28th April 2016: Cazorla in contention for Norwich + Ozil on his future

Greetings. It’s Thursday already, May’s on the horizon, the European Champions are a mere matter of weeks away but most importantly of all, there’s just a few more games to go before we can put this mad, bad season behind us.

But first it’s Norwich at Emirates stadium on Saturday for the first of our final three fixtures of the season and as we build up to the game, Arsene Wenger has provided an injury update to the official site, saying:

We have no big problems injury wise and there is not much time to go. The players are all available now. It looks good for the [European Championship]. Ideally, the players are not injured. Their injuries are accidental and traumatic injuries. It is good they have hope to go to the European Championship.

With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla back in full training, the boss also discussed team selection for the weekend, suggesting he faces a good problem in picking his starting XI with so many players to choose from. He said:

It is difficult and easy because all the players are at a good level. Any decision will be good, and any decision will be is bad as well because you have to leave a good player out. No, I don’t know (the last time he had a fully-fit squad) because between you have some players who make their place in the team like Iwobi and Elneny who we brought in January so there is more competition for places now. It’s Oxlade-Chamberlain’s first week in full training now, so I don’t think I will select him this weekend. Santi might be in the squad this weekend, I don’t know yet. He is available. Everyone is available, but maybe Oxlade-Chamberlain is not competitive yet.

It sounds like Cazorla may be ready for a place on the bench at least against the Canaries and it will also be interesting to see if Jack Wilshere is deemed sharp enough now to play a full game.

Regular readers will no doubt be aware I’m far from a fan of Aaron Ramsey playing in central midfield and would much rather Jack being paired alongside Mohamed Elneny or Francis Coquelin in front of the defence. But with only two from five, if you include Cazorla, it will certainly be interesting to see what the manager goes with.

Moving on and Mesut Ozil has been speaking to Sport-Informations-Dienst about, amongst other things, his future with Arsenal following rumours of interest in his services from Barcelona, as well as ongoing contract negotiations to prolong his stay in north London. Here’s what our German schemer said:

I am very happy that I am able to experience this incredible city first hand and that I am able to play for such a big club. Everyone who has been here knows that there’s plenty to do in London. There’s no hurry (to sign a new deal), I still have two years on my contract. We will sit down at the end of the season. I will definitely return to Germany at some point. I feel at home there, and my family are all there. I’ve got a lot of options in a sporting sense. I’m not saying I’ll definitely return to the Bundesliga or that I will definitely go to Turkey. With that said, I’m not ruling it out. I may well see out my career here in England.

So certainly not the “Arsenal ROCKED as Ozil declines new deal and demands move away” reports we’ve seen recently, rather, just an honest answer from the player when questioned over his future plans. Arsene said recently that both Ozil and Alexis Sanchez were keen to stay at the club and nothing the former says above contradicts that.

See you on Friday.

27th April 2016: Pep in potential pickle as Wenger talks frustration

Welcome to Wednesday on TremendArse. So both Champions League semi-finals rest on a knife-edge following the first-legs, after Manchester City played out a goal-less draw against a Ronaldo-less Real Madrid last night before Saul Niguez bagged a wonderful solo goal as Atletico Madrid beat Bayern Munich earlier this evening.

An all-Madrid final for the second time in three years may now be the most likely outcome, but I’d quite like to see City v Bayern, purely for the drama of Pep Guardiola’s last game in charge of the Bavarians having to be against his soon-to-be employers – and in what is the biggest game in club football. Awkwaaaaaard.

But back to us and Arsene Wenger has spoken at length to the May edition of Arsenal Magazine, explaining why he is ‘frustrated’ by his team’s failure to secure the league title in the last coupe of seasons. He said:

What’s quite frustrating for me is that I feel in the last two years, we have moved the game forward in a modern way of managing the team and the club. Maybe we have not been immediately rewarded in the championship, but we feel we are moving the club the right way. We always want to learn and to move forward, together. That’s one of the principles of the club. We want to be together but we want to move forward.

The irony that we’ve more-or-less stayed stationary in terms of Premier and Champions League finishes for over a decade can’t be lost on the manager, but to be fair to our increasingly-beleaguered boss, the club have clearly improved in other areas such as medical staff, youth recruitment and Academy structure etc etc.

