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.

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.

Laters.

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.

17th November 2015: International involvement + Ozil on improvement

Welcome back. There are a few Arsenal players in action for their countries tonight, but not as many as there might have been, after the match between Belgium and Spain was called off amid security concerns.

The cancellation of the fixture means that Santi Cazorla will have had a full week off since playing competitively when we face West Brom on Saturday, which is obviously welcome news for Arsenal.

I’m writing this with one eye on the television as England host France at Wembley, where Kieran Gibbs has started the match for the hosts and Laurent Koscielny for the visitors. Olivier Giroud has been left on the bench for the right-footed Oliver Giroud – Andre-Pierre Gignac.

Elsewhere this evening, Alexis Sanchez, Petr Cech and David Ospina could all feature for their respective nations, whilst Gabriel and Joel Campbell will play for Brazil and Costa Rica respectively, if selected tomorrow evening.

With plenty of our international players already in London due to injury and Mesut Ozil given a pass for these internationals by Germany, it means we should be relatively well-rested as a squad for the weekend, which considering how jaded we looked against Tottenham, is just as well. Collectively we needed a breather.

Our one big fear, fatigue-wise, remains Sanchez of course, but with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain nearing a return to full fitness, perhaps we can rest the Chilean in some of our upcoming games as some have already suggested. We’ll see.

Moving on and onto some words from Mesut. Our assist king has been discussing the development of the Arsenal team and his own ability to dictate games. He told Arsenal Player:

I think as a team you can see that we’ve become more mature. We’ve learnt from our mistakes and you can see on the pitch that we’re more steady. We’ve had some setbacks this season but we’ve learnt from them and it shows on the pitch that my team-mates are looking for me even more and I’m able to control the game better. You can see that we function well as a team. It doesn’t matter who plays from the start, we’re always there. You need a big squad if you are to be successful and that’s why things are working well. When you look at the past seasons, we’ve always been a technically-strong team but when we played against big teams, we dropped points. In the second half of last season and in this year so far, we’ve proved ourselves against the biggest teams. You learn from your mistakes and we can measure ourselves with the best. That distinguishes us as a team.

He’s right of course, the maturity of this Arsenal team in terms of ‘game-management’ has been very noticeable this term and I think a big reason for that must be the Cech influence.

When I heard him yell “small details” to Per Mertesacker at the end of our Community Shield victory over Chelsea at the start of the season, it was confirmation, for me at least, that Cech would have a hugely positive effect on our squad off the pitch as well as on it.

Yet, another big reason we’re able to control games is the mesmeric ability of Mesut. He’s already produced 10 assists, broken records and generally just been a joy to watch. I said it in a recent post but if he maintains his current form until the end of the season, he’ll take some stopping from being crowned the best player in England this season.

Til tomorrow.

12th October 2015: Wenger gets scientific and William Carvalho loves Arsenal

Greetings Gooners. The US space agency NASA has revealed ambitious plans to establish a human colony on Mars by 2030. Can I just be the first to recommend they recruit Diego Costa for the ‘Earth Reliant‘ phase of the mission? Grant a favour for the entire human race and fire the cheat into space.

Speaking of science, Arsene Wenger has been discussing studies into the link between scoring the first goal in a Champions League game and winning the match, as well as which one factor gives a side playing at home the biggest advantage over their visitors. Talking with Arsenal Player, Professor Arsene said:

When you look at the history of all these games, most are decided by the first goal. A new scientific study within the Champions League last year found that, more than ever, the team who scores first wins. Why? Because it puts the team in a very strong position to be able to counter-attack, and that is the easiest way to attack without opening yourself up. Having said that, I think on a longer distance the current numbers about away games will be reversed. I recently read a scientific study that covered all types of sport and what came out was that home teams are still favourites to win games, and not because of the motivational factor of the players but purely because of the support of the crowd. In a variety of sports, they came to the scientific conclusion that the biggest advantage of the team that plays at home is the support of the crowd. That’s not my impression; it’s the result of a scientific study. They eliminated all the other factors that could come in. It was a simple conclusion – it’s the home support that gives the advantage of the team. This home support can also turn against the home team if you don’t start well and if you are 1-0 down, but it also shows that influence is very strong.

