29th March 2016: Wenger committed to contract

Another brief offering from me this evening as Cloid continues with blissful disregard for those of us who have little interest in friendly international football and hanker for the return of the club game.

I’ll start – and end – with under-fire, inept, past-it, average, unlucky, misunderstood, scandalously-under appreciated, messianic (delete according to stance) Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger. Having revealed his “hurt” at the “sceptical environment” created by a portion of disgruntled fans a couple of weeks ago, the manager has revisited similar ground in an interview with beIN Sports.

Confirming he has every intention of still being Arsenal boss next season, he said:

I have no doubt because I am committed and when I do something I do it 100%. I am always committed to give my best as long as I am at the club. I don’t worry too much about the rest, what other people say. All the rest is judgments, opinions …In my job you focus on what is important which is to perform. I believe in life it is very important you focus on what you are appointed for and I am appointed to perform and do the best for my club. That’s all I focus on. My future is my future. I think the criticism during the season is not very welcome when you fight for the championship. Especially after the Tottenham game [a 2-2 draw] when we were a bit lucky, but you have to live with it. I have my conscience. What is most important is I give my best every day, I work for my club that I love and if I can share that love with the supporters then it is better. But at the end of the day I want to make sure I give my best and I put my knowledge at the disposal of my team.

Pretty emphatic and typically defiant stuff from the boss and far from shocking in any way. He has a year to run on his contract after this season and he’ll see it out no matter what happens.

That said, having seemingly been close to stepping aside in 2013 before we ended our trophy drought by winning the FA Cup against Hull, I think Arsene will decide to go himself this time if we don’t win the title before his current deal expires.

My hope, and expectation, though, is that we’ll see him go all out to sign the players he thinks are ready-made to turn us into champions this summer. In my opinion, Arsene’s more of a winner than he’s given credit for, and as ruthless as they come with culling squad members when he’s forced to be by faltering results and increasing criticism of his own abilities.

As such, I’m both hopeful and excited about about our potential transfer business this summer when Arsene will surely recognize, it’s now or never if he wants to end his Arsenal managerial career in the same manner he began it – by winning the Premier League.

Back on Wednesday.

28th March 2016: Ozil talks Pep and purchases

Easter Monday greetings. Some more from Mesut Ozil to begin with today and our assist-maker supreme has been discussing the impending arrival of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City and suggesting Arsenal will need to be active in this summer’s transfer market in order to compete next season.

He said:

We know that it will not be easy and that we need reinforcements if we want next season to be on top here again. It is again interesting to see who invests in who and how much the clubs do during the summer break. In addition, great coaches are coming into the league. I am thinking primarily of Pep Guardiola. Wherever he has been, he had success. I wonder what he will do with Man City. He will be imprinting his football in England and people will be surprised.

Kick and rush proponents will be surprised, sure, but those fans with a less primitive, and more discerning, footballing eye will know exactly what’s coming from Senor Pep – press, pass and move football at a level England has never witnessed from one of it’s own sides before. How long it takes him to form his team to his tastes, is the question.

As Mesut suggests though, what Guardiola’s arrival does almost guarantee, is that sooner or later City will be very difficult to keep up with, so our summer recruitment needs to be spot on.

Personally, I’m just looking forward to Wellington Silva taking the league by storm next year when he’ll have returned from his loan at Bolton, but I wouldn’t say no to a Julian Draxler, a Paulo Dybala, a Mats Hummels or an Ngolo Kante either …

A super short post today but it’s a Bank Holiday, no-one will be reading anyway and I’ve got to try and enjoy the last few hours of my all-too-fleeting, long weekend.


27th March 2016: England impressive and Ozil hopeful

Happy Easter Sunday. You’ll have noticed my posts having been shorter recently and, I’m sure you’ll be devastated to learn, that trend will continue for the next few days. .

Partly because of the international break and the resultant slow-down in Arsenal-related news, and partly because I’m still acclimatizing to a dramatic change in my availability to blog. So bare with me.

I did manage to watch England last night though and have to say that for once, they were very, very impressive – mentally, tactically and technically. Despite going two-nil down in Germany, the Three Lions earned a deserved win over the reigning world champions thanks to goals by Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Eric Dier.

And though the Tottenham connection is undoubtedly a little sickening, Kane and Dier, if I’m honest, weren’t even the best Spurs players on show, because Dele Alli was the outstanding performer on the pitch I thought, grudgingly putting all club loyalties aside. He produced a couple of moments of close control and skill that have made me completely reconsider my assessment of his abilities. He’s not the new Jermaine Jenas after all – he’s England’s Paul Pogba.