Arsene also discussed his desire to keep the Arsenal fan-base satisfied and defended his team’s expansive style, saying he believes he is obligated as a manager to strive for an entertaining style-of-play. He said:

I always think that the respect for the fans comes when you have the desire as a coach to give them something on a Saturday afternoon that makes them happy. I believe that fans should always be able to wake up on a Saturday morning and their first thought should be, ‘Yes my team is playing to day, it could be great. Unfortunately we do not always manage to give them that, but at the least we should have the desire to do that. I also believe that the positive idea of a football club is to have a desire for style. If big clubs don’t have that, then I think something is missing. Throughout the history of the game, the big club sides and the big national teams always had that desire. Whether it is Brazil, or the big teams like Barcelona and Real Madrid. And I think Arsenal has a positive reputation on that front. The big English teams – Liverpool, Man United and so on – always had that as well. It is basically an obligation for you as a coach.

And finally, Arsene touched on why he thinks the ‘real respect’ for his work as a manager comes from helping players fulfill their potential, saying:

I want to help the players to achieve the best of what they can in their career. At the end of the day, we are not responsible for the talent we each have, but we are responsible for what we do with our talent. The respect I have for people is when you look back and say ‘This guy had nothing much more left within him than what he achieved.’ I would like that I am the guy today who helps the players to achieve all that they can achieve – to fulfill their potential. That’s where the real respect comes from – when you feel people have fulfilled their potential. When you think people have used 60 or 70 percent of their talent, even when they are very talented, there is something missing there that makes you think, ‘No my friend, you are wrong.’

*cough* Walcott.

*cough* Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Back tomorrow.

26th April 2016: Fans’ protest planned for Norwich

Evening all. A quick round-up for you tonight and I’ll start with the back page of today’s Evening Standard which says: ‘Asenal fans to target Kroenke as supporters groups plot protest for Norwich game‘.

According to the report, fan-groups including The Black Scarf Movement, REDaction and the Arsenal Supporters Trust are encouraging supporters to hold up banners which read “Time for Change. Arsenal is stale — fresh approach needed” in the 12th and 78th minutes, in reference to our 12-year wait for the Premier League title.

If Twitter and the wider online Arsenal world is any kind of gauge of fan sentiment, a planned protest such as this has been a long time coming. What surprises me is that there haven’t been more. That said, I’m not sure how much of an immediate difference it will make in the thinking of those running the club but obviously the louder the fan-base’s discontent grows, at some stage, you’d hope it’ll be heard.

I also like the wording if I’m honest, because a ‘fresh approach’ is exactly what so many followers are crying out for and rightly so in my opinion. Although, given Arsene Wenger has categorically confirmed he’ll remain in charge next season and Stan Kroenke is unlikely to sell his controlling stake in Arsenal any time soon, that fresh approach has to take the form of new players and perhaps quite a few of them.

Call it blind loyalty or whatever you like, but I still want Arsene to remain Arsenal manager – providing he overhauls his squad in a major way this summer and brings in the best available players he possibly can. A protest like this weekend’s then, may just make that more likely. Let’s hope so.

After all, we’re a football club and our primary focus and aim should be on building the best team and squad we can to win football matches. What we need is obvious – more players of the quality of Alexis Sanchez for instance, and speaking of our Chilean forward, Per Mertesacker has been explaining why he thinks the south American is so special. He said:

When he was out, the statistics were not that bad for us – I think we played 10 games without him and won eight or something like that. We had quite a good record but over the whole season normally we need him healthy. If he is on the pitch, he always creates space for other players because he draws so much attention and that is key to any team. He is a key member of our side and, if he is fully fit, he makes the difference and that is always the case. He is that type of player who gives everything to the team. Those team members are well appreciated.

Another well-appreciated team member is Petr Cech of course, and the experienced goalkeeper has been telling Arsenal Player how he puts off his opponents. He said:

There are many ways you can intimidate people during a game. With your aggression is one way, but nobody likes to have no time. You press them all the time and put them under pressure. Any player that has time and feels comfortable to control the ball and play, obviously can play much better. If you don’t give them the time and put them under pressure, then it becomes much more difficult. I try to find ways not to give people the chance to feel comfortable in a situation when they face me, then it means they might not get a goal. You have to believe in yourself. You have to believe that what you are doing is the right way when you go to the game and you are ready.

Right. That’ll do for tonight.

Back tomorrow.

25th April 2016: Wenger on Sunderland + Wilshere on comeback

Welcome back. It turns out Arsenal aren’t the only bottlers in north London after all, because Tottenham hilariously failed to beat West Brom at home tonight, which means a win for Leicester at Manchester United on Sunday, or defeat for Sp*rs at Chelsea a day later, will see the Foxes crowned champions.

As far as we’re concerned, tonight’s 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane leaves the door to second place slightly ajar, when just yesterday it appeared locked, bolted and more inpenetrable than a back four of Dixon, Adams, Bould and Winterburn. It’s still unlikely we’ll finish runners-up of course, but now ever-so-slightly more feasible.

