroud will net the second and a Spaniard will score our first from the spot with Palace maybe getting on the score-sheet themselves. But I prefer to adhere to the mantra an old boss at work offered me in reference to the technical analysis of financial markets: ‘what the f*ck has the past got to do with the future?’.

Still, taking a little trip down memory lane provided me at least, with a welcome distraction from our humbling by the Hammers.

Actual news-wise, our third-choice goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez has joined Wolves on a season’s loan. Hopefully there’s a recall option in the event of an injury/suspension to Petr Cech or David Ospina because otherwise, we’re looking at one of the academy keepers to step up. Anyway, best of luck to the big Argentine and he joins former Arsenal youth and goal-scoring machine Benik Afobe at the Midlands club.

Back tomorrow.

10th August 2015: Wenger on West Ham + Benzema latest

Evening. So the dust has settled on the defeat to West Ham and to be honest, having watched all our pre-season games leading up to yesterday’s game, I still can’t quite believe what happened.

Now there are plenty who will say that they’ve seen this before and it’s ‘same old Arsenal’ under ‘same old Arsene Wenger’, soft underbelly, flattering to deceive, promising marmalade mañana etc etc but I genuinely agree with the manager’s description of our loss yesterday as an ‘accident’:

We will respond to that accident. The players were maybe too nervous and put too much pressure on themselves. Today we have been hurt mentally and it is a good opportunity to respond. We were not convincing offensively or defensively. I knew it could be a tricky game. If you can’t win the game, make sure you don’t lose it.

Whether that accident was caused by driver error, faulty car components or a combination of both is, I think, not worth analysing in too much detail at this stage of the season. If we look at this loss in the context of our competitive results so far this calendar year, then we can certainly regard it as anomalous. And I’d far rather an opening day league defeat than for such a sequential outlier to have occurred one competitive game earlier, in the FA Cup Final for instance.

Of course such a forgiving mood won’t last if the doomsayers are vindicated and we continue to drop points over the next few weeks. At that point, I’d be as irate and disappointed as so many seem to be right now. Until then though, why not see how things go for a while? We have a new, albeit apparently jittery, world class ‘keeper and with one big omission in Jack Wilshere, a settled squad which should be at peak fitness very soon.

Anyway, here are some choice snippets of Arsene’s take on the game:

  • I think our performance was not convincing, on the two aspects of our game, going forward and defending.
  • I feel we gave two very cheap goals away.
  • Our passing was too slow and in the end we were punished.
  • West Ham looked a bit sharper than us, more advanced in preparation than us – they’ve played many competitive games in the Europa League. I knew before game it would be tricky game on that front.
  • I felt we were a bit nervous and we rushed our game a bit.
  • The concentration and the organisation was not perfect.

The point that sticks out for me is the last one because any team with ambitions of winning the league should have concentration and organisation as a given. Still, I’m choosing to consign the whole sorry affair to history and instead look forward to the next task at hand which is at Crystal Palace on Sunday. And Arsene unsurprisingly, was quick to point out an immediate response from his side was imperative:

A successful season is how you respond to disappointments and it’s never a clear motorway. We have to respond quickly. We have a tricky start. Crystal Palace are a very good team, Liverpool are a very good team, and you could see again today that we are not completely there physically.


Right, that’s a line drawn under that from my perspective.

And moving straight onto the the saga of the summer from an Arsenal point of view, and the first thing to say is I’m glad the starring role isn’t being played by one of our own being linked away from the club. Instead it’s Real Madrid’s number nine, Karim Benzema.

The general consensus all summer has been that if there are any big-money incomings at the club they would arrive closer to the end of the transfer window than the start and with the deadline three weeks today, we’re likely to see the market as a whole start to come to life.

Despite Arsenal’s chances of signing Benzema being categorically dismissed by a number of reputable sources earlier this summer, others are calling this transfer very much on, with some going so far as to say over the weekend that the deal was agreed and Madrid had secured Marco Reus to replace the Frenchman at the Bernabeu.

Benzema’s agent was also reportedly at Emirates Stadium on Sunday and the negotiator between the two sides has today been named as Gustavo Mascardi. However, Manchester City have entered the race and have also been joined by Bayern Munich according to some, although one source is still adamant Arsenal have the transfer tied up despite any late interest from elsewhere. All rather conflicted to say the least, and also possibly completely fabricated by Twitter. We’ll see.

Til Tuesday.

9th August 2015: Cech aura Petrs out in loss to West Ham

So after all the pre-match talk highlighting the importance of a strong start to the season for our title dreams, we’ve managed to lose our opening game of the Premier League campaign two nil at home to West Ham, with Petr Cech at fault for at least one of the goals.