Nothing ground-breaking there to be honest, so I’m not sure they needed to bother with a ‘scientific study’ because most football followers would have given you those conclusions if you’d have simply asked them.

Anyway, now we know it’s scientifically proven beyond any shadow of a doubt so we can all rest at ease; positive home support really is like having a 12th man and if we want to beat Bayern Munich next Tuesday, we just need to draw first blood. Simple.

I’m not sure about you, but I’d have preferred a study into why Arsenal win an abnormally low percentage of games when certain referees (Mike Dean) are in charge. The conclusions from that study would have been much more interesting as far as I’m concerned and nowhere near as predictable.

I mean, it could be pure coincidence, it could be that he’s a closet Tottenham fan, or maybe, because he’s just a sh*t ref – but at least we’d know and could rationalize the newest ridiculous decision he gives against the Gunners, which statistically, is certain to be the next time he’s in charge of a game involving us.

Meanwhile, Sporting Lisbon’s defensive midfielder William Carvalho, linked with a move to north London about a billion times over the last few years, has been speaking about his admiration of Arsenal in an interview with Portuguese newspaper A Bola. He said:

I am where I want to be right now, which is Sporting, but if I ever do leave then it’s a sign that my work here was well done. I dream of winning the Primeira Liga here. I prefer not to say too much, but there is a club with which I’ve always been fond of: Arsenal. Because of Thierry Henry, a player with whom I have always enjoyed watching. Maybe this is why I look with so much affection to the Premier League.

I’ve not seen Carvalho play more than a couple of times but according to many observers, he’s a smart, efficient, powerhouse of a performer in the middle of the park, boasting strength, size, decent passing but above all, a reassuringly robust presence in front of a defence.

He was named player of the tournament at last summer’s under 21 European Championships and we were rumoured to be lining up a bid before he was sidelined for a few month through injury, ruling out any chance of a transfer materializing.

I’d guess he’s just one of a number of players in that position we’ve scouted and considered so time will tell if Arsene and his staff rate Carvalho as highly as he rates us.

Back tomorrow.

11th October 2015: Side-lined strikers refuse to sulk

Sunday salutations. Man, do I hate club-football-free weekends. The internationals just don’t cut it. Bad teams, bad pitches and disjointed football for the most part. Anyway, the worst of it’s over now and by the middle of the week we’ll be able to turn our attentions back to the return of the real stuff.

In the meantime though, Olivier Giroud has been reflecting on losing his status as Arsenal’s first-choice front-man and showing just what a team player he really is, by admitting Theo Walcott deserves to start ahead of him given the England man’s fine recent form. Speaking to L’Equip, the Frenchman said:

It is something new for me. Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. I cannot simply take refuge in work. At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo [Walcott] for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change. I was in his place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me. It has been for several matches now that I have played less, that is for sure, but I do not need to be worried. I need a bit more game time but also to believe more in my abilities.

It’s been noted by many already but between them, Giroud and Walcott tick almost every box of attributes you’d want from a striker. The only ‘ability’ neither of them possess is perhaps being able to fashion a goal by themselves out of nowhere. Although if Theo gains more and more confidence from maintaining his current form, I actually think that’s something he’s capable of.

Beating a few men before slotting one away, or lashing one in from distance – I don’t think that’s beyond him. I’m sure Arsene Wenger, as he does all his players, will be urging Theo to ‘try things’ in the final third and I wouldn’t bet against him surprising people with what he’s capable of just as he has done by making a success of the striker’s role.

Funnily enough, one of the criticisms leveled at Walcott – not being aggressive enough – by many observers including myself, also applies to Giroud, despite him being built to bully defenders. He’s shown he can link the play and possesses fine close control at times, as well as decent finishing, but he needs to use his physicality far more. Hopefully a new found focus from losing his starting spot will bring that out but he needs to make sure it’s channeled correctly and not like it was in Croatia against Dinamo Zagreb.

