30th May 2016: A Bank Holiday round-up

Evening all. A very brief Bank Holiday round-up for you and I’ll begin with Granit Xhaka, who’s been discussing the confirmation of his move to Arsenal with Sky Sports.

He said:

I feel good, now I’m happy to be a Gunner. It’s been a big week for me but now it’s official and I’m very happy. Arsenal is a big club. I’ve seen the pitch, it’s unbelievable. It was a dream for me and I’m happy now.

He’s happy, we’re happy – everyone’s happy. Except Borussia Mönchengladbach fans obviously, and possibly Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny too, who’ll no doubt now find it much harder to get a start in midfield next season.

Elsewhere, The Daily Mirror report Arsenal have rejected an approach from Barcelona for Hector Bellerin, whilst the player himself says he’s happy to forego his holidays to represent Spain at the upcoming European Championships in France. He said:

Firstly, I want Carvajal to recover well and quickly. He’s a teammate and that’s most important. As for me, I’m here until the Coach tells me otherwise. I’m available for whatever the Coach needs from me. I’m delighted for the experience. I had planned a holiday with my family but I’m happy to cancel it for the call of the national team.

Finally for tonight, some words from Calum Chambers after he helped England under 21s win the Toulon Tournament for the first time since 1994. He said:

We’ve said in the meetings after games and throughout the tournament that we felt that the way we played and controlled the game, we were really confident. I can’t really think of a time in any of the games where we felt out of control and thought we were in trouble. We controlled the games, played the way we want to play, adapted to conditions and things as well and I thought we did really well out there. This is a really close group. The energy and atmosphere here is exciting. I think everyone looks forward to coming away and obviously over this trip especially we’ve just bonded together so much. They are memories that we can all have together and share.

And amidst rumours suggesting Arsenal are happy to loan the defender out this summer, casting doubt over his long-term future at the club, Calum said:

For me, I just want to play games, so, yeah, that’s it for me. But at the moment I am not thinking too much about next season, I just want to go and enjoy my summer. Then we’ll get back at it soon.

Unfortunately for the former Southampton man, given he was bought initially as a back-up right-back, Hector Bellerin’s rise to first-team prominence has seen him relegated to reserve reserve, with everyone fit.

As harsh as it sounds, I’m not sure he’ll ever be good enough for Arsenal from what I’ve seen. In my opinion, he’s performed best for us as a centre-half and will eventually settle in that position because he’s definitely not a defensive midfielder , despite Arsene Wenger talking up his suitability for that role last season.

Either way, good luck to him if he does depart on loan and the confidence boost gained from lifting a trophy with the England under 21s should stand him in good stead heading into next season.

Back tomorrow.

29th May 2016: Musings on all-Madrid final + Djourou on Pirlo-esque Xhaka

Sunday greetings. So Real Madrid were crowned European champions for a record 11th time last night after beating Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid on penalties.

Cristiano Ronaldo was the man to hog the limelight after scoring the winning penalty in the shoot-out, despite stinking out the San Siro with his ‘performance’ in the 120 minutes of action. Best player of all-time? Pffffff, do me a favour, he’s not even the best player to have played in England – Thierry takes that tag by a distance.

Anyway, some brief thoughts on a few more of the players in action last night; the Atletico keeper was fantastic I thought, and given that club have scouted and signed David de Gea and Thiabaut Courtois in the past, perhaps we ought to be paying close attention the next time they identify a new keeper signing and get there first.

Antoine Griezmann was impressive, despite missing a penalty in the second half and if there’s any chance whatsoever of enticing him from Spain to north London, I’d urge us to explore the possibility. Saul Niguez played like a more athletic Jon Toral and it’s easy to understand why he’s reportedly attracting strong interest from the Premier League.

As for Real, Casimiro was great in midfield, Benzema’s performance suggested we dodged a bullet last summer and for me, their best attacking player is Gareth Bale. He was good in spurts last night but saw nowhere near enough of the ball as far as I’m concerned, with team-mates often declining to pass him the ball and opting to look for Ronaldo instead. It was counter-productive for them to say the least and if I were Madrid, I’d get as much money for Ronaldo as a PSG or a Manchester City would be stupid enough to pay and make Bale their attacking fulcrum.

