20th January 2016: A decade of Walcott but is his best yet to come?

Welcome back. Remarkably, today marks the ten-year anniversary of Theo Walcott’s arrival from Southampton as a fresh-faced 16-year-old who’d already been tagged as ‘the new Thierry Henry’.

I remember that January very well, because we also signed Emmanuel Adebayor and Abou Diaby, who were similarly being heralded as the ‘the new Kanu’ and ‘the new Vieira’ respectively. But it was Theo’s signing that excited me most. Not because he was the highest-rated young English star since Wayne Rooney a few years earlier, but because unlike for Diaby and Adebayor, there were a few clips of him in action for Southampton’s youth and first-teams available to view on what was then still a fledgling YouTube. 

And I liked what I saw; extraordinary pace, flamboyant goals and believe it or not now, a fearlessness about his game. He was a 16-year-old playing in a physically-demanding Championship and making an impact – I just assumed he’d carry that straight into Arsenal’s first-team. Especially when, shortly after he signed for us, I traveled to Havant and Waterlooville’s ground to see him make his debut in Arsenal colours for our reserve team against Portsmouth’s and he managed to score a very well-taken goal.

But Theo didn’t feature at all for our first-team for the remained of the 2005-2006 campaign and was made to wait until the opening game of the following season – the very first Premier League fixture at our newly-opened Emirates stadium – versus Aston Villa. If I remember correctly, we scored a last minute equaliser through Gilberto Silva and it was Theo with the cross that led to the goal.

A decade on though and the jury is still very much out on Theo as a player. Some, like me, rate him highly, others don’t at all and the rest are still unsure whether he’s sh*t, average, good or great. Injuries have clearly hampered his development throughout his time at Arsenal  – and he’s had some serious ones to recover from too – but I think even his staunchest supporters would concede he hasn’t quite lived up to the early hype.

Anyway, Arsene Wenger has been speaking to Arsenal Player about his number 14, discussing his development as a player and reveling what stood out about Theo as a player when he first saw him play for Southampton’s youth team. He said:

Theo is very intelligent. He always had pace and his movement off the ball was always perfect. I think he is much more conscious of teamwork and he has improved as well in his finishing. He is absolutely deadly compared to 10 years ago. He needed many chances to score a goal and today he can finish very well. His final ball and his technique are much better. Ten years here, that shows as well that he loves Arsenal and I’m convinced he will give us much more in the next five years than the last five because he is a player who is always moving forward and trying to do better. He has a very positive attitude. [I first saw him play] in the FA Youth Cup with Southampton. I saw him in the final, he played on the left side where he plays now and I liked his movement off the ball. A player like him is very difficult to find and Theo’s movement off the ball and intelligence is really his brand and [are part of his] characteristics.

While team-mate Per Mertesacker lauded Walcott’s loyalty in staying at Arsenal so long and says Theo’s love for the club has kept him in north London. He said:

Ten years, it’s an unbelievable achievement to play on a consistent level for such a long time in the same club. That is rare in modern football and we are happy to have him. I think what kept him here was the spirit of the group and his love for the club, and that is something I look up to. He is a role model to a lot of young people, and he plays a major role now and that’s what he likes to play for us, being much more experienced than when he came. He looks different as well… it is amazing to see such a player play for us.

Black-slapping aside, it’s fair to say Theo faces a real battle to hold onto his first-choice status once the likes of Danny Welbeck, Alexis Sanchez , Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere start filtering back to full fitness, and at nearly 27 now, that surely has to be a concern for him.

Then there’s the fact that should a world-class attacker become available on the market either now, next summer, or whenever, Arsenal are now in a position were they’re willing and able to spend big to improve the team. So Walcott has a challenge and a half on his hands to prove that a) he deserves to start ahead of current team-mates and b) that he’s so good, we wouldn’t be upgrading by buying say, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Arsene said recently that he thinks’ Theo’s best years will be from now until he’s 31/32 – let’s hope the boss is right and ‘the new Theirry Henry’ shows he was worthy of such a comparison when it was made all those years ago. Over to you Theo …

Back on Thursday.

19th January 2016: Monreal extends contract + Nwakali and Chukwueze to sign?

Evening all. Like Gabriel and hopefully in time Mohamed Elneny, Nacho Monreal is a player who disproves the theory that you can’t find quality in the January transfer market.

The Spanish full-back arrived from Malaga at the end of the winter window coming up to three years ago now, and although it’s probably fair to say he struggled a little initially, a stint as an emergency centre-back last season was the making of him as an Arsenal player in my opinion.

It forced him to improve his physicality in the challenge – both aerially and on the ground – and he’s carried the confidence gained from that successful re-stationing back to his more natural left-back role. He’s now not only indisputably our first-choice left-back, but also arguably the finest in his position in the league, based on his form over the last 12 months or so.

