31st December 2015: Elneny reportedly passes medical

Welcome to the last TremendArse post of 2015. The calendar year may come to a close in a few hours’ time, but the January transfer window swings open for business.

Reports this evening say Basel’s Mohamed Elneny has passed a medical ahead of his proposed switch to Arsenal and the transfer is now dependent on him gaining a work permit, which is expected to be granted. Excellent.

ESPN’s website has a great piece on the midfielder, which covers his move to European football from his native Egypt, compares him with his compatriot Mohamed Salah, and offers an insight into what kind of player and personality we’ll be adding to our squad. Well worth a look.

Elsewhere, Hull City manager Steve Bruce has revealed Isaac Hayden will be returning to Arsenal early from his season-long loan deal with the Tigers, because the defender/defensive midfielder wants regular game time – something he hasn’t been getting at the KC Stadium. Bruce said:

Isaac wants to play and I haven’t been able to play him enough. The form of Meyler and Livermore has been excellent so he’s found himself restricted. I’m disappointed and sad that we’re losing him because I do believe he could have played a big part in the second half of the season but he wants to play now. I can’t give him that. He goes back with our best wishes. It hasn’t really worked out for him because of other players in form. When we signed Isaac I was expecting to be without Livermore and he’s similar in the way he plays. Jake coming back into the fold has limited his opportunities.

With Mathieu Debuchy looking likely to be granted a move away from the club as he searches for regular football in an attempt to force his way into France’s squad for Euro 2016, part of me wonders if we’ve actually been the ones to instigate Hayden’s early return.

I mean, Calum Chambers is the likeliest candidate to play Hector Bellerin’s deputy if Debuchy does depart, which would allow Hayden to assume the role of ‘last resort defensive midfielder’ in our squad. I suppose if Hayden is immediately loaned out to another club upon his return to London Colney, we can put that theory to bed, but it makes sense at the moment, in my mind at least.

Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger has been lavishing more praise on Mesut Ozil, this time enthusing about the German midfielder’s improved athleticism and leadership qualities. He said:

I think he plays in a position that suits him well. He plays in a style of football that suits him well. He is, today, maybe more in a more comfortable psychological position because he’s accepted and not so much questioned than he was in the years before. This season he was not stopped by injuries and I believe that he arrives at an age – 27 – that you think ‘it’s time for me to really be efficient in every single game, and I want to enjoy every single game’. When he was injured for a long period he worked very hard physically. He is a complete athlete. I also believe he has grown in stature and takes responsibilities, leadership in the team and on that front he has improved tremendously and looks determined to lead the team compared to when he arrived.

It’s hard to argue against the suggestion that our attacking strategy at the moment is predominantly: get the ball to Ozil at every opportunity, and in that sense, he’s not just a leader, but the leader of our side at the moment, especially in the absence of Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez.

Right, that’s it from me. Whatever you’re up to tonight, I hope you have a good one.

See you next year.

30th December 2015: Wenger talks team news and transfers

Evening all. So after Leicester City and Manchester City played out a pretty uneventful 0-0 draw last night, Arsenal will enter the new year as league leaders for the second time in three years. Hopefully, this time around, we’ll still be top when it matters in May.

The second half of our Premier League campaign begins on Saturday of course, when we welcome Newcastle United to Emirates stadium and Arsene Wenger held his pre-match press conference this morning as we build up to the game. He provided the latest injury news as well as discussing potential January transfers, plus much more besides.

But first to team news and the boss revealed that “we might have (Mathieu) Flamini back”, and Alexis Sanchez is still unavailable but could be ready to return for the game at Sunderland a week on Saturday.

Elsewhere, Mikel Arteta is back in training but is lacking match practice so won’t play against Newcastle at the weekend, Tomas Rosicky is still three weeks away from resuming training, Jack Wilshere “could make it back for February”, and everybody else in the squad selected for Monday’s win over Bournemouth should be available against the Magpies.

Of course we could also have a new signing in Basel’s Mohamed Elneny vying for selection, should his transfer go through as strongly reported over the last few days, but Arsene stopped shy of confirming the deal, saying:

Unfortunately we cannot announce anything at the moment about this player [Elneny] because nothing has been concluded.

