31st October 2015: Mature Arsenal find it easy in Swansea

Happy Halloween Gooners. We suffered a few first-half frights at the Liberty Stadium this afternoon, before emerging 3-0 winners over Swansea City to secure our fifth consecutive Premier League success and stay joint-top of the table.

Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny, who both scored in our win over Everton last Saturday, repeated the feat today to put us two goals ahead before Joel Campbell marked a hard-working, first-ever Premier League start with our third to wrap up the points.

Arsene Wenger picked the expected team, with Campbell playing on the right and those rested for Tuesday night’s Capital One Cup defeat to Sheffield Wednesday returning to the starting eleven.

The game as a whole had more than a passing resemblance with our last away game in the league at Watford; a fairly even first half on a big, slow, demanding pitch, with a couple of chances at either end before we scored three times in the second period, kept a clean sheet and ran out comfortable winners.

As expected, Jefferson Montero was a big threat on the hosts’ left flank but after struggling to contain the Ecuadorian in the early exchanges, a bit like he did against Bayern Munich’s Douglas Costa recently, Hector Bellerin grew into the game and nullified his direct opponent’s threat, this time with a little help from the industrious Campbell ahead of him.

Nacho Monreal had the first clear chance of the game but dragged his shot wide when he really should have hit the target, or picked out Mesut Ozil who was well-positioned in the middle. A superb pass by Alexis Sanchez then created our best opening of the first-half for Giroud, but the Frenchman’s first-time shot was perhaps a little rushed and he stroked it over the cross-bar. Campbell had a similar effort from a little further out but also missed the target.

Yet the best chance in the first 45 fell to Bafetimbi Gomis at the other end. Jonjo Shelvey split our defence with a slide-rule pass as Per Mertesacker decided to step up in an attempt to play offside, ignoring his partner Koscielny’s deeper positioning, and the striker raced clear towards Petr Cech.

But Cech didn’t panic, didn’t slide in or go to ground early to make it easy for Gomis, he stood firm for as long as possible, which meant when the striker eventually tried to round him, Bellerin had been afforded just enough time to race back and intervene, poking the ball away before Gomis could apply a finish.

To be fair, a less cumbersome forward would probably have scored given that much time but Bellerin and Cech in particular, did brilliantly to keep the score at nil-nil. It was another imperious performance by the former Chelsea ‘keeper I thought, as he claimed crosses, dealt with shots with ease and varied his distribution intelligently, to either launch quick counter attacks or delay releasing the ball to allow us time to reorganize and take the sting out of periods of Swansea pressure.

I must admit I’ve never placed as much importance on a keeper’s influence on a side as most, but after witnessing the difference Cech’s made, I say go out and spend big on the best we can find once Petr calls it a day. Hopefully that won’t be for a good number of years yet and in the meantime we can enjoy having arguably, on current form at least, the world’s best between the sticks. So once again, cheers Chelsea.

But on to the second half and we took the lead just four minutes into it. Ozil swung in a corner from the left and Giroud produced text-book movement to bamboozle his marker, taking a few steps towards the front post before checking, which allowed him to nod home unmarked and unchallenged.

Our second arrived after 68 minutes and owed a little to both dodgy keeping by former Gunner Lukasz Fabianski, as well as remarkably sensible officiating. I mean, usually, when there are opposition players within a mile of a keeper as he comes to claim a high ball, he’ll get a free-kick. Not today though, and it was refreshing. The ball came in, Giroud and Koscielny rose, made little or no contact with Fabianski, who flapped, couldn’t trap the ball or punch it clear, and it dropped to Laurent who spun and gleefully turned it into an empty net.

Swansea’s players and manager looked outraged but I’m guessing that on reflection, they’ll be blaming their ‘keeper rather than the referee. Where I would have sympathy for them, is the fact that in 99 percent of instances such as this one, they’d have got a free-kick regardless of whether their was any foul.

Anyway, our third goal arrived five minutes later and no player was more deserving in terms of how hard he worked than Campbell. After neat, intricate passing on our left, Ozil crossed low and found the Costa Rican at the far post, who took a touch and struck it home into the far corner.

I don’t know what it is but I like us having a left-footed player cutting in from the right of our attack, and not just for the symmetry it provides with Sanchez on the opposite flank. It feels we can get more shots off and aide the efficiency of our attacking, not than I have any stats to prove it or anything.

So after going three-nil up, Campbell, by now brimming with confidence, led a counter on the left and let fly from distance only to cut across the ball and skew it wide. There were other chances too, Ozil going close and Sanchez on the follow up, but in the end we had to make do with just the three, which makes it 11 goals scored and just two conceded in our three away league fixtures since losing to Mike Dean at Stamford Bridge in September.