So it was very pleasing to read today that Monreal has signed a new long-term contract with the club, especially in light of recurring rumours over the last year or so linking him with a move back to Spain with Athletic Bilbao.

His manager Arsene Wenger was full of praise for Monreal when he spoke to Arsenal Player, hailing the Spanish international’s versatility, professionalism and positive influence over younger team-mates. The boss said:

He is a very important player at the club because he can play left-back and centre back. He has the consistency in his performances that is requested at the top level. Overall, his attitude has been absolutely fantastic on a daily basis since he arrived here. He’s 100 per cent committed and I think as well he has always improved since he has arrived and has shown that in many big games as well. He’s calm, focused and dedicated. He’s well-accepted and loved by his partners. He has the modest approach of a player who wants to give his best to the team. Everybody senses that and that’s why I think it’s important for the club to have that stability. Everyone in the Premier League would say that he has become a very strong player. Arsenal are gifted at the moment, I must say, with two top-class left backs. We have many young players. They need to be surrounded by experienced players, especially at the back. We now have experience at the back. Nacho is part of that – he’s a good example for the young players and we have a good bunch of young players. We have seen another one with Alex Iwobi the other day, who has shown talent. They need to see how you behave at that level.

Nacho himself discussed his new deal when also speaking with the official club site, citing his relationship with his team-mates and his manager as reasons behind his decision to extend his stay with the Gunners:

I’m really happy because my intention was to keep playing for Arsenal. I feel really good playing here. I have a good relationship with my team-mates and we keep improving year after year. I wanted to stay here and I could extend my contract. I would like to play here for many more years. The trust of the Arsenal fans is really important for us because they are helping us in every moment as we are fighting to win the Premier League. I met the boss three years ago and I have a really good relationship with him and I’m really happy with him. For these reasons I extended my contract.

When you consider Nacho’s not the most athletic of players; he’s not outstandingly quick or strong and standing at 5’8 ft, he’s hardly a towering presence, he has to rely on his intelligence, reading of the game and typically high-class Spanish technique.

But as Barcelona and Spain’s success has highlighted over the last decade or so, you don’t have to be built like Anthony Joshua or be as quick as Usain Bolt to be a great player, you just have to be a genuinely good footballer and that’s what Nacho is. Unlike, if I’m brutally honest, too many ‘players’ we produce over here in Britain, who may be great athletes but are bang average, and in some cases, simply poor, footballers. That’s a conversation for another time though.

Getting back to Monreal, I think this montage (mute if you’re at work, but I totally get why those lyrics are suitable – some of our other players that night weren’t the most proactive of defenders) exemplifies what an intelligent and effective full-back he’s become for us. Up against more pacey and physically robust opponents in Nathaniel Clyne and Jordan Ibe, Nacho produced a mini-masterclass, despite us conceding three times.

Just one other very quick thing before I go and there was a report today saying we’ve reached an agreement to sign highly-rated Nigerian teenagers Kelechi Nwakali and Samuel Chukwueze, subject to attaining work permits and visas.

This follows on from last week’s reports that we were competing with the likes of Bayern Munich and Manchester City for their signatures, so if true, we’ll have done well to fend off rival interest and we can add two more promising young talents to our youth ranks.

See you in a bit.

18th January 2016: The Cech Effect

Welcome to a brand new week on TremendArse. A couple of our players have been speaking about The Cech Effect © and how influential it is, after Petr Cech produced a man-of-the-match performance to help us secure a point at Stoke yesterday.

First up it’s Theo Walcott, who as an aside, I wish played as good a game as he talks more often. The speedster touched on why he thinks our draw at the Britannia stadium was a good result, hailed the squad’s mentality, and revealed Cech had helped his team-mates overcome any disappointment at not winning the match by putting things in perspective. He said:

All the big teams that have come here have struggled, with Stoke getting positive results. There were mixed emotions in the dressing room, but it is probably a fair result. We felt from the start we were up for the fight, physically. It’s a shame that we couldn’t get the result we desperately wanted but it is an improvement from previous performances here and we have got to be proud of that point. The mental strength in our dressing room is the strongest it has ever been. When you have the likes of Petr Cech coming in as well, he only enhances that. He has lifted everybody’s heads up, saying this is a very good point and that nobody tends to win here. We just have to look at him because he has been at the top level and won many things so if we have the belief that he has got, we can push on.

Meanwhile, Hector Bellerin explained that Cech’s presence between the sticks behind them, fills our back four with confidence, saying:

When we try to stop all the shots but they manage to get some on target then they have another man to beat and that is tough for them. We feel very confident with him in goal. They were great saves and it is very important to have a solid goalkeeper and Petr Cech is one of the best. I think he has given us that confidence at the back. It helps that this is a solid team defensively [that] has played a lot of teams together, and that you have probably the best goalkeeper in the league playing for you. Not long ago he broke the record of clean sheets so you can see that when you look back that the goal is covered by a great player and that is very important for us. We are very happy to have him. I think the team defended really well as a unit and Petr made some great saves which were very important. A lot of big teams have lost at this ground and at the end of the day it is a point that could matter a lot at the end of the year.