Given how guarded the boss usually is over potential transfers, that’s as good as him confirming the Egyptian midfielder is an Arsenal player. Arsene also repeated that he’d “be busy” when asked how active he’d be in he window, which suggests Elneny won’t be the only new arrival next month. But one man who could be heading out of the club is right-back Mathieu Debuchy, after Arsene said:

It’s not impossible [that Debuchy will leave]. I’m happy if he stays but we’ll see.

Considering how vocal Debuchy has been about playing regularly in order to force his way into France’s squad for the European Championships next summer, a move away makes sense providing we can find a replacement. Hopefully we won’t rely on Calum Chambers to be Hector Bellerin’s deputy because I’m still unconvinced he’d be adequate cover. But as Arsene says, we’ll see.

Moving on from transfers now, and as we approach the end of 2015, Arsene also gave his assessment on Arsenal’s form over the calendar year, pointing out his side have matured, enjoyed success in winning a second successive FA Cup, and are well positioned to compete for this season’s Premier League crown. He said:

From January 1 to December 31 we were consistent and have improved our results. The team has grown in stature, is more mature, more reliable and we won the FA Cup and the Community Shield. We are in a strong position in the Premier League so hopefully 2016 will be better. We are mature enough and we have the requested quality to fight and compete. The most important thing is to feel, at the end of the season, that we have given absolutely everything to be successful. After that, if somebody has been better than us, we will accept it, but we want to fight to show that we have a chance. The public opinion is not always stable, it changes a lot. It is always linked with the final result. We have to rise above that and show that we can deal with it. I believe we have to be guided by playing better football and being a real team in every game and show that we can be competitive.

And the boss followed up by highlighting it’s still far too early to call the eventual champions and suggesting several teams were still in contention, with Manchester City remaining the favourites because of their expensively-assembled, or as he called it, “glamorous”, squad:

We can have great solidarity in every single game and after that we have a chance. You cannot rule us out after 19 games. We have a chance and we want to fight for it. Everybody wants to predict who will win it at halfway but even for the most intelligent people [that is] impossible. Mathematically you cannot rule out anyone down to Manchester United. Can Liverpool still fight for it? I don’t know. We have a difficult programme and we have to focus on ourselves more than we have to look at who will be our main threat. We have to focus on our performances. City are the favourites still because they might have the most glamorous potential and they are not far behind. After that, Tottenham are not far behind and Leicester are still there after 19 games. You have to respect that and they also have no European competition. The gap is not big enough, nine points is not big enough to say that anyone is out of it.

It’s hard to argue with any of that really. City were my tip at the start of the season and although I think we have a great chance if we can get some of our injured players back fit and add a quality player or two in the transfer window over the next month or so, they remain most likely champions in my eyes.

Obviously my heart says Arsenal but at this stage my brain’s still playing spoilsport and reminding me Manuel Pellegrini’s men have the deeper squad in term’s of quality, plus a core of players who have won two of the last four Premier League titles. They have that all-important experience of lasting the distance players that have won it often talk about.

Whatever happens though, it’ll be intriguing to see how this crazy campaign concludes.

Back tomorrow.

29th December 2015: Wenger praises Mesut’s masterclass

Good evening Gooners. Leicester City host Manchester City later and although a win for the Foxes will take them above us in the Premier League table, I’m actually hoping they do manage to beat Manuel Pellegrini’s men.

Because in the long-run, it’s City who’ll emerge our biggest rivals in the title chase in my opinion. So I’d rather us keep our four point advantage over them, even if it’s at the expense of being dislodged from the top of the table temporarily by Leicester.

Anyway, a major reason we’re currently top is of course the majestic form of Mesut Ozil, who in the absence of the injured Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla, has seemingly grown even more influential than he has been all season, conjuring assists at will and playing like a Player of the Year winner in-waiting.

Unsurprisingly, Arsene Wenger was full of praise for his record-signing when he spoke at his post-game press conference yesterday, saying:

Mesut was the focal point of our team because we had a new midfield today and he gives reassurance with his technical security and ability. When we had problems in the first part of the game it went always through him and it gives you confidence and security. I have seen a few good games from Ozil but what is important is that he convinces everybody that he is not only a talented player but a player that is always willing to work for the team and work hard. He has added scoring goals to his assists and overall he is a complete player. I have not seen many of that quality but I was quite lucky in my career. For me I don’t like to compare players and he is an exceptional player. I think you have to give me credit that I defended that point of view even when you were sceptical about it. What is very important is that he comes as good as he can be and he is on his way. Is there a lot left? I don’t know, but what he is doing at the moment is fantastic.

