30th November 2015: Wenger defiant and bullish as injuries pile up

Welcome to a brand new week on TremendArse. The early prognoses on the injuries suffered by Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and Laurent Koscielny in yesterday’s draw with Norwich, are reportedly mixed.

The latter’s hip complaint is not thought to be as bad as it appeared at Carrow Road, with the defender struggling to walk straight as he left the pitch, after The Guardian today reported the club hope Koscielny will return to training before the end of the week and should be in contention for Saturday’s game against Sunderland.

For more worryingly however, the same article says the club fear a torn hamstring for Sanchez, which would side-line him for a month, and worst of all, ligament damage to Cazorla’s knee, in which case the Spaniard would follow Francis Coquelin in being unavailable for a number of months yet.

To most fans and observers, we’re in the mother of all injury crises, even by our lamentable standards, yet Arsene Wenger stood firm on his decision to play Sanchez yesterday, despite revealing in the build-up to the game that the Chilean was a doubt for the match due to a ‘hamstring alarm’. He said:

The players are there to play football and not to be rested when the press decides they need to be rested. He says it is a kick on his hamstring. I fear the reality is worse than that. Nobody is scientifically developed enough, not even the press, to predict exactly when a guy would be injured. I must say that with all humility we are not position to predict that, despite all our test he looked alright. We checked him and when you have no force and no middle stretch in your hamstring then there is no problem and he had that. I believe that it is normal that a player gives everything in a game and I’m surprised you are surprised. You have plenty of players across Europe who play every single game and at the moment we are short as Walcott is not there, Welbeck is not there, Oxlade-Chamberlain is just coming back. I can take a gamble on one and in case I can take a gamble on another one.

And the boss also expanded on Cazorla’s injury, saying:

In the first half he got a kick on the knee and it got worse. I don’t know if he has jaded his knee ligament or he it was just a kick on the nerve but the worrying thing was it got worse during the game.

Yet despite all the injuries, and to players who are simply irreplaceable by other squad members by most people’s estimation, Arsene remains confident he, and what’s left of our decimated squad, can cope with the challenges ahead. He said:

We have Ramsey (who can play in central midfield). I can understand you worry for us, but trust us, we will be there. We have to go through that spell. We had a bad spell of a few games now with Tottenham, West Brom and today we only have taken two points but we are still not far and going through a bad spell and not being far. It is not enough but at least we had an opportunity to come back.

You have to admire the boss in a way for remaining defiant, albeit a little cocksure, despite his players dropping like Ashely Young over thin air in a penalty box, but privately he must be as concerned as the rest of us.

How we’ll cover for absent first-choice players and what that will mean for the way we play is obviously going to be an important topic of conversation over the coming days, but personally, I’m holding fire on playing Arsenal manager until the full extent of the damage to our injured players is confirmed.

Despite the undoubted brilliance of Sanchez and the goals he generates, in terms of both the time he might be out for and his importance to our style of play, the player I’m currently most concerned about is Cazorla. Hopefully any scans he has show no ligament damage and our ambidextrous little game-runner is back before we know it. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Til Tuesday.

29th November 2015: Triple injury blow as we’re held at Norwich

I suppose the first thing to say after today’s 1-1 draw at Norwich is: thank f*ck that was our last fixture of November.

Traditionally a difficult month for the club, the inexplicable trend continued this year, as we picked up just two points from three Premier League fixtures.

And having lost Francis Coquelin to long-term injury last weekend, three more key players picked up knocks today after Laurent Koscielny injured his hip, Alexis Sanchez, who went into the game with ‘a little hamstring alarm’ according to Arsene Wenger, er, pulled his hamstring, and Santi Cazorla sustained a knee injury, finishing the match playing ‘on one leg’ according to the boss.

