28th October 2015: Mishmash Arsenal take night off at Hillsborough. Oh well

Welcome back. So we went to Wednesday on Tuesday and were comprehensively beaten 3-0 to end Arsene Wenger’s hopes of a first-ever League Cup for another campaign.

I’ll be honest, as much as I hate seeing Arsenal lose against anyone, in any competition, at any time, I was struggling to give much of a f*ck at full-time last night.

Not because I think the competition is not worth winning, because all trophies are in my opinion, particularly one we haven’t lifted since, funnily enough, beating Sheffield Wednesday 22 years ago.

But because our current priorities are the Premier League and Champions League and the fact most of our best emerging talents are out on loan and we have several first-team players out injured means we have to be sensible with our selection at the moment.

I’m fairly certain that if everyone was fit, we’d have seen the likes of Mikel Arteta, Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky playing last night and I’d wager it would have been a very different game with a very different end result.

But everyone isn’t fit of course, and so I think Arsene had no option but to blood academy players such as Glen Kamara and Alex Iwobi last night, even if he had to admit after the game that the youngsters were not ready for this level.

I actually thought Arsene’s assessment was a little harsh on Iwobi, but spot on in terms of Kamara. As for poor young Ismael Bennacer, he looks about 12 years old, and when he was thrust into action as a substitute for Theo Walcott after just 20 minutes, played like he was 12 years old. A bit like Iwobi however, I thought Krystian Bielik, the fourth and final Arsenal debutant on the night, didn’t look out of his depth.

All that said, the match may have turned out very differently, even with a patched up side containing very inexperienced players, had we not suffered a double injury blow at the start of the game. First, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain felt a tightness in his hamstring with just four minutes played and was taken off as a precaution with Walcott, who had no time to warm up, replacing him.

That lack of preparation time for Theo proved disastrous as he felt something in his calf and was forced off himself to be replaced by Bennacer. The hosts went on to score three times, aided and abetted by what I can only describe as quarter-arsed defending by Arsenal. It wasn’t so much that we defended badly I felt, but that we just didn’t defend.

On their first goal for example, Per Mertesacker didn’t attempt to block the shot even though he was perfectly positioned and could have executed it in his sleep and for their third goal, having seen an unmarked opponent loitering in space at the back post, Per simply ignored the potential threat.

I know people are quick to say ‘well done’ to lower-league sides achieving giant killings but at the same time I think we should’t be patronizing. This was no Wrexham. It was a decent Championship team beating an Arsenal XI comprising of toddlers and first-teamers who didn’t even try to disguise their lack of appetite for the game. Anyway, well done to Sheffield Wednesday for beating us and I wish them the best of luck for the rest of the competition. I really mean it.

The biggest concern from the night for us however wasn’t elimination, it was the loss of two players to injury. The fact they were both candidates to cover for the injured Aaron Ramsey on the right obviously makes it worse because the only options we have, if they both fail to recover by Saturday for the game at Swansea, would appear to be Joel Campbell, or playing another player out of position.

Yet there’s little point in speculating what Arsene would do until the extent of the injuries to Walcott and the Ox are known and hopefully we’ll get a positive update from the boss tomorrow.

See you then.

27th October 2015: Capital One Cup Preview – Test of squad depth at Hillsborough

Evening all. It’s match-day again as we travel to Sheffield Wednesday in the fourth round of the Capital One Cup this evening looking to win our fifth straight game in all competitions.

The League Cup is of course the only domestic trophy Arsene Wenger is yet to win, despite having reached the final on two occasions in 2007 and 2011, and the boss is not taking tonight’s opponents lightly despite them playing a league lower in the Championship. He said:

They are a team who have just won at Rotherham. I watched the game and they have good, tall strikers. They have Barry Bannan who has played in the Premier League and they look to have a very compact team who are at a very good technical level. They have a strong team spirit so they will certainly work to create difficulties for us and I’m sure they have the quality to do that. We have to respond with a top-level performance.

I have to admit I know next to nothing about The Owls’ current team but the fact they sit ninth in the second tier of the English game suggests they will be tough opponents, particularly on home turf.

Arsene mentioned Barry Bannan above and looking through their squad list, he’s the only player I can recall watching. He’s a diminutive, left-footed passer primarily, but past his Premier League-level best and should prove no match for Zinedine Flamini in the middle of the park.

