21st October 2015: Plan Bs beat Bayern

In yesterday’s pre-game post, I wondered if Arsene Wenger would set us up tactically in the same manner as he did in March 2013 when we emerged 2-0 victors from the Allianz Arena – defend deep and in numbers, and try to hit them on the counter.

In the end, that’s exactly what the manager did at Emirates stadium last night and the result of the game was the same, as we beat Bayern Munich 2-0 to significantly improve our chances of progressing from Champions League group F.

I also highlighted Petr Cech’s presence as a major reason I was confident we could beat the Germans despite having lost the last two encounters between the sides held in London, and at full-time, the former Chelsea goalkeeper was man of the match for many observers. Why the f*ck didn’t I buy a lottery ticket yesterday?

But enough narcissism, because the only people who deserve praise and discussion are the Arsenal management and players, who prepared and executed what is a rarely-used game plan for them, as well as anybody could have hoped.

We accepted Bayern were better than us in possession – and there are very few who are, hence this game-plan being utilized so irregularly – decided we’d need to defend fairly deep, stay concentrated and organised as if our lives depended on it, then spring forward using the pace of Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez and co, at every opportunity.

I’m sure most reading will have seen the match so I won’t go into a blow-by-blow account of proceedings but as expected, their Brazilian winger Douglas Costa was as dangerous as reports of his performances so far this season had suggested he’d be, and this current collection of Bayern players, with the way they recycle the ball and ravenously press to win it back, were easily identifiable as a Pep Guardiola-schooled side – much more so than the one we played the season before last.

Toni Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger may have left but Xabi Alonso and Arturo Vidal have more than adequately replaced them in Bayern’s midfield. Add Tiago Alcantara and they now have a trio approaching the passing, ball retention and speed of thought of the all-conquering Pep-constructed midfield of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets. So even with the talent of Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil in our own engine room, we put pragmatism over pizzazz and reaped the rewards.

After Ozil had an early shot saved by Manuel Neuer, the game settled into the pattern most of the rest of the match would play out in – Bayern had the ball, so we had to show balls. That meant not just hoofing it clear and hoping for the best but bravely trying to play out every time we sensed the time was right.

The effort expended by Arsenal players was nothing short of heroic, all the way through the team and all the way through the match. This extreme endeavour was epitomized by Hector Bellerin’s lung-bursting, stoppage time interception and run forward as the game approached it’s conclusion, to set up our second goal for Ozil.

Before then, Olivier Giroud had come off the bench to perform in the kind of determined, no-nonsense and aggressive manner I wish he would every time he pulled on an Arsenal shirt. One piece of control from a long ball dropping from height to hold up play was simply sublime and he gave us the lead from a free-kick he’d won himself, with the ball going in off a combination of the Frenchman’s face and hand.

I’m Walcott’s biggest fan but if I’m honest, despite causing Bayern a few moments of panic and seeing a header miraculously kept out by Neuer in the first half, I was a little disappointed by Theo’s overall performance. I think he still doubts himself a little too much, still looks to take the safe option a little too often and needs to have far more belief and conviction in his play. That may sound harsh given he still played his part in our win last night but I’m only critical because I think he’s capable of so much more.

Sanchez also didn’t enjoy his best night and compounded his lack of form by twice putting our defence in a perilous position by giving the ball away deep in our half but as usual, ran his socks off before being replaced late on.

Nit-picking done though and aside from what sounds like quite a bad hamstring tear for Aaron Ramsey, it was another great night to be a Gooner. We utilized our Plan B style of play and the game’s all-important first goal was scored by our Plan B striking option from the bench.

Time now to rest up, recuperate and see if we can keep our winning streak going when we host Everton on Saturday, when in all likelihood, our possession-hungry Plan A should be back in town.

Til Thursday.

20th October 2015: Champions League Preview – Can we beat flying Bayern?

Welcome back. In football, there’s ‘in-form’, then there’s Bayern Munich. The German champions, under the stewardship of the creative Catalan coach Pep Guardiola, visit Emirates stadium tonight having won nine out of nine Bundesliga games so far this season.

Whereas we lost at Dinamo Zagreb and at home to Olympiakos in Champions League group F, Bayern beat the latter 3-0 in Greece, before battering the Croatians 5-0 in Germany.

So despite our very encouraging Premier League form heading into tonight’s fixture, and based on the above, you’d probably be forgiven for assuming we have very little chance of a win tonight. Especially when you throw in the fact that on their last two visits to Arsenal, the Bavarians won both games with, if we’re honest, consummate ease.