Back with post match reaction etc tomorrow.

Have a good one league-leaders.

30th October 2015: Premier League Preview – Get in while you can Joel! The Swans await

Happy Friday folks. We travel to Swansea for a 3pm kick-off tomorrow of course, and I would say it’s a chance for Arsenal to get back on track after getting spanked by lower league opposition in midweek, but I won’t, because it wasn’t our first-choice selection who were derailed was it? It was ‘an Arsenal XI’ containing just a couple of players who are likely to play tomorrow.

So a far more appropriate opening to this post would be: We travel to Swansea for a 3pm kick-off tomorrow of course, as Arsenal look to secure their fifth consecutive Premier League win to ensure they remain at least level on points with Manchester City at the top of the table.

It won’t be easy, what with Swansea being a good side and us having to scour the deepest depths of our squad to find a player to play on the right, but I’m still pretty confident we can grab a win.

The vast majority of the team will have had a full week to prepare for the game following last Saturday’s win over Everton, and although we haven’t beaten Swansea in our last three meetings, having lost both league games last season and drawn the one before that, the side we field tomorrow, despite numerous injured absentees, should still be a very strong one.

It looks as though Joel Campbell will get the nod on the right and the way he chased back several times to win back possession against Sheffield Wednesday fills me with hope that even if he struggles with the attacking side of things, he’ll at least track back diligently. After all, providing Hector Bellerin with defensive support could well be crucial if Swansea’s Jefferson Montero is in the same kind of mood as he was in this fixture last season.

Speaking at his pre-match press conference earlier today, Arsene Wenger spoke about having a strong enough squad to cope with our current spate of injures, praised Campbell’s professionalism and challenged the Costa Rican international to follow in the footsteps of Bellerin and Francis Coquelin last season, by showing he has the quality to cement a first-team starting spot. He said:

It is always disappointing to lose players but we are equipped first of all with the quality of our squad and we are equipped mentally as well to deal with anything. My short-term option is [to play] Campbell or get one more defensive midfielder in like Flamini and put Cazorla on the flank. I haven’t decided yet. We will find solutions and I have to find the right one. I have been very impressed with Campbell, his attitude is outstanding and his daily dedication in training and his desire to improve is absolutely outstanding. I think he can be a big help for us, and he can play centre forward don’t forget that. In the coming two to three months he can be a very important player for us. This is a challenge for me and for the players who come in to show their quality. At the end you can find yourself with a bigger squad – that is what happened with Coquelin and Bellerin last season.

So Joel has to get in while he can, because when the walking wounded in our squad start filtering back to full fitness, he’ll find himself slipping back down the pecking order and out of contention unless he can show he has what it takes at this level over the next few weeks or so. In terms of his career at the club, it really could be be a case of now or never. No pressure then.

A very brief offering today because I’m afraid I’m as short on time tonight as Jose Mourinho will be as manager of Chelsea football club if they lose to Liverpool tomorrow. Come on Liverpool, put him out of his misery.

But more than that, COYG!

Back post-match.

29th October 2015: Wenger has to make the right choice

With a fully fit squad, we have more options for the right-hand-side of the attack in our current formation than any other position. Yet as we prepare to travel to Swansea on Saturday, Arsene Wenger has to choose between inexperience, no experience and playing players out of position.

The boss today confirmed reports that emerged yesterday, which suggested both Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would be out of action until after the international break, having picked up injuries against Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday evening. He said:

Nothing has changed since after the game. They are out but the scans are today – it’s 48 hours afterwards. We hope they are light injuries, but they are out until after the international break.

So the scan results aren’t in but we already know both players will miss the next three games regardless? I suppose there’s still a glimmer of hope then, that one or both may make a miraculous recovery sooner than expected but for the immediate future, Arsene has a tough decision to make in terms of who plays on the right.

It’s been suggested by some that Arsene is considering playing either Hector Bellerin or Keiran Gibbs in a more advanced position but when asked who he’d pick, there was no mention of either:

(Joel) Campbell and Alex Iwobi (are options). Santi can play there as well but he has become very important centrally. The problem sometimes is that you can destroy two departments if you move one player out. We control the ball better with Santi in the middle.

The hope now must be that either Joel Campbell or Alex Iwobi can be ‘this season’s Francis Coquelin’, by coming into the side unexpectedly because of an injury crisis and performing well immediately. It’s a tough ask, especially when you consider Coquelin had been afforded far more first-team playing time in previous seasons and so was more experienced at Premier League-level than either of them.

