19th February 2016: FA Cup preview – Pondering our line-up for Hull

Happy Friday. So it’s Hull at home in FA Cup tomorrow afternoon as we look to keep alive our hopes of winning the competition for the third season in a row.

This fifth-round fixture against Steve Bruce’s side will also be the third year running we’ve played The Tigers in the Cup of course, having come from 2-0 down in 2014’s final to win 3-2, before beating them 2-0 at Emirates stadium in last season’s third round.

The visitors come into the game sitting pretty at the top of the Championship and will no doubt prove difficult opponents, but then, we’re unbeaten in 14 FA Cup ties, will be playing at home, have better players and are clearly strong favourites to make it third time unlucky for a Hull side who ought to be sick of the sight of us.

That said, in a similar vein to how he appraised Burnley before they played us in the previous round of the competition, Arsene Wenger explained why he rates tomorrow’s opponents as being top-flight class, when he spoke at his pre-game press conference this morning. He said:

They are in a strong position in the Championship, but the level in the Championship has gone up tremendously. We saw it against Burnley, you need a top-level performance to beat these teams. They are very strong because they have been together for a long time. Let’s not forget, if you go through their team they have all played together in the Premier League. They are all Premier League players, even on the bench. I consider them a Premier League team.

Which is true. Lots of Hull’s players have Premier League experience and in Abel Hernandez, they boast a striker who’s a full international with Uruguay and has scored 16 goals in 25 Championship games this season.

Hernandez was actually strongly linked with a move to Arsenal from his previous club Palermo, on the day we signed a certain Mesut Ozil at the end of the summer transfer window in 2013, so he’s a player Arsene evidently rates highly. Here’s what the boss had to say about the striker in the build-up to tomorrow’s game:

He has a strong body. His movement is very solid and quick – it’s good. He is a great finisher and has scored 16 [league] goals. He keeps Chuba Akpom out of the team, so he must be an exceptional player because Chuba is a great player. He is something we will have to deal well with.

Still, I fancy Per and Laurent or Per and Calum to keep him well shackled when we face him tomorrow, which brings me to how we might line-up. With Gabriel unavailable through injury and Koscielny a slight doubt, there’s a chance our central defensive duo will be Mertesacker and Chambers.

But with Mathieu Debuchy now out on loan – so he can play regularly but still not get picked for France because he’s past it and there are better alternatives for Didier Deschamps to choose from – we don’t have an obvious right-back to cover for Hector Bellerin, who we’ll presumably rest for Barcelona on Tuesday. Perhaps Mohamed Elneny could fill in or Mathieu Flamini even, but I’d much rather a player who’s more acquainted with the role. We’ll see.

Elsewhere at the back I think we’ll see Kieran Gibbs come in for Nacho Monreal at left-back and David Ospina for Petr Cech in goal. Further forward my guess is we’ll see Alex Iwobi, Flamini and Elneny forming a midfield three, with Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Theo Walcott wide of Danny Welbeck up front.

That’s a very attacking and very pacey front four if we say Flamini and Elneny will be tasked to hold and protect our back-line, and also means we’d be resting almost all the players who I expect to start against Barca.

You’ll notice no Joel Campbell in there and that’s beacuse I have a hunch his work-rate and reliable link-play is something Arsene will want in his side against the Catalans, ahead of the more erratic, albeit more dangerous going forward, Chamberlain or Walcott on the right of our attack, so he might keep the Costa Rican on the bench.

Or I could be completely wide of the mark, Joel will play tomorrow and the boss will unveil an innovative selection for the Champions League in the hope of outwitting the reigning European champions. We’ll find out soon enough I guess.

Back post-match.


18th February 2016: Early Hull team news + Oxlade-Chamberlain’s contract

Welcome back. As we prepare to host Hull City in the FA Cup on Saturday afternoon, Arsene Wenger today provided a fitness update via the official site, with the standout news being Laurent Koscielny is on course to play.

Removed at half-time in our last game against Leicester, Sky reported the defender had sustained a dead leg so to hear the boss say he’s almost ready to return is obviously a big boost as we enter a difficult run of fixtures which includes games against Barcelona and Manchester United.

Arsene also discussed the fitness of Gabriel and Mohamed Elneny, as well as what sort of side he’ll select for the visit of Steve Bruce’s men. He said:

Koscielny is doing well. He has a test this morning and he looks positive. He (Gabriel) is running outside. He is out for Saturday. I will, as always, play a team who has a good chance to qualify. The normal squad is involved on Saturday. It is a normal squad and we’ll play a usual strong team. Elneny is fit. He is one of the players who could get a run [out] there. He’s mobile, he’s a very good player. He’s adapting at the moment and I think he’s there now. We’ll certainly see him against Hull. He has a chance to start.