All that said, we’ll be at full first-team, if not squad, strength this evening and if we play to our potential, can beat any team in Europe in my opinion. Arsene Wenger spoke about a study confirming the importance of scoring the first goal in the Champions League recently, so getting the balance right between keeping it tight at the back and breaching Bayern’s defence will be key.

With that in mind, I wonder if Arsene will set us up tactically more like when we beat Bayern 2-0 at the Allianz Arena in March 2013, when we defended diligently in numbers and broke forward at pace at every opportunity, rather than the more gung-ho attacking whirlwind we were at the start of our last game hosting Bayern and indeed the recent win over Manchester United.

We need to win of course but a winning goal, as Saturday’s victory at Watford reminded us, doesn’t have to be scored early. What’s more important, is that we don’t concede first and Petr Cech’s presence in our side is one big reason I think we have a greater chance of securing a win against Bayern tonight than in previous meetings.

Speaking at his pre-match press conference yesterday, Arsene highlighted his side’s confidence after back-to-back 3-0 successes in the league, bemoaned our two group game losses and spoke about the need to play at our best if we’re to beat Bayern, saying:

The confidence level is there, the needed result is there as well – we know exactly what is required [because] a 0-0 is not even a good result. To score goals, we have to attack. It is true that [we have delivered big results] before, but we want to do it again because we feel a bit that the pain inflicted [in the Champions League] was a bit by ourselves. Maybe subconsciously we thought ‘anyway we will win these [first two games’. Now to correct that we need a great performance. What we want to do is play up to our level – that will be needed because we play against a big team.

I have to say I’m very, very excited about tonight. A lot has been said about perhaps prioritizing the Premier League, having made such a poor start in Europe, by resting players etc but not so much about the possible positive effects on the side a win over such highly-rated opponents would produce confidence and momentum-wise.

I mean, when we host Everton on Saturday, surely it’s better going into that game a little more tired but a lot more confident, than if we’d rested several players tonight and been soundly beaten. As Arsene often points out, belief is easily eroded but very difficult to re-establish.

Meanwhile, Aaron Ramsey, who will have to be typically industrious in getting back to help out Hector Bellerin against one of Bayern’s best attackers this season, the Brazilian Douglas Costa, has been discussing the game and his hope the team can get the home support ‘on our side’, saying:

We’ve done really well away from home [against Bayern Munich]. It’s about starting the game well and getting the momentum and the crowd on our side early on. That’s what we’ll be looking to do to hopefully go on and get the win that we’re looking for. We’ve had some really good performances and results against Bayern, so we’re looking forward to tomorrow. These are the games that you want to be involved in, play in and test yourself in, so we’re looking forward to that. As a professional player you always go into every game wanting to give your absolute best. Unfortunately in the last two Champions League games we were not quite there to get the win, but our focus is now on Bayern and we are really looking forward to playing and going out there to express ourselves.

After scoring his first goal of the season against Watford, tonight would be the ideal time for Aaron to capitalize on the rediscovery of his shooting boots and help fire us back into contention in this group.

See you tomorrow.


19th October 2015: Sanchez and Ozil to start against Bayern Munich + Injecting more ‘pace’ into the team

So we play our second game in a relentless run of seven in just 21 days when we entertain Bayern Munich tomorrow evening, and despite suggesting on Saturday that he may rest Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, Arsene Wenger has revealed both players will indeed be starting in what is realistically, a must-win match if we want to progress from our Champions League group.

Speaking at his pre-match press conference alongside Aaron Ramsey earlier today, the boss discussed team news, saying:

We have Gabriel back available, he is the only player back available. Everybody has recovered from our game on Saturday so it is nearly the same squad. (David) Ospina is out injured. He came back from Colombia with a shoulder problem and he is out. No (Ozil and Sanchez won’t be rested). You would be surprised if I told you that I would rest them tomorrow, so I can tell you certainly not. Normally they should play tomorrow.

That clears that up then. I did think it was a little strange Arsene would even consider leaving arguably our two best attacking players out of such a huge game, mainly because his name isn’t Brendan Rodgers and he’s not one to throw the towel in.

So I’m assuming what he said over the weekend about giving Ozil and Sanchez a breather was more ‘at some point’ than ‘right away’. We have Sheffield Wednesday coming up next midweek in the Capital One Cup and that would obviously be the time to do it.

