20th September 2015: Assessing our start and Spurs selection

Evening all. As the dust settles on round six of the Premier League season, I guess we can say it hasn’t been a bad start. Especially when you consider that had we not been victims of inexplicably bad officiating, and the aggressor rather than the reactor had been sent off yesterday, we’d very likely be joint second in the table right now and just two points behind leaders Manchester City.

As it stands though, we’re fifth in the rankings, five points off the summit and head to White Hart Lane on Wednesday for a Capital One Cup game which could either provide the perfect platform for us to get back on track, or compound yesterday’s heartache, giving people the proof they’ve been waiting for that our players are sh*t, the manager’s past it and Jurgen Klopp must be parachuted in immediately.

Personally, I’m not sure I’m too concerned about Wednesday’s game. I mean, of course I always want Arsenal to win and especially against Tottenham but I’d far rather a win next Saturday in the league given a choice and if resting players in midweek will help us to beat the Foxes then that’s what I’d do.

Yet our squad, which looked bursting with options in pre-season, is suddenly looking rather bare following a swathe of out-going loans, injuries to Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and now Francis Coquelin and suspensions for Gabriel and Santi Cazorla, so Arsene doesn’t actually have much room for manoeuvre when rotating.

With Coquelin worryingly rumoured to be out for a month in the French press, and Cazorla suspended, perhaps the game against Spurs would be an ideal time to reunite Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey in central midfield, after the duo enjoyed such a stellar campaign as a combo a couple of seasons ago.

That would give the pair a chance to rekindle their partnership ahead of more important games and also make room for one of Theo Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain get a run of games on the right of the attack.

A lot will depend on the recovery of individual players of course, and the fact we had to play the whole second half with at least one less man than our opponents yesterday means the players will have exerted even more energy than usual. In fact, after Croatia, that’s twice in four days we’ve played with a numerical deficit for a large chunk of the game and so I’m guessing there will be at least a couple of players in urgent need of a breather.

Arsene was asked after the game yesterday about ‘putting things right’ against Tottenham and although I’d have said something like “we don’t need to put things right you tw*ts, we were playing just fine thank you, until that bald, attention-seeking joke of a referee ruined the game’, the boss himself, said:

Yes, we try but it’s the League Cup. We play on Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday and we have to see how we recover and how we go from there.

Meanwhile, Petr Cech picked out what he thought were positives from our defeat at his old club and said that we need to keep going as it’s still very early in the season:

I would say that a positive thing was that we made it difficult for them when we went down to 10, and then down to nine. We had a few half chances, so we didn’t make it easy for them in the last 15 minutes when we started to push a little bit more. The second red card then came and that was what they needed. You have to pick yourselves up and continue. That’s the only thing you can do because you don’t win or lose the league after five games. You need to carry on until the last minute of the campaign. Obviously we need to keep going.

After losing the match in that manner, having a vital player like Coquelin injured and picking up suspensions for two other players, the only way I’ll view that game as having anything positive come from it, is if Mike Dean is relieved of his role for the rest of the season and Diego Costa is retrospectively banned for five years. The c*nts.

See you next week.

19th September 2015: The Premier League doesn’t need cheats like Diego Costa

We all know Jose Mourinho’s been called ‘the enemy of football’, but today’s events at Stamford Bridge provided further evidence that Diego Costa is his chief ally in a deplorable and unnecessary war on both the sport and sportmanship alike.

I don’t want to go into too many details because if you’re reading this blog then you’ll no doubt have seen the game and witnessed Costa’s ‘craft’ with your own eyes, but what I will say is that the striker’s antics on a football pitch should no longer be tolerated by football in a country which prides itself on fair play.

When Sky Sports used a caption reading ‘Costa’s crimes’ in a game last season in which the player had cheated (and there really is no other word to describe behavior that consistently infringes the letter of the law yet remains unpunished) throughout the match, his manager was quick to take offence and the broadcaster basically backed down. Costa’s crimes went from being highlighted as unacceptable, to ‘just the way he plays the game’ in the collective conscience of English football.

Typically cunning psychological string-pulling by the Portuguese manager maybe, but we need to wise up now. The time has come to change that Mourinho-influenced mindset and kick scam-artists out of the Premier League. There is enough talent, and variety of it, for the world’s most watched domestic division to do without such atrocious showings of spite and violence on a weekly basis from a footballer who, if we’re all honest, is far from a standout performer with the ball at his feet.