Next year, I suggest we boycott November football, forfeit all our games and take the squad on a gentle, warm-weather training trip to somewhere like Dubai, just to keep them fresh and fit. It’s not like we pick up many points at this time of year …

On the bright side, we didn’t lose today and Mesut Ozil scored again with a delicious chip from a rapidly-executed through ball by Sanchez, following a poor clearance by Norwich’s keeper after 30 minutes.

Before then, Koscielny had already damaged his hip in what was an innocuous-looking block before we’d played ten minutes. Gabriel replaced him and when Norwich put together a rare first-half attack and the ball found it’s way to Lewis Grabban inside our area, the Brazilian defender was poorly positioned and thus unable to prevent Grabban from coolly sliding the ball past Petr Cech for 1-1 after 43 minutes.

We then wobbled a little and the home side nearly matched West Brom’s feat from a week ago by responding to our opener with a quick-fire, first-half double, but one of their players could only guide a right-wing cross over the bar at the far post. Phew.

The second half began with us regaining the kind of control on proceedings we’d enjoyed for most of the first period, only for Sanchez to pull up clutching his hamstring after an hour, forcing the boss to replace him with Joel Campbell. After that, Norwich grew more confident, forcing Cech into one particularly impressive save low down to the left.

I thought we actually played well for the most of the match, apart from Olivier Giroud, who if I’m honest, may as well have not been there for all he contributed. Maybe it was just a bad day at the office for the Frenchman but as a striker, he needs to take up far better positions in the box to attack crosses and be a little quicker in his reading of where team-mates might put the ball. I thought he was sluggish, to say the least, today and we need better from our front-man than what he offered this afternoon.

In the context of the title race, the draw keeps us in fourth spot, a point behind Manchester United and two adrift of joint-leaders Leicester and Manchester City. After the game, Arsene reflected on his side’s performance, saying:

It was a difficult game. We played against a Norwich side that was at the top level physically and focused. They were well organised and they played every time with 10 players in their own half, and we were not incisive enough. Maybe the turning point of the game was maybe we dropped a little bit after scoring straight away and allowed them back into the game. In the second half I felt we had to dig deep to get though as we were a bit jaded and we lost players. Cazorla played on one leg and of course we played Kosicelny at the start of the game so it was, I would say, a fair point for Norwich and it was on the injury front a bad afternoon for us.

So pretty magnanimous stuff from the boss there and although the result today is far from disastrous in terms of our title ambitions, another trio of injuries to some of our most important players may well turn out to be.

In successive weekends now, aside from dropping five points from the six available, we’ve lost our best defensive midfielder, our best attacker, our best defender and, in Cazorla, possibly also the man who makes us tick from the middle of the park.

At this point I’m not sure what we can say or do other than pray they aren’t sidelined for too long. Because the thought of going into next weekend’s game against a rejuvenated Sunderland at Emirates stadium, before travelling to Greece for our make-or-break Champions League game against Olympiacos, without Koscielny, Coquelin, Cazorla and Sanchez, is pretty scary.

See you next week and try not to get injured in the meantime. Evidently, it’s catching, if you’ve got anything to do with Arsenal at the moment.

28th November 2015: Premier League Preview – Can we get back to winning ways at Norwich?

Evening all. Much to the consternation of environmentalists everywhere, we’ll make the 14 minute flight to Norwich tomorrow, as we try to secure our first win in three Premier League games.

We’ll also be looking to make it four wins in a row against the Canaries, since, if memory serves, a Per Mertesacker slip let in Grant Holt to grab the hosts a 1-0 win back in October 2012.

And after Manchester United and Leicester City both dropped two points earlier today having played out a 1-1 draw, we can climb back above both of them in the standings with a win tomorrow.

In terms of how we’ll line-up, I’d expect Aaron Ramsey will come in on the right-hand side of midfield for Joel Campbell, which would admittedly be particularly harsh on the Costa Rican, given his fine performance against Dinamo Zagreb in midweek, but for me Ramsey remains the better option in that position.