Anyway, the collective England performance filled me with hope that 50 years after England’s one and only trophy win, based on last night, a second may not be as unlikely as most people would have previously thought heading into this summer’s European Championships in France. It also made me more resolute in my belief that Wayne Rooney really shouldn’t be in England’s starting line-up with everyone fit, no matter what he did in qualifying or his status as the country’s highest-ever goalscorer.

From an Arsenal perspective, Danny Welbeck started and played well from the left before being substituted and, very worryingly indeed, taking a seat on the bench with a massive ice-pack on his knee. Hopefully it’s nothing too serious, for obvious reasons. The only other Gunners’ representation on the night was Mesut Ozil, who started for Germany but was pretty peripheral to be honest, fluffing one decent opportunity by miscuing his shot on his weaker right foot.

But that’s okay because he was sensibly saving himself for us. And speaking to German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, Mesut explained that he thinks Arsenal are still in the race for the Premier League title:

I do not think it impossible. Although there are only a few games left, Leicester have a run against some of the big teams to come. We ourselves must in any case not allow any more slip-ups. The hope of the title is still there – we have the players for the title. They deserve to be up there; Leicester fight for every point. We see in every game that players of Leicester want to achieve something. We ourselves have not been focused in every game and that is not possible in the Premier League since there is no opponent you can beat easily. Leicester have been great but there are still a few games. I think we still have a chance to catch them up. We must, of course, hope for mistakes.

Well, I guess he’s right and he’s right. It’s not impossible but we need mistakes from those above us and lots of them. For now, all we can do is hope and try to take maximum points from our own remaining games.

See you next week.

26th March 2016: Arsenal to strengthen midfield by signing Granit?

Welcome back. Having been linked with a move to Arsenal for a while now, Sky Sports report this evening that we’re in talks to sign Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Granit Xhaka.

In all honesty I don’t know much about the player and can’t remember seeing him play, or noticing him if I did, but having done a spot of YouTube scouting just now, I hereby grant my approval for Granit becoming a Gunner. Good on the ball? Check. Good passer? Check. Can beat a man? Check. Can defend? Check. Mobile? Mobile enough.

We do have previous for getting deals done very early having signed Lukas Podolski way before the summer window opened back in 2012 and the fact German journalist Raphael Honigstein also thinks a deal could be on certainly adds credence to the story as  far as I’m concerned.

With Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta very likely to leave at the end of the season, Jack Wilshere plagued by injuries, and Aaron Ramsey’s performances in central midfield this season strongly suggesting he’s unsuitable in that role, we clearly need to strengthen in the middle of the park so Xhaka’s signing would make a lot of sense.

Finally for today a few words from Chuba Akpom who is of course on-loan this season at Hull City. The striker says he “buzzing” for Alex Iwobi after the latter became a regular first-teamer at Arsenal this season and is determined to give it his all this coming close season so he can follow in the Nigeria international’s footsteps. He said:

It’s always good to see young British talent shining in the Premier League. Alex, I grew up with. He’s like a brother to me so I’m buzzing for him and buzzing for his progress. I just tell him that hopefully next season it’s me and him playing together. This summer I’m going to work as hard as I can and pre-season do the best that I can. It’s been a long time [at Arsenal]. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Arsenal is a good club and I’ve always wanted to play in the first team so I’m looking forward to going back at the end of the season.

With Danny Welbeck, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott our current options for the sole striker’s role on offer, not to mention a possible new signing in the summer, Akpom has it all to do to convince Arsene Wenger he deserves even a squad place never mind a starting spot but nonetheless it’s great to hear he’s ambitious and intends to work hard.

Right. That’s me for another day.

Catch you on Sunday.

25th March 2016: Barca want Ozil says report + Rami rates Elneny

Happy Good Friday. It’s still very quiet at the moment in terms of Arsenal news and I was considering not posting gain until after the internationals but that would be as lazy as Andrei Arshavin, so here I am.

I’ll start with a report in Spanish newspaper AS which says Barcelona are “keeping tabs” on Mesut Ozil and that the player himself is “crazy” about a return to Spanish football and would jump at the chance to join the Catalans where he could supply assists for the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.

There could be something in the story, or it could be completely fabricated, like Chelsea’s history. Who knows, and with the summer transfer window still a good few months away, who cares?