I’ll discuss what I think our team for the game might look like in tomorrow’s post but two players who won’t be playing against us on Saturday are Chuba Akpom and Isaac Hayden who are of course on loan at Hull from Arsenal.

Arseblog news reported today that The Tigers’ press office say ‘both players are definitely out’ of the game which tallies with reports at the start of the month that FA rules prevent on-loan players taking the field against parent clubs regardless of any agreement on the matter between the two clubs involved. It’s the right call in my opinion but having seen Sanchez Watt play against us when on-loan at Leeds during the 2010-12 campaign, there’s obviously been a rule-change.

Moving away from the Hull game now and a story that caught my eye today was one about Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s alleged demands for a vastly improved new contract. I’ve seen some people losing their sh*t over the Ox wanting to double his money because ‘he hasn’t achieved anything yet’ and ‘has it all to prove still’ etc, but I’m not sure what the fuss is about if I’m honest.

He’s one of England’s best young players, an international, and despite his struggles this season, a player of huge potential. People may say potential doesn’t deserve reward but the reality is if we don’t pay him the going rate for someone of his ability regardless of age and whether he’s currently got the tangible goals and assists to back it up, someone else happily will.

If you don’t rate him then that’s a different matter, but personally I think he could develop into England’s very best attacker with a little luck and so would give him closer to the money comparable contemporaries earn. Raheem Sterling, who I don’t rate as highly as the Ox, was transferred for £50m and earns a reported salary of £180k a week for instance.

Then there’s marketability value to factor in, with the Ox being a young English starlet and all that stuff so without wanting to pretend like I know exactly how these things work, I don’t think the player deserves some of the stick he’s been getting about this. Every player on the planet tries his best to maximize his earnings and basically it’s his prerogative.

Hopefully club and player can come to an agreement over terms sooner rather than later because this summer the player will have two years remaining on his current deal which is when things can start to get more complicated. Plus the thought of us ever selling another first-teamer in, or approaching, his prime is pretty galling. Sign him up Arsenal …

Arsene should hold his pre-Hull press conference in the morning so I’ll be back tomorrow with thoughts on that, and also play Arsenal Manager again by guessing our starting eleven for the game.

See you on Friday.

17th February 2016: Nacho average ambience at Arsenal

Welcome back. In my post after the Leicester win last weekend, I touched on how the celebrations of Danny Welbeck’s last-gasp goal suggested a really good atmosphere among the squad, and Nacho Monreal has been explaining why the importance of harmony among team-mates is vital to a club’s chances of success.

Speaking to Arsenal Player, the Spaniard discussed how having a settled set of players helps to foster friendship, revealed there are no cliques at London Colney and also his belief that the Arsenal squad can cope well with injuries because there is always another high-class team-mate ready to play. He said:

It is very important the atmosphere in the dressing room. It is mandatory to have a really good relationship with your team-mates, we are like a unit. You play like a unit and you spend a lot of time with them. I can see now there is only one group. We are together and in every moment the atmosphere is amazing – this is very important to get trophies. If you want to win something it is necessary to have a good group. In the last few years we have played with the same players. Every summer, we have signed one, two or a maximum of three players. The team is practically the same group so that is very important. Arsenal is not 11 players, we are 24 amazing players and when one is injured, the other player could play really well. We have really good players and really good people. In my opinion, it is better than ever.

And the left-back also revealed that after a difficult start, he’s now loving life in London on and off the pitch, largely thanks to learning English and the help of his fellow Spaniards in the Arsenal squad. Speaking on the Arsenal Weekly podcast, Monreal said:

Everything feels right. I can say that I feel at home on and off the pitch. If you don’t feel good off the pitch and in life in general, obviously you can’t give 100 per cent. However, at the moment, I love England, I love London and I love my team-mates so everything is positive. When I arrived here I knew that the first thing I had to do was learn English because, if you want to speak to your team-mates, the staff and anyone here, you need to learn the language. It was difficult for me because I’m very bad with different languages but I am trying. Mikel, Santi and Hector were very helpful for me because I didn’t speak English when I arrived, I didn’t understand anything, so every time I had a problem or didn’t understand something they explained it to me. Even in the evenings, sometimes you have nothing to do and you can spend your time with them. They helped me a lot.

Right. I’ve just noticed these quotes are from interviews quite a while back but given the positives vibes around team unity etc that have been swirling since Sunday’s brilliant win, the official site clearly felt the stories deserved a second viewing see as they’re headlined on the home page. And I won’t argue with that logic.