Mesut Ozil and his endless assists have rightly seen him emerge as a genuine candidate for the player of the year awards this season but in my opinion, Cech ought to at least be in the conversation for the individual accolades too.

The Stoke game was simply the latest top-notch display from the former Chelsea ‘keeper in what has been a near faultless first campaign for him in Arsenal colours. Aside from the opening day of the league season, when he was at fault for at least one of the two goals we conceded as we lost at home to West Ham, Cech has added a sense of authority to our defence, consistently produced crucial saves, and on the evidence of his team-mates’ words above, brought some much-needed maturity and intelligence to the squad.

His off-field impact is something I wrote about when it became clear we were on the verge of signing him back in late June last year, but as ever with a new recruit, there were still doubts in my mind whether he could be the same player for us, as he’d been for Chelsea for over a decade. I remember reading how he was a very vocal and respected figure in the dressing room at Stamford Bridge and hoped he would bring some of that winning ‘know-how’ to Arsenal.

I mean, whatever your thoughts on Chelsea as a club (and mine are that they’re the epitome of evil and I hope they get relegated before becoming extinct), nobody can deny they’ve had a prolific ten years or so in terms of winning trophies, whilst we’ve endured a relatively barren period in our history. Well, half-a-season into his Gunners career and it’s safe to say Cech’s lived up to our hopes, both in terms of performance and personality.

If he can carry on ‘keeping and cajoling in the same vein for the rest of the season, not only do Arsenal stand a great chance of winning a first Premier League title since 2004, Cech could very conceivably become the first goalkeeper to win the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award since Nottingham Forest’s Peter Shilton way back in 1978.

Until Tuesday.

17th January 2016: Stalemate at Stoke sends us top

Evening all. Arsenal returned to the top of the Premier League table after playing out a goal-less draw at Stoke City earlier today and considering the players we were missing through injury, for me at least, it feels like a very valuable point earned indeed.

Although Arsene Wenger had suggested Alexis Sanchez may play some part at the Britannia stadium, when the teams were announced the Chilean was missing from the squad altogether. As was Mesut Ozil, who we later learned had been ruled out with minor foot inflammation. Thankfully, Arsene expects both players to be available again when we entertain Chelsea a week today, which is just as well based on today’s attacking performance.

With Santi Cazorla missing from our engine room, we were again far from fluent from the middle of the park, and Ozil’s absence unsurprisingly resulted in us lacking creativity as well as rhythm in our play. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain was the man chosen to replace the German in midfield, for what was our only change to the team that started Wednesday’s game at Liverpool.

After conceding a goal in the first minute on our last visit to Stoke, we seemed determined not to let the hosts enjoy another fast start and began the game today bossing possession in the opening exchanges, without creating any goal-scoring opportunities. In fact, the vast majority of the first half was played out in the middle portion of the pitch as both sides failed to establish superiority in the contest.

That said, we did create the clearest opening of the half, and arguably the game, when Joel Campbell sent Olivier Giroud clear on goal down the right with only Jack Butland to beat, but the goalkeeper raced off his line to close down the target and smother Giroud’s shot. Other than that, I can only really recall Oxlade-Chamberlain’s fierce strike from the edge of the box, which was tipped over by Butland, as an instance we came close to scoring in the opening 45.

In the second period, Giroud nearly scored with a header from a corner but saw his effort saved by Butland and Campbell should have done better a little later when he had a sight of goal inside the Stoke penalty area on his favored left foot, but put too much on his curler, sending it high and wide of the far top corner.

At the other end, Laurent Koscielny’s poor pass out from defence resulted in Petr Cech been forced into a very impressive double-save. First the keeper denied Joselu, Stoke’s German-born, Spanish striker, before diving to prevent Bojan knocking in the rebound at the near post. It was a typically outstanding piece of keeping that helped Cech claim the man-of-the-match award and again underline how important he is to our side. Then towards the end, as Stoke pressed for a winner, Aaron Ramsey cleared a header off the line before Cech repelled the rebound as Stoke threatened to snatch all three points.

In terms of talking points about individual performances, I thought on the whole we looked solid defensively, with both fullbacks especially impressive. But the distribution of our central defenders – particularly Koscielny – was below their usual standard. In midfield, Mathieu Flamini enjoyed a good game and the Ox tried hard but was still some way away from his best. Ramsey was less adventurous than usual going forwards – I can’t really remember him breaking into the Stoke box at all – and when that happens, he struggles because he’s not really a passer.

In fact, that was one of the most frustrating aspects of our performance for me today – Ramsey’s dreadful passing, and as far as I’m concerned, it really was that bad. I like him a lot as a player and he has many good attributes, but his passing, particularly the seemingly straight-forward, five-yard ones under no pressure, needs serious attention on the training ground.