What I would say is that with the more and more clubs awash with big money and the number of players of Ozil’s class extremely limited, demand for his services will undoubtedly be fierce. So I suppose his longevity at Arsenal will be dependent on whether a) we pay him enough to stay and b) he wants to remain a Gunner and feels he can achieve his trophy-winning goals with Arsenal.

Moving on and our former goalkeeper Rami Shabaan, who was an international for Sweden but has an Egyptian father, has been speaking about Mohamed Elneny’s move to Arsenal and reckons the midfielder has the potential to become a star for the Gunners. He said:

Looking at Egyptian players historically, there have been some amazing talents, but only a few have been able to take that step. I think that Mohamed Elneny will be one of them. I think he’s going to fit the club perfectly, and listening to what the boss says about him as well only makes me more convinced. Football is like a religion for Egyptians, especially with the tough times in Egypt at the moment. I remember when I went to Egypt. It was like a superstar had arrived at the airport. For me it was a shock. You can’t compare that with Sweden. In Egypt, they really praise their stars. He [Elneny] has really adapted and I hope he gets more and more time. But it will take time. I hope he can make that step to be a regular and become something really big at Arsenal.

Lets hope so and he’s certainly made a very encouraging start to life as an Arsenal player. With Santi Cazorla scheduled to return from injury in the near future, it will be interesting to see who the boss selects in central midfield because neither of the current incumbents, in Elneny and Francis Coquelin, have done much wrong in the last few games when we’ve really started to look like a fluently-functioning team at long last.

Time will tell I guess.

Back tomorrow.

24th March 2016: RIP Johan Cruyff

I got on the train at Farringdon this evening and as always, reached straight for my phone to catch up on the day’s football news. The first story I came across was the tragic passing of Johan Cruyff at the age of just 68.

I’m not old enough to remember him as a player, but like all football fans, I’m very aware of his standing in the history of the game, his influence at Barcelona and indeed over generations of aspiring young footballers.

Though he had no obvious connection with Arsenal, without Cruyff, we may never have been lucky enough to have our very own Dutch master, Dennis Bergkamp. In an interview with Four Four Two magazine just over five years ago, Dennis revealed just how big a part Cruyff had played in his development as a young player and progression into the Ajax first-team:

At Ajax, Johan Cruyff was the first-team coach. One evening he came to our training ground and took a session – that was really intimidating. A big name like that coaching 12-year-olds! But he talked to me in a very relaxing way: “Just play your game, enjoy it.” Later, he guided me into the first team. Others at the club said I wasn’t strong or aggressive enough, but he said: “Just look at the talent.”

I suppose at times, it takes talent to recognize talent.

I’ll leave you with a YouTube tribute of Cruyff at his mesmeric best and a few quotes lifted from the BBC that I think would resonate with all Arsenal followers:

“Playing football is very simple, but playing simple football is the hardest thing there is.”

“Quality without results is pointless. Results without quality is boring.”

“In my teams, the goalie is the first attacker and the striker the first defender.”

“There is only one ball, so you need to have it.”

“Why couldn’t you beat a richer club? I’ve never seen a bag of money score a goal.”

“It’s better to go down with your own vision than with someone else’s.”

RIP to one of the very best of all time, Johan Cruyff, 1947-2016.

23rd March 2016: Wilshere woe + Iwobi on unexpected involvement

Evening all. This surely has to be the worst part of the two-week international break. At the weekend, at least we’ll have some sort of football on offer, even if it’s half-arsed friendly fare. Then we’ll have some more in midweek, and then the countdown begins to the return of the real stuff and club competition.

But for now, we have to make-do with what little Arsenal-related news there is. Unfortunately, the first story to discuss tonight is a reported injury set-back for Jack Wilshere, which if true, would more than likely rule him out for the rest of the season, meaning he’ll have missed the entire 2015-16 campaign.

Hopefully the reports prove wide of the mark, but with eight games left of our season, even without a setback we wouldn’t have seen the best of Jack this term so perhaps in a way, for the player at least, it would be best if he didn’t take any risks, had a full pre-season to get back to peak condition and made his return next season.

That said, with the European Championships on the horizon, I’m sure the player himself will do everything he can to be fit by June so he can represent England in France. I guess we’ll have to wait and see and it goes without saying: best of luck Jack.