Finally then, it’s a few words from Arsene Wenger on why Monreal is very popular among his team-mates and also such an important part of the Arsenal squad in his eyes. 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.

My own opinion of Nacho is fairly straightforward: I think he’s the best left-back in the league and I feel more comfortable with us defensively when he’s playing rather than Kieran Gibbs, who though a very good alternative himself, lacks a little of Monreal’s maturity if I’m brutally honest.

But as Arsene says above, we have two really good full-back options on that side and looking at our rivals both at home and abroad, I’m not sure there are too many pairs as good as ours.

Back on Thursday.

16th February 2016: Bayern blueprint for Barcelona test

Evening all. Although we face Hull City in the FA Cup on Saturday, with all due respect to Chuba and chums, thoughts are understandably beginning to turn to the visit of Barcelona this time next week.

I haven’t seen Barca play for the full ninety for a while but if the highlights of their last league match, when Messi, Suarez and Neymar seemed to go full unplayable mode, are indicative of their current form, it’s a game and tie I’m kinda dreading rather than excitedly anticipating like I really ought to be. A Gooner friend is so convinced we’ve got no chance against them that he suggested we play a reserve team!

Now I would never, ever, suggest that, but looking at the two teams, especially with us being without the injured Santi Cazorla, I’m struggling to see how we can possibly beat the reigning Champions League winners over the two legs.

But Arsene Wenger, the eternal optimist that he is, spoke to Arsenal Player recently and suggested our famous win over the Catalans at Emirates stadium in 2011 should ‘help us’ when we play again next week. He said:

The memory [I have] is that the winning goal was scored by Arshavin after we suffered for a big part of the game – we should be encouraged by that. We suffered in the first half and in the second half we slowly came back into the game and became very dangerous. That should help us in our [upcoming] game against Barcelona. If we have uncomfortable moments then we should have in our minds that we can still win even if it is difficult. It was really special [to win in 2011]. What I also remember as well is that it reminded me of how football is really as a team because you can deliver something exceptional. Three or four days later we went to Leyton Orient and drew in the FA Cup. In the same week that we were on a high, we were down again, but it will certainly be remembered as one of the exceptional nights at the Emirates.

And it certainly was exceptional. Jack Wilshere produced his best performance in an Arsenal shirt as we came from a goal down to beat the eventual winners that year. But the trouble with using that game as a confidence-booster is only three players involved that night are still at the club – Theo Walcott, Laurent Koscielny and Wilshere – with the latter of course being unavailable for next week’s game due to injury.

Still, I guess I know what Arsene means and if a side as poor as that Chelsea one in 2012 can beat Barca over two legs on the way to winning the competition, there’s no reason we can’t emulate that achievement with a little luck this year …

The boss hasn’t been the only one to reminisce about our win over Barca recently, his former long-term number two Pat Rice did the same when he spoke on the Arsenal Weekly podcast, saying:

I remember that Wojciech Szczesny was absolutely outstanding in the opening 20 minutes. He was absolutely brilliant and he kept us in the game. If he wasn’t in that kind of form then it could have been a cricket score by 20 minutes. What I remember most, though, is that the actual fightback by the boys was just incredible. When you take into consideration how we actually played and how well Barcelona played in the opening 20 minutes, it was remarkable that we won that match. Time will tell whether we can do that again this season, but hopefully history will repeat itself when we meet them again.

That game wasn’t the only time we clawed back a deficit against Barcelona at Emirates stadium of course, a year earlier in March 2010, we came back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 and the thing that was very noticeable to me in both games was how the visitors dropped off physically after 70 minutes.

All four of our goals in the two games came after 69 minutes or later and it didn’t surprise me at the time. If there’s one quality we have going for us over Barcelona as a side it’s definitely stamina, mainly because we play in a higher-intensity league and are therefore naturally better conditioned to last the pace.

Although many ridicule the boss for almost always making substitutions around the 70-minute-mark, I’m certain there’s some science dictating that tendency of his and although I can’t be certain, I think if we studied the statistics we’d find he was absolutely right to persevere with substitutions based on numbers rather than his reading of the game at any given time. Of course not always, but certainly as a general rule.

The trick then, is basically to stay in the game as long as possible so that we still have something to play for in the final portion of the game to take to Camp Nou in the second leg. The Bayern Munich game at Emirates stadium earlier this season should be the blueprint really, and again, our two goals against the Germans arrived late in the game after we’d ridden our luck a little in the earlier stages.

Until tomorrow.