Costa doesn’t add anything special to the game in this country but does an awful lot of damage to it’s reputation and integrity instead. A match delicately poised at 0-0, between two fierce rivals was heading for half time with the promise of a more open second period where true talents like Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez could have decided the game through skill, courage, intelligence etc, but instead, was sabotaged by scandalous skulduggery.

If referees are unwilling to do their jobs and dish out cards for Costa every single time he deserves them (which would see him dismissed most weeks), for fear of a tongue-lashing from the hypocritical Mourinho after the game, then the FA need to make an example retrospectively of the player to lesson the number of future episodes like today’s. Ban him, warn him and tell him he needs to clean up his act.

The Chelsea manager coined the phrase ‘fake result’ when his side were comprehensively beaten by Manchester City earlier this season, but if there’s ever been a more counterfeit score-line than today’s, I’ve yet to see it.

I gave myself a good few hours after the game ended before I wrote this post to ensure it wouldn’t be rooted in rage at the result of the match and the factors influencing it, but all the time in history wouldn’t change my view that analysing the contest has been deemed utterly pointless by pure, unadulterated foul-play. You can’t evaluate a performance that was marred by malpractice.

Diego Costa has to change, or the English game needs to strike him off it’s roster.

Back on Sunday.

18th September 2015: Premier League Preview – Pragmatism over pizzazz needed at the Bridge

Happy Friday night folks. Thanks for popping in. It’s Matchday Eve of course, as we head to Stamford Bridge in the early kick-off tomorrow looking to secure back-to-back wins over Chelsea for the first time since October 2011.

Back then, we memorably beat them 5-3 away from home, having also managed a 3-1 home victory in December 2010. Don’t ask me why there were ten months between games on that occasion, because that’s a question for the fixture generator, but clinching a repeat of our consecutive wins over Chelsea would show that Wednesday night in Croatia was a mere blip and we can consider ourselves genuine title contenders this term, whilst simultaneously handing the Blues what would be a third straight Premier League defeat.

Going into the game, both sides have important players missing; Chelsea will be without the injured Thibaut Courtois and Willian, and have doubts over the fitness of Oscar, Pedro and Falcao, whilst we’re of course unable to call upon the likes of Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky. Yet, even without those expected to be absent, both teams will feel they have the requisite resources to take all three points.

In a way, Chelsea being 17th in the table on four points gives us added incentive to put pragmatism above pizzazz tomorrow. They have made their worst start to a league campaign since 1986, conceding a league-high 12 goals along the way. They need a win more than at any other time in their recent history. Which means they will be under far more pressure to perform and produce all three points than we are and that should give us an edge in my opinion.

If I were to guess, I’d say Jose Mourinho, facing the threat of losing a third league game in a row for the first time in his managerial career, will revert to what he knows best with renewed vigour – parking the bus, happily conceding possession and relying on mistakes from his opponents and moments of individual brilliance from his star men to win the match. So I hope we don’t fall into that trap and instead mirror his plan – as Rafa Benetiz did so often with success when in charge of Liverpool and we did at the start of last month in the Community Shield.

Encouragingly from that point of view, Arsene Wenger hinted at deploying a contain-and-counter strategy when he spoke at his pre-match press conference this morning. He was asked what his team had to do to be succesful at Stamford Bridge and said:

To be well organised defensively, take every opportunity to attack and play our game

Which sums it up perfectly for me. Our community shield win was based on a very deliberate defensive doggedness, epitomised by a central midfield pairing of Francis Coquelin and the hard running of Aaron Ramsey to counteract Nemanja Matic and co in their engine room.

So I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Arsene opt for a similar set-up tomorrow. That said, at Wembley, Santi Cazorla played from the left and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right, with Mesut Ozil behind Theo Walcott centrally, but we now have Alexis Sanchez available, so if Ramsey is moved back into the middle, it will be interesting to see how Arsene lines up the rest. My inclination would be to have Cazorla in the Ozil role behind the striker and ask Ozil to play from the right.

Providing Hector Bellerin with support against Eden Hazard may play an important part in the manager’s thinking too though, and would certainly be one reason to keep Ramsey stationed on the right hand side, so there’s plenty for the boss to consider when positioning his personnel.

Considering the performance against Zagreb on Wednesday night, you’d have thought our team for tomorrow is easy to predict. Petr Cech will return in goal, Bellerin at right-back, Nacho Monreal at left-back, Coquelin in front of the defence and Ramsey to either central or right midfield as discussed above.

