3rd August 2015: Wenger goes all Aretha Franklin on attention-seeking Mourinho

Welcome back Blogees. Well, that turned out to be quite an enjoyable weekend I thought. I had harboured that all too familiar feeling of dread leading up to Sunday’s game at Wembley, given our struggles in beating Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea over his two spells in charge at Stamford Bridge, but the result was well worth the stomach churning in the end.

But to begin, a word or two on the ‘incident’ involving the two managers as the Arsenal team and staff walked down the Wembley stairs after lifting the Community Shield and were faced by Mourinho, who had waited to ‘congratulate’ them one by one in a not-at-all-for-the-cameras, public display of his newly-found class.

Having greeted every player like a long lost son, I’m certain the hug he was really hankering for, was from Arsene Wenger. But unfortunately for him, despite over half a century as a human being, he’s yet to realise that to earn respect, you must show respect, as the old adage advises, and this little act of appreciation for his side’s slayers on the day, was not nearly enough to make up for the endless insults he’s aimed in our manager’s direction over the years.

Arsene wasn’t in reconciliatory mood

Aretha Franklin said it best back in 1967 but Arsene was pretty clear with his message for the Chelsea manager when questioned as to why he’d blatantly blanked Mourinho when an olive branch was so glaringly in the offing – a classic use of tactical ignoring from our manager.

He said:

We live in a job where you have to respect people and respect everybody. It’s a difficult job and we just think it’s vital – and I’ve said this many times in managers’ meetings – that managers respect each other.

It did make me wonder though, whether Wenger had Rafa Benitez in mind when uttering those sentiments. Last week saw Mourinho plumb the depths of even his cocksure crassness, by ridiculing the Real Madrid manager’s waistline, in response to an admittedly provocative comment about ‘clearing up Jose’s messes’ from Benitez’s wife.

Her words were far from wise but was Mourinho then entitled to such a personal riposte? He could, after all, have kept the conversation to football and spoken only about what he perceives are Rafa’s managerial short-comings but oh no, he had to call him fat and tell his wife to concentrate on her supposed role in the kitchen. He just goes too far. And in terms of his estimation in our manager’s eyes, it’ll evidently take a sustained period of Jose not being a complete w*nker, before Arsene affords him even a courteous “hello”.

By the way, before anyone starts, I’m allowed to call Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard a little tubby now and again because this is supposed to be a blog with a strong Arsenal bias, written I hope, in what is a clearly jovial, piss-takey tone most of the time. Plus the pair of them are undeniably, for professional athletes at least, rather rotund.

Right, more than enough of that. Back to the game.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s match-winning goal was special enough I thought, but seeing Arsenal beat that horrible lot at their own game, yet at the same time, still attack with all the verve and geometric precision that are unmistakable hallmarks of an Arsene Wenger side, was, for me, the perfect way to win the match.

It wasn’t so much us “leaving our philosophy in the dressing room”, as Mourinho put it post-match, more a case of Arsene tailoring his doctrine to encompass both defensive pragmatism and our inherent panache for pass-and-move purity of football. Except, he implemented the new style at the turn of the year, when Francis Coquelin’s snarling, snapping emergence as our midfield terrior, came to the fore – not just for yesterday’s game.

Indeed, the two are not mutually exclusive anyway. Wenger once said that “making a good pass was also pragmatic”, and having witnessed the effectiveness of Santi Cazorla’s nimble feet and precise, pressure-relieving passing in our defensive third this calendar year, as well as Barcelona’s build-from-the-back dominance in recent times, ball-possession can still be king at both ends of the pitch – providing you are careful, creative and forward-thinking with it.

For instance, Chelsea enjoyed 57 percent of the possession yesterday – hardly dominance – yet did less with the ball than Arsenal managed with their 43 percent share. Barring Loic Remy’s good cross from the left in the first half which presented Ramires with that sitter he failed to convert, and a genuinely outstanding body-feint by Cesc Fabregas to create an opening for Eden Hazard in the second, Chelsea looked as threatening as a baby brandishing a balloon. Their attacking game amounted to no more than lumping it into the box from set-plays and taking long-range shots.