Arsene Wenger made two changes to the team that started last Sunday’s Community Shield win, with ‘a slight muscular injury’ ruling out Hector Bellerin, who was replaced at right-back by Mathieu Debuchy, and Olivier Giroud coming in up front at the expense of a benched Theo Walcott.

And right from the off I thought we looked slow in our thinking, rushed in our passing and over-elaborate in a lot of our play, even by our standards. Too many players were ignoring the simple pass in favour of trying to steal the show.

I hate to single out individuals but Aaron Ramsey seemed to me, to be occupying too many of the spaces and too much of the possession Mesut Ozil should have had. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was probably the pick of our performers in the first half with some typically buccaneering bursts but as a team, very little came off for us going forward.

West Ham by contrast, clearly had a contain and counter game-plan instilled in them by new manager Slaven Bilic and were executing it pretty well in the first half. New-boy Dimitri Payet in particular, looked lively and threatening on the break for the Hammers and Cheikhou Kouyaté was full of running.

Even the fact they were fielding a 16 year old, albeit the tallest 16 year old anyone’s ever seen, in midfield, didn’t diminish their display as I was certain it would when the teams were announced. I mean, when was the last time a team played against us with a toddler in their engine room, let alone go on to win comfortably?

But then just before the interval, they won a freekick, it was drifted in, Petr Cech came out to punch it away very unconvincingly, Kouyaté beat him to the ball and glanced home to put them one up. Undoubtedly bad ‘keeping from the Czech but I’m putting it down to first-game jitters and a lack of understanding with the new defence he finds himself behind.

However I’d love to know if there was a shout from either Cech or our defenders as the ball was floated in. Because if the ‘keeper did yell something like “mine!” or “keeper’s!”, then it was an even worse piece of play by the former Chelsea man as it means he misjudged the situation horribly. If not, then communication is something that needs working on back there urgently.

At half-time, I still expected Arsenal to come back out and do the necessary to turn the game around quite easily if I’m honest. I wasn’t being complacent or arrogant in my thinking, I just felt we would improve our game and the goals would arrive. I wasn’t particularly concerned by West Ham’s attacking capabilities despite their goal.

Yet we found ourselves two down on 57 minutes, when about half our team converged on a loose ball in our area before Oxlade-Chamberlain eventually took charge of the situation momentarily, before gifting the ball straight to Mauro Zarate, who fired home at the near post with Cech this time wrong-footed. Perhaps Zarate gave him the eyes because otherwise it was poor ‘keeping again.

After that, we chased the game, Arsene threw on Walcott and a clearly unfit Alexis Sanchez for Coquelin and Debuchy which meant Cazorla ended the game as our deepest central midfielder and our best attacker on the day – the Ox – as auxiliary right-back. I don’t think we came close to scoring if I’m honest and if anything West Ham probably came closer to a third near the end when Mark Noble crossed from the right.

Overall a shocking result to start the new league season and although the players must take a lot of the blame for their performances, I think Arsene will know he got a few things wrong today too.

For instance, the Cazorla-Coquelin combo was crucial to our success in the second half of last season as it enabled efficient ball circulation from the centre, as well as providing a defensive shield, yet was abandoned today. That said, we played with the same set-up as today against Chelsea last weekend and won, which may have swayed the manager.

One way of reverting to it with the same personnel would be Ramsey swapping roles with the Spaniard, or playing from the right, with the Ox switching to the left, even if the Welshman’s made it clear he prefers the central role. If not, then Ramsey needs to improve both his play and his understanding with Coquelin next to him based on today.

It is of course silly to draw any definitive conclusions from the game but even at this very early stage of the season, today’s result feels like a massive opportunity spurned to both make a statement and after yesterday’s results, gain some points on the current champions.

Back tomorrow with post-match reaction. Til then.

8th August 2015: This year’s Owls, pressure and West Ham selection

Welcome back. Just one more sleep until The Arsenal are back in Premier League action and it’ll be a slightly sounder one tonight, thanks to Chelsea dropping points after twice losing the lead to draw 2-2 with Swansea.

Tottenham lost at Man United, but then they get beat most weeks so no melatonin boost there sadly. I only saw parts of each game and despite beating Arsenal’s shadow dwellers, United looked like a team who weren’t yet a team, if you now what I mean. All parts and no packaging.

The other realistic title contenders, Man City and Liverpool, like us, haven’t played yet but almost every year, there is also a team that shoots out of the blocks like Frank Lampard chasing an ice cream van and breaks into the top four for a while before inevitably falling away.