The men to make way will almost certainly be David Ospina, Mathieu Debuchy, Kieran Gibbs, Mikel Arteta and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. But the one position still seemingly up for grabs is up front after Arsene revealed he’ll make a descision tomorrow morning:

At the moment I must say that is a decision I still have to make tomorrow morning. I try to use the best solution that gives us the most efficiency offensively. Every game is different and that is why I don’t deny at all the quality of Walcott. I am very happy that he scored so many goals in so many starts. He shows as well that when he comes on, he can score as well, which he did in Zagreb.

Will Arsene prefer the physicality of Giroud or the quicksilver penetration of Walcott? Well, the fact Walcott was rested from the start in midweek and then came on as a substitute to score, would, you’d have thought, increased the likelihood of him getting the nod to begin the game at the Bridge. Plus the England man led our attack in the Community Shield win and grabbed an assist for the winning goal.

That said, if the boss concludes that Chelsea are likely to hold a deep defensive line then he may pull a surprise and give Giroud an opportunity in a big game to put his recent poor form behind him. Frankly, I’m just as undecided as Arsene says he is, although in truth, I think he’s probably made up his mind to go with in-form Theo.

Back post-game tomorrow.


17th September 2015: Giroud sees red, Art easily by-passed and Ox’s form flummoxing

Evening all. We all foresaw Arsene Wenger rotating his squad for last night’s game against Dinamo Zagreb, what with Hector Bellerin and Aaron Ramsey being left in London, but few would have envisaged us losing our opening group stage game in this season’s Champions League.

Yet that’s exactly what transpired after a wretched first-half display saw us concede a goal, have a man sent off and play with all the coherence of a concussed piss-head. Before the game yesterday, I wrote the following:

… when you make changes to a winning team, as we will tonight, there is always an increased possibility of the side not functioning at it’s best, so the players who come in, will need to be at their best to ensure we don’t look disjointed and play like a pack of complete strangers. It’s happened before, although with the overall quality of our squad vastly improved from seasons past, it’s less of a worry these days. For instance, Hector Bellerin has not made the trip and we can call upon an experienced French international like Mathieu Debuchy to cover for him.

So I was half right. We were a side far from functioning at its best and did look disjointed, going forward at least, particularly in the first half. But I was wrong in suggesting this squad has the requisite depth to deal with rotation, because in one key position, an area of the pitch a lot of people have highlighted for a while as needing bolstering, and I have repeatedly moaned about myself all summer – defensive midfield – was, I felt, a major problem last night.

In short, Mikel Arteta, brought in to deputise for the rested Francis Coquelin, showed he isn’t capable of being an adequate back-up for the Frenchman and frankly, this scares me sh*tless, with a long season ahead and a good few months until the earliest opportunity to address the problem arises.

Many observers have pointed out that most of our starting eleven struggled to find form last night but I’m not sure I agree with that analysis. I think we missed Coquelin’s energy against pacy opponents who broke efficiently in attack and although I personally lay the blame for their opening goal at the feet of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (not so much for deflecting the ball into his own net, but for not tracking their player’s run properly in the first instance, with Mathieu Debuchy shifted infield), I thought Arteta’s attempts to defend the area in front of our defence were pitiful.

He was sluggish in his movement, and clumsy in the challenge and sometimes it takes just one player to not play his role well enough to severely impact the whole team as a unit. I think that was the case last night. When Coquelin was eventually introduced in place of the Spaniard in a triple substitution around the hour mark, we began looking like a team for the first time in the match.

Kieran Gibbs and Debuchy have taken a lot of flak, along with the rest of the team but alongside Arteta, I felt the Ox and Olivier Giroud were the biggest culprits in our defeat. Giroud for his petulant posturing with the referee which led to an early red card for two bookings, and the Ox for playing just as poorly as he did at Newcastle.

Even if you can understand, if not accept, Giroud’s lack of focus right now because of his booing on international duty with France and his struggles in front of goal, the Ox’s lacklustre performances of late leave me wondering what the hell happened to the player who produced such scintillating showings in pre-season and scored a stunner to win us the Community Shield at the start of last month.

At St James’ Park and again last night, he looked as though he couldn’t be arsed. Either he’s struggling with some kind of nagging injury or he’s got off-field issues affecting his focus because otherwise, somebody needs to show him a few clips of what he’s capable of producing on a pitch as he’s clearly forgotten how to play football.