I would suggest his history at the Britannia and the abhorrent abuse he’s subjected to whenever he plays there should act as mitigation, because that combination would put any player in the world a little off their usual game, but it’s a recurring issue with Aaron unfortunately – he’s just not a very good passer.

Elsewhere Campbell was his usual industrious, silky-smooth self, passing well and tracking back diligently. That said, he should have done better with his chance and like Ramsey and passing, shooting is probably Campbell’s glaring weak point. But overall, he was again one of our better performers.

On the other side though, Theo Walcott really struggled, going missing for long periods, looking clumsy in possession and being far, far, far too easily dispossessed. I’ve been his biggest fan over his Arsenal career and still maintain his problem is more mental – i.e he has the on-pitch personality of a little boy lost – than ability, but in this form he deserves no more than a place on the bench against Chelsea.

I think Walcott’s variety and quality of finishing, at it’s best, is superb, and his pace is virtually peerless, so perhaps what we’re finding out once and for all this season, is that he’s a very good striker, but a very average winger. It was no surprise then, to see him replaced after 70 minutes or so by Alex Iwobi, who instantly brought a bit more composure to our left flank. Calum Chambers for the Ox in added time was our only other substitution so we’ll have to wait to see Mohamed Elneny make his debut, at least until next weekend.

Gripes aside though, as I said at the start, I’m pleased with the point today and I think Cech summed it up best when he spoke to Sky after the game:

We could have won, we could have lost. We can take the point.

Now to rest, recuperate, train and prepare for the visit of relegation-haunted (God I love being able to say that) Chelsea next weekend.

See you next week.

16th January 2016: Premier League Preview – Stoke away

Welcome back. So after the last minute agony of Anfield on Wednesday, we travel to Stoke City tomorrow looking to secure what would be just our second Premier League victory at the Britannia stadium, having drawn two and lost the other four of the seven we’ve played at their place since they were promoted in 2008.

After Manchester City beat Crystal Palace 4-0 and Leicester picked up a point at Aston Villa earlier today, we’ve dropped to third in the table on goal difference, but do now have the chance to go two points clear at the top should we win against Mark Hughes’ men, so hopefully that will provide a little bit of extra motivation as we go into the game.

In terms of team news, Arsene Wenger provided an update when he spoke at his pre-match press conference yesterday morning, saying:

From Liverpool we have no injuries, so that’s good news. (Mohamed) Elneny is available for selection, I haven’t decided yet [whether I will play him]. I have to see how everyone has recovered. Elneny is a possibility to be in the squad for Sunday. Alexis (Sanchez) I would say has a 60:40 chance to be available and be back in the squad. He has two decisive days – Friday and Saturday. He is fit, he has worked very hard and the decision we have to take is whether to take a gamble or not on his injury. Tomas (Rosicky) needs first to have a game somewhere. We hope for maybe an under-21 game or at least a bit more training with the first team.

Even if they don’t start the match, based on the above it seems pretty certain both new signing Mohamed Elneny and Alexis Sanchez will be available from the bench, which is clearly great news considering we’ve been relying on the same 13 or 14 players for a while now, including the busy festive period.

Although I’d love to see him in action from the start against Stoke, when you consider that because of a two-month winter break in the Swiss league, Elneny hasn’t featured in a competitive game since December 13th, when he played (and scored) for former club Basel in the Schweizer Pokal, the Swiss domestic cup competition, it’s very unlikely he’ll be thrown in from the get-go at the Britannia.

As for Sanchez, despite also not playing for a similar amount of time, I wouldn’t be so sure he won’t come straight back into the starting selection. It’s Alexis, after all, and we all know he’d play whatever his physical condition, given half a chance. And if he does start, based on form over the last couple of games at least, Theo Walcott will surely be the man to make way, because Olivier Giroud and Joel Campbell are on fire, relatively speaking.

Whoever is selected to play though, we’ll have to make sure we start the game better than we did in this fixture last season, when Stoke took the lead in the first minute and we went into the interval losing three-nil. Arsene discussed that game, as well as the development of Stoke’s style-of-play, when he spoke to Arsenal Player:

Last season we had a very bad start and I think we have more experience now and we are more stable defensively. We have a good opportunity to show that. Stoke have improved their creative potential and we will want a really strong defensive display from our side because players like Arnautovic, Afellay and Bojan are all very creative players. Stoke is a team that is in progress. We have had difficulty there in the past. When you look at the results year by year we are not the only ones to have had difficulties. They produce top-quality performances against Manchester City and Manchester United and that shows it is a big chance for everybody. They have a strong record against us at home and they will have to maintain it but for us it is a good challenge to prove that we have made a step forward and can change that record.

If we’re honest, there’s no denying Stoke have certainly progressed from the long-ball, long-throw, leg-breaking merchants they were for so long. But they are still a very physical side, so first and foremost, we’ll have to match them in that aspect of the contest before our undoubtedly superior footballing quality has a chance to shine through.