Elsewhere I think we’ll be unchanged and should have Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the bench to give us one more attacking option should we need it as the game progresses.

There had been talk in some quarters of Ramsey playing alongside Santi Cazorla in the middle with both Francis Coquelin and Mikel Arteta currently out injured, but Arsene Wenger feels asking the Welshman to play deeper in a more disciplined, defensive role would take too much away from the player’s natural game, saying:

Ramsey is more an offensive player. I will use him sometimes there [centrally] when the game demands, but is he naturally with Cazorla a balanced pair? Defensively, certainly, it’s a very adventurous one! I used Ramsey on the right because he gives us a balance, because we have Ozil who is an offensive player, we have Sanchez, we have Giroud or Walcott and Cazorla so to balance a bit defensively, I use Ramsey on the right. That’s where I will certainly continue to use him. He is not afraid to tackle but he likes to go in the box and he has a good timing of runs and he wants the ball and he wants to go forward. If you take that out of him, and you say ‘look, you have to sit now, and sit there and wait,’ you kill his strengths. He [Ramsey] can do [the deeper role]. It is not that he cannot do it, but he can do it [more effectively] with Coquelin. Cazorla can [play alongside] Coquelin. Cazorla and Ramsey is a bit [attack-minded] and you know in my mind I have seen that the turn of our results last season was when I went for a bit of stability and put Coquelin in there. Now I am a bit cautious on that front and I do not want to unbalance the team. Arteta is not a Coquelin-type but he is a tactical player who loves to sit now because he is less [focused on] going forward. In my mind I always had Arteta and Flamini and Coquelin. But Arteta was injured so I played always Coquelin. Now with Arteta and Coquelin both injured we are of course a bit short. That’s why I play Chambers for 10 or 12 minutes to see how he positions and we are happy because he can do it.

I have to say I completely agree with that assessment by the boss. The only way I could see Cazorla and Ramsey working effectively is if Ramsey changed his game and mimicked Coquelin’s role as closely as possible, but as the boss says, that would be a waste of Ramsey’s natural strengths as a midfielder; the lung-bursting runs and goal-getting ability etc.

Elsewhere I think the team picks itself and the only position we might see a change, injuries aside, is in central defence where Arsene has occasionally rested Mertesacker for Gabriel so far this season.

Back post-match on Sunday.

COYG!

27th November 2015: Wenger on Ozil, Sanchez and bargains

Happy Friday folks. Although we don’t play until Sunday when we travel to Carrow Road to face Norwich, Arsene Wenger held his press conference yesterday and provided an update on team news. Apart from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who the boss said ‘maybe’ and ‘should’ be available, we’ll have the same squad from our midweek win over Dinamo Zagreb.

Considering how well Joel Campbell played against the Croatians, the boss will have a bit of a dilemma when selecting his side because you’d expect Aaron Ramsey will now be ready for a start having been eased back into action from the bench last Tuesday. Anyway, I’ll take a closer look at how we could line-up in tomorrow’s preview.

But for now, onto some words from the manager about his two most expensive signings for the club. First up it’s his record buy Mesut Ozil and Arsene discussed how his German schemer has developed his game since joining Arsenal, saying:

What is interesting about Mesut’s game is that he is not only a provider now, he likes to get on the end of the things. What he has added to his game is the runs into the box. He played before like he was not too much obsessed [by goals] and more by providing, and I think he has a much better balance in his game now, giving, assisting and scoring. At the start, in the first season, there was a lot of scepticism around him. I think the quality of his performances have turned opinions. He now has the support of everybody who loves Arsenal. You look at the players who give our assists and you will see who does it. I think the best assist player at the moment is Ozil, but we have many providers. We have Alexis, Ramsey, Cazorla – they are all people who can create chances. You could see Campbell the other night has given a great assist to Alexis. I think all our players have technical ability to do that.