If I look for positives from the game, Theo Walcott’s finish, Gabriel’s continuing growth into a gritty, accomplished central defender and the team’s second-half display with ten men would be the picks. Yet with a double header against Bayern Munich as well as a trip to Greece still to come in this group, we’ve made a dreadful start to the competition.

That said, if we can get back to winning ways at Stamford Bridge on Saturday with those rested returning to reinvigorate our side to success, perhaps we’ll all feel the rotation was worth the opening-night Champions League heartache in the end.

Til Friday.

16th September 2015: Champions League Preview – Squad test in Zagreb

Welcome back Blogees. We get our Champions League campaign underway at the Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb tonight, and with a bit of luck, we’ll begin a sequence of four consecutive away games with a win.

First, some stats: No team has won more Champions League games without winning the trophy than we have (76), and no currently active manager has taken charge of more games in the competition than our very own Arsene Wenger (168).

We’ve won our last three away games in the Champions League and our opponents this evening, Dinamo Zagreb, have failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their last eight home games in the competition. The omens are good.

That said, when you make changes to a winning team, as we will tonight, there is always an increased possibility of the side not functioning at it’s best, so the players who come in, will need to be at their best to ensure we don’t look disjointed and play like a pack of complete strangers.

It’s happened before, although with the overall quality of our squad vastly improved from seasons past, it’s less of a worry these days. For instance, Hector Bellerin has not made the trip and we can call upon an experienced French international like Mathieu Debuchy to cover for him.

That’s depth of quality, unlike bringing in Justin Hoyte for Bacary Sagna for example. And Arsene discussed just this topic at his pre-match press conference last night, when he was asked if he’d make changes to his team with specifically the Premier League game at Chelsea on Saturday in mind:

It is more the global programme we have to absorb in the next three weeks, rather than one (Chelsea) game. I knew since I [found out] our schedule that I have a squad of 20 players, all experienced and every decision I make is very difficult. It is quite easy to change two or three players, [more] than it was in years before because they are all at a very good level. I know the same team cannot play every single game over the next three weeks. I try to keep the balance right and give a little breather to players who need it.

The boss also discussed his side’s desire to win the competition for the first-time in the club’s history, reflected ruefully on last season’s knock-out stage elimination at the hands of Monaco and pointed out that the road to May’s final in Milan is a long one, requiring a lot of hard work along the way. He said:

If we missed one game last year, then it was our home game with Monaco. We were not patient enough and we wanted to make the difference in the first game. We know we have some way to put that right, that is a regret of the season last year. We know as well that we can show that we have learnt from that. This drive [to win the competition] is immense. It has never been done at Arsenal and we were very, very, very, close. On the other hand, I have been long enough in the job to know you have to be realistic and know that you have to put hard work in.

After both Manchester clubs lost their opening group stage games, English teams have been written off before the competition has even really begun, but I don’t agree to be honest. The likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and last year’s beaten finalists Juventus, are undoubtedly top quality sides, but the only team from that quartet I’d really rather avoid on any run to the San Siro is Barca. Besides them though, I would fancy our chances against any side in Europe if we’re fully fit and on form.

After coming so, so close in Paris in 2006, getting to our second-ever Champions League Final ten years on would be more exciting than winning the Premier League for me. I appreciate many younger fans will not have savoured our most recent title wins in 1998, 2002 and 2004 and that’s probably why I’d be in a minority among many supporters in preferring continental success over domestic, but it’s about time we were crowned champions of Europe and a win tonight would obviously be a great way to kick-start our challenge this season.


15th September 2015: Wilshere surgery blow as Zagreb boss calls Arsenal ‘frightening’

Good evening. Except it isn’t really, because Arsenal have today announced Jack Wilshere will be sidelined for approximately three months as he needs surgery to repair the fractured fibula he sustained in August.

In honesty, the news isn’t as much of a shock as when Danny Welbeck was recently ruled out for a number of months, because in-the-Arsenal-know Sunday Mirror reporter Steve Stammers last weekend revealed the possibility Jack may need to go under the knife. That has now been confirmed and the midfielder will need a small plate inserted into his left leg after his injury failed to heal as expected. The full statement on Arsenal.com read:

Due to a slow healing response from a fracture suffered in August, the club can confirm that Jack Wilshere is to undergo an operation to his left fibula. The decision to intervene has been taken quickly after regular reviews by specialists, who feel that Jack’s scans show that the healing process is not progressing as well as expected. Jack will have surgery in London in the forthcoming days. This will involve inserting a small plate in his left fibula. Jack is likely to be out for approximately three months. Everyone at the club wishes Jack well with his rehabilitation.