15th February 2016: Wenger on Welbeck + Danny’s delight at dream return

Welcome to a brand new week on TremendArse. I don’t know about you, but for me Mondays have rarely felt as good as this one after Danny Welbeck’s glorious late goal gave us victory over Leicester yesterday.

No start of the semana blues for me. No siree. Any ill-feeling at the prospect of five straight days of work before the next weekend arrives were washed away by the memory of that beautiful last minute winner and the scenes of unrestrained celebration by fans and players in unison that followed it.

The fact it was Danny who scored just made the moment more special. Not only had we come from a goal down to win a game against the league leaders with virtually the last act of the match, closing the gap between the sides to just two points in the process and preventing them from moving eight clear of us, a player who was making his first appearance for 10 months after battling a serious knee complaint was the man to win it.

Yet the irony is Welbeck wasn’t expected to be involved at all, let alone emerge the heroic match-winner, following Arsene Wenger’s press conference on Friday when he suggested next weekend’s FA Cup tie against Hull would mark the striker’s return from long-term injury. After the game, Arsene explained what had changed in the time between him talking to the press and him announcing his match-day 18 on Sunday morning:

In the last two days he (Welbeck) was convincing in training. I planned at the start, when I made my press conference on Friday morning, to play him next week. But in the last two training sessions he was very strong and I decided just in the end to include him in the squad. Yes (it was a great decision to select him), but it was a great decision because Danny Welbeck is a great player, and you never know in our job if somebody else had come on would he have scored or not. But everybody is extremely happy for him, because he has been out for 10 months, that is an eternity for a player. We work very hard, our medical team, our fitness team, to bring him back so strong. Let’s not forget he has not played one minute for us, he has just played 45 minutes in the under-21s.

The player himself described his emotions, thanked the Arsenal medical staff and discussed his goal having made such a stunning immediate impact  on his return to first-team duty when he spoke to Arsenal Player after the game. Welbeck said:

It’s been a long time off the pitch, the longest period of time that I’ve spent off playing matches in my career. It’s difficult, and with a few headlosses along the way. I think you’ve just got to try to stay positive. I had a lot of great help behind the scenes with the medical staff and with James Haycock, who worked with me personally and was great. I think hard work eventually pays off. It was a wonderful feeling to get that winning goal at the end. It was just very important for us to get the three points. With the type of game it was, it was close right until the end and thankfully we got the goal. As soon as I saw Mesut line it up, I just tried to get myself into a nice position, in behind the line of defence. Thankfully it came in my direction and I got the right glance on it. I don’t even know what I was doing [afterwards], the facials were going crazy! I’ve seen a couple [of pictures] and it was just euphoria after and I jumped in the crowd.

It’s been a while since the players and indeed the our fans have celebrated a goal quite so wildly and it was really pleasing to see further evidence of just how united our squad are in the pursuit of prizes this season.

I mean, Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck and Olivier Giroud are, in effect, direct rivals for one starting place when everybody’s fit but as they showed yesterday, there’s not even a hint of Cristiano-esque jealousy at a team-mate scoring an important goal, or thinly veiled Debuchy-type resentment at another player usurping them for a starting spot. Just pure, collective delight at the team taking a step closer to their end-goal of winning a league title.

Arsene’s often ridiculed for over-using the word ‘spirit’ when praising his side but there genuinely seems to be a squad-wide unity fueling our title challenge this season and it’s very encouraging. They’re all pulling in the same direction – with a bit of luck and a few more moments like Welbeck’s in the 94th minute yesterday, that direction will lead to our first Premier League crown in 12 years.

Until tomorrow.

14th February 2016: Subs Walcott and Welbeck shoot down Foxes

Arsenal’s substitutes stole the show at Emirates stadium earlier today, as Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck stepped off the bench to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 win against 10-man league leaders Leicester City.

After Jamie Vardy had channeled his inner Wayne Rooney by cheating to win a penalty against the Gunners, before taking it himself and finding the net on the stroke of half-time, the visitors had Danny Simpson sent off early in the second half for two bookable offences and conceded an equaliser with 20 minutes to play.

Olivier Giroud, who was ferociously industrious all game, provided a second headed assist in as many weeks by cleverly nodding the ball into the path of Walcott inside the crowded Leicester penalty area. And Theo, who looked really determined and had proven a livewire on the right flank from the moment he entered the action on the hour mark, remained cool and composed as he met the awkwardly bouncing ball with a side-footed first-time finish.

It was the type of chance you often see players spurn by mis-timing the connection but Walcott utilised the same nerves of steel and text-book finishing technique he produced at Wembley last May when he gave us the lead in the FA Cup Final. After that, and as it had been from the 54th minute when Simpson saw red, it was one-way traffic as Leicester defended deep and in numbers whilst Arsenal racked their brains and ramped up the pressure in search of a winner.