I still remember Sheffield Wednesday doing exactly that one year in the mid nineties, inspired by the left foot of the man a presumably pissed Johan Cruyff once described as ‘the next Marco van Basten’ – Ritchie Humphreys. Anyway, Arsene Wenger was asked at his press conference on Friday who he thought might be the early-season pretenders this year, and also who he felt were favourites to win the league. Here’s what he said:

Every year, especially in the first part of the race, during the first part of the season, one team always gets in. Who will it be this season? I don’t know. For a long period last year it was West Ham. When we played at Christmas at West Ham they were fourth in the league so it could be another surprise this season. Chelsea won it by a margin last year so they are the favourites. After that let’s see how it goes. After 15 games you will know more about who will win the Premier.

Arsene was then asked whether his club could cope with the pressures of expectation and how confident he was Arsenal would win the league this year, and responded in a typically honest and realistic manner, saying:

I believe we are able to handle it and we want to handle it. We can talk and talk about it but in football you have to accept that you can win, draw or lose. What you expect is that you give your best in every single game and we are determined to do that. The other thing we don’t know is how good our opponents will be. I don’t know how good Man United will be, how good Man City will be, but if you look at their squads they can have the same ambition that we have. The pressure is the same at Liverpool, Man City, Man United and Arsenal. That is normal. The only place where you don’t have that situation now is in France because everyone knows that PSG will win the league. Here what is interesting is that the pressure is on everybody, at least on six or seven clubs. That makes the Premier League so interesting.

The boss then expressed his belief that qualifying for the top four in seasons past presented a far more stressful proposition, given our annual loss of star players due to financial constraints which left us with far weaker squads to the one we currently boast. He said:

We had much more pressure before when I knew I had at least to be in the top four and we did not necessarily have the potential to do it. The pressure is really on you when you know you are just on the border of achieving what is absolutely requested. When you know you cannot miss an inch or you are out. That is much more difficult.

Right, team news. Arsene confirmed Tomas Rosicky and Danny Welbeck would be unavailable for West Ham when he spoke with the official site on Thursday, and on Friday said he didn’t think Alexis Sanchez would be involved as it’s a little early for him, so I full expect the Chilean to start on the left of the attack tomorrow afternoon and score a hat trick.

“Boss! What do you mean I can’t play?”

Jack Wilshere is obviously out for the forseeable so given all of the above I think we’ll be unchanged from last week in all honesty, lining up as follows:

Cech, Bellerin, Mertersacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil, Cazorla, Walcott.

Unless there are late knocks from today’s training session, the only alternatives to that eleven I can envisage are Giroud coming in for Ramsey, with Cazorla moving central and Walcott dropping to the left, or Giroud coming in for Oxlade-Chamberlain or Walcott. But I doubt it, given our win over Chelsea last week and Arsene’s preference for keeping a winning formula fermenting until he’s forced to adjust the ingredients. We’ll find out soon enough I guess.

And I suppose all that’s left to be said tonight is COME ON ARSENAL!

See you Sunday.

7th August 2015: Fighting talk from Wenger on Premier League eve

Here we are then. On the starting grid again and the lights are amber. Engines are revving, clutches are biting and one racer, our racer, says he’s ready for the battles that beckon on what will inevitably be a treacherous track to the Premier League title.

The season begins in earnest tomorrow and although we’ll have to wait until Sunday to see Arsenal in action when we entertain West Ham United, we did get some words from a bullish Arsene Wenger to help keep us occupied following his pre match press conference today:

I’m ready for a fight and of course motivated to start well. One of our targets is to start strong. We had a good preparation and that should give us the needed confidence. The Premier League is a fight in every single game so we have to prepare ourselves mentally for that and come out of the blocks straight away against West Ham.

From an Arsenal perspective, it’s the season of great expectations. The squad appears, on paper at least, our best equipped to become domestic champions in a number of years, and also talented and deep enough to provide a realistic challenge to the continent’s best, for what would be the club’s first-ever Champions League crown.

But rather than being intimidated by such a a huge wave of optimistic anticipation, Arsene says he much prefers the current challenge of being declared genuine contenders, to being dismissed as potential champions before a ball has even been kicked, as his side so often were in pre-seasons past:

Yes of course [there is expectation], but we enjoy that. Before we suffered sometimes from the fact that at the start of the season, nobody considered us at all because we lost our best players. That period is over now so we are happy to be under this kind of pressure.

Having ended last season in third place in the table and as FA Cup winners, to many, progress and success would no doubt be winning one of the big two trophies. Yet we won’t be the only club with those lofty ambitions and the reality is a maximum of two teams can win them. So what does the manager think would constitute a ‘successful’ campaign in his opinion?