But then Iwobi and Campbell were probably our two stand-out players at Hillsborough by my reckoning, and although that doesn’t say a lot considering our collectively abject performance, it’s still worth bearing in mind. For what it’s worth, I think Campbell will get the nod as he’s far more experienced than Iwobi but long-term I think the latter may well turn out to be the better player.

For one so young, the few times I’ve seen him play, in the Emirates Cup and against the Owls, Iwobi looks a very promising prospect indeed and compared to say Chuba Akpom, has better link-up play and is more efficient in possession, which in a pass-and-move style-of-play like ours, is not only crucial, but means he’s got a good chance of settling into our side pretty quickly.

The third option Arsene discussed above – Santi Cazorla – has played from the right previously in his career at both Villarreal and Malaga, but the boss has seemingly concluded he doesn’t want to disrupt our central midfield by re-stationing the Spaniard on the right, which I agree with completely.

And Cazorla has been speaking with Arsenal Player about his reinvention as a deeper playmaker with added defensive duties. He said:

The boss changed my position last season to play me more centrally. It’s a position I really like, though of course it means I’m further away from the opposing area so I have fewer chances to score. I’m finding my best form and I’m really enjoying the new position. You have different responsibilities. In terms of defence, you have to defend more and you have to help the team more in terms of making sure you’re well-positioned to ensure the players in attack can stay fresh. We need the likes of Mesut, Alexis, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott and Giroud to be fresh – so that means myself, Coquelin, Arteta and Flamini need to be well-positioned to ensure those in attack can perform as well as possible.

Of course Arsene has previous in terms of successfully re-positioning players with the likes of Lauren, Kolo Toure, Thierry Henry and even Mikel Arteta prime examples, but Cazorla has to be up there in terms of how well it’s worked out.

I mean, thinking about it now, it makes perfect sense. Cazorla’s passing, speed of thought and ball control makes him what Cesc Fabregas wishes he was as a central midfielder. Add the fact Santi has a better engine than I’d ever previously imagined and can be as gritty as as they come despite being small in stature, and you have the perfect player for the middle of the park.

Yet how many would have suggested the Spaniard for that role before Arsene assigned it to him? Certainly not Gary Neville, because you have to be seven-foot tall to play there according to him. Like Roy Keane and Paul Scholes, hey Gaz?

Back tomorrow.

28th October 2015: Mishmash Arsenal take night off at Hillsborough. Oh well

Welcome back. So we went to Wednesday on Tuesday and were comprehensively beaten 3-0 to end Arsene Wenger’s hopes of a first-ever League Cup for another campaign.

I’ll be honest, as much as I hate seeing Arsenal lose against anyone, in any competition, at any time, I was struggling to give much of a f*ck at full-time last night.

Not because I think the competition is not worth winning, because all trophies are in my opinion, particularly one we haven’t lifted since, funnily enough, beating Sheffield Wednesday 22 years ago.

But because our current priorities are the Premier League and Champions League and the fact most of our best emerging talents are out on loan and we have several first-team players out injured means we have to be sensible with our selection at the moment.

I’m fairly certain that if everyone was fit, we’d have seen the likes of Mikel Arteta, Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky playing last night and I’d wager it would have been a very different game with a very different end result.

But everyone isn’t fit of course, and so I think Arsene had no option but to blood academy players such as Glen Kamara and Alex Iwobi last night, even if he had to admit after the game that the youngsters were not ready for this level.

I actually thought Arsene’s assessment was a little harsh on Iwobi, but spot on in terms of Kamara. As for poor young Ismael Bennacer, he looks about 12 years old, and when he was thrust into action as a substitute for Theo Walcott after just 20 minutes, played like he was 12 years old. A bit like Iwobi however, I thought Krystian Bielik, the fourth and final Arsenal debutant on the night, didn’t look out of his depth.

All that said, the match may have turned out very differently, even with a patched up side containing very inexperienced players, had we not suffered a double injury blow at the start of the game. First, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain felt a tightness in his hamstring with just four minutes played and was taken off as a precaution with Walcott, who had no time to warm up, replacing him.

That lack of preparation time for Theo proved disastrous as he felt something in his calf and was forced off himself to be replaced by Bennacer. The hosts went on to score three times, aided and abetted by what I can only describe as quarter-arsed defending by Arsenal. It wasn’t so much that we defended badly I felt, but that we just didn’t defend.

On their first goal for example, Per Mertesacker didn’t attempt to block the shot even though he was perfectly positioned and could have executed it in his sleep and for their third goal, having seen an unmarked opponent loitering in space at the back post, Per simply ignored the potential threat.