I suppose to make it happen we’ll have to be calm and collected in our final three games (as well as far more creative and clinical in the final third), something Arsene Wenger reckons we weren’t at Sunderland yesterday afternoon. Speaking to Arsenal Player, the boss said:

I think we played very well in the first half. Unfortunately we couldn’t take our chances and in the second half we dropped a little bit physically, because we played three games in seven days and our cohesion was less good. We didn’t make enough with the possession we had and the chances we created, so we have to be supportive of the team at the moment and keep going. I think we had very good opportunities. We didn’t look calm enough when we had the chances. Sometimes we gave the ball a bit late but overall I think the first half was very interesting.

That’s one way to sum it up I suppose. Another though, would be to say we were less sh*t in the first half than we were in the second, were barely threatening as an attacking force for most of the game, fielded a midfielder who can’t pass in Aaron Ramsey, a striker who can’t score in Olivier Giroud, and in the end, had Petr Cech to thank for avoiding defeat against a team who began the game in the relegation zone.

Moving swiftly on and onto rare positive from yesterday’s game – Jack Wilshere’s first competitive appearance this season. The midfielder spoke to Arsenal Player after making a late cameo as a substitute in place of an off-colour Mesut Ozil and expressed his joy at making his long-awaited return to first-team football. He said:

It’s the best feeling. All those late nights and long days in the gym, this is when it really pays off. You can do all the training, you can play for the under-21s to build your fitness up, but what really matters is playing for the first team and getting back on the pitch, so I’m really happy. I felt good. In my first under-21s game, I didn’t really feel that great. In the second I felt better and in the third I felt as though I was able to get through 90 minutes and have an impact on the game. I spoke with the boss in the week, he felt the same and I travelled to Sunderland. It’s a big week for me in training, getting fitter and sharper. Hopefully next weekend I can get some more game time and go from there. I’m not saying that I’m there yet, this is just another step on my way to full recovery. There’s a few games left and after that, hopefully I’ll go away with England to the Euros. It’s an exciting time.

Needless to say if anyone (bar poor Abou obviously) deserves a bit of luck with staying injury-free from now on it’s Jack. And given Arsene seems to have grown bored with a double-defensive bolt, benching Francis Coquelin as he has in our last two games, perhaps Wilshere might be afforded a start in central midfield alongside Mohamed Elneny before the season’s out. I hope so.

Back tomorrow.

24th April 2016: Arsenal stutter at Sunderland as title chances officially ended

So it’s official. After we could only muster a goal-less draw at Sunderland this afternoon and a Jamie Vardy-less Leicester City beat Swansea 4-0 in today’s other Premier League game, we’re now mathematically out of the title race.

Given we’re four points adrift of second-placed Tottenham and they have played a game less, that’s the runner’s up spot all but gone now too. Manchester City remain third on goal difference and we’ve given Manchester United the opportunity to close the gap on us to just two points if they can win their game in hand. A disappointing season is now teetering on the brink of becoming a disastrous one and the sad thing is I’m not sure I’m that fussed.

I mean, unless we sign proven quality, and lots of it, in a dramatic overhauling of the squad this summer, I can’t see us making much of an impact in the Champions League next term anyway and the Europa League would surely offer a are realistic chance of silverware. It’s sad that I’m thinking this way I know, but my stance is the result of the complete and utter mess we’ve made of this season since the turn of the new year. Today’s game was the latest in a long line of matches that have left me resigned to a simple conclusion – we’re just not a very good team.

My main concern at the start of the season was our lack of cover for Francis Coquelin but as it’s turned out, the player who’s absence has cost us most this season in my opinion, is Santi Cazorla and today was no different. We missed the Spaniard’s passing, particularly as Mesut Ozil was off form by his standards today, guile and above all, creativity.

As I feared pre-match, Arsene Wenger decided to stick with his starting line-up from Thursday night and although I felt we had a decent opening period with Alex Iwobi firing a low shot just wide, overall, we looked as threatening as baby brandishing a balloon. Olivier Giroud was woeful upfront, but not helped by a lack of service, and Ramsey in central midfield is something I never, ever want to see again. Even if he was the only fit midfielder we had at the club I’d rather we played someone, anyone, else.

There’s been a lot of speculation surrounding the futures of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – and you can understand why given their struggles in finding form this season – but none about Ramsey role moving forward. To my mind, he plays on the right or not at all and if Jack Wilshere can remain fit and/or we sign a Granit Xhaka or a N’Golo Kante this summer, I’m struggling to see why the Welshman deserves to get anywhere near the team next term. Which begs the question, should we keep him?