Back post-match.


15th January 2016: Elneny signs and targets treble

Happy Friday and thanks for dropping by. So Mohamed Elneny is finally a Gunner after the club confirmed his capture yesterday, and providing we managed to register him by noon today, he’ll be available for our trip to Stoke on Sunday.

Here’s what Arsene Wenger had to say about his new recruit when he spoke to Arsenal Player:

Overall I believe he will be a good addition to the squad. First he has not come in straight to a big club, he had an intermediate stay in Europe so the adaptation is less of a question mark. He is 23 years old and has already got Champions League, Europa League and Swiss League experience. He is a player who is adaptable in midfield. He can be box to box and be a holding midfielder so that is for us very promising. We wanted a versatile player and I wanted a player who can play defensive but can as well play to box to box. His strengths are his technical level, his vision, his intelligence, his disciplined attitude and his physical attitude to compete at a high level. I think he has the physical qualities to play at the top level. Where he needs to adapt is to the challenges, the force needed in the Premier League to survive. I think that could demand a little bit of adaptation. But overall I think he has all the attributes to do well.

Whilst the player himself revealed his joy at joining Arsenal, his pride at having the chance to work under the management of Arsene, and also laid out his hopes in terms of winning trophies with his new club. He said:

It is an indescribable feeling, I am really glad of course. Arsenal is one of the world’s greatest teams, and I am very keen to participate positively with my new team, God willing, and to give my best for the team and for myself. Arsenal is one of those teams that everyone enjoys watching and of course I would love to play for such a great team. Mr Wenger is a highly respected manager and one of the world’s best managers. It is my honour to be trained under his management. It is one the biggest clubs in the world, I know everything about it and its players. I would like to tell [the fans] that, although you have not seen much of me, I promise I will contribute positively with the team. I am hoping that we win the Premier League and cup this season, and the Champions League as well.

One thing we can be sure of before he’s kicked a ball for the club is that he’s ambitious and by the sound of things, pretty confident in his ability, which is obviously great to hear. Obviously he’ll have to back his words up with performances but my guess would be that he’ll be on the bench on Sunday, unless Mathieu Flamini is feeling the effects of Wednesday night’s game at Anfield.

That said, it was interesting to read we dispatched strength and conditioning coach Sam Wilson to work with Elneny around ten days ago to keep him in shape while the transfer was being finalized, so if he’s deemed ready to play straight way by the boss, we may even see him start at the Britannia Stadium.

Although he’s said to be equally at ease playing as an out-and-out defensive midfielder or in a box-to-box role, with Francis Coquelin still side-lined, you’d imagine he’ll be asked to mimic what the Frenchman brings to the side – patrolling the space in front of our defence and providing the counter balance to Aaron Ramsey’s more attacking instincts.

Clearly Flamini has been asked cover for Coquelin, but considering we’ve conceded seven goals in our last two league games on the road, it’s safe to say he’s not quite doing the job as well as his younger compatriot.

Our recent porousness away from home was something Arsene was asked about at his press conference today and he suggested he was stumped as to why we’re suddenly less secure defensively, but I’m sure he’s more than aware our central midfield injuries provide an obvious explanation. Hopefully Elneny will help to remedy that issue as soon as possible.

Back with a Stoke preview on Saturday.

Until then.

14th January 2016: Arsenal remain top despite late Liverpool leveller

Welcome back. So Arsenal remain top of the Premier League tree after drawing 3-3 in a roller coaster encounter with Liverpool at Anfield last night, but now only lead the standings on goal difference after Robert Huth’s late header gave Leicester a 1-0 win at Tottenham.

Although the concession of an injury-time goal saw us drop two points in this fixture for the second season running, when you consider the hosts enjoyed 60% of the possession, forced 9 corners to our 3, and produced 22 shots at goal (albeit with just 6 on target) compared with our 14 (5), a draw was just reward for the performance of both sides in my opinion.

Weather conditions at Anfield were highly conducive to defensive errors and combined with hosts who began the game expending energy like the match would only last for 45 minutes, plus a slow start by Arsenal, it was no surprise to see Liverpool take the  lead after just 10 minutes.

It was a goal Arsenal were just as responsible for conceding as Liverpool were for scoring. First Theo Walcott was dispossessed as he tried to dribble out of our area following a Liverpool corner, Emre Can fired in a shot which Petr Cech should have parried wide and away from danger, but instead could only divert to Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian adroitly took two touches with his left foot in giving the hosts the lead.

That said, having seen the goal again just now, Can actually fouled Walcott, forcing him to stumble, so even if Walcott should have cleared the ball at the earliest opportunity, he should also have earned a free-kick. But there was no denying Liverpool were on top and we were struggling to establish ourselves in the contest, so it was a very welcome surprise to see us equalize just four minutes later.