Arsene was also asked if he thought Bayern were the ‘best team in the world’ and didn’t disagree, although he sort of smudged his answer, saying all the teams in the Champions League were the best in the world – which clearly isn’t the case. I mean, Chelsea are in the competition and they’re battling relegation domestically.

He was then asked how his team could overcome the Bavarians and pointed out that no side is without weakness, saying:

[But] there is no team without weaknesses. If you ask me to come out with them then I would not especially do that but there is no team without weaknesses. What we want is to win the game. We want to defend well, attack well and score the first goal – that is massively important in the big games. You can never promise you will score three goals in 20 minutes [like against Manchester United] because that would be absolutely crazy. What we can do is start in a strong way and that is what we will try to do. We know we play against a top side. We prepared well against Zagreb, we prepared well against Olympiacos but [that was] between two Premier League games where we had to give a lot. We won 5-2 at Leicester, three days later we played against Olympiacos. On top of that things went against us. But on Tuesday everyone will be highly focused.

Speaking of how we might overcome Pep Guardiola’s pass masters, Arsene mentioned after the win at Watford on Saturday that he ‘wants to put pace into this game’. The last time the two sides met at Emirates stadium, despite losing 2-0, we actually came flying out of the blocks, bullied Bayern in the opening exchanges and should have gone 1-0 up, only to see Ozil have a penalty saved and then Wojciech Szczesny sent off after a blatant dive by Grandpa Robben.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started that match and I can’t remember how he played in all honesty, but I do remember Kieran Gibbs performing like a man possessed down our left flank, before being forced off through injury after half an hour’s play. The left-back was crucial in our fast start so when Arsene talks pace, I wonder if he has Gibbs in mind to come in for Nacho Monreal.

Of course the Ox himself is a pacey option but I’m struggling to see who he’d leave out to accommodate him. He’s quicker than Ramsey but he’s been out of form and if he were to play, I’d actually prefer him to start more centrally and try to reproduce his man-of-the-match display from that position against AC Milan a few years back.

Of course Gabriel is quicker than Per Mertesacker (only kidding, but who isn’t) and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the Brazilian start alongside Laurent Koscielny at the back. All that said though, my inclination would still strongly be to start the same team from Saturday, but Arsene’s got previous in pulling a few selection surprises for big European games (Yaya Sanogo) so I’m intrigued as to what line-up he’ll go with.

Back tomorrow with more pre-game.


18th October 2015: Cazorla, Cech and Bellerin react to Watford win

Welcome back. It’s Bayern Munich on Tuesday night of course but we’ve got tomorrow to talk about the clash with the German champions so for today, I’m choosing to look back on what was our fourth win from five away Premier League games so far this season at Watford yesterday.

A few of the players have been speaking about the hard-fought, but ultimately convincing, victory at Vicarage Road. First up is Santi Cazorla, who ran the show with typically awe-inspiring close control, speed of thought and precision passing from the middle of the park. The diminutive Spaniard said:

It was a difficult game and a very good win for us. We are second in the league and we need to keep the play at the same level. They played the long ball and they have very good and strong players in front of them, but we came together and it is very important for us to beat these teams and we are very proud of the team.

Santi also described how the game against Watford varied from the 3-0 win over Manchester United before the international break, the importance of scoring first and Arsenal’s title challenge:

It is a very different game. We played against Manchester United last time and it is a different game. They have very good players but today it was physical and with the team it is the most important thing to play well. We need to keep this level for the future. We need to improve the game. It is important to make the first goal but we need more goals and this is the most important thing for the team. We have very good players like Alexis and Mesut which is good. We will try to win the league. Game by game it is important for us. We have a vital game against Bayern Munich and after that we have a big game against Everton.

What a player Santi is. The twists and turns, those ambidextrous, dancing feet, his scuttling slaloms, and far more physically imposing opponents bouncing off him with regularity, simply have to be seen to be believed.

I’m not sure the former Malaga man gets the recognition he deserves and his partnership with Francis Coquelin is a little like Cesc Fabregas and Mathieu Flamini’s in the 2007-2008 season, only way, way better. Both individually and collectively, our current pair are a cut above.

Meanwhile, Petr Cech also discussed the win and pointed out Arsenal must perform at their best regardless of the perceived calibre of opposition, saying:

It is always difficult going away for the internationals and you come back home and everyone comes back at different times. You have only one day to prepare and you play away from home against a good team that was very solid at home in their previous games. We knew it was going to be a difficult game. We needed to be patient to score the first goal. We had a really big game against Manchester United last week before the internationals, so when you win those games [you have to] win another game. We treat everybody with the same respect so the three points are vital for us.