Tonight’s encounter will be the 126th meeting between the sides with Arsenal having won 55 and drawn 35. Those old enough will remember us beating Wednesday in both domestic cup finals at the end of the 1992-93 season when the sides were far more evenly matched than today, and we’ve won all five of our League Cup meetings to date.

The Owls’ current manager, the Portuguese Carlos Carvalhal, who’s coached the likes of Sporting Lisbon and Besiktas in his career, gives his side just a 1 in 10 chance of causing an upset this evening. Speaking to BBC Radio Sheffield, he said:

We will fight for the whole match and we will be competitive. It will be interesting to see how it goes. We have probably a 10% chance of getting through. It is not very much but it is better than zero. Zero means you can do nothing, 10% means we will have 10% of the chances and we have to grab them.

Carvalhal also praised The Gunners, calling us one of the best teams in the world and highlighting our superb, recent run of form, saying:

It will be a fantastic day and it will make people remember the past and we hope games like this can be normal for us in the future. We are playing one of the best teams in the world. I think they have scored 18 goals in their last six games and that includes games against Manchester United and Bayern Munich.

Having discussed how we might line-up tonight in yesterday’s post, I won’t go over it again but it’s clear Arsene will be making wholesale changes to the team that started Saturday’s win over Everton with Joel Campbell almost certain to be handed a rare start.

Th Costa Rican hasn’t been afforded much game time with the Gunners but when he has played, hasn’t looked out of his depth at all in my opinion. On the other hand he hasn’t forced the manager to pick him more regularly by coming up with a goal or even an assist but given his lack of minutes, that’s hardly surprising.

Arsene clearly rates the player though, and has been discussing Campbell’s strengths as well as praising his professionalism, saying:

I like Joel Campbell very much for two reasons. One is that he has outstanding individual quality, but he is also a team player. He works very hard for the team. I’m convinced he will get a chance here and that he will take it. He has another opportunity against Sheffield Wednesday and I’m hopeful that he will show that he has the quality to play for Arsenal. When you get the chance, you have to be ready. To be ready, you have to prepare. I must say that Joel Campbell and Calum Chambers are two players who do absolutely everything right. They are prepared, the preparation they have created will give them the confidence against Sheffield Wednesday and I’m confident they will play well.

With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain struggling for form and Aaron Ramsey out injured, Campbell could conceivably force his way into our first-choice starting 11 in the coming weeks.

But to do so, he’ll have to start making decisive, or at least eye-catching, contributions whenever he’s given a chance to play. Tonight would clearly be a great time for him to do just that.

Back tomorrow.


26th October 2015: Thoughts on team selection against Sheffield Wednesday

Welcome to a brand new week on TremendArse. We travel to Sheffield Wednesday in the Capital One Cup tomorrow evening of course, and Arsene Wenger has revealed the latest team news ahead of the game.

Per Mertesacker is available again after missing the win over Everton through illness, but Mikel Arteta remains sidelined along with Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck.

With our second-choice ‘keeper David Ospina also still nursing a shoulder injury, Arsene confirmed that Petr Cech would play against the Owls. All of which means we seem a bit stretched if we want to rest the majority of our first-choice, outfield players in preparation for Saturday’s tricky trip to Swansea.

If we assume Mertesacker and Chambers will form the central defensive pairing and be flanked by Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs, we look solid enough at the back, particularly with Cech in goal behind them.

But further forward things become a little more unclear in terms of who starts. Mathieu Flamini will deputise for compatriot Francis Coquelin you’d have thought, but his partner in central midfield in the last round of the competition at Tottenham, Arteta, is unavailable and there is no obvious candidate to step in if we rest Santi Cazorla as surely we ought to, given the Spaniard’s recent exertions and crucial role in our team.

My preference would be for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to be given a go centrally alongside Flamini if there isn’t a youngster deemed ready to step up. A change of position may actually be just what the Ox needs at the moment, given his struggles on the right so far this season as I discussed in yesterday’s post. A more central role would no doubt see him far more involved, enjoy more possession and hopefully facilitate him regaining some much-needed confidence.

That said, we’d then have one fewer option for the three positions behind the striker. Against Spurs, we played the Ox from the left, Ramsey in the middle and Joel Campbell on the right. So even if we draft in say, Alex Iwobi to play on the left, with Ramsey unavailable we have a vacancy behind, I’m assuming Theo Walcott, given the fact he didn’t play against Everton.