Olivier Giroud won a header just outside the Liverpool box, Kolo Toure’s attempt at a headed clearance only found Aaron Ramsey, whose looped pass towards Joel Campbell was classily-controlled by the Costa Rican before he played a well-weighted reverse pass back to Ramsey, who rifled home first-time at the near post.

But parity didn’t last long because just five minutes later, Arsenal again heavily assisted a goal for the hosts. Mathieu Flamini shoddily passed straight to a Liverpool player in midfield, they attacked, the ball ricocheted off Campbell to Per Mertesacker, whose clearance pin-balled off Campbell for the second time in the move before it fell to Firmino at the edge of the box, and he curled an admittedly superb strike into the top corner.

Flamini’s role at the start of the move was infuriating enough but our reluctance to close shots down this season is something I’ve spoken about on this blog already this season, after Bayern Munich away I think, and cost us dearly again here. Laurent Koscielny’s half-arsed attempts at closing down both Firmino strikes were prime examples of that defensive deficiency. And it was clear the manager had brought up this very subject during the interval because after the break, not just one, but two or three Arsenal players, seemed to be breaking their proverbial necks in trying to stop shots at source.

Thankfully, Liverpool’s defending remained as abject as ours and we produced a second equalizer after 25 minutes. Ramsey nearly scored after build-up play involving Mesut Ozil and Giroud but his lobbed effort from close range was headed off the line and away for a corner. The Welshman took it himself, whipping a lowish ball to the near post where Giroud managed to apply the merest of flicks through a crowd of players to divert the ball home off their keeper.

Giroud missed an open-goal shortly afterwards, following great play by Campbell and Walcott, in one of those footballing moments so surreal you’re left rubbing your eyes and mouthing ‘how the f*cking f*ck, did he miss that?’. On second glance though, it’s quite simple – he got there ahead of the ball. So it remained 2-2 until the break but Giroud made amends for his glaring miss by producing a turn and finish of the highest standard to give us the lead for the first time in the match, ten minutes into the second half.

Hector Bellerin nipped in marginally ahead of James Milner on the right to turn a poor Flamini pass into an adequate one, before bursting forward in trademark fashion. He then played it short to Campbell, who found Giroud via a deflection. The Frenchman showed he has plenty of dexterity to compliment his physicality, as well as decent spatial awareness, by turning away from his marker and the goal with his first touch, before wrapping his left-foot round the ball to place it emphatically into the far corner. A great piece of opportunistic forward play by a striker in great form. Giroud has now scored 11 goals in 11 away games in all competitions this season, as well as four in his last four league games against Liverpool.

Arsene Wenger made his usual subs in trying to see out the win, with Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mikel Arteta replacing Walcott, Campbell and Ozil, but the changes simply invited sustained pressure on our defence and eventually Liverpool found a leveller when Christian Benteke headed a lofted ball down for Joe Alen to sweep home first-time. Arriving so late, the goal was obviously hugely deflating but in the cold light of day, when you consider how stretched our squad is because of injury, it’s far from a bad result.

I’ve said this plenty of times previously but when a round of fixtures come to a close this season, my main concern is always our position relative to Manchester City, who I think remain favourites to win the league. So the fact they also drew last night, at home to Everton, means we’re still three points ahead of them with one game less to play, so that should temper any disappointment at two dropped points at Anfield.

In terms of individual performances last night, two-goal Giroud was rightly named man-of-the-match I thought, but Nacho Monreal was outstanding at left-back, as was Campbell on the right of the attack. In contrast, Flamini’s had better games shall we say, the Ox was typically clumsy, Gibbs typically uncultured and Walcott typically timid.

Overall, a bad showing by our English contingent but what I would say is for me, their talent is undoubted – it’s their mentality and confidence that needs work. Yet, how you get Theo, for instance, to develop his attitude from ‘after you, old chap’, to ‘get out of my f*cking way’ when he’s on the pitch, is anybody’s guess at this stage – he turns 27 in a couple of months. At Aston Villa recently, he was aggressive in winning a penalty but last night he reverted to looking like a kid playing with adults at times. But I’ll reiterate, it’s a confidence and conviction thing in my opinion – and that can be remedied.

Right, this post has tuned out longer than intended so I’ll leave discussing the confirmation of Mohamed Elneny’s move to Arsenal until tomorrow. In the meantime, this is a good read on our new number 35. Needless to say though, another central midfield option in the continued absence of Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin is very welcome indeed.

Back on Friday.

13th January 2016: Premier League Preview – Litmus test at Liverpool

Evening all. We face a big test of our title credentials tonight when we play Liverpool at Anfield, aiming to secure our 79th win over the Merseysiders in the all-time record.

They haven’t beaten us since that 5-1 drubbing at their place back in February 2014, when Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez ran riot, and Mesut Ozil, still fairly new to English football at the time, was bullied into invisibility.