I know people are quick to say ‘well done’ to lower-league sides achieving giant killings but at the same time I think we should’t be patronizing. This was no Wrexham. It was a decent Championship team beating an Arsenal XI comprising of toddlers and first-teamers who didn’t even try to disguise their lack of appetite for the game. Anyway, well done to Sheffield Wednesday for beating us and I wish them the best of luck for the rest of the competition. I really mean it.

The biggest concern from the night for us however wasn’t elimination, it was the loss of two players to injury. The fact they were both candidates to cover for the injured Aaron Ramsey on the right obviously makes it worse because the only options we have, if they both fail to recover by Saturday for the game at Swansea, would appear to be Joel Campbell, or playing another player out of position.

Yet there’s little point in speculating what Arsene would do until the extent of the injuries to Walcott and the Ox are known and hopefully we’ll get a positive update from the boss tomorrow.

See you then.

27th October 2015: Capital One Cup Preview – Test of squad depth at Hillsborough

Evening all. It’s match-day again as we travel to Sheffield Wednesday in the fourth round of the Capital One Cup this evening looking to win our fifth straight game in all competitions.

The League Cup is of course the only domestic trophy Arsene Wenger is yet to win, despite having reached the final on two occasions in 2007 and 2011, and the boss is not taking tonight’s opponents lightly despite them playing a league lower in the Championship. He said:

They are a team who have just won at Rotherham. I watched the game and they have good, tall strikers. They have Barry Bannan who has played in the Premier League and they look to have a very compact team who are at a very good technical level. They have a strong team spirit so they will certainly work to create difficulties for us and I’m sure they have the quality to do that. We have to respond with a top-level performance.

I have to admit I know next to nothing about The Owls’ current team but the fact they sit ninth in the second tier of the English game suggests they will be tough opponents, particularly on home turf.

Arsene mentioned Barry Bannan above and looking through their squad list, he’s the only player I can recall watching. He’s a diminutive, left-footed passer primarily, but past his Premier League-level best and should prove no match for Zinedine Flamini in the middle of the park.

Tonight’s encounter will be the 126th meeting between the sides with Arsenal having won 55 and drawn 35. Those old enough will remember us beating Wednesday in both domestic cup finals at the end of the 1992-93 season when the sides were far more evenly matched than today, and we’ve won all five of our League Cup meetings to date.

The Owls’ current manager, the Portuguese Carlos Carvalhal, who’s coached the likes of Sporting Lisbon and Besiktas in his career, gives his side just a 1 in 10 chance of causing an upset this evening. Speaking to BBC Radio Sheffield, he said:

We will fight for the whole match and we will be competitive. It will be interesting to see how it goes. We have probably a 10% chance of getting through. It is not very much but it is better than zero. Zero means you can do nothing, 10% means we will have 10% of the chances and we have to grab them.

Carvalhal also praised The Gunners, calling us one of the best teams in the world and highlighting our superb, recent run of form, saying:

It will be a fantastic day and it will make people remember the past and we hope games like this can be normal for us in the future. We are playing one of the best teams in the world. I think they have scored 18 goals in their last six games and that includes games against Manchester United and Bayern Munich.

Having discussed how we might line-up tonight in yesterday’s post, I won’t go over it again but it’s clear Arsene will be making wholesale changes to the team that started Saturday’s win over Everton with Joel Campbell almost certain to be handed a rare start.

Th Costa Rican hasn’t been afforded much game time with the Gunners but when he has played, hasn’t looked out of his depth at all in my opinion. On the other hand he hasn’t forced the manager to pick him more regularly by coming up with a goal or even an assist but given his lack of minutes, that’s hardly surprising.

Arsene clearly rates the player though, and has been discussing Campbell’s strengths as well as praising his professionalism, saying:

I like Joel Campbell very much for two reasons. One is that he has outstanding individual quality, but he is also a team player. He works very hard for the team. I’m convinced he will get a chance here and that he will take it. He has another opportunity against Sheffield Wednesday and I’m hopeful that he will show that he has the quality to play for Arsenal. When you get the chance, you have to be ready. To be ready, you have to prepare. I must say that Joel Campbell and Calum Chambers are two players who do absolutely everything right. They are prepared, the preparation they have created will give them the confidence against Sheffield Wednesday and I’m confident they will play well.

With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain struggling for form and Aaron Ramsey out injured, Campbell could conceivably force his way into our first-choice starting 11 in the coming weeks.

But to do so, he’ll have to start making decisive, or at least eye-catching, contributions whenever he’s given a chance to play. Tonight would clearly be a great time for him to do just that.