For me, success is to get the maximum out of the potential of the team. That is the real success. We also want to do better than last season because we always want to move forward. That means that the target is quite high. We won the FA Cup last year and we finished third in the Premier League so our target is very high. Our ambition is to win the Premier League but we have to sustain that by performance and fighting spirit in every single game.

Besides getting his players to perform at the peak of their powers, we’ll also require a little more luck on the injury front and avoid the kind of long-term absences we suffered to the likes of Mesut Ozil, Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud in the first half of last season.

Which is a point the manager made himself today, highlighting the fact that we were actually the league’s best performing side, points-wise, over the last 26 league fixtures of the previous campaign.

The boss then reiterated the need for a flying start and expressed his belief that his current set of players are good enough to win the league without further signings, saying:

Let’s start strong this season… I believe we have the needed ingredients. But we have a tricky start as well because we have two derbies and Liverpool in the first three games, so we have a difficult schedule from the start. We need to maintain our game. hat’s important as well – that we develop what we do well and do not stand still. That means we develop our cohesion, our passing game. If we are capable to keep the cohesion and the solidarity we have at the moment through the 38 games, we have a good chance.

Yet in typical Arsene fashion, he didn’t rule out new arrivals if the right opportunities arise:

But we do not rule it out if something exceptional comes up to do it. I’m very happy with the squad I have but we always look to strengthen and if that turns up, we will still strengthen.

He also kind of dismissed the Karim Benzema stories by labeling them ‘just media talk’, but I wouldn’t expect anything else from the boss really. All that tells us is no deal has been reached but doesn’t rule out the possibility of negotiations behind the scenes. That’s what I’m clinging to anyway.

There was also more from the boss on various other, stuff from rule changes to Alexis Sanchez and team news too but I’ll look at some of that tomorrow and also pick what I think will be our starting eleven on Sunday.

But finally for today, the club have confirmed Serge Gnabry has signed a season-long loan deal at West Brom, so best of luck to the young German at The Hawthorns. Hopefully he can earn a regular starting spot and help the Baggies take points from all our title rivals this term.

And by my estimation, with several loan deals now tied up for an array of our young stars, only Joel Campbell and Wellington Silva remain as peripheral players in the first-team squad.

Whilst the former has been strongly linked with Palermo in recent days and is still on extended holidays after playing for Costa Rica over the summer, the Brazilian is reportedly on a specially designed fitness regime at London Colney and I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see him stay with the club having spent the last 14 seasons on loan in Spain securing a passport. Another loan would just be cruel Arsene…

Til Saturday.

6th August 2015: Wilshere woe as he cracks left fibula

Poor Jack. Just as he thought he’d completed pre season free from injury and nearing peak condition – BANG – he’s ruled out for another sustained period, with what the club today confirmed as being a hairline crack to his left fibula.

It’s clearly a massive set-back for the club, but the player himself must be even more devastated given how he’s suffered so many injuries in his relatively short career so far.

Arsene Wenger, who had said over the weekend that the injury would only side-line Wilshere for a ‘matter of days’, revealed his shock at it’s now confirmed severity, saying:

I had a bad surprise because it is a hairline crack in his fibula that makes him a few weeks out. There is minimal damage apart from the bone damage – there is no damage at all apart from that. It was a collision in training and it was all completely accidental.

A fibula bone (shown in red)

Now obviously I didn’t see the collision but a general point on Jack is that as much as I’m sure we all love his determination in challenges and accept that it’s a representation of his steely character, I can’t help but feel he could learn a little about injury avoidance from somebody like his former England colleague Frank Lampard.

Although I think there’s nothing he could pick up footballistically from studying the former Chelsea man – apart from maybe how to score so many deflected goals or put away penalties – he could look at how Lampard managed to break that consecutive appearances record by being a bit more intelligent and selective in his tackles/collisions etc.

Anyway, we can take some heart I suppose, from the fact Arsene says there is ‘minimal damage’ besides to the bone itself which, having had a quick look online, suggests no tissue damage which should mean a more rapid recovery.

In terms of the impact on the squad, we have one less option in central midfield and the three attacking roles behind the striker, yet we still look comfortably stocked to cover for his absence.

That said, for me anyway, it’s a stark reminder of how fragile a footballer can be, and although Jack’s qualities can be replicated by others in the squad, the same cannot be said of Francis Coquelin, so a purchase in his position may now become a priority if it wasn’t already.