Ozil’s assisting capabilities are beyond question of course, but to be honest, I don’t think it’s at all unfair to suggest the number of goals he scores himself could certainly be improved upon. On the other hand, Ozil’s altruism is what makes him such an effective player, so what might be better, is if his team-mates converted a greater proportion of the opportunities he creates.

Next up for praise from the boss was Sanchez and after calling the Chilean’s fellow south Americans Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani ‘animals’ in the past, Arsene says his own Latin American attacker, along with Leicester City’s free-scoring striker Jamie Vardy, is like a king of the Premier League jungle:

They are like the lion, he has to catch the animal in the first 200 metres. If he doesn’t get there, after he’s dead. They are these kind of killers. When they go, it is to kill and after they have to stop. His resistance is remarkable. What is also remarkable is that he goes to South America, he comes back Thursday night and on Saturday he can play without a problem even if he’s jet-lagged. He would have been a perfect tennis player.

I’m sure Sanchez would have excelled at any sport he’s have chosen to pursue as a career but needless to say, I’m pretty glad he went with football.

Finally, ahead of what was ‘Black Friday’ today (which if you didn’t know, is when retailers mark up goods by 500 percent, then offer them at ‘huge discounts’ so they can boost sales and clear old stock, while the general public engage in physical scraps to get their hands on said goods), Arsene was also ribbed about his own reputation for being cautious with cash as he was asked if he liked a bargain. Here’s what he said:

What is for us a bargain is to buy players of top quality, because only top quality strengthens our squad. I can tell you I bought Patrick Vieira for £2.5m and it was a top bargain because he was a top-quality player – it would be difficult to repeat these kind of buys now. That looks for me a very important one now, because he gave me credibility for my career here at Arsenal. Maybe if you look purely financially [there are others like] Anelka for £500k or Petit for £4.2m – today these numbers look so ridiculously low, but it’s impossible to do better. What is most important is the quality of the player and, on that front, even for example we paid high money for Ozil and Alexis – the highest we’ve ever paid – but I don’t regret it for a second. I still think it’s absolutely fantastic because we have the money and because the players are top quality.

A bit abrupt but that’s it for tonight.

Til Saturday.

26th November 2015: Wenger wants to buy as Edu reveals Pato discussion

Welcome back. Arsene Wenger held his pre-Norwich press conference this morning and aside from providing an update on team news, the boss also revealed he’s looking to buy in the upcoming January transfer window.

He said:

We are in a  position where we want to do something. If I find the right quality I will do something.

With Francis Coquelin ruled out for the next 3 months, signing a defensive midfielder is, you’d have thought, the manager’s priority if we can can find one we like. But as last summer’s pursuit of Karim Benzema showed, we’re still on the lookout for a quality striker too. So it was interesting to hear one of our former players reveal Arsene had enquired about the availability of Alexandre Pato recently.

Edu, a member of our Invincibles and now the Director of Football at Brazilian club Corinthians, was in London recently on a fact-finding mission and as well as visiting two of the capital’s lesser clubs in Chelsea and Tottenham, also dropped by to have a spot of lunch and a good old chinwag with his former boss Arsene at Arsenal. Here’s what he said:

I wasn’t there to tout him (Pato) around but if people ask about him, I’m going to answer. I talked and they asked questions – not just about him, but about a few of our players. They know them well. I had lunch with Arsene Wenger and he asked about (Pato) and about others.

The rise and fall of Pato is a bit of a weird one. Brought to Europe by AC Milan aged just 17 in 2007, he went on to score 63 goals in 150 games for the Rossoneri, before injury troubles and an alleged party-lifestyle led to the Italian club selling the striker to Corinthians in January 2013.

After scoring 17 from 62 appearances, a change of manager resulted in him being loaned out to Sao Paulo just a year later, where he’s netted 38 times in 95 games, including 26 in 56 this calendar year. So statistically-speaking, Pato has certainly been preforming well of late, regardless of how highly you rate domestic Brazilian football.