I’ll be honest, when we signed Ozil right at the end of the transfer window in the summer of 2014, I wasn’t quite as excited and enthused as the majority of Arsenal fans seemed to be. Not because I didn’t rate him as a footballer, because my memories of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa where Mesut first showed the world what he could do were still fresh.

But I had doubts over his ‘completeness’ as a player. They were the same sort of reservations I always had about Cesc Fabregas when he was lauded as being a cross between Pele, Diego Maradona and Superman during his time at Arsenal. Could he beat a man? Was he quick and athletic enough? Did he have regular goals in him? Or was he ‘just’ a passer?

Yet what his time at Arsenal has shown me at least, is that a) I hadn’t paid close enough attention to Ozil’s game while he was a Real Madrid player and b) his quality of passing and assists really in extraordinary. It borders on perfection, and in my opinion, is a level or two above even Fabregas at his best. Arsene once said something along the lines of ‘where do you find another Fabregas?’, but in Ozil, he’s found a considerable upgrade, and one who’s still improving.

Right, a brief one today but that’s it from me.

See you tomorrow.

28th December 2015: Gabriel and Ozil send Arsenal top

Evening all. Mesut Ozil inspired a much-changed Arsenal line-up to a 2-0 win over Bournemouth at Emirates stadium this evening, to send us to the top of the Premier League for at least the next 24 hours.

Arsene Wenger made four changes to his starting selection from the Boxing Day defeat at Southampton; Gabriel, Kieran Gibbs, Calum Chambers and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, Mathieu Flamini and Joel Campbell respectively.

The game had a pretty scrappy opening with both sides guilty of giving the ball away and failing to find any fluency in their passing but we took the lead after 27 minutes as Gabriel headed home from Ozil’s in-swinging corner.

The Brazilian defender was a threat from set-plays all game long and also defended faultlessly at the back bar one hairy moment where he appeared to kick a Bournemouth player rather than the ball inside our penalty area. It would have been harsh on him had a spot-kick been awarded but I’ve seen them given and we were a tad lucky to get away with that one I thought.

But there was absolutely nothing fortuitous about our second goal which arrived via the delicate, but devastatingly effective, left in-step of Ozil after 63 minutes. The German played a couple of one-two’s, the second with Olivier Giroud, whose flick left Ozil one-on-one with their keeper on the right. Instead of swinging his weaker right foot at it, our wizardry number 11 simply readjusted his body-shape to allow the ball to run across onto his favoured left peg and calmly passed the ball past their keeper.  What a goal and WHAT a player.

The visitors enjoyed plenty of possession (49%) but failed to create many clear-cut chances and in truth, it was a just the kind of comfortable win we needed after Saturday’s shock spanking at St Mary’s. We rested a few players, secured three points to send us top, Mesut Ozil inched closer to Thierry Henry’s Premier League assist record of 20 (Ozil now has 16) and Petr Cech also broke the division’s clean sheet record.

A couple of other things to note were that Theo Walcott had a day to forget I thought, Oxlade-Chamberlain played a little better than what he’s produced so far this season – the signs were there that he simply needs a run of games to build confidence – and Chambers performed adequately in defensive midfield but I’m still far from convinced he’ll be up to it against better opposition.

After the game, Arsene Wenger shared his thoughts on the match with the BBC, saying:

There was a little hesitancy at the start after our bad result on Saturday but slowly we got into the game and after that we created chances. After a disappointing result, not dropping points once again was most important for us.

And the boss also praised the outstanding Ozil, offering:

I said many times that he has added something to his game – a desire to be efficient and desire to score goals. He has become a complete sensational football player. I am very, very happy with his performances. He is one of the best in Europe certainly. In his position, he is sensational.

Sensational indeed. Personally, I felt the German was so much better than anybody else on the pitch it was embarrassing. Obviously that includes his own team-mates and it’s always a little disconcerting seeing Mesut roll his substantial eyes, puff out his cheeks and gesticulate in frustration as the Ox or Giroud or Walcott fail to live up to his lofty standards and play the right pass or mis-control the ball.