Moving on, Alex Iwobi, who marked his full Premier League debut for the club with a goal and a man-of-the-match display in our win at Everton last Saturday, has been speaking with the Arsenal Weekly podcast and discussing his unexpected rise to first-team prominence this season. He said:

I thought that I was going to go on loan after the Emirates Cup and have to prove myself in men’s football out on loan. I stayed, the boss had faith in me, I played a few matches and here we are. When you go out on loan you’re playing men’s football so you have to win all the time. You learn things more quickly on loan but when you’re playing with world-class players at Arsenal, training with them every day, you become a better footballer in my opinion. You learn a lot more training with the likes of Mesut Ozil and Alexis. The first-team players have told me that I’ve deserved to make the step up, that it comes with hard work. They advise me with a few things but most of the time they’re trying to keep me cool, relaxed and level-headed. I’m just focused on playing as much football as I can for the rest of the season.

And I thought Joel Campbell was this year’s Francis Coquelin, but Iwobi’s emergence has been even more of a surprise. I watched him for the first time in the Emirates Cup last summer and the way he took his goal against Lyon – guiding the ball left-footed, first-time into the top-corner – and effortlessly tuned into the Arsenal pattern of play, was very impressive. But I doubt any fans would have foreseen him ending the season as a first-choice starter, which is what he is right now.

For me, he brings everything Joel Campbell does to the table but with that extra little authority in his attacking. He’s just as defensively diligent as the Costa Rican from what I’ve seen so far but a little classier on the ball. There’s probably not much between the pair at present but in my opinion Iwobi has the greater potential. Hopefully, he can continue to flourish and help us rack up the wins in the season’s final stretch.

See you tomorrow.

22nd March 2016: Ozil rubbishes ultimatum reports and discusses footballing upbringing

Welcome back. I’ll start this evening with Mesut Ozil, who today rubbished mischievous recent reports that had suggested the German schemer would push for a move away from Arsenal if Arsene Wenger remained as manager.

He tweeted:

Much like Duncan Castles’ piece for ONE World Sports telling us ‘third parties’ have sounded out Jose Mourinho about shocking football to it’s core and succeeding Arsene as Arsenal boss, the Ozil story about him giving the club a ‘me or my manager’ ultimatum is no more than made-up sh*t-stirring.

Moving swiftly on then, but sticking with our assist-king Ozil, the German has been reminiscing about how he honed his footballing abilities in an interview with Arsenal Magazine. He said:

When I was younger, if I saw something lying around, I would try to juggle with it. I would always go on vacation with my friends and we would always play games like two touch using a tennis ball, or play with a basketball, which is heavier than a normal ball. [I didn’t just play] with chewing gum or tennis balls, sometimes with basketballs or medicine balls too – even ones that are 5kg, though that is very difficult. Sometimes on the pitch if the game has finished and I see some tape on the floor, I’ll take it and play with that too. What helped me before was playing against older people. I would play against my brother and his friends and they were always five or six years older than me. When I was 11, they were already 17 or 18. It was tough to play against them and the pitch I grew up playing on wasn’t that nice, it always had stones on it. You had to be really concentrated when you got the ball. I think that kind of stuff helped me more. Juggling with tennis balls is good but I think what helped my technique was the pitch I grew up on in Gelsenkirchen.

I have to say reading that made be smile, but also left me very confused. Smile because I did most of the above; play football with and against my brother, his friends, our cousins, their friends, all of whom were considerably older than me. I too kicked tennis balls and basketballs and even tightly rolled up socks (to avoid breaking stuff in the house). Yet what confuses me is that I’m not a World Cup winner who’s played for the best club in the world and Real Madrid. Weird.

On a serious note, I’ve long held the view that talent acquisition for a footballer comes at a young age and can’t be coached. It’s self-taught and Ozil’s a great example of a player who developed his abilities in a chaotic playing environment as opposed to pristine playing surfaces in a state-of-the-art academy where physical attributes are way more valued than footballing intelligence, speed of thought and ball control. Anyway, that’s a topic and discussion for another time because I’m beat and need to make the most of what little of my evening I have left.


21st March 2016: Wenger vents + Bellerin on having a breather

Evening all. With Easter on the horizon we’re at the start of a short working week for most, but due to the international break, we’re also just beginning what will soon feel like an eternity before club football returns.

And as we head into the latest Arsenal-less abyss, Arsene Wenger has left us with some introspection to keep us occupied by revealing his ‘hurt’ at recent civil unrest within the club’s fanbase. He said:

What hurts me is that at the important moment of the season we played in a sceptical environment. I think after the Tottenham game where we played a very good game with 10 men against 11 and came back to 2-2, I couldn’t understand why – at the moment when you need everyone behind the team – we had to hit that storm. From the media, OK. From our fans? It is a bit more difficult to take.