From what I’ve seen of him over the years, Pato’s pace and quality as a footballer is unquestionable, but there has to be other factors at play with him as an individual which have prevented a return to Europe before now. I mean, the shortage of ‘top-level’ strikers in our continent is something Arsene often bemoans, so to have a player, who at his best is certainly among the best of the world’s central strikers in my opinion, not being chased by top clubs in Europe, is odd.

Yet he’s still fairly young, having turned 26 in September, and at an age where, if he’s overcome his injury troubles, settled down a little in his private life and is determined to get back to his best, still has his golden years ahead of him. His loan deal with Sao Paulo reportedly runs until next month, which indicates Edu was indeed in London to offer Pato’s services to English clubs, even if he denied it above.

The other thing with the potential signing of Pato is he’d be relatively cheap. Less expensive than Jamie Vardy in all likelihood, and as big a fan as I am of the free-scoring Leicester man, I’d prefer Pato if he can rekindle his best form.

It’s all hypothetical of course but worth a wonder I thought because there certainly seems to something stirring with regards to a move for Pato to England in January given recurring reports over recent weeks.

Anyway, as usual, Arsene discussed a lot of things at his press conference, including his penchant for a bargain, team news, Alexis Sanchez being a jungle cat and more. But I’ll go over that lot tomorrow.

See you then.

25th November 2015: Awesome Ozil and spritely Sanchez keep us alive

Greetings. So our 3-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb last night, combined with Bayern Munich’s 4-0 success against Olympiacos, keeps alive our hopes of progressing to the knock-out stages of the Champions League.

But those results also ensure we’ll play in the Europa League should we fail to get the right result in Greece in a fortnight’s time. A win by any score-line other than 1-0 or 2-1, will be enough to see us make the last 16, so fingers crossed we can complete a remarkable comeback in our group and continue in Europe’s premier competition in the New Year.

Last night’s starting line-up saw Arsene Wenger make two changes from the team that started against West Brom last Saturday; Mathieu Flamini replaced the injured Francis Coquelin and Joel Campbell came in for Kieran Gibbs, with the fit-again Aaron Ramsey taking a place on the bench.

Dinamo actually started the game on the front foot and tried to catch us cold, but in truth, never looked like scoring before we took control of proceedings and played most of the first period in their half of the pitch. Mesut Ozil was our standout performer in the opening 45, so it was fitting he should be the one to break the deadlock just before the 30 minute mark.

The move began in our right-back area as Santi Cazorla, Hector Bellerin, Oliver Giroud and Ozil all combined superbly, albeit with a smidgen of good fortune, before the ball found it’s way to Flamini in space on half-way. The Frenchman adroitly played it forward to Alexis Sanchez on our left flank, while Ozil and Giroud sprinted into Dinamo’s box. Sanchez spotted Ozil’s run and sent over an inch-perfect cross for the German to convert with a stooping header without breaking stride.

Four minutes later, we doubled our lead. Dinamo tried to pass out from the back, Nacho Monreal nipped in to win the ball, flew forward and centered for Sanchez to coolly side-foot home. We’ve developed quite a knack of scoring goals in quick succession in games this season and here was another example in what was a must-win game.

It was more one-way traffic for most of the second half and we killed the game off with about 20 minutes to go. Campbell picked up the ball on the right, cut infield, played a precise reverse pass into Sanchez’s path, and our hyperactive Chilean danced around their keeper and fired into the roof of the net from a tight angle.

At that stage, we’d made just the one substitution, with Ramsey replacing Giroud and I’m sure I wasn’t the only Arsenal fan hoping Jeff Reine-Adelaide might get his first competitive minutes for the club. Alas, it wasn’t to be and instead Arsene sent on Calum Chambers and Mathieu Debuchy for Cazorla and Bellerin with eight minutes remaining. The big spoilsport.