Elsewhere, Arsene had injury updates on other members of the squad today, revealing Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky were on ‘progressive recoveries’. A bit ambiguous there from the boss, but I suppose he has to be cautious with putting time-frames on returns to full fitness, particularly given Wilshere’s amended prognosis.

Plus for all the advances in medicine, it’s worth considering that even the best doctors in the world still, relatively speaking of course, know very little about the human body, and hence recovery.

If only we could bottle Alexis Sanchez’s powers of physical endurance because despite only returning to training with the team this week, the Chilean wasn’t completely ruled out from playing in the Premier League opener against West Ham on Sunday by Arsene:

Alexis is back in training but I don’t think he will be involved on Sunday, it is a bit early maybe. We have to decide that at the end of the week, but I don’t think he will be involved.

Speaking to the official site, the boss also explained how he was far from surprised at seeing pictures emerge over recent weeks of Sanchez training whilst still technically on his summer break:

Alex without running around is not Alex, you know. You can’t imagine him lying on the beach somewhere and not moving! He came back in good fitness shape so that is quite positive, but I am not surprised by that because I can’t imagine him lying around for four weeks and doing nothing. That wouldn’t be him.

Nope. That’d be more like me. In fact, I’m due a little rest up, with maybe a small, savoury snack or two.


5th August 2015: Ozil’s in awe, Cech’s hungry and some guy on Twitter says something

Evening all.

I’m steaming straight into today’s post like Ramires does challenges on opponents – with reckless abandon and the minimum of fuss.

First up it’s our peerless, midfield visionary Mesut Ozil, who says he sees a lot of things – which is obviously no surprise given he could spot a throughball to a team-mate from the dressing room – to admire about compatriot and Arsenal team-mate Per Mertesacker. Speaking to Arsenal Player, he said:

I always see Per as a role model. He always gives everything for the team, you can see that he’s determined and wants to be successful. You can sense that on the pitch. He’s very focused, very professional. He does his job 100 per cent – he’s not the sort of person who does things by half measures. He’s rather the sort of person who, if he has something in his head, wants to see it through. He looks after himself and his diet, and before matches he does his exercises to make sure that he stays fit and doesn’t pick up any injuries. You can see on the pitch that he’s fresh and is always there for everyone. We’re just really pleased to have him and you can sense on the pitch that he gives everything for the team.

And I’m really pleased to have him in our side too. Along with Francis Coquelin and Olivier Giroud, I think he anchors this Arsenal team, allowing Ozil et al to play their liquid football around them.

Per Mertesacker

So what if he can’t run very fast, because he reads the game like the best of them, his passing’s always clean and crisp, aerially, in open-play at least, he’s dominant, and he also isn’t afraid to dish out the odd rollicking or two to team-mates, which is always healthy for any team. And Ozil can certainly vouch for that last one, with memories of the end of the league game away to Man City the season before last, still relatively fresh.

Someone else who’s determined, professional and wants to be successful is our new signing Petr Cech, who when speaking at a Q&A on Members’ Day earlier this week, revealed his appetite for silverware is as insatiable as ever, despite his trophy-laden spell at Chelsea. He said:

A lot of times, people say that if you win a major trophy you get satisfied and stop working. I think it’s the other way around. Once you win a big trophy, it’s such an amazing feeling of achievement and accomplishment that you want to live it again. This group now knows how to win trophies and they enjoy it very much. You can see the celebration every time we win trophies, and everybody speaks about it. I’m sure that everybody wants to at least repeat that this year.

Well the do say that success breeds success and that was certainly true of our season last time around, as we secured a second, successive FA Cup with consummate ease against Aston Villa in May, having stuttered over the line 12 months earlier against Hull City.

Although we also had a certain Alexis Sanchez to produce a goal from nowhere and better players of course always help, the experience of that first taste of success undeniably played a big part in our overall confidence as a club in successfully defending the competition.

The next step is obviously the Premier League title or a first Champions League win in the club’s history, so we’ll only really know if the domestic cups were indeed a stepping stone if and when we reach those promised lands. Make it happen lads!

Elsewhere, an Italian journalist who has written for several well-known publications caused turmoil on Twitter this afternoon after tweeting that not only would Karim Benzema be joining Arsenal in the near future, but that he would on a four year deal for £120,000 a week.

I suppose if I wanted to make up a story, I’d include fictitious, finer details because it might stop people from instantly dismissing the claim as bullshit – ‘why would he know the salary if he was lying’ etc – but then this guy has previous with his reports of new Arsenal signings being wide of the mark, as was quickly pointed out by irate fans on Twitter today.