We, by contrast, defended in numbers and with tenacity but also stayed true to our tradition of creating goalscoring opportunities with crisp passing from the back (as for our goal) and bags of creative thinking – all when missing our best attacker in Alexis Sanchez.

This coming campaign should be fun – on and off the pitch.

Til Tuesday.

2nd August 2015: A rocket from the Ox gives Arsenal’s season lift-off

Evening all and what a fine, glorious one it is too. I suppose I ought to start with our one-nil Community Shied win over Chelsea this afternoon, which was secured courtesy of a left-footed rocket of a strike by Alex ‘Cesar Azpilicueta’s my b*tch’ Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Of course, it was ‘only’ the Community Shield and the hard stuff isn’t available until we entertain West Ham on the opening weekend of the Premier League season, but still, I like the buzz today’s result has produced. Oh yes.

A second, successive Community Shield secured for Arsenal

Although the scoreline wasn’t as emphatic as I had suggested it might be earlier this week, the Ox did partly do my prediction proud, with his bullying of Chelsea’s Spanish fullback, who admittedly escaped a nervous breakdown in the end, but not the referees notebook, for a desperate shirt-pull on his fancy-haired tormentor.

And immediately following his attempt to undress the Ox, the floundering fullback was shown mercy by his manager Jose Mourinho and replaced with Kurt Zouma shortly before the 70 minute mark. If Azpilicueta is the league’s best left back, then best of luck to the rest of them when they come up against the ferociously effervescent Ox in today’s form.

I won’t go into a blow by blow account of the action, mainly because Chelsea didn’t land any, but also because you probably saw the game and by the off chance you didn’t, there are plenty of places to find a detailed match report. Instead I’ll start with team selection and the headline news was that Theo Walcott assumed the central striking role ahead of Olivier Giroud and that Jack Wilshere missed out on the occasion entirely as he’d picked up an ankle knock in training yesterday.

Having seen the starting 11, I wondered how we’d line up. Who would play from the left? Would it be Mesut Ozil? Or Oxlade-Chamberlain with Aaron Ramsey playing from the right? Or vice versa? But no, it was the one player I never envisaged being moved from the middle after his blossoming in that position last year and his outstanding displays there so far this pre-season, Santi Cazorla.

As it was, Ramsey joined Francis Coquelin in his preferred central midfield area and Ozil was given his usual licence to roam elegantly across the pitch ahead of them. And in truth, although I could see the logic of using Ramsey’s greater physical presence and stamina against Nemanja Matic and Ramires in the middle of the park, it did, in the early stages of the contest at least, seem as though Santi’s absence from the middle disrupted our rhythm a little.

But as the game wore on, I think Arsene Wenger was completely vindicated in his decision, as the Ramsey-Coquelin combo proved too formidable a pairing for Chelsea to bypass.

The only goal of the game arrived in the 24th minute and the move began with Petr Cech playing it to Per Mertersacker at the back. The German’s pass forward in search of Cazorla looked, for a split-second, like being intercepted by Willian, but Cazorla was sufficiently switched on and slid to poke the ball back to Koscielny. That was a vital piece of play by the Spaniard, not only because it eventually led to our goal, but also because a slower mind there would have seen Chelsea regain possession in a very threatening position.

Anyway, Koscielny then returned the ball to Cazorla and he took two typically deft touches in releasing Ozil with a lobbed pass. Ozil then sauntered to the left byline, took his time and played a precise square pass into Walcott in the middle. Theo adroitly moved it on to the Ox who was in space on the right and he stepped inside Azpilicueta, steadied himself and let rip with his left foot into the far top corner, before jogging off doing the old ‘too hot to handle’, ‘what a goal, if I do say so myself’-style celebration.

There were chances at either end after that, with Ramires – the Brazilian Charlie Adam/Lee Cattermole hybrid – taking a break from trying to maim our midfielders and getting himself forward to head over the bar with the goal gaping, and Eden Hazard blazing over a chance Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi would have taken in their sleep, when one-on-one with Cech in the second period.