By the time the fourth official held up his board to signal four minutes of added time at the end of the match, Welbeck had been sent on in place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to make his first appearance since last April.

The stage was set for the former Manchester United man with seconds to go when Leicester gave away a freekick on our right. Mesut Ozil puffed out his cheeks, collected his thoughts, uttered a little prayer and proceeded to drift a divine ball into the box which Welbeck glanced into the corner to win the match and reduce the gap to the top of the table to just two points for the Gunners.

As Welbeck wheeled away to celebrate in and amongst the fans in the corner, almost all of his team-mates sprinted to join him as the stadium erupted in the kind of feverish manner only a last-gasp winner in a big match can evoke. It was fairytale stuff for Welbz after his near year-long battle with a knee problem as he marked his return in the best possible way.

In truth, the contest had been fairly even in the opening period so the fact Ozil was blatantly fouled in the build-up to Leicester’s penalty award compounded our sense of injustice when Vardy conned the referee by running into Nacho Monreal’s leg to ‘win’ his side a spot-kick, resulting in the visitors carrying a lead into the interval.

The game undeniably swung in our favour once they had a man dismissed but having been on the wrong end of awful refereeing in the first 45, it was about time we got the rub of the green from dubious officiating. Although both of Simpson’s cards were deserved by the letter of the law, it still felt a bit harsh on the Foxes. But f*ck ’em – obviously.

To be honest, I’m still too pumped up by our victory to be writing this coherently but I want to share a few thoughts on individual performances today. I’ll only highlight positive ones though (so no mention of Aaron Ramsey or Alexis Sanchez) and where better to start than Arsene Wenger, who threw on Theo and Danny to turn a match in a manner very reminiscent of when he would often introduce Sylvain Wiltord and Kanu from the bench way back when.

Petr Cech was flawless again, with one save and gather from a Vardy header in the first-half showcasing ridiculously swift reactions. Giroud was tireless up front and played very well, capping his performance with another assist. And Calum Chambers, a half-time sub for Laurent Koscielny after the Frenchman sustained a dead leg, barely put a foot wrong at the back.

Elsewhere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was threatening on the right before playing some nice passes after moving into the middle following Walcott’s introduction, and despite being successfully shackled by N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater for long periods of the game, Ozil kept going, grew into the match and grabbed another high-quality assist to help us win it at the death

Despite the euphoria of the game’s finale and the importance of the result against a direct rival, there were still some worrying aspects about our play in my opinion but there’s no way I’m dampening the joy of today’s win by discussing them now. That can wait until tomorrow at least because for the time being it’s time to enjoy the Arsenal love-in on this fine, fine Valentine’s Day.

Back tomorrow.

13th February 2016: Premier League Preview – Arsenal prepare for Fox hunt

Saturday greetings. Today’s Premier League fixtures felt very much like the aperitif before tomorrow’s top-four feast, when Manchester City host Tottenham and we welcome league leaders Leicester to Emirates stadium.

I mean, it was still as hilarious to see Manchester United lose at Sunderland as it is annoying watching Chelsea take an early three-goal lead against hapless Newcastle as I write this, but these games, along with the rest today, are already pretty much insignificant in terms of the title race. All rather mid-table meek, or pre-crucial survival stuff.

You can be sure there’ll be no love lost in either fixture on Valentine’s Day however, as each of the four clubs strive to cement their title credentials at the expense of one of their direct rivals for the crown. We play first of course, kicking off at noon and hoping to reduce the gap to the top of the table to just two points, having seen ourselves fall eight adrift of the summit this time last week.

Defeat, even with 12 games still to play after tomorrow, doesn’t bear thinking about but for all of Leicester’s surreal success so far this season, in my opinion we’re by far the better team both on paper and the pitch, providing we play to our potential.

Yet as Claudio Ranieri’s men showed last weekend by containing and countering to win convincingly at City, they are a far more intelligent outfit right now than even earlier this season, when they often conceded first before coming storming back, but of course also reversed that trend in late September, when they struck first against us at their place only to eventually lose 5-2.

Their Italian manager has clearly seen his ideas and instructions seep into his side gradually over the course of the season and they now resemble a top side from their boss’ home country – defensively organised and hard to break down in a compact shape, but rapidly efficient in breaking forward and unerringly cut-throat when they get there.