Moving on and there’s very little to move on to. Former Gunner Johan Djourou has likened new Arsenal signing Granit Xhaka to Andrea Pirlo, saying:

He’s got this ability to play very long balls, very precise balls, and I always say he reminds me a bit of Pirlo, the way he plays. He’s got the ability to play the Arsenal way. He’s got this aggressiveness about him that will help him in the Premier League, and he’s a great ball player and ball winner as well. He asked me a lot of things about London, the club, and I could only say great things about it because I had a great experience there. I think that the people at the club are just amazing, and those who run the club as well. I think he’s going to have a great time.

As I said in a previous post recently, Xhaka reminds me more of a left-footed Xabi Alonso than anyone else I can think of off the top of my head but I can see where Johan’s coming from.

Right, that’ll do for tonight.

See you next week.

28th May 2016: Ricardo Rodriguez and Duvan Zapata linked

Saturday salutations. Another day, another couple of players linked with moves to Arsenal this summer.

This time it’s the turn of Wolfsburg left-back Ricardo Rodriguez, and Napoli’s Columbian striker Duvan Zapata. My initial thoughts on the two reports, leaving aside their accuracy for a second, are ‘do it’ for the former and ‘I’ll pass’ for the latter – not that I’ve seen an awful lot of either player.

As always with players I’ve seen little of live, my views are based on YouTube compilations, but whilst Rodriguez is a player who I think would not only replace Kieran Gibbs in our squad, given the England international’s been linked with a move away in recent months, he’d probably dislodge Nacho Monreal from our starting selection sooner rather than later.

With Zapata on the other hand, I’m undecided, but leaning towards labeling him a south American Christian Benteke. I think we can, and should be doing, a lot better with our striker budget. If we’re looking to raid Naples for a forward, Gonzalo Higuain or at a stretch, Lorenzo Insigne and Manolo Gabbiadini are the players Arsenal surely ought to be setting their sights on.

Moving on and Sir Alex Ferguson has been praising his former rival Arsene Wenger, calling the Frenchman “fantastic”. The Scot said:

(Wenger) has been fantastic. Now he gets a lot of criticism, but I admire that you’re not going to bend to the will of the critics. He stays with what he believes in. And I think people who do that are outstanding coaches. When you talk about consistency, Arsene’s never changed the way that his side has played. I think he inherited a team when he first came to Arsenal with Steve Bould and Martin Keown and Tony Adams – fantastic warriors – but his team evolved when they started getting players like Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Emmanuel Petit and Sylvain Wiltord. There was a change in the culture of the team. They became a magnificent team. Arsene has never changed in the type of player he wants or the sort of play he wants. It’s always about penetration from runners off the ball, good passes into angles for the strikers.

Hmmm. I’m not quite so sure Arsene hasn’t changed in terms of the style of play of his teams and his prototype player. I mean for a start, we were always set up in a 4-4-2 formation in Arsene’s early years and have been some variant of 4-3-3 for years now.

What I would say is he’s always strived to set his teams up to play in a pass-and-move manner, but the reality has far-too-often been very different at times. It’s a widely-discussed point that Arsenal aren’t nearly as physically-imposing a team as we once were but then from a purest vantage-point, some of the best football we’ve played under Arsene wasn’t, in my opinion, played by the team of Henry, Vieira and co.

Our 1-0 win at San Siro in the 2007-2008 for instance, was a lesson in good football, handed out to the then reigning European champions on their own pitch. It’s a balance we need obviously, between the beautiful and the beastly. Hopefully this summer’s transfer market will be where we rediscover that elusive equilibrium.

Until tomorrow.

27th May 2016: Wilshere on observant Ozil + Bellerin happy at Arsenal

Happy Friday. A very-quick round-up for you this evening and I’ll begin with some words of praise from Jack Wilshere about his team-mate and fellow lefty Mesut Ozil.

Speaking to Arsenal Player, Jack explained that what makes Mesut so special is his ability to spot things others simply can’t. He said:

What makes him the player he is, so special, and why people talk about him is because he sees things that other players don’t see. Along with that, he sees things early. You can see that when the defence and midfield are building up play, he’s looking around. When the ball comes to him he’s got a picture in his head and knows what to do. I’ve played in that position in the past and I think sometimes the boss still sees me in there. To watch someone like that, with his awareness and calmness on the ball, [is amazing]. When everything is happening quickly around him and he’s got players surrounding him, he’s always got his head up and is so calm.

Nothing we haven’t heard said about Ozil before in all honesty but the bit about the German being observant and quick-thinking is key to explaining his brilliance for me.