But on the other hand, he really is a rare talent and the ultimate team player so I’m sure he’ll continue laying chances on a plate for his team-mates and elevate their standards by leading by example. And on a personal level, Ozil will take some stopping from winning the player of the year awards if he keeps up this kind of form between now and the end of the campaign.

Mohamed Elneny’s signing is reportedly nearing completion and hopefully he’ll be available for our next game which is at home to Newcastle on Saturday. As if a new central midfielder signing wasn’t necessary enough, Jack Wilshere’s latest set-back makes it even more of a priority.

For now though, we can enjoy getting back to winning ways and leading the Premier League.

Back tomorrow.

27th December 2015: A bad Boxing Day at the office

It’s dark, dreary and overcast in my part of London today, a bit like the mood among Gooners everywhere after we lost 4-0 at Southampton last night.

Having won so impressively against Manchester City on Monday night, the same starting line-up somehow contrived to collapse against a physical Saints side who certainly enjoyed a large slice of festive luck in securing their win, but in the end, ran out consummately comfortable victors.

The first goal was undoubtedly a brilliant long-range strike, executed with text-book technique, as their right-back Cuco Martina met a dropping ball on the half-volley with the outside of his boot and sent it arcing inside Petr Cech’s far post. It was a bit like Thierry Henry’s record-breaking (or equaling?) goal at Sparta Prague all those years ago, only further out and far more wind-assisted.

I felt the blustery conditions at St Mary’s played a pivotal part in our abject performance overall, along with a slippery pitch which seemed to have been deliberately left unmowed for Arsenal’s visit. It was more difficult than usual to weight passes and the aerial side of the game became far more unpredictable and challenging. That said, Southampton used the conditions in their favour, whilst we failed to adapt.

They shot from long-range and made the most of set-pieces whereas we didn’t take enough pot-shots in conditions that were clearly going to cause goalkeepers difficulties. When we did swing decent deliveries into the box, Olivier Giroud (very early on in the game), and then Theo Walcott, lacked accuracy and conviction when afforded uncontested headers at goal.

Their second goal arrived ten minutes after the interval and although we should have defended far better as a team, Shane Long slyly tripped Laurent Koscielny in the build-up to his his first goal of the game, which allowed him to tap home unmarked at the far post from Sadio Mane’s cross.

Southampton scored a third with about 20 minutes to go as Jose Fonte powered home a header from a corner that should actually have been a goal-kick, but also better defended by Arsenal. Then right at the death, Long grabbed his second and Southampton’s fourth to complete a miserable day for the Gunners.

I’m loathe to draw too many conclusions from the game because in my opinion, although we performed very, very poorly both individually and collectively, we were also extremely unfortunate to be victims of officiating errors which directly led to the hosts first three goals (there was an offside in the build-up to Southampton’s first).

Our squad is obviously stretched to it’s limit in central midfield and we’re also currently missing the irreplaceable brilliance of Alexis Sanchez, so there are mitigating circumstances, even if the same players have produced far better in our last few games.

Mohamed Elneny, the Basel midfielder said to be set for a move to Arsenal in early January, will have a medical in Paris on Wednesday according to reports today, so that transfer will at least give us one more option in midfield if it goes through. But with Danny Welbeck’s return date still uncertain, perhaps we also need to seriously consider another striker purchase, even if it’s a bit of a punt. Alexandre Pato at around £15m seems a no brainer, for instance.

But for tomorrow’s game against Bournemouth at Emirates stadium, we have to go with what we have, hope yesterday’s defeat was merely an anomaly and we can get back to winning ways immediately. With Leicester hosting Manchester City on Tuesday, we also have a second opportunity to go top of the table in 48 hours. If we don’t do it this time, perhaps then it might be time to start worrying, just a little, about our title credentials.

That said, despite the defeat at Southampton, we’re second in the table and have as good a chance as any of being crowned champions in May. I mean, taking into account the fact that Tottenham and Liverpool are sh*t, and the shocking state of Manchester United and Chelsea, I’d be amazed if the title is won by anybody other than Arsenal or Manchester City. It’s worth remembering then, that right now, we’re ahead of City in the standings.

See you next week.