Whilst I definitely agree with Arsene’s sentiments as far as getting behind the team is concerned, I think it’s fair to say most fans recognized our performance against Tottenham was very good and but for a brainless moment of madness from Francis Coquelin, we’d probably have gone on to win that game.

The ‘sceptical environment’ wasn’t whipped up a by a hard-fought draw at Sp*rs, it was created by a succession of poor results that have seen us fall from pole position in the league not too long ago, to virtually out of contention for the title.

Throw in elimination from the Champions League and FA Cup (admittedly after the Tottenham game), and clearly fans have a right to vent frustration. And that’s before you factor in the depressing familiarity of Arsenal’s seasonal arc, or the industry-high price of a ticket to see the Gunners play.

But having aired his views on the lack of support from the stands for his side, Arsene then balanced things out (or back-tracked, if you prefer), saying:

I never complain about critics, especially when they are turned against me. But we have to get the fans behind us with our attitude, and make sure that they stand behind the team until the end of the season.

It’s the last six words that need properly processing for me. We go with what we have, players and manager-wise, until the last game of the season and then is the time to take stock and draw conclusions. See where we end up, how the end of the campaign pans out. We might win it, or we could finish sixth. Right now though, who the f*ck knows?

There isn’t a doubt in my mind a vociferous support can play a part in helping the team perform better and pick up points and with five of our last eight games at home, where we’ve struggled recently, the fans can come to the fore in a positive fashion. It’s up to us and the least we could, and should, do. That’s my view anyway.

Moving on, Hector Bellerin reckons we’re “definitely” still in the title race and that the international break has arrived at the perfect time as it gives the squad a chance to recharge, regroup and ready themselves for the final straight of the season. Speaking after our win over Everton, he said:

It is great time to go on the international break after a win, and it’s time for the players to recharge their batteries because it is the last bit of the season and it is important for us. We knew it was going to be a hard game. We were really looking forward to it and the team put on a great performance, especially in the first half with two great goals. That gave us the chance to relax a little bit in the second half. It is always a hard place to come and in the last few years we have always had tough games [here]. To get a win like that was important. I think the team has had more purpose with the ball lately and we are playing better football. That is showing on the pitch because we have to defend less because we are keeping the ball and creating way more chances.

Hopefully we can pick up where we left off in fortnight or so – playing fluently, scoring goals and keeping clean sheets.

But to do that, we’ll no doubt need all our players to return from international duty unscathed, so as always, all we can do right now is hope for the best.

See you tomorrow.

20th March 2016: Wenger on Iwobi and Welbeck

Welcome back. A very, very quick Sunday round-up for you and I’ll begin with some words from Arsene Wenger on the man of the match in our win over Everton yesterday – Alex Iwobi.

The teenager marked his Premier League debut with an expertly-taken goal to put us two-nil up shortly before the interval and was hard-working and creative before being substituted in the second half. The boss told Arsenal Player:

He benefits from his talents, intelligence and attitude. He has been practising with the players since the start of the season and he has been growing in contact with these players and he is learning quickly from them.

Meanwhile, the player himself discussed his first goal as a professional, his understanding with Danny Welbeck and the mood in the Arsenal dressing room, saying:

It is not bad, I’m enjoying the moment. I’m just happy to help my team and that is a positive so we will take that into the next game. It is a dream playing with him (Welbeck). He gives me confidence, he is helping me out and gives me advice. It works, we are all confident in training. Even though we have had a difficult week, we are trying to put that aside and concentrate on the league.

And speaking of Welbeck, Arsene hailed the striker’s versatility, revealed that he gambled on his fitness by starting him at Goodison Park and explained why he thinks his team deserve praise. He said:

He can play on the flanks and through the middle, so I can play him with Giroud or [instead of] Giroud – that gives so many options. You cannot say you don’t miss a player of that stature for nine months. I believe [he can make a difference]. I had many hesitations to play him before the game because he is still not completely over his knee problem. We have to be cautious but I pushed it because I knew this was now or never [for the title bid]. I know this team has put in a lot of work since the start of the season, I know how much dedication this team has had over the last eight months and I want them to be rewarded. We have gone through a difficult period and it is a good test to see how a team survives after getting so much stick. When I see their response every day, this team deserves credit.

I’m afraid that’s where I’ll have to leave it for today because it’s late and I have sh*t to do. Besides, with the international break upon us, there’s plenty of time to talk Arsenal over the next fortnight or so before we next play.

See you next week.