As the season wears on, Cech’s experience and quality is coming more and more to the fore, highlighting the benefits of having a truly top-class ‘keeper between the sticks. Countless times already this season, he’s held onto the ball and helped to take the sting out of periods of opposition pressure, when his predecessors in the Arsenal goal would have distributed too rashly.

A small example of why Cech’s a player who knows all about game management and as he screamed to our BFG, Per Mertesacker, his BFF, at the end of our Community Shield win over Chelsea, it’s all about the ‘small details’.

Finally for today, some words from our Cockney Catalan, Hector Bellerin, who was returning to the ground he called home in a brief loan spell a couple of seasons ago.

The 20-year-old was again a relentless runner, defending with maturity and attacking with the kind of conviction we haven’t seen from any of our right-backs since the Invincible Lauren. He capped his performance with a brilliantly composed assist for Aaron Ramsey’s goal and gave his take on the game when he spoke to Arsenal Player after the game:

It is important when the ball does not go in that you carry on playing your game. I think that Watford were very, very physical for the whole game and they were running out towards the end and we took profit from that. I was a right winger before so it is always nice when I have the space up front to go forward and hopefully I can help the team like that. We scored three late goals and it does not matter as long as you score them. They have very strong players up front and they are a handful especially players like Troy [Deeney] and I think we dealt with them and when we could play with the ball we did that. It is important we got a win here as it is a very difficult venue.

Time will tell obviously, but I think Bellerin may well be proved right in calling Vicarage Road a ‘difficult venue’ come the end of the campaign. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of the other big sides struggle on a big, demanding surface against what are organised, direct hosts, making the manner of our victory yesterday, all the more impressive.

See you next week.

17th October 2015: Arsenal wear down Watford to secure 3-0 win

As much as Arsenal’s pass-and-move penchant allows us to dominate possession and create a catalogue of goalscoring opportunities in most matches, it also, if we’re at the top of our game, causes our opponents to run themselves to a standstill as they chase after Santi Cazorla-shaped shadows all over the pitch.

That was certainly the case this afternoon as three goals in 12 minutes after an hour of valiant, but ultimately futile, effort by hosts Watford, secured us three more points, saw us reclaim second spot in the table having been dislodged for a few hours following Manchester United’s win at Everton, and ensured we picked up where we left off before the international break, just as we’d all hoped we would before kick-off.

The one change to our starting line-up from our win over United a fortnight ago was the return of Laurent Koscielny in place of Gabriel who missed out on the match-day squad entirely. There were conflicting reports about the Brazilian’s absence with illness and a ‘small operation’ both cited as explanations but thankfully, Arsene Wenger expects the defender to be fit for Tuesday’s game against Bayern Munich whatever the issue really was.

The large Vicarage Road pitch seemed smooth but could certainly have done with some sprinkler action because although the ball ran pretty smoothly, it was a little slow and looked far more physically draining than most others in the league. The fact the ball would hold up when hit long also facilitated the hosts’ deliberate game-plan of defending in numbers and then going route one at every opportunity.

That tactic tested our defence on a number of occasions in the first half and Koscielny vitally cut out a Troy Deeney cross from the left at one point, with Odion Ighalo lurking in the middle unmarked. Ighalo then raced clear on the right but carefully placed a glorious opportunity as wide as Frank Lampard’s waist.

At the other end, Theo Walcott glanced a header wide from a pin-point, right-wing cross by Aaron Ramsey, Alexis Sanchez tested their ‘keeper with what’s becoming a trademark 25-yard screamer and Ramsey himself replicated his miss for 4-0 against United by guiding the ball over the bar from close range following a Sanchez cross from the left.

I’ll be honest, at half-time I thought there was no way Watford could keep up their level of effort for long in the second period and not just because Deeney was blowing out of his arse after about 25 minutes. The pitch and our passing meant I was confident they would ease off, leaving us more space and then it would just be a case of can we take our chances when they inevitably arrive?

The answer, with Sanchez in such sizzling goalscoring form, was provided after 62 minutes. Tottenham reject Etienne Capoue tried to buy a penalty by falling over thin air and Francis Coquelin wasted no time in berating his fellow Frenchman in both English and then, when he realised who the diver was, in their common mother tongue. A bilingual bollocking.