For us, both Cazorla and substitute Kieran Gibbs had great chances scuppered by Thibaut Courtois late on and Giroud had a couple of efforts, which looked goal-bound, blocked. Overall, although Chelsea enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, I think we produced the better phases of football and constructed more goal scoring opportunities.

Of course, Mourinho didn’t agree with that analysis and said that ‘the best team lost’ after the game but then Mourinho also thinks Hazard’s the second best player in the world, so…

And speaking of the ‘The Special Ego’, the fact Arsene has managed to finally secure a win over his Chelsea, at the 105th time of asking or whatever it is, means that that particular monkey has been yanked from our backs and buried in the same hole as the ‘x years without a trophy’ nonsense, so often used to belittle our manager’s achievements this past, financially handicapped decade or so.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more thoughts on the game and the post match reaction, including Arsene’s priceless lack of acknowledgement of Mourinho’s presence at the bottom of the Wembley steps.

Till then, Community Shield winners.

1st August 2015: Workaholic Wenger

Evening all and welcome to a brand new month on TremendArse.

I’ll keep this very brief today as it’s Saturday night and hardly anyone will be reading, seeing as though Newsnow want at least six months of posts out of me before they consider linking to my site. And trying to drive traffic to a fledgling Arsenal blog without them, is a bit I guess, like attempting to stand out as a tw*t in the Chelsea dressing room – I mean there’s just so many.

Anyway, first up (and maybe last) is Arsene Wenger and his admission that whilst most of the footballing world lounged around, topping up their tans and spending precious time with their families, he spent the vast majority of his summer break at our London Colney training ground.

Joking that he couldn’t go to the beach during his holidays out of fear of ending up splashed across the back pages – as he found himself following his sea-side showing in Brazil last summer – he said:

I had no break at all. I recovered at the training ground. I had a few days off, but I spent most of my summer at the training ground. Not the whole holiday, but most of it. When I go on the beach I am in the press the next day. Where do you want me to go? So I go to the training ground.

Now I would say I feel for the boss, and that the intrusion into his privacy during his well-deserved downtime is a tad unnecessary, but he clearly loves what he does so much that he probably sees taking a break as more of a chore, than a chance to recharge his batteries. If Alexis Sanchez needs tying down to prevent him from over training, then the same can surely be said for Arsene and his managerial duties.

Arsene during a game against Chelsea in 2012

Anyway, workaholic Wenger has also been discussing his belief that although his current team may have the best blend of youth and experience in a decade, they must prove their title credentials through performance, particularly as restrengthened opposition lies in wait.

He said:

Before, we always lost big players and then everyone would quickly question us. This is the first time for a long time we have all had confidence in our environment. Certainly the most experienced (Arsenal team since the Invincibles). We have always had talented teams but most of the time, after 2006 when we moved into the stadium, they were very young. We have the better balance between talent and experience now. And when you go into April you need that experience. Have we enough talent? I believe so, yes. And the expectations are very high. You cannot win the Cup and finish third in the league and then say: ‘Look, next year we want to do nothing.’ So the ingredients are there but I am long enough in the job to know we have to prove that with points. Chelsea were dominant last season. Manchester United are very active on the transfer market, Liverpool as well and Manchester City have bought [Raheem] Sterling and will certainly buy more.

Finally, the manager had a few words of praise for new signing Petr Cech and, not for the first time, revealed that Arsenal were on his case before Chelsea signed him in 2004, thanks to a recommendation from one of his assistants’ sons. He said:

One of my assistants Boro Primorac has a son who was playing in Rennes and he had told us they had a very good goalkeeper. So we knew about him. Before he went to Chelsea we were interested and the guy who brought him to Chelsea, one of the agents, was a good friend of mine. He told me there was an exceptional keeper at Rennes. But I think Chelsea were a bit quicker than us. He is very serious, he trains well. He has a good combination between quality, agility and size and he always looked like he was built for English football. I think he is a very bright goalkeeper as well and he has an intimidating presence, that is for sure. He makes the goals look small. That’s the kind of charisma he has.