How times have changed though. Sturridge is perma-crocked, Sterling and Suarez are long gone, whilst Mesut’s now the stand-out player in the division, orchestrating both our play, and our rise to the top of the standings.

Both teams go into the game with lengthy injury lists, with the hosts missing the likes of Martin Skrtel, Dejan Lovren and Philippe Coutinho in addition to Sturridge, and Arsenal of course deprived of the services of Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Alexis Sanchez, Danny Welbeck and Jack Wilshere.

Ahead of the game, Arsene Wenger spoke to Arsenal Player about the fixture, labeling the match ‘important’, but pointing out it’s not decisive in terms of the title race. He said:

If it is not a decisive moment in the league, it is a very important moment in the league. I think all the confidence we have gathered and the tactical knowledge we have can be brought out in these types of games. Let’s take one at a time and focus on the Liverpool game because that is a big one. We are prepared and we are focused and I believe that it is down to us to go there and play to our full belief that we have at the moment. There is a desire to do well and to do it together. Sometimes the desire to do well is individual and not always shared with everybody. We feel as a unit we want to do well therefore we have to show that in every single game.

To underline Arsene’s point about the ‘desire’ and ‘confidence’ of his squad to win our first Premier League crown since 2004, two of our players have been speaking about just that as we build up to tonight’s game. First up it’s Ozil, who says victories against the bigger sides has heightened self-belief in the squad:

When you win against big teams – and win convincingly – it gives the whole team confidence. But when you look at this season, we’re on a good path. The self-belief is there, we have developed ourselves and this year we can really achieve a lot. The team know that. We believe in ourselves and you sense that on the pitch. We know we can beat Liverpool and we also know that they will give their best against us, with Jurgen Klopp who will prepare them perfectly. But our aim is to play our game and get the three points – that’s why we’re travelling there.

Whilst his team-mate Kieran Gibbs explained why he thinks tonight’s contest will be close, as well as also highlighting the confidence coursing through Arsenal players’ veins at the moment. He said:

They are a team that likes to keep possession and so are we. The game is going to be won on who can dominate and we need to dominate every match we play. I think it is going to be a tight game and [because] every game is so tight it is hard to predict the results because it is so up and down. There are not many teams who can beat us. Liverpool is a great club and their fans and stadium are great. It is going to be a hard game – they have a new manager who has come in and improved their team. He is quite young and a modern-day manager and has given Liverpool a lift this season. But we are on a run of some big results and the team is really confident at the moment. Hopefully we can show that.

Although Gibbs is quite right in saying we like to keep the ball, it’s also accurate to suggest we’re not so good at dominating possession with Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey in the middle of the park, compared to when we field Cazorla and Coquelin.

Yet against Jurgen Klopp’s high-intensity, perma-pressing style, perhaps having the superior stamina of Ramsey and Flamini, as opposed to the greater control and quality of distribution of Cazorla and Coquelin, will actually suit us.

Although Sanchez is a huge miss, we’ve shown we still have goals in us, whereas I think Liverpool without the firepower of Sturridge and the creativity of Coutinho, look a lot less potent and that’s one big reason I’m more confident of our chances of winning tonight than I would be normally ahead of a game at Anfield.

The other major advantage, on paper at least, is that we’ll be at full strength in terms of our back four, whereas Liverpool will be without their standout defender in Skrtel, who of course grabbed a last-minute equaliser for them in a 2-2 draw the last time the two sides met at Anfield, back in December 2014.

On that occasion, Coutinho gave them the lead just before half-time but Mathieu Debuchy scored with a header seconds later. Olivier Giroud then put us ahead mid-way through the second-half before Skrtel’s leveler, which, having just checked, came in the seventh minute of stoppage time at the end of the game.

We also managed one of our lowest percentages of possession (if not the lowest) of the Premier League era with just 36.5%. Our central midfield that day was comprised of Cazorla, Flamini and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, if any conclusions can be drawn about their balance as a midfield trio. Hopefully with Ramsey, Flamini and Ozil in the engine room tonight, we’ll see more of the ball and take home more points than on our last visit to Anfield.

Back tomorrow.


12th January 2016: Elneny traveling to London + U-17 World Cup winners linked

Evening all. A couple of bits of transfer news to begin with today. Firstly, a report on Kingfut.com, a website specializing in Egyptian football, claims Mohamed Elneny will travel to London tomorrow to finally, at long, long last, complete his move to Arsenal.

They say the midfielder had no problem obtaining a work permit and the hold up was over a visa, which has now been secured. I must admit this confused me a little, as I thought they were basically the same thing. So I checked online and according to workpermit.com, the permit is required by the club, and the visa by the player:

A UK Work Permit is a document issued by Work Permits (UK), a part of the Department for Education and Employment; it gives your employer permission to employ you in a specific job at a specific location.

A UK Work Permit is not a permission for you to take up work in the UK. The permission for you to enter and work in the UK is conferred by a UK Immigration or Consular officer who, following the issue of a Work Permit, may issue you with a suitable visa. The visa is an endorsement stamped in your passport.