Needless to say, it’s devastating news for both the club and a young player, who has been repeatedly sidelined by injury for large chunks of his relatively short career so far. In pre-season, Jack was playing and sounding like a man who was ready to force his way back into the first-team after an injury-ravaged campaign last time around.

It seemed this would finally be the season when the midfielder lived up to his billing as the finest English talent of his generation but with the 12 week lay-off ahead of him now ,and the inevitable period of time after that it will take him to regain match sharpness, another season appears a likely write-off.

The one silver lining I suppose, from the player’s own perspective, is that if all goes well with his recovery and he’s back to something approaching his best in the final couple of months of the season, he’s got the Euros with England to look forward to and he’ll be very fresh to make his mark in France. Hopefully, from an Arsenal perspective, we’ll still be fighting on all fronts for trophies and can welcome back both Wilshere and Welbeck in time to give our squad new impetus at the business end of the season.

As I write this post, Arsene Wenger has been holding his pre-match press conference ahead of tomorrow evening’s Champions League clash with Dinamo Zagreb and the boss is confident Wilshere’s long-term career is not in jeopardy because of his latest injury blow. He said:

Jack Wilshere is young enough to get over this. I’m confident he can make a career his talent deserves.

I’ll have more from Arsene before the game tomorrow, including team news etc but his opposite number for our opening group stage game, Zagreb manager Zoran Mamic, has revealed he was at the Emirates stadium to run the rule over the Gunners on Saturday as we beat Stoke, and described our play as ‘frightening’. He said:

I have watched Arsenal in many games, I went to see them against Stoke this weekend and I got the impression they were playing in second or third gear, and should have won 10-0! It is frightening and fascinating how they play. I believe we will be better than Stoke. Cazorla and Ozil are key Arsenal players, but the team is so strong that danger comes from everywhere.

And he’s right, I suppose we are pretty decent at the whole playing football thing but must guard against complacency and not fall into an oft-trodden trap of thinking turning up is all we need to do to win.

Zagreb matched our unbeaten achievement of 2004 in the Croatian domestic league last term and have players such as Angelo Henriquez – once of Man Utd and national team-mate of Alexis Sanchez – in their side, so they’re likely to be a talented outfit, particularly on home soil.

Right, a bit of a short one today but I’ll be back pre-match tomorrow for some final thoughts before we get our European campaign up and running.

See you then.

14th September 2015: Wenger, Monreal and Walcott look ahead to busy fixture-list

Welcome back. It’s time to turn our attention to Europe, as the Champions League group stages get under way tomorrow and we travel to Croatia to take on Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday evening.

The last time we played Zagreb was, believe it or not, nine years ago now and we ran out 5-1 winners on aggregate, in a Champions League playoff tie at the start of the 2006-2007 season.

It doesn’t seem nearly as long ago as that and I vividly remember being at the second-leg for what was our first-ever continental encounter at a newly-opened Emirates stadium. Time hasn’t so much flown by in my mind, as it’s been eaten up in one frightening gulp like Frank Lampard devouring a pizza.

Anyway, Arsene Wenger has been speaking about the importance of starting well in a group which includes Bayern Munich, suggesting a win would prove his team have the desire to do well in all competitions this campaign. He said:

It is important we go to Zagreb highly focused and conscious at what is at stake there. You can be quickly out of the Champions League and we want to start well and we know we have a battle first to qualify with Bayern Munich [in the group]. You need to find the balance between urgency and confidence and at times that is difficult as you can quickly be too confident and lose your urgency. We have Olympiacos and Zagreb first and we have to finish above them and the result will come down to that. I think it is important to start well because the hunger of a team is shown as well in how well you go in every competition.

Although the Bayern Munich games will no doubt be very testing, and we’ll go into them as underdogs in the opinion of most people, the fact remains that four very achievable wins out of four against Zagreb and Olympiacos, should see us safely through to the last 16, regardless of how we fare against the Germans.