26th December 2015: Premier League Preview – Slay Saints and we go top + Elneny deal done?

Welcome back. After league-leaders Leicester City lost 1-0 at Liverpool this afternoon, we now have the chance to go top of the table if we can win at Southampton in a couple of hours’ time.

More importantly in my opinion, a victory would also restore our four-point cushion over Manchester City, who eased to a 4-1 home win over Sunderland earlier.

In terms of how we’ll line-up at St Mary’s, it’s unlikely we’ll see any changes to the starting selection from Monday’s win over City, and if we can produce a similar performance, we should enjoy our trip to the south coast a lot more than we did our last visit around a year ago.

On that occasion, we lost the match of course and Wojciech Szczesny was infamously caught having a crafty fag in the dressing room. It’s a game Arsene Wenger discussed when he spoke to Arsenal Player earlier in the week, saying:

Every loss hurts – and that one has not gone out of my mind. It was a bad moment for us but also a turning point because we responded very well and overall, in 2015, we had a very consistent year on the result front.

And Arsene also explained how Monday’s win over City has seen the confidence of his side burgeon as they approach tonight’s Boxing Day battle with the Saints. He said:

The vibes coming out after the City game are that we are a real team who want to work together, play together and are ready to fight to achieve a result. I believe you cannot cheat the crowd. The crowd was maybe better than ever but I’ve always said that to get that, the vibes coming from your team need to be absolutely spot on. We missed passes, we missed goal chances but you could not fault the attitude of any player at any second. As a unit for 90 minutes, the desire to earn your right to win, the desire to commit completely was the most satisfying [facet] of the night. The confidence following a victory like the one against Manchester City of course increases dramatically. What you want to maintain is the urgency and remember how much a defeat hurts. You have to take the positives out of a game to believe in your strengths. That balance between confidence and urgency has to be right.

Let’s hope we get the balance right in every sense tonight and secure the win that will take us to the summit.

But moving away from the game now and onto a bit of transfer speculation with the January window opening in under a weeks’ time. John Cross in The Mirror reports Arsenal have agreed a deal to sign Basel’s Egyptian central midfielder Mohamed Elneny and the deal should go through shortly after the window opens.

I must admit I’d never heard of the player before this morning but having indulged in a spot of YouTube scouting, I like what I see. A lot. Great control, pacey, mobile, aggressive, can pass, appears to have a shot-and-a-half on him from long-range and at 23 years of age, can still develop and improve. Plus if the report is accurate, he’d be relatively cheap at £5m and so we have little to lose.

The Mirror’s report has also been, er, mirrored by The Telegraph this afternoon and they suggest the fee may rise to £7m but talks are progressing well, personal terms with the player should be straightforward and Elneny will be eligible for the Champions League after Basel were eliminated in the qualifying rounds of this season’s competition by Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Right, kick-off is fast approaching so I’ll leave it there.

Back tomorrow.



25th December 2015: Merry Christmas from TremendArse

If you celebrate Christmas, have a wonderful day and don’t eat too many sprouts, because if you’re anything like me, the emissions will be incessant.

And if you don’t celebrate Christmas or did it yesterday instead, have a wonderful December 25th and don’t eat too many sprouts …

Back on Boxing Day.

24th December 2015: Coquelin talks Ram-Flam

Evening all and Happy Christmas Eve. A bit of a short post today and I’ll get straight to it.

When Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla were both ruled out with long-term knee injuries recently, my initial thought was: ‘Boll*cks. There goes the season’. Mainly because our fine form over the last 12 months had been built on their partnership in the middle of midfield and they seemed to dovetail and complete one another’s game like Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny behind them.