Even if you are already working in the UK on a Work Permit, if you want to move to another job, your new (prospective) employer must obtain a new Work Permit before you can change jobs.


I’m glad that’s cleared up. The second story of the day involving potential Arsenal signings concerns two teenage Nigerian players who helped their country win the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile last year.

Some reports today claim Arsenal have beaten off a host of Europe’s top clubs in securing the services of Kelechi Nwakali, 17 and Samuel Chukwueze, 16, who play for Diamond Football Academy in Umuahia, southeastern Nigeria. But the Guardian say Manchester City are still in the hunt for the pair, whilst the The Times suggest Arsene Wenger is ‘close to beating Bayern for the wonder kids’ from Nigeria. Make up your minds …

Speaking of transfers, the boss explained at his pre-Liverpool press conference yesterday why he believes ‘many’ Premier League clubs will have a busy window this month, saying:

I would say for the media you could have some good news [with the] January transfer window. I believe many clubs will be active. You go from the clubs who are down in the table like Villa, who have to do something, to the clubs at the top. I’m sure many of them could be very active. My prediction is that it could be one of the most active transfer windows in January that you have seen. At the bottom and at the top, everyone thinks they have a responsibility to do something because we have a chance if we do improve our squad. At the bottom, especially with the new TV deal coming in, the teams who fear to go down will be under pressure not to accept the situation. We have seen in the past that teams who have responded well in January were successful sometimes.

As far as we’re concerned, Arsene said he’d be busy this month so you have to think Elneny won’t be the only arrival in the first-team squad, especially with Mathieu Flamini and David Ospina being linked with moves away.

But aside from replacements for those two if we do let them leave this month, I think another central midfielder (in addition to Elneny) and a quality striker, if we can find one, are the two areas I’d like to see us strengthen. Let’s see what happens.

A short one today but I’l be back with a preview of the Liverpool game tomorrow.

Until then.

11th January 2016: Burnley next in the Cup + Pre-Liverpool chat

Welcome to a brand new week on TremendArse. The fourth-round draw for the FA Cup was made earlier this evening and we’ll be welcoming Joey Barton’s Burnley, who currently sit fifth in the Championship, to Emirates stadium on either the 30th, or 31st, of this month.

I have to admit I haven’t seen Burnley play since they were in the Premier League last season, so I have no idea about their strengths and weaknesses as a side, but we’ll obviously be super favourites, especially as we play at home.

There’s still the matter of three tricky Premier League fixtures to navigate through before that game though, and Arsene Wenger held his pre-match press conference this morning as we prepare to face Liverpool at Anfield on Wednesday night.

Team news is mixed, with a positive update about the availability of David Ospina and Tomas Rosicky, but a not-so-positive one regarding Alexis Sanchez. Here’s what Arsene said:

We will have to test Ospina who was not available on Saturday. We have Rosicky back in training so the situation is getting better. Ospina is a muscular issue and we have to check if he will be available or not. Overall I think he has a 60/40 chance to make it. He (Rosicky) will be back in full training this week, it is fantastic because he has been out for very long and it is good to know that a player of that calibre is back in our squad. We think he (Sanchez) will be short for Wednesday, he has a chance to be available for Sunday [against Stoke]. He is always keen to play. If you listen to Alexis, he can always play – even when he is injured. We try to be cautious. With a muscular injury you never exactly how big the risk but he is very close. If you look at him training he is very close.

Considering the above and the fact Mathieu Flamini is expected to be available, I can’t see beyond a starting line-up of:

Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal;
Flamini, Ramsey;
Campbell, Ozil, Walcott;

Arsene was also asked about what he thought of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, compared with Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool, and said:

Every time we go to Anfield, we face a team who is up for it. It’s always a ferocious battle, no matter who the manager is. They had a very strong manager before, they have a very strong one now and Klopp has the personality to do well there. [We need to] play our game at a good pace. We are used to pressing. It is not just Liverpool who do that, everybody in the modern game [does it]. Pressing has been created in England basically because there is a history of teams who have done that very well so it is part of the modern game to make quick decisions, be very short with your first touch and play your game.

Pretty diplomatic stuff, as you’d expect, from the boss there, but he must be looking at Liverpool’s absentee list, which includes Philippe Coutinho (who in my opinion is their best attack-minded player) and Martin Skrtel (their best defender) and think we’re playing Liverpool at a great time. Obviously we have injury woes of our own but we do have a relatively settled side at the moment, with a set game-plan and a stable defence, which I’m not sure you’d say about Klopp’s side currently.

Reports today suggest they’ll have Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho available to play, which is a real shame because I was really looking forward to seeing two players forced to play out of position in the heart of their defence, yet Skrtel will undoubtedly be a huge miss for them and for once, I really fancy our chances heading to Anfield, rather than merely being cautiously optimistic.

Back tomorrow.