That said, something just feels wrong about the denials from both sides saying it won’t happen. I mean, and this is obviously pure conjecture, but if we look at the story so far, we’ve had a series of conflicting reports rumbling on for far too long now for there not to be something more to it than an off chance of a deal providing Real Madrid can find a suitable replacement.

On the one hand, we’ve had one of our own directors reveal a striker was on our shopping list and that the player wanted to come, reports of telephone conversations between Arsene Wenger and the player himself, Benzema left out of recent Real Madrid friendlies through alleged injury, Gareth Bale talking up his preference for a central role at Madrid and more stuff to suggest a deal could be on.

Then to counter-balance, we’ve had Real deny it, Arsene deny it, his agent say his client would stay one benzillion percent and Sky’s Spanish expert Guillem Balague rule it out completely, yet some of the language has been ambiguous here, like Rafa Benitez saying ‘he thinks’ the player wants to stay in Spain.

Maybe I’m reading far too much into all this and just need to close my Newsnow tab for a while, but I’m not completely buying that the deal is impossible as some have suggested. Which I suppose puts me in the same boat as a lot of other people.

It’s late and I fear I’m making as much sense as David James talking about football. I better turn in.

Back tomorrow.

4th August 2015: Ramsey bigs up Walcott as Akpom heads to Hull

Alright Gooners? Good.

With any new ‘world class’ striker highly unlikely to join until 5.59pm on Tuesday, September 1st (the window shuts at 6pm this year), if at all, the goalscoring potential of our current contenders for the role is obviously well worth reconsidering.

And Aaron Ramsey has been doing just that today, praising Theo Walcott’s finishing and self-belief as a goal-getter. The Welshman told Arsenal Player:

He did very well at the end of last year. He’s had a good pre-season. He looks sharp, he looks strong and he can be dangerous. He is a goalscorer – he has a load of goals for Arsenal and I think he can carry that on and maybe get into the 100 Club this year. He’s a very strong character. He believes in his abilities and he definitely has a lot of qualities to offer. He can finish – one of the hardest things to do in football is to put the ball in the back of the net and he’s done it on numerous occasions for Arsenal. Hopefully he can continue doing that.

Hard to argue with any of that but the main thing for many people when it comes to Theo playing upfront on a consistent basis, is his failure so far to produce against defences as physically uncompromising as Chelsea’s, for instance, was on Sunday, when the England international, despite picking up an assist, had a pretty quiet game overall.

Although, that said, Theo’s outings as a sole striker for the club have probably yet to reach double figures and so to expect him to immediately adapt from playing as a wide forward to the central role is fanciful, as it would be for anyone really.

Theo Walcott

I’ve no doubt he’d improve considerably given time to get to grips with the role but unfortunately for him, with the position we find ourselves in now as genuine title contenders, carrying huge expectation from the fans, it’s the worst time possible for him to expect patience from management, team-mates or the terraces.

And when you consider the immediate impact Olivier Giroud made in terms of offering a ‘presence’ at the tip of our attack when he replaced Theo at Wembley on Sunday, the Frenchman, to many, will seem our best bet to lead the line from our current set of players.

Danny Welbeck is obviously the other main contender but will need time to gain form and fitness after missing our entire pre-season programme through injury. Once he has however, I’d be far from surprised if he eventually proves to be the best of the three as our central striker because I think he has all the raw materials to do it.

As much as I’d love a Robert Lewandowski, Karim Benzema or Gonzalo Higuain – and in that order of preference for me – I actually think we have enough of a variation of attributes, and goals, within our squad as it is, to mount sustained challenges for the two big trophies. I’d far rather we secured another defensive midfielder given a choice of one or the other. But who knows, maybe we’ll get both before the end of the transfer window. We’ll see.

Moving on and as expected for a while, the club today confirmed Chuba Akpom’s season-long loan move to Hull, which sees the teenage striker link up with Arsenal team-mate Isaac Haydon, who made same switch last week.

It should be a great opportunity for the 19 year old to showcase his talents at a club expected to chase promotion and in a league which will undoubtedly aid his physical development. I’ll certainly be more inclined to watch Steve Bruce’s men on a more regular basis now that two young Gunners are on loan at the KC Stadium and hopefully will offer thoughts on their progress here as and when possible.

Elsewhere, there’s still talk of Palermo interest in Joel Campbell, Wellington Silva’s done a disappearing act from the club presumably, because there’s no mention of him whatsoever, anywhere, and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain’s responded to Roy Keane’s observation that Arsenal players are quite keen on personal grooming and social media by basically telling the Irishman to get with the times a little.

Yep, it’s that quiet. Give me Mourinho being Mourinho to talk about any day, over Keane being Keane.