But over the last few games, Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini have proven themselves very able replacements indeed, as we’ve racked up wins over Olympiacos, Sunderland, Aston Villa and Manchester City. And Coquelin spoke to Arsenal Player to explain why he thinks the Ramsey-Flamini axis works so well. He said:

Every player is different but the most important thing is that the team continue to do well. They have both come into the middle. Aaron was playing a bit more out wide and he probably prefers to play centrally so he’s doing extremely well. Mathieu is also playing well and they have shown great stuff since the day they came into the team together in midfield. You can see the results and we have had big wins like the game against Manchester City. This season that is the good thing, that everyone’s going in the right direction, and that we know we have quality. If someone gets injured, the spirit in the squad is really good. As soon as someone comes in, they put a shift in and you can see that even when we lose a lot of players, because the team is still really strong. That’s really good for what we want to achieve, to win the title, so it’s great to be able to count on everyone. The good thing is that everyone gets along with each other in the squad and that makes a lot of things easier. When you go to tell someone off, you do it and everyone takes it in a good way. We all want to go in the same direction. It’s a great partnership. Aaron is a little bit more offensive. Mathieu was getting forward a bit more compared to what he did in the first games he played, but against Manchester City he showed a lot of discipline to play really well. He’s really important in big games and they both showed great quality, which is really good for the next game coming up.

You’ve got to love the ‘togetherness’ vibes emanating from London Colney at the moment and long may they continue to flourish. A happy camp always bodes well for results but from a footballing point of view it’s great to see that the team is capable of absorbing injury blows, readjusting, and continuing to produce positive results.

I haven’t studied the stats but I’d guess we enjoy less possession without Cazorla and Coquelin, because they’re both more comfortable in possession and efficient in distribution than the players they’ve been replaced by, but then the new duo bring different qualities to the table themselves. Ramsey’s superior goals and assists output compared to Cazorla for instance, or Flamini’s greater experience of top-flight football over Coquelin. Whether Ram and Flam can be as consistent a pair as Caz and Coq have been this calendar year remains to be seen, but they’ve certainly started faultlessly.

The next big test will be against Victor Wanyama and co. on Boxing Day when we travel to Southanpton and I’ll preview the game on the day, but for now that’s it from me.

See you soon.

23rd December 2015: Wenger on 2015, likely champions and more

Welcome back and happy Christmas Eve Eve. Arsene Wenger held his pre-Southampton press conference this morning and the big team news is that there is nothing new to report.

We’ll have the same squad as Monday night against Manchester City and barring any late injury concerns, that’ll also mean the starting line-up will be unchanged for the game at St Mary’s on Boxing Day.

As far as our absentees are concerned, Alexis Sanchez and Mikel Arteta are the closest to making a comeback according to the boss, and he also revealed Tomas Rosicky “could be back in full training” in three weeks. The likes of Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin are of course some way from being able to make a return yet.

Meanwhile, as we approach the end of 2015, Arsene discussed the last 12 months for his team, revealed where he believes the “real pressure” in the Premier League lies, and pointed out that it was far too early in the campaign to be trying to work out who the eventual champions will be. He said:

The only the thing I can say is 2015, if you look back and try to analyse it, we have been consistent. We have had quite a positive year and stabilised our defensive record and improved our record against the strong teams in the Premier League so it looks like we are on the right train going the right way. We have been top of the league in previous years and I think football is pragmatic. Nobody can predict what can happen in the next 17 games for example, and you just want to go with the same attitude and spirit. The real pressure is not to go down. All the rest is positive pressure. I believe that football is down to performance. In the media it quickly becomes a bit intellectual. Who will win the title? Nobody knows. I’ve worked for a long time in the game and nobody can tell you who will win the title. It’s down to being pragmatic, putting the effort in to win your next game and worrying about your performance. That gives you a chance over a longer distance to maybe achieve your goals. At the moment, it’s miles too early to say who will win the Premier League. We’ve played 17 games – we’re not even at halfway.

After we beat City on Monday to extend our lead over them to four points, I must admit I allowed myself to wonder if this could really be the year we end our long wait for the title. But obviously Arsene’s right – it’s still far too early in the season to start getting excited. That said, there are reasons to at least feel confident of our chances.

Chelsea being out of the race already, Manchester United having a p*ss-poor squad and an increasingly unhinged manager, City’s inconsistency, Liverpool and Tottenham being, well, Liverpool and Tottenham – things would appear to be falling in our favour as far as challengers go. On the other hand, our injury list seems ever-lengthening and we still have over half the season still to run. But whatever happens, as Arsene mentions above, we’re on the right track. Whether we can last the course only time will tell …

Finally for today, a few words from the boss on our win over City and the upcoming game against the Saints:

It was an important win for us (against City) but we already had a good confidence level. To win these sorts of game you need to believe you can do it. Overall what came out of the game was a strong team attitude and strong team effort. Everybody put hard work into the game – we got a positive result against a strong team who will fight for the championship, so it was an important night for us. I believe for us, the most important is to focus on ourselves. We have not to speculate too much on any weakness of Southampton. When you look at their team, they have the potential to be a very strong team. We have to convince ourselves that we again need another top-level performance.