Personally, I’d rather we kept the Ox and gave him more time to prove himself as a central midfielder and instead moved Aaron on so he could play in his preferred central midfield position somewhere else. That may sound harsh but if we’re contemplating keeping Ramsey and selling the Ox, I think we’re crazy because the latter’s simply a better footballer, in any position.

That’s all for tonight folks.

See you next week.

 

23rd April 2016: Can we beat Sunderland to snatch back third spot?

Saturday greetings. So it’s Sunderland away tomorrow afternoon and after Manchester City today handed Stoke their second 4-0 drubbing inside a week, we need all three points if we’re to take back third spot in the standings.

With the scenario that Manchester United finish third, City win the Champions League and we end the campaign in fourth place still a possibility, our seat at the top table of the European game for next season is far from secured.

Because if that’s how things  unfolded, City would take our place as holders and we’d be relegated to competing for the Europa Cup.  Arsene Wenger also highlighted another problem with finishing fourth – the pitfalls of the playoff. Speaking at his press conference yesterday, he said:

It’s difficult because you can play teams who are in the middle of a championship because they have started already in June. But for us, we don’t know where we will finish. We are not guaranteed the top four and we have to fight for that. Manchester United are behind us and they will fight for it as well. We have difficult games, they have difficult games as well. What has changed over the years is that the impact of the finances in the Champions League is not as big anymore. It was vital for us for a period. The supporter impact, the planning of next season changes completely, especially when you have a big tournament like the European Championship, which is now like a World Cup because it starts on June 10 and finishes on July 10. When you have to play qualifiers the European Championship is still going on.

With four games left we still have it in our hands to avoid both a playoff and the possibility of missing out on the Champions League altogether simply by winning our remaining games and that has to start against the Black Cats tomorrow.

In terms of how we might line-up, my hope is that Francis Coquelin and Danny Welbeck will return in place of Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud respectively for a simple reason; the former pair are better players in my opinion. As regular readers will know, I think Ramsey’s a good footballer but a poor central midfielder and Giroud’s a decent striker but Welbeck offers us more at the tip of our attack. More pace, more ability on the ball and given Giroud’s current barren run in front of goal, more chance of scoring.

That said, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if we’re unchanged from Thursday night because Arsene doesn’t often alter a winning formula unless he’s forced to. We’ll see I guess.

Just a short one today because in all honesty, I can’t be asked.

Back post-match.

COYG!

22nd April 2016: Wenger on recovery time and Ozil omission

Happy Friday folks. We travel to the north-east to face Sunderland on Sunday afternoon and having played on Thursday night, some might worry the team haven’t been afforded enough time to rest and recuperate.

Yet Arsene Wenger cited a UEFA study in explaining why he’s not concerned about having to play again this weekend. Speaking at his pre-match press conference earlier today, the boss said:

Between Thursday and Sunday and Wednesday and Saturday morning is exactly the same. You know we played on Wednesday night at Barcelona and then on Saturday against Everton at 12.45pm. It’s no problem. In fact, there’s a very interesting study that has come out from Uefa that shows that the points taken by the teams three days later are not less than after four or five days. It’s the opposite and that is quite interesting. The study has been made in all the five best leagues in Europe. Nobody has proven that it is a disadvantage to have only three days rest. The points on average are better than after four or five days.

Meanwhile, Arsene also provided an update on the fitness of midfielders Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, hinting that we’re unlikely to see much of the trio this season given there are only four games left to play. He said:

They (Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain) are not ready yet and I haven’t decided yet, but there are not many games left. We still have games in the under-21s, I can put them in the play-off games [if they are available]. I cannot plan that (Wilshere playing against Sunderland). At the moment I do not know if I will take him on Sunday or not. Should I take him, you cannot plan that he will play a part in the game. He made a big improvement in the third [under-21s] game. In the first two he was alright, but in the third he found his burst back, the little change of pace. If I don’t take him this weekend, I will take him [in the squad] the weekend after, certainly.

Finally for this evening, Arsene also reveled his surprise at Mseut Ozil’s shock omission from the PFA Team of the Year. He said:

It’s a surprise for me. I cannot explain it, because it’s the players who vote. I don’t know why they did not pick him. Yeah [he deserves to be in the team]. When you are top of the assists, usually that’s a sign of quality that should get you a place in a top team.

Personally, I couldn’t give two hoots our peerless German pass-master wasn’t included. I mean, given the side was voted for by fellow players, it actually makes sense. His opponents this year clearly have it in for him after he proved too skillful, too elusive and too assisty when he faced them. Plus I don’t want him sharing a midfield with or providing ammunition for Tottenham players anyway, even if it’s only on paper.

Back tomorrow with a preview piece.

Laters.