Back tomorrow.


26th October 2015: Thoughts on team selection against Sheffield Wednesday

Welcome to a brand new week on TremendArse. We travel to Sheffield Wednesday in the Capital One Cup tomorrow evening of course, and Arsene Wenger has revealed the latest team news ahead of the game.

Per Mertesacker is available again after missing the win over Everton through illness, but Mikel Arteta remains sidelined along with Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck.

With our second-choice ‘keeper David Ospina also still nursing a shoulder injury, Arsene confirmed that Petr Cech would play against the Owls. All of which means we seem a bit stretched if we want to rest the majority of our first-choice, outfield players in preparation for Saturday’s tricky trip to Swansea.

If we assume Mertesacker and Chambers will form the central defensive pairing and be flanked by Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs, we look solid enough at the back, particularly with Cech in goal behind them.

But further forward things become a little more unclear in terms of who starts. Mathieu Flamini will deputise for compatriot Francis Coquelin you’d have thought, but his partner in central midfield in the last round of the competition at Tottenham, Arteta, is unavailable and there is no obvious candidate to step in if we rest Santi Cazorla as surely we ought to, given the Spaniard’s recent exertions and crucial role in our team.

My preference would be for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to be given a go centrally alongside Flamini if there isn’t a youngster deemed ready to step up. A change of position may actually be just what the Ox needs at the moment, given his struggles on the right so far this season as I discussed in yesterday’s post. A more central role would no doubt see him far more involved, enjoy more possession and hopefully facilitate him regaining some much-needed confidence.

That said, we’d then have one fewer option for the three positions behind the striker. Against Spurs, we played the Ox from the left, Ramsey in the middle and Joel Campbell on the right. So even if we draft in say, Alex Iwobi to play on the left, with Ramsey unavailable we have a vacancy behind, I’m assuming Theo Walcott, given the fact he didn’t play against Everton.

Arsenal academy expert Jeorge Bird’s ‘possible team’ on his blog has the same line-up I’ve suggested above, but with Glenn Kamara partnering Flamini in front of the defence, Ben Sheaf operating in the Mesut Ozil role behind Walcott, and the Ox spared a start.

I have to admit I’ve never seen either Kamara or Sheaf play and considering the Ox’s relatively modest number of minutes played so far this season, would be a bit surprised to see him left out even if he’s currently part of our first-choice selection.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see but a first glimpse this season of one or more of our academy prospects seems certain, and as somebody who enjoys appraising fresh, emerging talent almost as much as a glittering, high-profile purchase, I for one am looking forward to tomorrow’s game just that little bit more.

Obviously some of our very best young hopefuls, like Chuba Akpom, Gedion Zelalem and Dan Crowley are out on loan at the moment, but nonetheless it’ll be intriguing to see how the likes of Sheaf and Kamara fare against Championship opposition, not least because they may soon find themselves on loan in that division.

I’ll discuss the game at Hillsborough more in tomorrow’s preview but moving on for now and Arsenal were today fined by the FA for breaching certain regulations in relation to Chambers’ transfer from Southampton in the summer of 2014.

Apparently we dealt with an agent who wasn’t properly licensed but it seems it was a genuine oversight as opposed to a calculated flaunting of the rules and we move on, lessons learned and our procedures reviewed to rule out a repeat in the future.

Right, a bit brief but that’s all I have for today. Back pre-match tomorrow.

See you soon.

25th October 2015: Thoughts on our title challenge + Ox’s flummoxing form

Sunday salutations fellow top-of-the-leaguers. Yes, I know we’re now ‘officially second’, after Manchester United and Manchester City today played out the most mundane, nil-nil draw featuring two ‘big’ teams you could ever be unfortunate enough to sit through, but we’re level on points with City at the summit, and at this stage of the season, goal difference can go swivel. We’re joint top in my eyes.

As I subtly suggest above, the Manc derby this afternoon was manky, so much so, that it will have left researchers into the theory of nominative determinism very excited indeed. For all the billions spent building their squad, City without Sergio Aguero and David Silva are a bit sh*t, and United, well, let’s just say Anthony Martial is the only outfield player I’m slightly jealous they can call their own.

With Chelsea doing their best to break the record for the worst title defence in history, and their special manager Jose Mourinho seemingly incapable of arresting their decline, plus the fact City and United look far from frightening at the moment, it’s really hard not to start wondering whether this could finally, at long, long last, after years of shedding star players and suffering through the Marouane Chamakh years, be the season we’re crowned champions of England once again.

