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.

Laters.

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.