A bit brief but that’s all for today folks, see you tomorrow.

3rd August 2015: Wenger goes all Aretha Franklin on attention-seeking Mourinho

Welcome back Blogees. Well, that turned out to be quite an enjoyable weekend I thought. I had harboured that all too familiar feeling of dread leading up to Sunday’s game at Wembley, given our struggles in beating Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea over his two spells in charge at Stamford Bridge, but the result was well worth the stomach churning in the end.

But to begin, a word or two on the ‘incident’ involving the two managers as the Arsenal team and staff walked down the Wembley stairs after lifting the Community Shield and were faced by Mourinho, who had waited to ‘congratulate’ them one by one in a not-at-all-for-the-cameras, public display of his newly-found class.

Having greeted every player like a long lost son, I’m certain the hug he was really hankering for, was from Arsene Wenger. But unfortunately for him, despite over half a century as a human being, he’s yet to realise that to earn respect, you must show respect, as the old adage advises, and this little act of appreciation for his side’s slayers on the day, was not nearly enough to make up for the endless insults he’s aimed in our manager’s direction over the years.

Arsene wasn’t in reconciliatory mood

Aretha Franklin said it best back in 1967 but Arsene was pretty clear with his message for the Chelsea manager when questioned as to why he’d blatantly blanked Mourinho when an olive branch was so glaringly in the offing – a classic use of tactical ignoring from our manager.

He said:

We live in a job where you have to respect people and respect everybody. It’s a difficult job and we just think it’s vital – and I’ve said this many times in managers’ meetings – that managers respect each other.

It did make me wonder though, whether Wenger had Rafa Benitez in mind when uttering those sentiments. Last week saw Mourinho plumb the depths of even his cocksure crassness, by ridiculing the Real Madrid manager’s waistline, in response to an admittedly provocative comment about ‘clearing up Jose’s messes’ from Benitez’s wife.

Her words were far from wise but was Mourinho then entitled to such a personal riposte? He could, after all, have kept the conversation to football and spoken only about what he perceives are Rafa’s managerial short-comings but oh no, he had to call him fat and tell his wife to concentrate on her supposed role in the kitchen. He just goes too far. And in terms of his estimation in our manager’s eyes, it’ll evidently take a sustained period of Jose not being a complete w*nker, before Arsene affords him even a courteous “hello”.

By the way, before anyone starts, I’m allowed to call Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard a little tubby now and again because this is supposed to be a blog with a strong Arsenal bias, written I hope, in what is a clearly jovial, piss-takey tone most of the time. Plus the pair of them are undeniably, for professional athletes at least, rather rotund.

Right, more than enough of that. Back to the game.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s match-winning goal was special enough I thought, but seeing Arsenal beat that horrible lot at their own game, yet at the same time, still attack with all the verve and geometric precision that are unmistakable hallmarks of an Arsene Wenger side, was, for me, the perfect way to win the match.

It wasn’t so much us “leaving our philosophy in the dressing room”, as Mourinho put it post-match, more a case of Arsene tailoring his doctrine to encompass both defensive pragmatism and our inherent panache for pass-and-move purity of football. Except, he implemented the new style at the turn of the year, when Francis Coquelin’s snarling, snapping emergence as our midfield terrior, came to the fore – not just for yesterday’s game.

Indeed, the two are not mutually exclusive anyway. Wenger once said that “making a good pass was also pragmatic”, and having witnessed the effectiveness of Santi Cazorla’s nimble feet and precise, pressure-relieving passing in our defensive third this calendar year, as well as Barcelona’s build-from-the-back dominance in recent times, ball-possession can still be king at both ends of the pitch – providing you are careful, creative and forward-thinking with it.

For instance, Chelsea enjoyed 57 percent of the possession yesterday – hardly dominance – yet did less with the ball than Arsenal managed with their 43 percent share. Barring Loic Remy’s good cross from the left in the first half which presented Ramires with that sitter he failed to convert, and a genuinely outstanding body-feint by Cesc Fabregas to create an opening for Eden Hazard in the second, Chelsea looked as threatening as a baby brandishing a balloon. Their attacking game amounted to no more than lumping it into the box from set-plays and taking long-range shots.

We, by contrast, defended in numbers and with tenacity but also stayed true to our tradition of creating goalscoring opportunities with crisp passing from the back (as for our goal) and bags of creative thinking – all when missing our best attacker in Alexis Sanchez.

This coming campaign should be fun – on and off the pitch.

Til Tuesday.