As always, time will tell but after losing our opening league game of the season at home to West Ham and then dropping another two points in our next game at Emirates stadium against Liverpool, we really couldn’t have done much better than we have in the first quarter of the league campaign. In fact, after taking just four points from the first nine available, we’ve won six of our last seven Premier League games now, with a Mike Dean-inspired win for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge the only blot on our copybook.

And looking ahead at our next six fixtures in the league; Swansea (a), Tottenham (h), West Brom (a), Norwich (a), Sunderland (h) and Aston Villa (a), it’s not inconceivable we take maximum points before we host title rivals City four days before Christmas.

A lot will depend on keeping our core of regular starters fit between now and then but if we can do that, and then welcome back the likes of Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky just after the festive period, perhaps even strengthening the squad with a Gabriel-like quality signing in the winter window, we’d be superbly positioned for the last five months of the season.

If you were to ask Arsene right now about such a scenario unfolding, he’d no doubt politely inform you he was only looking as far ahead as Wednesday’s game against Wednesday, but deep down, I bet he’s slowly getting reacquainted with that magical old feeling of being genuine competitors for the crown.

But to break from the day-dream for a minute, one player I feel who really has to improve on his performances so far this season if we’re to keep our current run of wins going, is the bewilderingly bereft-of-form Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, especially now that Aaron Ramsey has been ruled out for a number of weeks with a hamstring tear.

On the eve of the season, if I had to pick one player to have a good season based purely on pre-season performances, it would have been the Ox and he duly spanked home our winner against Chelsea at Wembley to win us our second Community Shield in succession.

Yet, barring a lively first half on the opening weekend against the Hammers and some decent moments at White Hart Lane in the Capital One Cup, he’s been very, very poor in my opinion.

His lack of form is obviously playing on his mind too, because Arsene recently spoke about the Ox needing to trust in his own ability more and not be too self-critical, yet when he was subbed off against Everton yesterday after another pretty ineffectual display, he was shaking his head and his disappointment at his personal display was obvious for all to see.

My hope is that an extended run in the starting-line-up with Ramsey injured will help him to rediscover his mojo, and I think the boss may offer him the same advice Ramsey revealed he’d received during his own struggles for form in previous seasons – simplify your game, take the easy option more often and stop trying to force things.

Perhaps then we’ll start to see the Oxlade-Chamberlain who looked so impressive during the close season and Ramsey will return from injury facing a real battle on his hands to win back his place.

See you next week.

24th October 2015: Giroud and Koscielny goals send Arsenal top

Happy Saturday Gooners. The clocks may go back tonight but Arsenal continue to march forward in the title race.

Goals by Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny secured a 2-1 win over Everton at a rain-soaked Emirates stadium today, to make the Gunners league leaders for the first time in 20 months.

Of course, one of the two Manchester clubs could dislodge us from the top of the table as early as tomorrow, but for tonight at least, we can enjoy being in pole position in the Premier League.

After Tuesday night’s exertions against Bayern Munich, Arsene Wenger decided/was forced to freshen things up; he recalled Gabriel in place of Per Mertesacker, who was missing through illness, and as expected, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came into the side for the injured Aaron Ramsey. Giroud started up front at the expense of a benched Theo Walcott for the third and final change to our starting line-up from midweek.

And it was the Frenchman who gave us the lead after 36 minutes. Mesut Ozil drifted to the right and his precise, lofted ball into the centre was glanced home by Giroud. It was a superb assist from Ozil and typified another classy, hard-running performance by our German playmaker.

Two minutes later, we doubled our lead in similar circumstances. Alexis Sanchez was brought down on the left, Santi Cazorla took the resulting free-kick and produced a wicked, in-swinging ball for Koscielny to nod past Tim Howard.

To be fair, for both goals, the Everton defending was woeful, as our Gallic duo took it in turns to saunter into Howard’s six-yard box unchallenged, yet we did look a threat from set plays all game long and it seems being more productive from these situations is something the squad have discussed and worked on in training.

Then, just before half-time, Oxlade-Chamberlain picked up possession on the edge of the Everton box with Hector Bellerin unmarked and in space to his right, but chose to shoot rather than play in his team-mate on the overlap. His effort was blocked and the visitors launched a counter attack which resulted in them pulling a goal back. The lively, if a little divey, Gerard Deulofeu led the break and picked out Ross Barkley with a neat, cross-field pass.

Barkley strode forward and looked to have lost momentum but composed himself to fire a left-footed strike from just outside the area and saw his effort deflected past a helpless Petr Cech off an attempted block by Gabriel. It was unlucky on the Brazilian but meant we went from nearly being three up and having the game won by half-time, to facing another difficult 45 minutes after the interval.