Meanwhile, the referee waved away appeals, Arsenal countered, Mesut Ozil played a one-two with Cazorla taking the German one-on-one with their ‘keeper who duly brought him down. A clear penalty then, had Sanchez not instantly and nonchalantly stroked the loose ball off the near post and into the net to give us the lead.

That made it seven goals in four club games for the Chilean and heralded a bit of an onslaught for the hosts as substitute Olivier Giroud guided an Ozil cut-back from the right into the roof of the net and Ramsey found the net via a deflection, following what can only be described as a barnstorming run by Hector Bellerin on the right. Bang, bang, bang. Game over.

After the game, Wenger described our attacking as relentless from the moment we took the lead and he wasn’t wrong. He said:

I like that we continued to attack relentlessly until the end and to finish with it was a convincing win. We scored five at Leicester, we scored three against Watford today, who had only conceded one [at home], so that tells you we can score goals and we can be dangerous against anybody. We faced a team that was very well organised, very strong in their challenges and very direct as well. It took us a while to adjust to that level of commitment and when we did it in the second half we dominated the game and after the first goal you could see that mentally and physically they got the blow. Sometimes the first goal changes the game. When they had to come out it was much easier for us. We know once we are in full power, we are quick in transition and we can kill teams off with our pace and that is what happened.

So another three goals, another clean sheet and another three points keep us just two points behind Manchester City in the title race. Now to recover and go again when we entertain the mighty Munich in a few days’ time.

Back Sunday.

16th October 2015: Premier League Preview – Watford the first of 7 games in 21 days

Happy Friday folks. After a tedious two-week break, club football returns when we travel to Watford tomorrow evening to kick-start a relentless run of fixtures for Arsenal over the next month or so.

We follow up our trip to Vicarage Road by hosting Bayern Munich on Tuesday and Everton next Saturday, before traveling to Sheffield Wednesday, then Swansea, all before the end of the month. After that it’s Bayern in Germany on November 4th before the north London derby at Emirates stadium four days later, taking us up to the next international break.

That’s seven games in 21 days across three different competitions, which will not only have a huge say on whether we really are set to challenge for the league this season, but also shape our campaign in terms of Europe.

Will we pull off a minor miracle and leave ourselves with a realistic chance of progressing from our Champions League group? Or will it be a Europa League debut or maybe even complete elimination from continental competition? The next three weeks will give us a much better idea and needless to say, savvy squad rotation will be key to our chances of success.

Bayern are clearly the stronger of our next two opponents yet Arsene Wenger suggested at his press conference yesterday that he’ll pick his first-choice team against Watford. When asked if his selection would be influenced by our critical encounter with the German champions on Tuesday evening, he said:

Not at all. For me the most important game is Watford because the Premier League is the most important competition, with the Champions League. I would say the Premier League is the most important competition for us.

You can understand what Arsene means here. We obviously start every season with winning the Premier League and Champions League as our two main targets but given our start in Europe, perhaps there’s an acceptance that a first success in Europe’s premier competition will have to wait for at least another year, so there’s little point in jeopardizing a win at Watford by resting players for midweek.

Then again, if you’re more of an optimist, you’ll point out that four group games remain to be played, so qualification is still in our hands and we should do everything we can to make it happen. I guess it depends on your outlook. It’s certainly a bit of a dilemma for the boss but then that’s what he’s paid for so let’s hope he gets his selection right in both games and we can secure two wins.

Team news is that everyone is reportedly in contention bar the three long-termers Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky, although Laurent Koscielny faces a late test on his hamstring and Arsene was due to assess others returning from national team duty a little further before deciding his 11.

In terms of our history against tomorrow’s hosts, despite the first fixture between the two teams taking place as long ago as February 1906 (a 3-0 FA Cup win for us), we’ve only met on a further 20 occasions over the proceeding 109 years or so, with Arsenal winning 10, drawing one and losing nine. But we have won each of our last five games against Watford, stretching back to a 1-0 Premier League success at Highbury in September 1999, when a solitary goal from Nwankwo Kanu gave us all three points.

The game against The Hornets that sticks out for me though, came a year later in April 2000, when a brace from Thierry Henry and one from Ray Parlour put us three up by half time. One of Henry’s strikes in that game saw him weave past a couple of defenders before curling one into the far corner and wheeling away, I think, with his top pulled over his head Fabrizio Ravenelli-style. Thinking back, it was one of the first times it dawned on me that we may have a special player on our hands.