Arsenal academy expert Jeorge Bird’s ‘possible team’ on his blog has the same line-up I’ve suggested above, but with Glenn Kamara partnering Flamini in front of the defence, Ben Sheaf operating in the Mesut Ozil role behind Walcott, and the Ox spared a start.

I have to admit I’ve never seen either Kamara or Sheaf play and considering the Ox’s relatively modest number of minutes played so far this season, would be a bit surprised to see him left out even if he’s currently part of our first-choice selection.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see but a first glimpse this season of one or more of our academy prospects seems certain, and as somebody who enjoys appraising fresh, emerging talent almost as much as a glittering, high-profile purchase, I for one am looking forward to tomorrow’s game just that little bit more.

Obviously some of our very best young hopefuls, like Chuba Akpom, Gedion Zelalem and Dan Crowley are out on loan at the moment, but nonetheless it’ll be intriguing to see how the likes of Sheaf and Kamara fare against Championship opposition, not least because they may soon find themselves on loan in that division.

I’ll discuss the game at Hillsborough more in tomorrow’s preview but moving on for now and Arsenal were today fined by the FA for breaching certain regulations in relation to Chambers’ transfer from Southampton in the summer of 2014.

Apparently we dealt with an agent who wasn’t properly licensed but it seems it was a genuine oversight as opposed to a calculated flaunting of the rules and we move on, lessons learned and our procedures reviewed to rule out a repeat in the future.

Right, a bit brief but that’s all I have for today. Back pre-match tomorrow.

See you soon.

24th September 2015: Forgotten man Flamini fires us into fourth round

I’ll hold my hands up and admit I wanted Mathieu Flamini to be sold by Arsenal this past summer.

Not because I have any special dislike of the Frenchman, far from it. For instance, I fondly remember his contribution at left back in the run to the Champions League Final in 2006 and his superb partnership with Cesc Fabregas in the middle of the park a couple of seasons later.

And despite leaving the club on a Bosman free in the summer of 2008 when we clearly wanted him to stay, I didn’t begrudge him a move to one of the traditional giants of the European club game, AC Milan, particularly considering he’s half Italian and had very likely held a long-term ambition to try out Serie A.

But my reasoning was that if he stayed this summer, we wouldn’t sign somebody like Grzegorz Krychowiak to be a competitor with, or deputy for, Francis Coquelin in the defensive midfield role, and that we needed a younger and to be blunt, better model than Flamini is right now at the age of 31.

That stance hasn’t changed and an upgrade for one or both of Flamini and Mikel Arteta should still be a priority signing in my opinion. Yet last night, Flamini started our game at Tottenham in the third round of the Capital One Cup and came up with two goals – the second as well executed a finish as you could hope to see  – to win us the game. Ben fatto Flamster – that was some strike.

The team in the end was not far off the one The Mirror had predicted and I had relayed here yesterday, with the one alteration being Aaron Ramsey starting, not Alex Iwobi, which meant Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played wide left, with Ramsey in the middle, Campbell on the right and Flamini and Arteta anchoring the team behind them. Olivier Giroud led the line as expected but in truth, and far from unexpectedly, we failed to really find any kind attacking rhythm in a first half that was played at a pretty frenetic pace but had few phases of fluent football from either side.

The fact Tottenham also made changes – not as many as our ten alterations – but enough to disrupt any momentum three wins in a row had given them prior to last night, meant neither team looked a likely winner throughout the contest. But Flamini broke the deadlock after 26 minutes, expertly guiding the ball into the roof of the net after their ‘keeper had parried a stinging, low strike by the Ox from the edge of the box into his path.

The hosts leveled the contest 11 minutes after the restart though, when Nacer Chadli’s low cross from the left was diverted past David Ospina and into his own net by Calum Chambers. With Chelsea’s second goal last Saturday now also confirmed as a Chambers own goal, the former Southampton man rather unfortunately has two own goals in two games to his name.

Yet his performance alongside the returning Per Mertesacker in the centre of our defence last night was pretty impressive on the whole I thought, and at just 20 years of age, he still has plenty of time to improve and make the position his own in the the years to come.