It’s an evolution in Leicester’s playing style Arsene Wenger revealed he’s very aware of having studied the statistics, but as well as trying to stifle Leicester’s game-plan, the boss maintains Arsenal must play to their own strengths and that means dominating possession. He said:

I told my defence after the game [in September], ‘I’m not happy with your performance’ because they created goal chances. We created many as well. It could have been, 5-2 or 8-4. I was already impressed by their offensive potential. But it was a very open game. I watched our game again because I wanted to watch how this team moved since then. There is an evolution in their game. They are more cautious at the moment. They play a lot in their final third and come out very quickly. Look at the number of direct balls from their half to the opponents’ half. They are higher than anyone else because they have Vardy on his way straight away when they win the ball – they do it very well. They suck you in and go very quickly in the opponents’ half. At the time they were a bit more all going. Today they are a bit more ‘let’s sit here and use our strengths’ in a very efficient way, which is what they did remarkably well against Manchester City. We will try of course to stop their counter-attacking. But at home you have to express your strengths and our strength is to have the ball. We have to try to express our strengths and as well try to stop them from hitting us on the break.

In terms of how we’ll line up, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my guess would be that we’ll see one change from last weekend’s starting line-up against Bournemouth, with Francis Coquelin replacing Mathieu Flamini as our defensive midfielder.

That of course means Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would retain his place on the right of our attack and after he returned to form with a well-taken goal against the Cherries, I think it would be the right call by the boss.

And speaking of the Ox, Arsene says his recent good form – emphasised by a goal and an assist in his last two starts – has hopefully provided the boost in confidence the England man needed to kick-start his season:

He got an assist, then he scored and that sometimes opens a light. I’m convinced that in every career, you have moments where you think ‘I can do that’ and transform your potential into reality. I’m convinced that that will give him appetite to score more, to give more assists and to go more in the final third, where he can be deadly. You cannot imagine when you look at Alex that he will not score goals. He has power, pace, technique, finishing. I believe that only he maybe did not believe enough that he can score. That will convince him and hopefully it’s the start of many more.

I have to say the Ox’s struggles for form this season have baffled me at times. In pre-season, he was our stand-out player as far as I was concerned, and I thought it was a sign he would make his mark on this campaign like never before.

Clearly it hasn’t turned out that way and he’s actually found himself falling further down the pecking order with the emergence of Joel Campbell as a bone fide first-teamer, rather than bulldozing his way up it like I, and I’m sure many others, expected.

But if I’m right about him retaining his place against the Foxes, the Ox has a chance to shine in a huge game tomorrow, perhaps even be a match-winner, and prove that he deserves to start week in week out.

I’m really up for this one. It’s a six-pointer no question, probably pivotal in terms of our title hopes and also has a bit of an ‘us versus the rest of the country’ vibe to it. Leicester are the nation’s darlings right now – it’s up to us to ruin the romance of their surprise rise on Valentine’s Day, and reignite our own charge for the title.

Back post-match.

COME on Arsenal …

12th February 2016: Wenger on Leciester

Happy Friday folks. Arsene Wenger held his pre-Leicester press conference this morning and aside from reiterating the latest injury news he gave to the official site yesterday, the boss insisted Sunday’s top-of-the-table clash against the Foxes is one Arsenal are very much looking forward to.

Arsene also spoke about the importance of building momentum following last weekend’s win at Bournemouth, the significance of this fixture in terms of the title race, and the inevitable anxiety that accompanies being league leaders. Here’s what he said:

What is important is to find the momentum back and that means that you win a few games. After, let’s not count too much on the weakness of Leicester because they have not shown too many. We want to find a consistency in our results until the end of the season, because we have big game after big game now. What I believe is that you do not have to be a super mathematician to analyse that it is a very important game, maybe not a decisive one for the Premier League but it is not far away from that. The pressure is on us as well, of course. I don’t deny that but I take that in a very positive way and as an opportunity to show how strong we are. I think the biggest pressure in our job is to play games without pressure. This is the kind of game we want – the kind of game we relish. When you play at Arsenal Football Club, that’s what you want. [Leicester] are still in a position where they think they have nothing to lose. But once you are top of the league, you can also think about losing what you have. That is where the nerves come in a little bit. I do not know how they will respond to that.