Who knows, maybe Theo will do something similar tomorrow and show he’s got more in common with Thierry than just blistering pace and the number 14. Considering our record goalscorer is likely to be on duty for Sky for the match, I’m guessing we might just get a reminder of that game and his his goals in the build-up to kick-off.

Back post-match.


15th October: Wenger hopes the squad pick up where they left off

Evening Gooners. The club’s AGM took place at Emirates stadium today and for a comprehensive report of proceedings, including Arsene Wenger’s speech in full, head over to Arseblog News here.

On a busy day for the boss, he also held his pre-Watford press conference at the ground, saving everyone a trip to London Colney tomorrow  – now that’s efficiency right there.

In terms of team news there’s not a lot to add from yesterday’s update; Arsene says Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck are ‘progressing well’, with the latter due back no earlier than the start of January.

He also spoke about the squad’s need to ‘reconnect’ quickly after dispersing for the international break having just produced unarguably our performance of the season in beating Manchester United, saying:

We separated on a positive vibe. After, the task is to reconnect quickly because everybody goes to their national teams and has different worries. The target now is to refocus on what we want to achieve. We play against Watford who have conceded only one goal at home and defend very well. They are a very difficult team to play against so we have to focus to get a positive result on Saturday. The level of champions and people who want to fight at the top is urgency. Urgency is something that keeps you alert and we know what will be expected of us. We have to be conscious that it will be a different game but the level of urgency is a big part of success and that is what we work on.

I love that he used the phrase ‘level of champions’ there, because it suggests within the dressing room and in the manager’s mind, we are in a title fight for real this season. In previous years, the hope may have been there but I’m not sure the belief necessarily was for players, fans or indeed manager, considering the profile of our squads then, and the level of the opposition.

This year feels different though. We’ve won back-to-back FA Cups, have a squad with talent and experience, and no team in the Premier League looks nailed on for the title, as perhaps Chelsea, Manchester City or Manchester United have done in years gone by.

One big reason for us to believe we can go all the way is the mercurial Alexis Sanchez. Sure we’ve had good, great and even world class players in between but the Chilean, to me at least, is the best attacker we’ve had since Thierry Henry left and Arsene says the former Barcelona man is even better now than he was in his debut campaign:

He has a bit of a difficult start because he came back late [from the Copa America] and you could see that but now he is back to his level and even better than before. His overall game and finishing, contributing and assists is excellent. He works hard for the team and he finishes. His enthusiasm is contagious. He always gives you hope that he is going to do something and he always gets defenders on the back foot, provokes and that is top class.

Of course, Sanchez is very ably assisted by Mesut Ozil in the Arsenal attack and Arsene says the German schemer’s goal-scoring performance against United just before the international break has set the standard he must now regularly aim to reach:

You want Mesut to score as well in a big game and he did that against Man United. When you are an offensive player that is an important part of it. I believe there are goals in him and in that game he has shown it. I think it can increase the belief and the hunger of the team. On the other hand you have to show that you can come into every game with that focus.

And that’s the key – “focus”. We turned up and turned it on in a big game against a traditional rival on home turf, but we now need to reproduce the same mentality and performance against newly-promoted Watford at Vicarage Road to keep the pressure up on leaders City.

A bit brief but that’s all for today.

See you on Friday.

14th October 2015: Early Watford team news + Wenger on playing away

Welcome back. So the internationals are finally over, after lasting for what seemed like an eternity, and as we look forward to Saturday’s trip to Watford, Arsene Wenger has revealed some early team news to the official site.

Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta are back in full training, Laurent Koscielny has a test to see if he’s ready after the hamstring strain that kept him out of our win over Manchester United, and Alexis Sanchez, who was substituted late in that game with a groin strain, yet still went on to play both games and score three times for Chile, has texted Arsene to say he’s fine.

Speaking of our south American superstar, reports have emerged recently that Real Madrid would like to tempt him back to Spain. Firstly, can I just ask Madrid to kindly f*ck the f*ck off – all due respect. We’re readying a new contract for Alexis, and as he said in his press conference after Chile’s last game, he’s very happy in north London.

Secondly, I hear there’s a decent player who plays in the same position over in west London. According to many (Chelsea fans), he’s the best player in England. Go take a look Florentino. Thirdly, remember Karim Benzema and how we waited all summer to sign him and you happily strung us along before refusing to sell? So do we.

I have to say, the mere thought of us selling Sanchez fills me with more dread than I ever felt when the likes of Fabregas, Van Persie or Nasri were about to leave, mainly because the Chilean’s a better player, harder worker and all-round superior human being than that trio of turncoats.