2nd August 2015: A rocket from the Ox gives Arsenal’s season lift-off

Evening all and what a fine, glorious one it is too. I suppose I ought to start with our one-nil Community Shied win over Chelsea this afternoon, which was secured courtesy of a left-footed rocket of a strike by Alex ‘Cesar Azpilicueta’s my b*tch’ Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Of course, it was ‘only’ the Community Shield and the hard stuff isn’t available until we entertain West Ham on the opening weekend of the Premier League season, but still, I like the buzz today’s result has produced. Oh yes.

A second, successive Community Shield secured for Arsenal

Although the scoreline wasn’t as emphatic as I had suggested it might be earlier this week, the Ox did partly do my prediction proud, with his bullying of Chelsea’s Spanish fullback, who admittedly escaped a nervous breakdown in the end, but not the referees notebook, for a desperate shirt-pull on his fancy-haired tormentor.

And immediately following his attempt to undress the Ox, the floundering fullback was shown mercy by his manager Jose Mourinho and replaced with Kurt Zouma shortly before the 70 minute mark. If Azpilicueta is the league’s best left back, then best of luck to the rest of them when they come up against the ferociously effervescent Ox in today’s form.

I won’t go into a blow by blow account of the action, mainly because Chelsea didn’t land any, but also because you probably saw the game and by the off chance you didn’t, there are plenty of places to find a detailed match report. Instead I’ll start with team selection and the headline news was that Theo Walcott assumed the central striking role ahead of Olivier Giroud and that Jack Wilshere missed out on the occasion entirely as he’d picked up an ankle knock in training yesterday.

Having seen the starting 11, I wondered how we’d line up. Who would play from the left? Would it be Mesut Ozil? Or Oxlade-Chamberlain with Aaron Ramsey playing from the right? Or vice versa? But no, it was the one player I never envisaged being moved from the middle after his blossoming in that position last year and his outstanding displays there so far this pre-season, Santi Cazorla.

As it was, Ramsey joined Francis Coquelin in his preferred central midfield area and Ozil was given his usual licence to roam elegantly across the pitch ahead of them. And in truth, although I could see the logic of using Ramsey’s greater physical presence and stamina against Nemanja Matic and Ramires in the middle of the park, it did, in the early stages of the contest at least, seem as though Santi’s absence from the middle disrupted our rhythm a little.

But as the game wore on, I think Arsene Wenger was completely vindicated in his decision, as the Ramsey-Coquelin combo proved too formidable a pairing for Chelsea to bypass.

The only goal of the game arrived in the 24th minute and the move began with Petr Cech playing it to Per Mertersacker at the back. The German’s pass forward in search of Cazorla looked, for a split-second, like being intercepted by Willian, but Cazorla was sufficiently switched on and slid to poke the ball back to Koscielny. That was a vital piece of play by the Spaniard, not only because it eventually led to our goal, but also because a slower mind there would have seen Chelsea regain possession in a very threatening position.

Anyway, Koscielny then returned the ball to Cazorla and he took two typically deft touches in releasing Ozil with a lobbed pass. Ozil then sauntered to the left byline, took his time and played a precise square pass into Walcott in the middle. Theo adroitly moved it on to the Ox who was in space on the right and he stepped inside Azpilicueta, steadied himself and let rip with his left foot into the far top corner, before jogging off doing the old ‘too hot to handle’, ‘what a goal, if I do say so myself’-style celebration.

There were chances at either end after that, with Ramires – the Brazilian Charlie Adam/Lee Cattermole hybrid – taking a break from trying to maim our midfielders and getting himself forward to head over the bar with the goal gaping, and Eden Hazard blazing over a chance Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi would have taken in their sleep, when one-on-one with Cech in the second period.

For us, both Cazorla and substitute Kieran Gibbs had great chances scuppered by Thibaut Courtois late on and Giroud had a couple of efforts, which looked goal-bound, blocked. Overall, although Chelsea enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, I think we produced the better phases of football and constructed more goal scoring opportunities.

Of course, Mourinho didn’t agree with that analysis and said that ‘the best team lost’ after the game but then Mourinho also thinks Hazard’s the second best player in the world, so…

And speaking of the ‘The Special Ego’, the fact Arsene has managed to finally secure a win over his Chelsea, at the 105th time of asking or whatever it is, means that that particular monkey has been yanked from our backs and buried in the same hole as the ‘x years without a trophy’ nonsense, so often used to belittle our manager’s achievements this past, financially handicapped decade or so.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more thoughts on the game and the post match reaction, including Arsene’s priceless lack of acknowledgement of Mourinho’s presence at the bottom of the Wembley steps.

Till then, Community Shield winners.