Here’s hoping that Cech makes our goal look minuscule at Wembley tomorrow afternoon, whilst Thibaut Courtois makes their’s look as big as Frank Lampard’s gargantuan belly.

Back tomorrow and also, COME ON ARSENAL!

31st July 2015: Walcott and Cazorla sign extensions ahead of Wembley acid test

Happy Friday Gooners.

Some good news to begin with today because as widely expected for a while now, Theo Walcott has signed a new long-term contract with the club, and it’s reportedly a four-year deal which elevates the England international into our top pay bracket on around £140,000 a week.

And in a double boost for squad stability, Santi Cazorla has also extended his agreement at Arsenal, putting to bed recurring rumours of a switch back to Spain for the awe-inspiringly ambidextrous, former Málaga man.

Santi’s so good, he can take corners with either foot

Frankly, I’m elated. And it sounds like the manager is too. He told Arsenal.com:

We’re delighted to have extended the contracts of Santi and Theo. Both are top quality players who are hugely important and influential to our squad. As well as their huge contributions on the pitch, they both have a great deal of experience and are very popular off the pitch. We’re very pleased with them both signing contract extensions, as it provides our squad with further stability of quality.

I’ve spoken about the qualities of both players in recent posts (here, here and here) and in particular, the Spaniard’s vital importance in the smooth functioning of the side’s pass and move style in all areas of the pitch, so today’s announcement is very, very welcome indeed.

The news should also give the whole club a boost, and strengthen the belief amongst the squad, that if the stick together over a few years, on-pitch telepathy will forge, and team chemistry should become just acidic enough to melt away any opposition standing in our path to the biggest prizes.

And Theo Walcott, who if I’m honest, needs to work on lowering his pH levels, as he’s a little too neutral when it comes to corroding the more physical of opposition defences, has been speaking to Arsenal Player about Sunday’s Community Shield clash with Chelsea, highlighting the Wembley showpiece as an opportunity for the team to lay down a marker ahead of the start of the new Premier League campaign next weekend.

He said:

It’s going to be very tight and I think both squads have improved. Chelsea will grow as well but I think the way that we ended the season, just the whole culture around the club now and everything about it, there’s just something special that will happen this year. Some people will think it’s just another pre-season game but us players want to go out and win every game we can. A lot of kids dream of playing at Wembley so you’ve always got to take it in, put 100 per cent in and I will, like all my team-mates will do too. We won’t want to let our fans down because they’re going to make the game special for us, I’m sure. It’s important to actually put out a message to the Premier League that we’re ready this year, against the title champions. We did it last year against Manchester City so there’s no reason we can’t do it again.

Theo’s England colleague Jack Wilshere, has also been speaking to the official site, explaining how and why, the Gunners are geared up for an assault on the title. He said:

We worked a lot on the first five seconds when we lose the ball. If we can win the ball back in the opposition’s half where, most of the time, when we win it we’ve got the players up front and the quality in midfield to find them… then we’re always going to look dangerous. We didn’t start the season well last year but the way we finished it… if we had played the whole season like that then we could have been champions. If we continue our form from the end of last season when we dominated games with our possession, and we won the ball back in better positions high up the pitch, then we’ve got a real chance. We want to win the league, of course we do. We feel we’ve been together a few years now, we’ve brought in world-class players who have had time to settle, we’ve added a world-class keeper with all of his experience, he’s been there and he’s done it, he’s won everything. So we really feel we’re in a strong position.

Finally for today, the club have confirmed that two of our young prospects have secured loan moves away from the club, with Jon Toral joining Championship side Birmingham City for the entire campaign – which will be his second, successive season in English football’s second tier following his spell at Brentford last term – and Dan Crowley linking up with League One side Barnsley until January.

A third youngster, defender Isaac Haydon, has also reportedly left on loan to work under Steve Bruce at Championship side Hull City for the season, but Arsenal are yet to announce the move.