The boss went on to lavish priase on Claudio Ranieri’s side, pointing out that even the most sceptical of football followers are now convinced of Leicester’s title credentials and also discussed the first meeting between the two sides this season, our 5-2 win at their place back at the end of September. He said:

It is very romantic and I understand the whole country [being behind them]. That is human. I think as well that [the story] is good for football, and it goes against the usual practice in our game, which is spend and buy big stars. It is important to know that with quality work, quality scouting and quality management you can have great results. Leicester today are in a strong position and they have certainly silenced all the doubters since the start of the season because at Christmas people were saying they would not be there and now we are at Easter and they are still there. In the last week they showed they have solid potential to win the league, with two positive results against Liverpool and Manchester City away. Everybody now thinks they are on the same level as everybody else to win it and they have a mathematical advantage of five points. They are certainly more convinced of their quality now,” he said. “When we played them last, they were top of the table so that has not changed but their belief has been strengthened. The first game we played against them at Leicester was a very open game and it is true that their strength is to be very quick in transition from defence to offence. But we have to nullify their pace and attacking potential – we want to dominate the game, have the ball and be dangerous.

Although we’ll typically look to take the initiative in terms of possession as Arsene suggests above, it’s also pretty obvious that Leicester won’t mind us having most of the ball one iota. In fact they’d prefer it.

Their game-plan this season, on a very basic level, revolves around containing and then countering using the pace, poise and pizzazz of players like Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez. So it was interesting that Arsene hinted he’ll continue with the pacier Gabriel at the back alongside Laurent Koscielny, when discussing why Per Mertesacker didn’t start our last game:

It’s difficult for me to go into any individual assessment. I think he has played many games. Sometimes I use a different formula. Per Mertesacker is a great leader, a very respected one in our dressing room, but I have three entire backs and I adapt a little bit to their level of form, to the number of games they’ve played and to the opponents we play against. What are their strengths and where can they hurt us?

Given Arsene’s meritocratic selection policy which is heavily weighted in his players’ last performance, I’d say it’s very likely we’ll see just one change from the Bournemouth game and that will be Francis Coquelin returning in place of Mathieu Flamini to partner Aaron Ramsey in the middle of the park.

Some may expect Joel Campbell to regain his place on the right at the expense of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but after scoring a sumptuous goal last week and producing arguably his best performance of the season, my money’s on the Ox retaining his starting spot.

Back with a preview tomorrow.

11th February 2016: Welbeck return in sight + United States tour announced

Evening all. Arsene Wenger today provided an update on team news via the official site and revealed Danny Welbeck could be ready to make his long-awaited return from a knee injury against Hull in the FA Cup a week on Saturday.

In further good news for our challenge for silverware this season, the boss also confirmed that Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere are back running, and their respective comebacks are now just a matter of weeks away. He said:

It is a similar squad available to last week, we are still early in the week but we should have everyone available. Of course Rosicky [is out], and Wilshere is not ready. But everyone else should be available. He (Welbeck) is doing well, it is a bit early for him maybe but he is now back to full power in training. It is a big possibility [he could be involved against Hull next week]. We gave him one or two days recovery after the under-21 game, but now he is back in full training. He has worked very hard and he is fit. They (Wilshere and Cazorla) are back running, they are on a fitness programme now so it means it is not a question of months anymore, it is a question of weeks for them to be back.

It’s good to know we’re getting there. The last three long-termers – if you exclude poor Tomas Rosicky – have comebacks in sight and even if being fit for full training and match-fitness are two different things, we can at least look forward to having three potentially first-choice players available for selection again in the not-too-distant future.

I’ve harped on about Cazorla’s importance to our side and how his absence has deprived our football of fluency often enough on this blog, but Welbeck, who is closest to a comeback, could prove a big player for us in the run-in.

Although he’s capable of playing on the flanks to great effect, it’s the prospect of him leading the line with Mesut Ozil in behind and Alexis Sanchez from the left that intrigues and excites.

Add either Aaron Ramsey, Joel Campbell or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to the right and we have a front four with just about everything. Pace, skill, strength, creativity, endeavour and hopefully, lots of goals.

Meanwhile, Arsenal have announced their second tour of the USA in three summers. Having played Thierry Henry’s New York Red Bulls in 2014, Arsene will again take his squad across the Atlantic as part of their pre-season preparations for next season.

An announcement on the official site read:

Arsenal Football Club can announce that it will be playing two pre-season matches in the United States this summer. The first game will see Arsène Wenger’s side take on the 2016 MLS AT&T All-Stars at Avaya Stadium in San Jose on Thursday, July 28 at 9pm (ET). MLS All-Star teams have previously featured former Arsenal players Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg and, this season, supporters could see the likes of Kaka, Didier Drogba, Sebastian Giovinco and Bradley Wright-Phillips in the MLS All-Star squad. The Gunners will then go on to play Chivas de Guadalajara at the StubHub Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, July 31 (kick-off time to be announced at a later date).