But it was all about Flamini last night and after Kieran Gibbs had produced a brilliant, Ashley Cole-esque, goal-line clearance to deny Arsenal fan Harry Kane a first club goal of the season, Mathieu spotted a stray ball lumped high into the air by a Tottenham defender, decided he would decide this north London derby, strode forward with purpose and just the perfect number of steps, all the while with eyes fixed on the prize and produced a technically perfect first-time volley in the bottom corner. What. A. Finish.

Tottenham tried to muster a response and we should have done better with a couple of late counter-attacks but in the end, Flamini’s second goal of the night was enough to secure us a trip to Sheffield Wednesday in the fourth round of the competition. Afterwards, the obvious man-of-the-match made his feelings clear to his detractors in the press and dedicated his goals to the Arsenal fans:

I’m very happy for the team because it was a difficult and tough game. Personally I am happy because I scored two goals. I have heard many things in the press, many people have been talking about me but I have proved everyone wrong. I’ve been working hard and I was ready for the game. The two goals were for them (the fans).They’ve always supported me, they’ve all been behind me and they’ve played a big role in my career. It was important for me to celebrate with them and nobody else. It was the first time I’ve scored two times in a game. [It’s good] to score against Tottenham in a derby in such an important game for Arsenal and the fans.

Even if I remain unconvinced by Flamini as an adequate deputy for Coquelin this season, one thing beyond debate is the man’s character in the heat of battle. He showed in his very first game for us after returning from Milan, incidentally against Spurs at Emirates stadium, that he had the stomach for a fight and although his body may not allow him to zip in on opponents and nick the ball away like in his prime, he can, at times, prove both a decent defensive midfielder and as last night showed, an expert goal poacher.

Till Friday.

23rd September 2015: Capital One Cup Preview – Same squad, new team

Welcome back. We play our third away game in a week when we travel the short distance across north London to take on Tottenham in the Capital One Cup tonight, and I’m fully expecting Arsene Wenger to make wholesale changes to our starting line-up.

The importance of a north London derby needs no hyping, regardless of which competition it’s played in and a win would obviously help lift the gloom engulfing the club after back to back defeats. Yet for me, Saturday’s game at Leicester is far bigger and if The Mirror’s probable team has any kind of inside information behind it, Arsene Wenger seems to think likewise.

They’ve suggested we may make eleven changes from the weekend and line-up as follows:


Debuchy, Mertesacker, Chambers, Gibbs;

Arteta, Flamini;

Campbell, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Iwobi;


If proved accurate, the selection would provide youngster Alex Iwobi with a chance to show his promising pre-season performances were no flash in the pan, as well put a lot of the creative burden on the Ox in Mesut Ozil’s usual position behind the striker.

I spoke about the Ox’s struggles after both the Newcastle game and the loss against Dinamo Zagreb, and couldn’t put my finger on why he was playing so badly in comparison to his exciting pre-season play. Arsene hinted the issue was a mental block when he spoke to Arsenal Player, saying the Ox must trust his own abilities more:

It is a massive season for Alex. He is at the age now where he is getting picked regularly for the national team. He is picked by me as well for the team. It is a very important season because of the nature he is growing. You feel the evolution has a sense of responsibility. I think Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain must believe more in himself. He must believe more in his talent and that will help him develop as a player. I think sometimes he is too critical of himself. I would like him to play with the freedom and express the desire of his talent.

Looking back, some of the Ox’s best performances have come when he’s been deployed more centrally (I’m thinking AC Milan in the Champions League at Emirates stadium and Crystal Palace at home when he bagged a brace in a league match) and perhaps giving him a more central role tonight will see him more involved in the game, get more touches of the ball and help him rekindle the kind of form he’s shown he’s capable of.

Again, if the team above is the one we go with, only Iwobi really qualifies as an academy player given a chance to shine in a competition we’ve so often used to simultaneously blood numerous young players, in previous years. That’s largely down to most of our best kids being on loan at the moment and the boss further explained why he will opt for experience over youth this evening when he spoke to Arsenal Player:

It will affect it because at the moment the youth-team players, many of whom are ready to play for us, are away on loan. The next players who have the talent are not completely ready to play at that level. With the difficulty of the opponent as well, you do not want to throw them into a game where they look out of place. There are no fringe players [here], there is only a first-team squad. It is an opportunity for Arsenal to win an important game and for the players who play for the club to defend our club and qualify. Apart from that, we played with the team in Zagreb and we didn’t win, so we want to come back now and win our cup games because that’s vital for us.