Both sides had chances in the second half; Giroud saw an acrobatic attempt after a headed one-two with Oxlade-Chamberlain saved by Howard, before hitting the bar with another effort. Substitute Mathieu Flamini headed straight at their goalkeeper when he found himself on the end of a pin-point, right-wing cross by Sanchez, and Ozil hit the outside of a post after great individual work on the right.

Everton also hit the woodwork, with Romelu Lukaku’s header caressing the top of the cross-bar for what was the closest they came to an equaliser. Cech once again proved his worth by racing off his line and closing down the angle for Deulofeu when the former Barcelona man had a clear sight of our goal, and Gabriel produced a crucial tackle in our box towards the end of the game before celebrating his intervention like he’d just scored our third.

Despite visibly dropping off physically in the second half, we managed to see out the win and I have to say we have gone from being castigated regularly for supposedly having a lack of ‘know-how’ in recent seasons, to a team brimful of brains. In attack Sanchez sets the hard-working tone, Francis Coquelin and Cazorla are efficient and industrious in the middle of the park and Cech’s presence in goal is huge in more than one sense.

There seems to be a shared vision and determination amongst the players and it’s exciting to see. We now travel to Sheffield Wednesday in the Capital One Cup on, er, Wednesday*, and I’m sure we’ll see wholesale changes to afford most of our first-choice selection a very well-deserved rest after what’s been a perfect week.

Back with more thoughts on the game and post-match reaction on Sunday.


* Correction: we play The Owls on Tuesday.

23rd October 2015: Premier League Preview – Let’s stick it to The Toffees and go top

Welcome back. With the two Manchester clubs not playing until they face each other on Sunday, Arsenal can go top of the Premier League table for the first time this season if we beat Everton in the early evening kick-off tomorrow.

A win against Roberto Martinez’s ninth-placed side would be a landmark 100th against them in the all-time, head-to-head record, and we go into the match unbeaten in 21 home games against The Toffees in all competitions.

Yet despite the fact we can climb to the summit of the standings, Arsene Wenger says it’s too early to be getting carried away in terms of our title chances. Speaking at his pre-match press conference earlier today, he said:

It’s too early. It’s very early. We lost our first game at home against West Ham. After, we went to Crystal Palace and you think it could be a repetition of last year, where after 10 games we were basically out of the race. At a big club, that is always very difficult to handle. At least we are up there with a good number of points and we have made the ground up. Let’s show that we can be in the fight.

Of course, he’s right. We’re nearing the end of October and the fact we’re within touching distance of the leaders represents a big improvement from this time last year, but there’s still an awfully long way to go. It’s a bit of a cliche but we just need to take one game at a time, ensure our preparation and focus is spot on for every game and see where it takes us.

We used up a lot of energy on Tuesday night in beating Bayern Munich but will have had almost four full days to recover by the time we kick-off tomorrow and Arsene revealed fatigue doesn’t appear to be an issue. When he was asked if there was a new-found, feel-good factor around the club after the win over the Germans, he said:

We always have a feel-good factor in our club unless the results are not there. We have always a togetherness but not always the results that we want. Overall we are in a good run and that can help the level of confidence and belief going into the next game. We have a big game in front of us against Everton and we can extend our run. Our focus is on our next game. You know that if you want to play at the top of the Premier League you want to do well in the big games at home. Everton is another big game so the target is for us to take advantage of that. We play in front of everybody so let’s take advantage of it. You gain credibility through consistency and when people think this could be a game where people think we could slip a bit and you respond in a positive way. I believe that [at the] top level, you come out of a big game and show you can focus again and produce the same performance again.

In terms of team news, the boss says Mikel Arteta is out of contention for tomorrow’s game and joins Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey and David Ospina on the sidelines, but Gabriel in available again after missing out during the week.

So in terms of how we’ll line up tomorrow, I think we’ll see just one change from Tuesday night starting XI, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replacing the injured Ramsey. I suppose one or both of the fullbacks could be rotated, Gabriel might come in to give Per Mertesacker or Laurent Koscielny a breather and Olivier Giroud stands a chance of replacing Theo Walcott up top, but I can’t see Arsene making any changes unless he’s forced to.

The team are on a bit of a roll and we have Sheffield Wednesday in the Capital One Cup coming up on Wednesday, which would obviously be a far better time to rotate the squad and rest numerous first-choice players.

As for Everton, they’ll be looking to make amends for last Saturday’s home drubbing by Manchester United and have had a whole week to prepare so will no doubt be fresh. Our recent games against them at Emirates stadium have been tight affairs and I’m guessing tomorrow will be no different. That said, if we can get an early goal, who knows? It might be another Man United-style slaying.