Speed of thought is far too-often overlooked in favour of athleticism in the English game when it comes to scouting as far as I’m concerned, and it’s worth pondering whether Ozil would even have made it as a professional footballer were he to have been born here.

I mean, he was average at best as a physical specimen as a young player and in my opinion there’s a good chance he’d have been deemed ‘too lightweight’ to make it. Thankfully, he has, and with a bit of luck we’ll continue reaping the rewards for a long time to come.

Finally for today, Hector Bellerin has been speaking abour reported interest from other clubs in his services. Our Cockney Catalan said:

I don’t really get informed about offers. My agent is the one that works on these sort of things, but I’m happy to receive interest from such great clubs. As a player it’s really nice. Right now I’m very happy where I am, at Arsenal and focusing on the national team. With these things, until you don’t know what to do until they arrive.

Standard stuff from Bellerin there and given he recently discussed how content with life he is in London, I’d say there’s as much chance of him moving anytime soon as there is of Jose Mourinho not being a narcissistic bell-end.

See you on Saturday.

26th May 2016: Xhaka did his homework + number changes confirmed

Good evening. Some more from our brand spanking new Gunner Granit Xhaka to begin with tonight, after the midfielder revealed he’d spoken to a trio of former Arsenal stars about the club before signing.

He said:

I spoke with (Havard Nordtveit) about Arsenal and he told me it’s a big club, a family club and it’s very important for me to come here. Philippe (Senderos) played here and I play with him in the national team. Johan (Djourou) and Philippe have only told me positive things. Arsenal is Arsenal. It’s not a small club, it’s a very big club and it’s like a family. It’s very good for me because I love my family and to have another family here is very good.

Nice to see some OGs (Old Gunners ©) praising their former employers and helping us to secure new signings. Whatever your views on Arsene Wenger and the culture at the club, one thing’s for sure – players like being at Arsenal and not just for the pay-packet.

Sure, players have agitated for a move in the past and I’m sure more will in the future, but how many would jump at the chance of a return having found out the hard way that the grass is far from greener elsewhere? Away from the pristine carpet at Emirates stadium, it’s often long, unloved and littered with dog sh*t – just ask Cesc, Samir or Robin, as they turn out at a bus-stop in west London, warm the bench or take to the field in Turkey.

Elsewhere, Arsenal have been readjusting shirt numbers following the departures of Tomas Rosicky and Mikel Arteta. Aaron Ramsey has taken the latter’s number 8 while Alexis Sanchez is our new number 7. The Chilean’s old number 17 goes to Alex Iwobi and Granit Xhaka will wear Ramsey’s old number 16.

The one I’m most looking forward to being allocated though, is the number nine. I just hope it goes to a world-class, big-money new signing and not to Chuba Akpom or Yaya Sanogo, all due respect to the youngsters.

It’d suit Robert Lewandowski rather well if you ask me, although rumours of interest in Alvaro Morata refuse to die down, especially after Juventus’ manager  Massimiliano Allegri suggested the Italian club are preparing for life without the Spanish striker. He said:

The club are working on the transfer market and monitoring possible alternatives. We have a lot of forwards with players who are all in national teams and many young guys. I’ve already given Morata some advice: he needs to stay at Juventus… What did he say? He nodded. I hope he understands, I’m saying this for his own good.

No you’re not Massimiliano, you’re saying it for your own good. Morata’s a quality striker and would be difficult to replace so you want him to stay. Which is fine by me providing you let us have Paulo Dybala – I’m easy either way.

Of the pair, Morata’s probably more suited to the Premier League given his build, but Dybala’s the more naturally gifted as far as I’m concerned and has that hard-to-describe certain south American quality about him. That unpredictable, cut-above-the-rest-of-the-world brilliance.

Interestingly, if reports at the time were accurate, they’re both players we tried hard to sign before they opted to join Juventus. Sometimes, long-held interest by a club and manager can help to secure a deal at the second attempt, a bit like with Mesut Ozil, so hopefully that might be the case again with one of these two this summer.

Back Friday.

25th May 2016: Granit Xhaka’s a Gunner

Welcome back. So Granit Xhaka is officially a Gunner after Arsenal confirmed the midfielder’s signing from Borussia Monchengladbach this morning.

The Swiss international is 23, left-footed and reminds me of a more mobile Xabi Alonso, spaying passes long and short from a deep lying  central midfield position as he does, as well as being aggressive and proactive in winning the ball and also getting forward to pose a threat in the final third.