Whilst the boss had this to say on the upcoming trip:

Pre-season is a critically important time for us and we are delighted to be going to San Jose and Los Angeles to participate in the 2016 MLS All-Star game and to play Chivas. We have tremendous support across America and enjoyed our visit to New York in the summer of 2014 when we played the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena. We look forward to giving our US fans the chance to see the team play live.

The club also confirmed these two fixtures would be our only ones outside of Europe during the close season.

Long-distance tours are obviously not ideal in term of preparation for a new campaign but they are now firmly part of the summer schedule for most clubs so at least we won’t be the only ones having to overcome jet-lag and time-zone readjustments.

On the plus side some of our growing number of fans in the States will be able to watch their team live and of course, the main reason for the trip, is to promote the Arsenal brand and earn some extra dough to perhaps put towards a Paul Pogba or a Paulo Dybala …

Back tomorrow after Arsene’s held his pre-Leicester presser.


10th February 2016: Some chat from Chambers

Welcome to Wednesday on TremendArse. The pre-Leicester lull in Arsenal-related news is beginning to grate now because unlike most fans, who simply occupy themselves with life between games, I choose to write a daily blog about the club, so the dearth of stuff to discuss really is quite a pain in the Arse.

I know what you’re thinking: why write one then you ****? The answer is: I’m not sure. I like writing, and I love Arsenal, so it kind of makes sense to combine the two. It certainly beats going to the gym after work. I mean, if it’s typing or working on my triceps, there’s only going to be one winner. And who needs guns when you’ve got a cannon …

Sooooooooo, Calum Chambers has been speaking with Arsenal Player, discussing how he feels he’s progressed as a player and also picking his standout team-mate – and moment – of the year 2015. The former Southampton man said:

I have not played as much as I did the year before but I think it has been good for me as I have been able to take a step back and learn from the players in my positions and in training really focus on my role. [I have been] learning from the more experienced players and watching them in games. I think [Mesut Ozil] has been unbelievable. He is a world class player and it is a privilege to train with him so he has been my standout player of 2015. My favourite moment of the year would have to be the FA Cup final. That was an amazing experience and a really enjoyable moment.

After playing quite regularly as both centre-back and right-back at the start of last season, Chambers has indeed enjoyed far less game-time this term, but I think that may well change in the final few months of the season.

Following Chambers’ arrival in the summer of 2014, Hector Bellerin emerged as first-choice right-back from virtually nowhere and Gabriel was bought just over a year ago so competition for a place in the back four increased considerably.

But now that Mathieu Debuchy has left on loan, Chambers is Bellerin’s understudy, albeit he’s still fourth-choice for a game at centre-half and probably also now just as far away from an outing as a defensive midfielder behind Francis Coquelin, Mathieu Flamini and Mohamed Elneny.

What will certainly aid his cause is having the right attitude when not playing, something Debuchy evidently lacked but Calum himself has highlighted as paramount when speaking with the official site:

You’ve got to have a good attitude. I think that is one of the most important things for me growing up at Southampton. It is all about attitude and the willingness to learn and learn off others. You have to try to go into every session wanting to learn more and try to improve. You can either coast through it or give it the mindset that you want to learn and improve in that session. Stepping into a professional environment and playing first-team football, I think the most important thing I learnt is that you have to be confident enough to express yourself on the pitch in front of a big crowd. You always have to enjoy training, enjoying playing. That is one of the most important things for me. You don’t go through games perfectly. You can watch it back and there will be things you have done wrong. I think you can learn from every game, every decision and every touch – just analysing yourself. I have to keep striving to want more, wanting to improve. The level of the games now means you have to keep at your game every week. My mindset is on improving massively. You have to want to be a better player so I think from a young age you have to have a good attitude and want to learn and improve. You could say that separates the greats from the ordinary – that willingness to go the extra step. I’m sure all the best players want to learn and get the best information from people as possible. I think that is very important.

After a great education in the famed Southampton academy, Calum’s certainly under the tutelage of the right manager as he strives to develop his game. A little similar to another former Saints’ starlet, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, I think he, and we, are yet to learn what his best long-term position will be.

Some will say playing in different roles isn’t helping his development but I think many more experienced footballers can be shown up as examples of how operating in different areas of the pitch proved beneficial in the long-run.

Personally I think Calum may be best at centre-back but if he can learn to cope with pacier opponents and continue contributing in the attacking third like he did with that exquisitely-taken goal in the FA Cup against Burnley recently, then perhaps right-back is where his future lies.

As for defensive midfield, I would say that’s the least likely of the three positions he’s been tried in so far. Either way, it’s good to know we have yet another intelligent and talented young player working hard to improve and impress at the club.

Until tomorrow.