If we hadn’t just played such a draining game in the Champions League I’d be very confident of getting the win tomorrow, as it is, I’m just confident. But any hangover from Tuesday should be tempered by the thought of becoming league leaders for the players so let’s hope that extra little incentive helps secure us the win.

Back post-match tomorrow.


22nd October 2015: Ozil, Walcott and Koscielny disect Bayern win

Evening all. The dust may have settled on our brilliant win over Bayern Munich on Tuesday but the performance and result deserve a little more reflection I feel, so it’s handy a few of the players have been doing just that.

First up it’s Mesut Ozil who discussed the match, said he thought Arsenal were deserved victors and praised the support from the stands, telling Arsenal Player:

Firstly we’re very, very happy. To win against Bayern Munich is really hard and we knew that it would be a tough game but you could see during the match that we created a lot of opportunities, especially in the first half, when Manuel Neuer made some superb saves. But ultimately I think we deserved to win. They had more possession but we had the clearer chances and that’s why we’re really pleased to have got the three points today. We concentrated from the first minute until the last minute. We believed in ourselves and we knew that we had made massive mistakes in the first two games. Today was our last chance – we had to win. We did that and now we’re back in the game. We’re all the happier for that. We showed heart and the fans supported us superbly. The most important thing is the three points. We have to believe in ourselves, keep working hard and then we’ll be on a good path.

The German midfielder also discussed his personal form and his game-settling late goal against Bayern, saying:

I’m really satisfied with my performances. I’m on a good way, I feel at ease and you can see that the team and the manager give me their trust. [For my goal] I had a shot at goal and Manuel saved it brilliantly. After two or three seconds I saw that the referee was signalling a goal and I was relieved. It was clear that we had won the game at that point and I’m pleased with that.

That’s two goals and six assists for the former Real Madrid man in all competitions so far this season and after Arsene Wenger suggested his record signing had more goals in him, and could be a genuine contender for Player of the Year in England, Ozil’s made a quietly impressive start to his third season with the club.

But such is the magnitude of his talent, I’m still left feeling he can contribute even more. More goals, more assists and more games where he is the stand-out performer on the pitch. Of course, his laid-back style means he’s often wrongly perceived to not be putting in the hard yards, but a look at his distance covered stats soon dispels any notions of laziness. He works as hard as anybody, links the play, creates chance after chance and is now, alongside Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez, one of the three most influential players in our starting selection.

Meanwhile, Theo Walcott gave his take on the Bayern game, highlighting patience as a key ingredient in securing the win and praising team-mate Petr Cech’s performance in goal, saying:

It was just one of those days when we had to be patient. We knew we were not going to have a lot of the ball and we had to go at them on the counter-attack. You can’t just chase them – if you chase the ball you just get passed around and you are going to lose so much energy. There is no need to do that. You just have to bide your time. Once they lose the ball they pressure quite quickly. If you can counteract that first pressure you have a chance. We were getting at them while we could and dropping back while we had to and obviously the goals came at great stages. Everyone did their jobs really well and I have to say Petr in goal was fantastic and made a number of very, very important saves. Everyone worked really hard and deserved it.

The bit about not over-exerting themselves by blindly chasing after Bayern shirts at every opportunity is interesting because there were times on Tuesday night when I was imploring Theo to do just that as the German’s casually knocked the ball between their defensive line. Now I realise it was a very deliberate conservation of energy which of course makes perfect sense. Shows what I know.

Finally, Laurent Koscielny, who added Robert Lewandowski’s name to a long list of the world’s most feared attackers he’s helped to keep from scoring against us, has also been speaking about the game, discussing collective defending and altering the team’s usual style-of-play. He told Arsenal Player:

Defensively we were together like a unit, we defended to help our team-mates and we played on the counter-attack. I think we were good and we had a lot of potential to score. Bayern hadn’t lost a game this season so it was very hard and tough for us but sometimes you need to play differently and everybody in front [of the defence] did their job well – it was very good and we need to keep this for the season. You can see the team were very focused in their defensive job and it is very important to keep this for the rest of the season because for the first two games of the Champions League we did not play very well. But here we saw a very good face of Arsenal and we need to keep this for the other games because I like I said before sometimes it is more difficult but you need to be stronger when you defend.

Right, time to turn our attentions back to the Premier League and Arsene provided an injury update earlier today which confirmed Aaron Ramsey would be out for a while with a hamstring tear, David Ospina will miss out this weekend with the shoulder injury he picked up on international duty, and the three long-termers, Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky, are still expected back around the New Year.

Back Friday.