Nothing to argue with there at all. So I won’t. Our mental approach to games has been very noticeable for it’s marked improvement this season and whether that’s down to the squad’s average age going up over the last few seasons, the Petr Cech effect, or whatever, it bodes well for our chances of success this season and beyond.

Til tomorrow.

22nd December 2015: Manchester City slain by aggressive Arsenal

Welcome back. What a win we ended up enjoying last night and what a performance by the boys. From the peerless Petr Cech in goal, all the way through the team to our tireless target-man Olivier Giroud at the tip of the attack. We were focused, committed, industrious, classy, clinical, but above all I thought, aggressive.

I was more nervous than usual pre-match but not just because of the quality of the opposition. Also because the game against Manchester City was our first ‘big’ test without our first-choice midfield pair of Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin, and when the teams were announced, we learned Alexis Sanchez hadn’t made the bench after all and was out of the squad completely.

Our starting line-up was as expected though, with our first-choice back five intact, Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey in the middle of midfield, Mesut Ozil flanked by Theo Walcott and Joel Campbell, with Giroud leading the line.

Also as expected, without a ‘passer’ behind Ozil, we struggled to find fluency in our build-up play in the opening 30 minutes of the match and, to me at least, it felt as though City were the likeliest to open the scoring. Particularly when Sergio Aguero sent Kevin de Bruyne racing through on goal around the half-hour mark, only for the Belgian to shoot past the post with David Silva in space square of him, begging for a pass. Per Mertesacker’s positioning undoubtedly played a part in De Bruyne’s decision to go it alone but in fairness, it was a massive let-off for Arsenal.

So having nearly conceded, we then took the lead ourselves just a minute or two later through Walcott. The move actually began with Ramsey in possession in midfield and gesticulating his frustration at a lack of options to distribute to. He eventually settled for playing the ball back to Laurent Koscielny, who looked up and in an instant found Ozil in a pocket of space with a pacey pass. The German tried to find Nacho Monreal on the overlap but Walcott intercepted the pass, teed himself up, and unleashed a ferocious, side-footed curler into the far corner beyond the reach of Joe Hart.

‘Just get to half-time without conceding’, I was thinking, as the clock ticked towards the interval, but we went one better and doubled our lead in added time before the break. City’s Eliaquim Mangala tried to find a team-mate from his centre-back position but Walcott picked up possession, fed Ozil and he effortlessly found Giroud who’d peeled away from his marker to the left. The Frenchman shot low and hard, stunning the ball through Hart’s legs and into the corner before wheeling away in celebration.

I thought the goal owed as much to the industry and determination of Campbell on the right in the build-up to Mangala’s misplaced pass, as it did to Walcott’s quick distribution, Ozil’s sublime assist, and Giroud’s intelligent movement and unerring finish. Work hard, get lucky. Or something.

City, who in my opinion had done a pretty good job of stifling our attacking play, largely due to their deployment of Fabian Delph just in front of Hector Bellerin to stop the full-back’s usual forays forward, found themselves two down having played pretty well for most of the half.

The second period was inevitably a more open affair. They replaced Delph with Raheem Sterling at half time and there were chances at either end, with Campbell firing over for us when he should have hit the target at least, and Wilfried Bony, I think, placing a header straight into Cech’s hands at the other end.

Then with around ten minutes to go, Yaya Toure pulled a goal back for the visitors with an exquisite left-footed strike into the top corner following a one-two with Bacary Sagna. That signaled a nervous end to the game for anyone Arsenal but thankfully, we held on to go four points clear of City and close the gap on leaders Leicester to just two points.

I would highlight individual performances but that would be unfair because it was a genuinely outstanding team display. The one disappointment on the night was the news that Sanchez has suffered an injury set-back, will miss the festive fixtures and be unavailable until mid-January.

On the bright side though, he’s finally getting a rest and if last night is any kind of gauge, we’re strong enough to beat any side in this league, with or without our brilliant number 17.

Til tomorrow.