So in that context, beating the Croatians on Wednesday night would be a massive step towards progression, even on Day 1 of the competition. And Nacho Monreal has also highlighted the fact that the Gunners must hit the ground running, saying:

You don’t play too many games so if you make a mistake you pay for it. You have to be really focused in each game and the level is higher. The difference is small but we have to be really focused. In every single game there is a lot of pressure [especially] when you play away, but we are accustomed to this so in this case it is more psychological than it is physical. It won’t affect us. We want to pass through into the next stage and we know that the favourite is probably Bayern Munich so we can’t lose against Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiacos as well. It would be really positive for us to start with three points as we will have more confidence in ourselves and it is the best way to start.

As we embark on a daunting run of four consecutive away fixtures, spread across three different competitions, Theo Walcott says it’s an ideal opportunity to prove the squad has the required depth of quality and highlights quick physical recovery after each game as being key:

We’ve got a tough four away games now but this is going to test the squad to its full ability, I’m sure. It’s always great to start the Champions League – it’s when everyone starts to get even fitter and sharper. We’re competing in the Premier League, the best league, and in the Champions League against the best players in the world. We’re going to improve and we need to have a good solid start. Away from home, it’s always difficult to play your first game but I think it will do us a favour to be honest. Everyone just needs to recover well.

As Theo suggests here, rotation will no doubt play a crucial role in this upcoming period of games and the hope is that those who’ve barely played any minutes so far this season – the likes of Debuchy, Gibbs, Chambers, Arteta, Flamini, Campbell etc – are all sufficiently focused and prepared to come in and perform if and when called upon.

Up front, keeping Theo and Giroud fit is also vial of course, given they can handily cover for one another as well as offer very different options at the tip of the attack, and particularly as Danny Welbeck is out for the foreseeable.

The boss should hold his pre-match press conference tomorrow and we might get more of an idea on who might play/be rested etc when we get the latest injury updates. One piece of news floating around today is that after 18 days out with a chest infection, Per Mertesacker won’t be included in the group travelling to Croatia.

Back tomorrow.

13th September 2015: Sunday night Stoke review

Sunday night. It’s everybody’s favourite time of the week. Shirts are ironed, bags are packed and pencils are sharpened as we look forward to another five days of lessons, lectures or if you work, pure, unadulterated, boredom before we get to enjoy the whole weekend thing again. Nice.

Anyway, before we look at the week ahead, which heralds the return of the Champions League, time to take a peek back at yesterday’s post-match reaction and Arsene Wenger was fulsome in his praise of Theo Walcott after the England forward scored a very impressive opening goal against Stoke, as well as the team as a whole for creating so many chances:

His goal was outstanding. The quality of his movement, the quality of his control and the quality of his finish was absolutely outstanding. It’s a real striker’s goal. Scoring is a bit cyclic, up and down, but with the quality of the players we have we know we can score goals. We did against Stoke and if we continue to create that number of chances we will score much more. We had 30 shots on goal and we created bags of chances. We played with good mobility, good movement and good combinations with high technical quality. The only regret we have is that between the number of chances we had and the number of goals we scored, maybe the difference is a bit big. Overall it’s good to win.

I suppose in one way, Theo whole game was outstanding – consistently being in the right place at the right time. I mean, I think it’s a little too simplistic to suggest that any old player would have been in the positions he took up to give himself a chance of finding the net yesterday and although his finishing was found horribly wanting on every occasion bar his goal, on another day, with more confidence in his game, he could easily have grabbed at least a hat-trick.

Like he did against West Brom in the last Premier League game of last season for instance, which I believe, contrary to lots of others, wasn’t just down to the generosity of disinterested opponents. His first that day was a screamer any goalie would have struggled to keep out, his second a stunningly, fast-thinking piece of self set-up play and opportunism to dink the ball past the defender before poking home on the stretch past a keeper left with no time to react, and his third, an intelligent bit of reading to ghost in at the far post for a tap-in.

The other thing about having a mobile front-man, or more mobile than Olivier Giroud, is that we can stretch and disorientate defences, which in turn creates more space for others to work in – something Theo highlighted when discussing his role in the team yesterday:

It’s difficult in any position. The Premier League is the best league in the world and you’re playing against the best players. You’ve just got to adapt to the game you’re playing and then if players drop off, you keep on moving and hopefully create space for other people. That’s all that you can do and when you get given the opportunity you have to try to grab the goals when you can. Luckily I managed to grab one out of my many chances.