Meanwhile, another Arsenal forward, Joel Campbell, has been speaking about his best traits as a player and insists despite not enjoying the best of times in terms of minutes played and getting on the score-sheet, he’s ‘always thinking about scoring’. The Costa Rican said:

I think I’m both (a creator and a goalscorer). I know it’s been many games with scoring, but this doesn’t put pressure on me, although obviously I’m always thinking about scoring. Although I’m not in my best form, I always give 100% on the pitch. I always try to give assists, to help my teammates and to fight for every ball.

I have to say I’ve far from made up my mind on Joel. I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from him in terms of effort, ability on the ball, pace etc and can’t really remember him doing a lot wrong. That said, he’s clearly not quite ready to make an impact on the team and such is our position in terms of striving to challenge for the top honours, we can’t really afford to allow a player to develop in the team at the moment.

It’s certainly a far different situation to just a few years ago when we had several young, unpolished players populating our first team, but times have changed, and I think if Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck return to full fitness by January, the best option for the player may be a loan spell away. He’s definitely one I’d like us to keep hold of however, because I think he has it in him to improve an awful lot given regular games in the right team.

See you next week.

9th October 2015: Gabriel gets real as he talks Brazil

Welcome back. A very brief one today because I’m as short on time as Jose Mourinho is in class, Chelsea are in history and Tottenham are in titles.

Gabriel, our feisty, no-nonsense, gem of a centre-back find from Brazil, has been speaking to Arsenal Player about his tough upbringing in south America, and a desire to improve his mother’s standard of living, as being the chief motivator behind his rise to stardom. He said:

She lived in a shack in a favela. I talk about it because I am not ashamed of saying it, and today I am proud of being able to help her, to give her a better life, and me as well because I always dreamed about it. Thanks to God, things are coming true. I have seen many things on the outdoor neighbourhood pitches. I have seen death, I have witnessed robberies, I’ve been robbed in Sao Paulo. I’ve seen many things. I practically grew up with this. But thanks to God I took a path in my life because, for all that I have seen, for the bad things I have witnessed, my life could have been very different. But I was strong. I thought about my mother’s story and told myself that my mother couldn’t go through this anymore. She can’t, she must have a better life. So thanks to God I took a different path and am here today. I am fulfilling a dream I had since I was little, and thanks to God things are moving in the right direction.

The former Villarreal defender also spoke of his hope he will be seen as a role model in his home country, where the pitfalls in society are plentiful, but a love of the beautiful game and the dream of becoming a professional offer youngsters a route to a better future:

Everybody knows about the corruption happening, and every day is a surprise. So I think Brazilians don’t like seeing that, but the kids have so many opportunities to play. Every neighbourhood has a football academy for the kids to follow this path, which is something I also want for the neighbourhood where I was born. I want to serve as a mirror to them, for them to see that I have gone through difficult times and managed to do it, and see that they can do it too. It’s not just me. If you work hard and respect the people above us, you can do it.

It’s often been said elsewhere that one of the reasons south America continues to churn out more quality footballers than any other area of the planet is because ‘street football’ is still thriving, unlike in Europe and particularly here in England.

I spoke to Tim Vickery, the Brazil-based football journalist for the BBC, about this subject almost ten years ago now and asked him why, in his opinion, other nations lagged behind Brazil in skill etc. He cited the demise of street football as being a major reason. The other factor of course is the one mentioned by Gabriel above – a burning desire to escape poverty which drives kids to give it all their all on a football pitch and in their dedication to the game.

That point was made about Alexis Sanchez recently and although this is a very interesting topic, it’s also one that deserves far greater time and research so I’ll leave it for another time, but I do still have that interview with Tim somewhere so will dig it up and perhaps post bits of it on here at some point.

I know there were internationals taking place tonight involving Arsenal players, as there were last, but I’m afraid I’ll have to leave discussing them until tomorrow or Sunday.

Whatever you’re doing, have a good one.

Laters.