Moving on and Arsene has followed up on talk of scientific studies into home advantage by speaking a little about away form. Interestingly, the boss revealed he asks his scouts for reports on how any potential new signing plays on his travels before making up his mind. He told Arsenal Player:

You could say it’s linked more to bravery – your character is more tested away from home. At home you feel the players are a bit more protected. But what I say to my scouts is, ‘Watch this player for me, but watch him in an away game.’ You want to know how he behaves away from home because usually at home you will be all right. If a scout comes to me and says he has found a good player, I ask where he saw him. If it was at home, I tell them to go and watch them away as well because it’s a better test of their character, their bravery and their desire. Once a player is good away from home, you can say you will consider him.

As I said, interesting. But you’d hope that if Lionel Messi ever becomes attainable for Arsenal, the fact he’s performed far better at the Nou Camp against English teams than away, wouldn’t prevent us from making a bid. Because that would be stupid. Messi’s almost as good as Alexis. Almost.

Finally for today, Petr Cech has been speaking about his favourite save in an Arsenal shirt, which came against Liverpool at Emirates stadium, telling Arsenal Player:

[My favourite was] probably the first one against Benteke because Gabriel tried to intercept the ball when he ran across the goal, and until the last fraction of a second I didn’t know whether he was going to touch it or not. I had to wait and I also knew that Benteke was already there. I thought, ‘OK I have to wait to see if he deflects it towards his own goal or whether it will go anywhere else’, and then I knew that I would have to go fast to the other side. I was lucky that I had perfect timing to get there. Taking information before the situation happens helps. I knew he was running there so I knew that the moment Gabriel missed the ball I had to get there as fast as possible. It’s the awareness that I had two options; to wait and then as soon as the ball went past him, knowing that I had to get there. I was ready for that so as soon as I saw that he would not touch the ball I had already gone. Maybe it’s a bit of experience, but I would say it’s taking the information prior to the situation. That was the key in this moment.

It’s been said before but Cech comes across as a very smart cookie indeed and after a shaky start against West Ham on the opening day of the season, he’s starting to show his true class, making vital saves, like from Martial in our last game.

To be honest, I still can’t believe we signed him, or rather, Chelsea let him leave. Our ‘only’ buy this summer could still prove to be the best bit of business done by any club in the last window.

Til Thursday.

13th October 2015: Welbeck on return, Man Utd battering and more

Evening all. With Theo Walcott currently performing like a cross between Thierry Henry and Pele, people don’t seem to be missing the injured Danny Welbeck as much as they might have done.

That said, a dip in form for Theo or an injury to his current back-up Olivier Giroud would leave us with a worrying lack of options up front, so it was great to hear Welbeck say his recovery from knee surgery was going well and that he’s hoping to be back in action around the turn of the year.

Speaking from Dubai, where the former Manchester United striker was visiting the Arsenal Soccer School, he discussed a range of topics including his rehabilitation and our stunning, recent win over his former club. He said:

It’s difficult to put an exact date on it (his return from injury), around the New Year. After I had the operation, I was in a leg brace for about four weeks – which wasn’t easy. I had to do a lot of machine work, about six hours a day. Sleeping in a leg brace isn’t good. At night it’s not comfortable, it’s the first time I’ve slept on my back in years. It’s good to finally be out of the brace now and walking. It feels like I’m getting that little bit closer to getting back out on the pitch. The way we started the game (against United) was obviously crucial for the result, in the end. It was a great team performance, I thought the mentality was spot on with the way we started the match and went about things.

Welbeck also revealed his frustration at not being able to play at the moment, said the squad must continually strive to improve, and outlined the importance of consistency in a very competitive Premier League if Arsenal are to be champions:

It’s frustrating being on the sidelines and watching in – you feel kind of helpless. But you just have to keep motivated. The appetite’s there, you just want to get back out on the pitch and show what you can do. So it’s difficult but you’ve got to see the positive side of things at times. Obviously there’s some days when you just want to be back out there playing, but it’s a process and something that I’ve learnt to deal with in time. But it’s hard. The most important thing, obviously, as a team and as a squad, we want to keep on improving. The way we’ve started the league we’ve had a few good results, but there’s also results where we could have done a bit better in certain situations. The most important thing is we improve on what we’ve got to set a standard. We’ve just got to keep on improving as a squad mentally going into games, making sure we’re right for every single match and not just on selected games. In the Premier League there’s teams in the lower half of the table beating teams in the top half and that just shows you the level of competition throughout the whole league. There’s not one game where you can take your foot off the gas and we’ve got to be prepared mentally, physically and tactically for every single match we go into to. It’s the same for every single team. It doesn’t give one side a better opportunity to win the league. Every three points is going to be vital. And if you get those wins and keep racking them up that’s going to be the most important thing come May.