There’s hints of Thomas Vermaelen and Jack Wilshere in him too, and not just because he’s left-footed; the trio share a combative nature and all love to spank an effort goal-wards given half a chance.

As I’ve said before though, as much as I’m excited by Xhaka’s arrival and rate him highly having completed my customary YouTube scouting stint, who partners him in midfield next season remains a mystery at the moment.

Yet with Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla and Mohamed Elneny all candidates (if we ignore Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey as options centrally), I’m actually quite happy with any combination of two from that quartet.

I’d say Xhaxa-Cazorla would be my first-choice on paper, but until they play together there’ll always be doubts about their compatibility. Time will tell I guess. Anyway, here’s what Xhaka had to say about his move to Arsenal:

I am very happy to be here. It’s a dream come true and I’m happy. I remember I was young and the first game I watched was in the Premier League. It’s a big dream for me and now that I’m here I am very, very happy. I like so much (about Arsenal). I like the style of football [in the Premier League]. It’s aggressive and I like the way Arsenal play football. It’s not like other countries but it’s very, very nice here. I like that but Arsenal can also play football and that’s very good. I don’t think it’s the same (the Premier League compared to the Bundesliga). In Germany you can play aggressively but the referee will always blow his whistle, but in England that’s not the case. That’s better for me. I like to play football. I’m an aggressive player and also a leader. I’m only 23 but I captained a good team in Germany.

And on being compared to Bastian Schweinsteiger, as well as his own leadership qualities, he said:

If Ottmar Hitzfeld says that then it’s a big compliment. Ottmar is a big coach and a good gentleman. I don’t know if I’m a young Schweinsteiger, I’m another player. I am Granit Xhaka. When I was younger, even though I had a big brother, my parents would give me the house key every day. It’s in my head that I am a leader and captaining Monchengladbach was very good for me.

So Arsenal get Granit to reinforce their midfield and nominative determinism strikes again.

Now all we need is to wrap up deals for striker Clinical Hernandez and defender Impervious Boateng and we’re set.

See you tomorrow.

24th May 2016: Prize money champions + Cech on Ozil

Evening all. I’ll begin tonight with the news that Arsenal have become the first club in history to be awarded more than £100 million after the Premier League’s payments to clubs for last season were released today.

Amazingly, the eye-watering figure is set to be some 60 percent higher next season, as the English top-flight’s gravy train gains yet more granules. The money’s obviously obscene, but does raise hopes even further that we’ll be big players in this summer’s transfer market. And for a club nicknamed the Bank of England club in the 1930s, you have to say it’s rather fitting we’re the first to break through the 100 million barrier.

Hopefully we’ll use the dosh to entice a string of star names to the club and not hoard it like tight-arsed, unambitious, overly-cautious, spend-thrift, piss-takers. Personally, I’d spunk the lot on a Neymar or a Gareth Bale, but as this isn’t fantasy-land, I’ll settle for a Gonzalo Higuain, a Robert Lewandowski or a Paulo Dybala, with maybe an N’Golo Kante thrown in for good measure.

Moving on and Petr Cech has been speaking about Mesut Ozil, describing his team-mate as “brilliant”. He said:

He’s been brilliant all season. Not only is he providing all of these assists, but in a game he is very important and very useful and he has improved in terms of goals scored. You could see that his overall game has been brilliant all year, so he definitely deserves to get the Player of the Season award. He’s raised the bar for next season so good luck to him for being able to keep it that high. He has great vision and, whatever he sees, he sees it much better than anyone else. He can execute the pass as well or use that space, with his movement or his pass. His quality with the ball, his passing and vision is extraordinary. It’s very tricky for the goalkeeper because you know anything can happen. He sometimes sees things and you think, ‘There’s no way he can put the ball there because it’s too complicated’, but he always finds the way. Even with his finishing, he has the calmness in front of goal, picks his spot very well and he can put it wherever he wants. When you look at these types of players everyone says, ‘They’re technically gifted, can pass and have nice vision’, but when it comes to running people question it. With Mesut you can see that he’s not [afraid of] running, pressing or the physical presence. He’s someone who works hard every day to be on top of his game and that’s why he’s at the top of his game, because he works for it.

Very high praise indeed for a player who was our stand-out offensive performer last season without question.

Now if we could just tie him down to a new contract and sign a forward or two to make the most of his creativity we might actually turn the talk into trophies. It’s not like we don’t have the money …

Until tomorrow.