After the game, the boss had this to say on our performance and chances of qualification:

We played at a good pace, produced a game of quality that we wanted. I believe the speed of our movement and passing gave Zagreb a problem. From then on, once we had scored the first goal you could see the chances were coming. It was important that we did not concede the first goal as we looked dangerous [going] forward. Overall we had a game of quality that we controlled well. What we wanted was to come out of this game with a chance to qualify and we needed to do the job and Bayern Munich needed to do the job and they did that well. It gives us a chance but how big the chance is I don’t know. I believe we can do it.

We now have Norwich away at the weekend, then a full week to prepare for Sunderland at home before we travel to Olympiacos for what will be a decider for second place in the group.

Hopefully we’ll have Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and perhaps even Theo Walcott, available by then for what will be a difficult task in one of the most vociferous and hostile atmospheres in Europe. But that’s two weeks away and attentions now return to the Premier League where we need to get back on track after picking up just 1 point from two games either side of the international break.

I’m not sure if Arsene will hold his press conference in the morning or on Friday but either way we should at least have an injury update tomorrow as the boss usually speaks with the official site on a Thursday.

Till then.

24th November 2015: Do or die time as we face Dinamo

Welcome back. Tonight we’ll find out if we have any chance of progressing to the knockout stages of the Champions League this season as we entertain Dinamo Zagreb at Emirates stadium.

Of course, a win for us wouldn’t necessarily be enough to keep our hopes alive heading into the final fixture, we also need Bayern Munich to beat Olympiacos at the Allianz Arena this evening.

We go into the game having failed to win both our previous two games but Arsene Wenger doesn’t sound too concerned, saying:

In the last two games we have dropped points. We know as well that before that we won five games on the trot and you can go through a spell like that – it is how you respond to that and that is what makes your season. That is why it is a good test for us. It is true that we need a positive result from Bayern, but that only has an impact if we win, so let’s focus on what we can do. I believe that when everybody is back we have a squad to compete in both [the Premier League and Champions League]. If we go through now in the Champions League we can be very dangerous for everybody.

In terms of how we might line-up tonight, my guess would be that Mathieu Flamini will come in to replace Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey will return to the right of midfield with Alexis Sanchez being restored to the left and Kieran Gibbs making do with a place on the bench.

I suppose the alternative would be to play Ramsey alongside Santi Cazorla, but that would mean either Gibbs or Joel Campbell playing on one of the flanks and I’m not sure we can risk that in such a crucial game.

Similarly, I don’t think tonight’s the time to give Calum Chambers a go in the defensive midfield role, despite Arsene talking up the former Southampton man’s talents and potential in the position. He said:

Calum Chambers has been educated as a central midfielder. He has a big stature, good technique, good vision as well. He has played in defensive positions so I think he can develop in the future in a position like defensive midfield. It is very important to balance our team, so the defensive role and the efficiency in this position is very important, because we are a team who like to go forward. All teams needs a strong, reliable player in every defensive aspect.

I have to say I like Chambers as a defender but I’m not sure I share the boss’s optimism when it comes to Calum playing in midfield. Time will tell but my view is that he isn’t nimble enough to play in that position. I think he’s good on the ball and in the air, is fairly quick, has decent passing, can tackle  obviously, and offer a physical presence, but is he quick-witted enough to play alongside Cazorla and Ozil through the middle and make it work? Not for me.

In games when we’re resigned to having far less possession than our opponents, like against Bayern or Barcelona say, I think Calum could be useful in midfield. But those games are few and far between and for the majority of our fixtures, when we’ll be the ones bossing the play, I don’t think Chambers in midfield would work.

It goes without saying that I’d love to be proved wrong, and usually I’m a big fan of trying players in new positions, but only when I think the player has attributes suited to a role.

Anyway, kick-off is fast approaching and I need to get my pre-match meal in. I can never eat while watching Arsenal. Must be the nerves.

Back tomorrow.

COYG !!