Nothing at all to argue with in that and the bit about the squad improving mentally going into games is the standout-out comment in my opinion. As much as we marveled at our display against United, just a few day earlier we produced a very different performance against Olympiakos.

The players were mostly the same and their physical condition presumably not an issue, so the logical explanation for the defeat would be a lack of focus. But as Danny alludes to above, we need to ensure we’re tuned in for every game, big or small, if we want to lift the biggest prizes at the end of the season.

Anyway, the sooner Welbeck and our other two long-termers, Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere, are back to bolster the squad the better, because when we emerge from a hectic festive period, we’ll no doubt be in desperate need of freshening things up.

Til tomorrow.

12th October 2015: Wenger gets scientific and William Carvalho loves Arsenal

Greetings Gooners. The US space agency NASA has revealed ambitious plans to establish a human colony on Mars by 2030. Can I just be the first to recommend they recruit Diego Costa for the ‘Earth Reliant‘ phase of the mission? Grant a favour for the entire human race and fire the cheat into space.

Speaking of science, Arsene Wenger has been discussing studies into the link between scoring the first goal in a Champions League game and winning the match, as well as which one factor gives a side playing at home the biggest advantage over their visitors. Talking with Arsenal Player, Professor Arsene said:

When you look at the history of all these games, most are decided by the first goal. A new scientific study within the Champions League last year found that, more than ever, the team who scores first wins. Why? Because it puts the team in a very strong position to be able to counter-attack, and that is the easiest way to attack without opening yourself up. Having said that, I think on a longer distance the current numbers about away games will be reversed. I recently read a scientific study that covered all types of sport and what came out was that home teams are still favourites to win games, and not because of the motivational factor of the players but purely because of the support of the crowd. In a variety of sports, they came to the scientific conclusion that the biggest advantage of the team that plays at home is the support of the crowd. That’s not my impression; it’s the result of a scientific study. They eliminated all the other factors that could come in. It was a simple conclusion – it’s the home support that gives the advantage of the team. This home support can also turn against the home team if you don’t start well and if you are 1-0 down, but it also shows that influence is very strong.

Nothing ground-breaking there to be honest, so I’m not sure they needed to bother with a ‘scientific study’ because most football followers would have given you those conclusions if you’d have simply asked them.

Anyway, now we know it’s scientifically proven beyond any shadow of a doubt so we can all rest at ease; positive home support really is like having a 12th man and if we want to beat Bayern Munich next Tuesday, we just need to draw first blood. Simple.

I’m not sure about you, but I’d have preferred a study into why Arsenal win an abnormally low percentage of games when certain referees (Mike Dean) are in charge. The conclusions from that study would have been much more interesting as far as I’m concerned and nowhere near as predictable.

I mean, it could be pure coincidence, it could be that he’s a closet Tottenham fan, or maybe, because he’s just a sh*t ref – but at least we’d know and could rationalize the newest ridiculous decision he gives against the Gunners, which statistically, is certain to be the next time he’s in charge of a game involving us.

Meanwhile, Sporting Lisbon’s defensive midfielder William Carvalho, linked with a move to north London about a billion times over the last few years, has been speaking about his admiration of Arsenal in an interview with Portuguese newspaper A Bola. He said:

I am where I want to be right now, which is Sporting, but if I ever do leave then it’s a sign that my work here was well done. I dream of winning the Primeira Liga here. I prefer not to say too much, but there is a club with which I’ve always been fond of: Arsenal. Because of Thierry Henry, a player with whom I have always enjoyed watching. Maybe this is why I look with so much affection to the Premier League.

I’ve not seen Carvalho play more than a couple of times but according to many observers, he’s a smart, efficient, powerhouse of a performer in the middle of the park, boasting strength, size, decent passing but above all, a reassuringly robust presence in front of a defence.

He was named player of the tournament at last summer’s under 21 European Championships and we were rumoured to be lining up a bid before he was sidelined for a few month through injury, ruling out any chance of a transfer materializing.

I’d guess he’s just one of a number of players in that position we’ve scouted and considered so time will tell if Arsene and his staff rate Carvalho as highly as he rates us.

Back tomorrow.