Okay, so even if ‘outstanding’ can’t be applied to Theo performance considering his catalogue of spurned opportunities, one man who certainly can claim to have produced a performance worthy of that description is Francis Coquelin, and team-mate Santi Cazorla told the Final Whistle after the game, that the Gunners are lucky to have him:

It’s amazing playing with him. He’s helped me a lot. He plays well, he defends well and I think he’s one of the best players in this position. We are lucky because he plays for Arsenal and I enjoy it a lot with him in this position.

At times, when people say Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini are adequate cover for Coquelin, they’re actually underestimating the qualities he brings to our side I think. That isn’t to knock either of our back-up options for the defensive midfield role, because they have their own strengths, but neither of them can reproduce anything approaching the combination of recovery speed, tenacity and ‘win it and give it’ dynamism Coquelin has in his locker.

If there’s one player in our squad who I think is absolutely critical for our chances of success this season, because of his quality as well as the lack of true alternatives, it’s him. Cotton wool him up Arsene!

See you next week.

12th September 2015: Walcott and Giroud secure win over Stoke

Evening all. And what a pleasant one it is too, after Arsenal secured a 2-0 win over Stoke at Emirates stadium this afternoon and Chelsea got exactly what they deserved at Goodison Park in the early kick-off – a Steven Naismith-inspired spanking.

It’s just a shame City grabbed a late winner at Palace and United beat Liverpool, but I suppose, I shouldn’t complain. We’re third now, five points off top spot and our stuttering start to the season is rapidly morphing into a very solid one indeed.

Arsene Wenger made just one change to his starting line-up from the win at Newcastle as Mesut Ozil replaced Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, with Aaron Ramsey resuming his role on the right hand side. Gabriel retained his place ahead of Per Mertesacker in defence and Theo Walcott was again first-pick to lead the attack.

We started very brightly and Walcott wasted two early chances; skewing one effort well wide before placing a close-range header over the bar when he should really have scored both. But overall as a team, we looked far more fluent than in our previous two home games this season, with Alexis Sanchez in particular, looking back to his razor-sharp best.

So I was confident a goal would eventually arrive from somewhere and that it came from Walcott was the perfect way for us to break our goal-scoring duck at home this season. The move began with Francis Coquelin winning possession with a typically snarling, sliding tackle in our half before finding Ozil.

The German looked up from half-way, spotted Theo’s clever dash in behind the Stoke back four and placed the ball perfectly into the forward’s stride with a lofted through-ball. Theo’s touch as the ball dropped over his shoulder was sublime and he showed great strength and composure to hold off his marker and slide the ball past Jack Butland for one nil after 31 minutes.

It was more of of the same for the rest of the half and the majority of the second as we continued to pass and probe without finding a second goal to kill the contest. Arsene replaced Walcott with Giroud and after missing a glorious opportunity following a mix-up at the back by Stoke, the Frenchman nodded home his second goal of the season from Santi Cazorla’s free-kick five minutes before the end.

So both Plan A and Plan B, in term’s of our current striker options, were utilized today and both, eventually, worked out but the spurned chances by both players today will, in honesty, have done little to convince their doubters. Afterwards, Arsene praised the performance from his team, before explaining why he chose Walcott ahead of Giroud and saying the former has it in him to be a prolific goal-getter for the Gunners:

I believe we put in a very strong performance. Technically we had our moments in the first half and we played the football we wanted to play and created several chances. Maybe if I wanted to be critical I could say that that there is too big a difference between the number of chances we created and the number of goals we scored but that will come quickly once you win your games at home. I know Stoke are a compact, organised team in their own half and Theo could find little pockets to get in their and maybe that you get two or three chances to counter attack at home so maybe you can use that. He scored a great goal because you needed technical quality to score and timing in the finish. It is good Giroud came on scored as well. He has chances. He can be a prolific goalscorer. When you come out of the game and look at the amount of chances he scored. The bigger the belief he has to score the more he will score. But he gets in good situations.

Of course confidence in crucial for any player but maybe more so for a striker who’s primary job is to put the ball in the back of the net. I’ve said in the past that Walcott has had very few games as a lone striker in his time at the club and whilst his weaknesses can sometimes seem all too apparent in that position, in terms of goals per start, his record for us is fantastic.

The main constraint as far as I’m concerned preventing Walcott truly blossoming into a top striker is his mentality, as Arsene alludes to above, not his ability. I actually think he has more than enough to his game to make a success of the striker’s role in our system but is woefully short of confidence and experience. Hopefully today’s goal goes some way to improving his mindset and we see him on the score-sheet again next Saturday at Stamford Bridge.