One man who’s very likely to be rested from the start tonight is Theo Walcott and the England striker has been speaking about the intensity of north London derbies and explaining what makes them so special. He told Arsenal Player:

Local derbies at White Hart Lane are special. They are games that everyone wants to be part of and it’s most important now to get the right result, for the fans especially. At times it doesn’t matter how you play in these matches, you just [need to] get the result. People say the derby is now not as raw as it used to be, but trust me, a lot of the players know how big this is. Because it’s so loud at home and away, you just get a great buzz from it all. Any small error is picked up on straight away and you don’t want that to happen. When you hear the odd fan say stuff in the crowd, it just spurs you on. You just want to prove what they say [is] wrong. When you score, the emotions come out and you can see the emotions, especially in these matches. It means so much and we want to celebrate with the fans. We’re going to be completely on it, we have to be, and hopefully beat them at their place.

Whether it’s Theo or, as is more likely, Oliver Giroud, who leads our attack tonight, they’ll have to adapt pretty quickly to playing in front of a much-changed line-up, but I’m still confident we can click in time to take care of Tottenham. And after two defeats on the bounce and red cards in both those games, keeping our cool in what will undoubtedly be a hostile atmosphere is clearly vitally important.

I can’t wait.


20th September 2015: Assessing our start and Spurs selection

Evening all. As the dust settles on round six of the Premier League season, I guess we can say it hasn’t been a bad start. Especially when you consider that had we not been victims of inexplicably bad officiating, and the aggressor rather than the reactor had been sent off yesterday, we’d very likely be joint second in the table right now and just two points behind leaders Manchester City.

As it stands though, we’re fifth in the rankings, five points off the summit and head to White Hart Lane on Wednesday for a Capital One Cup game which could either provide the perfect platform for us to get back on track, or compound yesterday’s heartache, giving people the proof they’ve been waiting for that our players are sh*t, the manager’s past it and Jurgen Klopp must be parachuted in immediately.

Personally, I’m not sure I’m too concerned about Wednesday’s game. I mean, of course I always want Arsenal to win and especially against Tottenham but I’d far rather a win next Saturday in the league given a choice and if resting players in midweek will help us to beat the Foxes then that’s what I’d do.

Yet our squad, which looked bursting with options in pre-season, is suddenly looking rather bare following a swathe of out-going loans, injuries to Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and now Francis Coquelin and suspensions for Gabriel and Santi Cazorla, so Arsene doesn’t actually have much room for manoeuvre when rotating.

With Coquelin worryingly rumoured to be out for a month in the French press, and Cazorla suspended, perhaps the game against Spurs would be an ideal time to reunite Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey in central midfield, after the duo enjoyed such a stellar campaign as a combo a couple of seasons ago.

That would give the pair a chance to rekindle their partnership ahead of more important games and also make room for one of Theo Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain get a run of games on the right of the attack.

A lot will depend on the recovery of individual players of course, and the fact we had to play the whole second half with at least one less man than our opponents yesterday means the players will have exerted even more energy than usual. In fact, after Croatia, that’s twice in four days we’ve played with a numerical deficit for a large chunk of the game and so I’m guessing there will be at least a couple of players in urgent need of a breather.

Arsene was asked after the game yesterday about ‘putting things right’ against Tottenham and although I’d have said something like “we don’t need to put things right you tw*ts, we were playing just fine thank you, until that bald, attention-seeking joke of a referee ruined the game’, the boss himself, said:

Yes, we try but it’s the League Cup. We play on Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday and we have to see how we recover and how we go from there.

Meanwhile, Petr Cech picked out what he thought were positives from our defeat at his old club and said that we need to keep going as it’s still very early in the season:

I would say that a positive thing was that we made it difficult for them when we went down to 10, and then down to nine. We had a few half chances, so we didn’t make it easy for them in the last 15 minutes when we started to push a little bit more. The second red card then came and that was what they needed. You have to pick yourselves up and continue. That’s the only thing you can do because you don’t win or lose the league after five games. You need to carry on until the last minute of the campaign. Obviously we need to keep going.

After losing the match in that manner, having a vital player like Coquelin injured and picking up suspensions for two other players, the only way I’ll view that game as having anything positive come from it, is if Mike Dean is relieved of his role for the rest of the season and Diego Costa is retrospectively banned for five years. The c*nts.

See you next week.