Til tomorrow.

11th September 2015: Premier League Preview – Time to Stoke our goal-scoring fire

Evening all. Cloid’s history and the real stuff returns. We’ll be hoping to make it third time lucky, in terms of scoring a goal and winning a game at Emirates Stadium this season, when we host a Stoke City side missing key players tomorrow afternoon.

Mark Hughes’ men, thankfully now trying to emulate the Gunners by playing good football as opposed to bad rugby, will have to make do without long-term injury absentee and club captain Ryan ‘not a malicious bone in his body’ Shawcross, as well as the suspended Ibrahim ‘one-time Arsenal target’ Afellay and Charlie ‘decent left peg but what a prolifically-stampy, choke-holding c*nt’ Adam.

In addition, they have doubts over the involvement of Glen Johnson, Mame Diouf and Marko Arnautovic. Which is all excellent to hear, given the fact Stoke have been somewhat of a pain in the arse for us since they were promoted to the Premier League at the start of the 2008-09 campaign.

Since then, we’ve played them 14 times in the league; winning eight, drawing two and losing four. We also faced them once in the FA Cup in that period, losing 3-1 (although in fairness, our starting 11 that day was very inexperienced, as we fielded the likes of Armand Traore, Craig Eastmond and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas). But all our defeats have been at the Britannia Stadium and so i’m fully expecting us to make it eight wins out of eight on home turf, when we play them tomorrow.

Arsene Wenger chose his words very carefully when asked what he thought of Stoke at his press conference yesterday and I think the boss deserves a lot of credit for not acting on what must have been an over-whelming urge to call them the ghastly, leg-breaking Wimbledon-wannabees they were for so long under former boss Tony Pulis:

They are a team with a good culture of the Premier League, they know how to behave and they have experience. They have been here a long time in the Premier League and they have improved their technical quality. They have Afellay, Bojan, Shaqiri, Diouf up front and Charlie Adam in midfield. They have a lot of technical players that can give you problems. What we want is to focus on our own performance as we want to take off at home now. We had two good away games with positive results in difficult places and we know at home we can be efficient against anybody.

The Potters’ transformation from their Pulis days is pretty remarkable to be fair, and was facilitated by the ability to attract a swathe of quality players like Bojan Krkić and Xherdan Shaqiri – names you would never have thought remotely likely to sign for them a few years ago. But as we all know, money talks and they’ve certainly had some great conversations in the transfer market under Hughes.

Speaking of which, although suffering a bad slump in his development since his breakthrough at Barcelona, would you take Bojan as a central striker for us right now? Something to ponder if Giroud and Walcott keep missing from three yards, as if they’re allergic to the sound of the ball hitting the back of the net.

But despite their new-found fondness of passing a football along the ground, there have been 18 yellow cards issued in the last five meetings between the two teams and Arsene says that’s down to a ‘special motivation’ on their part and he prefers to focus on his own side’s performance:

They have always had good teams and overall when we go to Stoke they are always specially motivated against us. There is a little bit of history because of what happened and overall it was always very difficult for us. For me there was never bad blood, it was just a game that was always very difficult for us to play. But I always focus on playing football and trying to get my team to play as well as we can.

In terms of our selection for tomorrow, you’d imagine Mesut Ozil will come straight back into the side after missing the win at Newcastle with a slight knee injury. I’m guessing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be the man to make way, as Aaron Ramsey starts from the right and Ozil resumes the role of number 10. At the back, Per Mertesacker should return to partner Laurent Koscielny at the expense of Gabriel and the only other change to our line-up would perhaps see Olivier Giroud afforded a start instead of Theo Walcott up top.

That said, Theo bagged a brace for England during Cloid, whereas Giroud got booed off the pitch by his own fans so that might play a part in the manager’s thinking. I mean, does he allow Theo to capitalize on any boost in confidence he got from his San Marino-slaying, or let Giroud regain some belief by giving him the nod? Who knows?

Personally, I still think a midfield of Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin in the middle, with Sanchez, Ozil and Ramsey lining up left to right in front of them is our best bet. Maybe at times the Ox or Theo would come in for Ramsey but I’d keep the Coquelin-Cazorla combo in the middle for sure. In terms of whether I’d pick Giroud or Walcott to lead the line, that would be based on the specific opponents in question and I haven’t watched any Stoke games so far this season so can’t decide. Let’s see what Arsene goes with.

Back post-match tomorrow.