Best of luck to them all because realistically, with the wealth of talent already at the club, both young and experienced, they have to really impress if they stand any chance of breaking into our first team set-up.

Till Saturday.

30th July 2015: Ramsey reveals armband ambition

Evening all. It’s Thursday already, which means just three more sleeps until we get to see Arsenal finally end our Chelsea hoodoo, with an emphatic five-nil win in the Community Shield at Wembley on Sunday.

According to sources close to the player, Aaron Ramsey will open the scoring with a speculative thirty yard effort, which will ricochet in off Thibaut Courtois’s perilously long nose, before Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain bags a brace – bullying Cesar Azpillicueta into an on-pitch breakdown along the way.

The scoring will then be rounded off by a goal apiece from second-half subs Alex Iwobi and Jeff Reine-Adelaide, with the latter claiming the Man of the Match award despite only playing for four and a half minutes.

Well, either that, or Jose Mourinho will park his bus like the bus-parking, game-wrecking, misogynistic, enemy of football that he is, and they’ll nick it with an offside, fluke of a winner after their incessant diving and referee-haranguing, sees us reduced to eight men.

Anyway, Ramsey has been speaking to ESPN FC at a New Balance boot launch recently, about his worst period as a professional footballer, which followed the career-threatening injury he sustained at Stoke City back in 2010.

Here’s what he said:

It was a difficult time for me, but it’s important in those times never to doubt your ability, because if you start doubting yourself then you’re going to go down a slippery slope — and you never know, you can find yourself shooting down the leagues. That was important, never doubting myself — I always knew what I was capable of doing. It was just trying to figure out how I could do it. The boss [Arsene Wenger] always believed in me. He gave me a new contract in that period and he’s always known what I could do.It was just a case of figuring out how to put things to the back of my mind, psychologically, with what went on with my injury. Then I quickly rediscovered my form.

The Welshman then went on to explain how he worked on his game to become more clinical in front of goal – an endeavour which resulted in him scoring a remarkable 18 goals from 38 appearances in all competitions, from a deep-lying central midfield starting position during the 2013-14 season:

I’ve always been able to get into the box, but in the past I’d been very rash in my finishing, I wasn’t clear with what I was doing in the final third. When it came to shooting, I was very rushed, I wasn’t hitting the ball cleanly. Then [two seasons ago] I composed myself and was able to do it in front of goal, and I reaped the rewards from that.

Ramsey lining up another effort on goal

And he also expressed how he prefers playing centrally, would love to be handed the club captaincy one day having worn the armband in a preseason fixture last summer, and had a few warm words for his manager’s fabled skills in developing young, emerging talent. He said:

I much prefer playing in the centre of the park, that’s where I feel comfortable. I like to be involved as much as I can in the game, and in the middle you’re definitely the heartbeat of the team. When you’re on the right, you can go minutes without seeing the ball, and that’s a long time when you’re out on the pitch. I’ve made a load of appearances now, I definitely feel one of the leaders, but I feel this group of players all have their own leadership skills. It was nice to be given the armband, even though it was just a preseason friendly, but it’s something I would like to do one day, to be captain. It’s a great honour and achievement to do that, I’ve had experience of doing it with my country, it would be nice to do that [for Arsenal] one day. He [Wenger] likes to get young kids with talent and natural ability and turn them into world-class players. He’s done that on many occasions in the past – he’ll continue doing that. His experience, knowing how to deal with [young players] is quite remarkable. He gets his satisfaction from seeing them develop as a player – and as a person as well – and gives them information on the pitch, and opportunities to go out there, play, and express themselves.

I have to confess that Ramsey isn’t a player I’ve ever thought of as captaincy material before, I’m not sure why really, because if you’re looking for a player who leads by example and embodies the class of the club on and off the pitch, then there aren’t many better equipped than the former Cardiff man.

I suppose his relatively young age, plus the fact he doesn’t appear to be the most vocal of players on the pitch has something to do with that, but now that he’s thrown his hat in the ring himself, I’d be the last to trample on it.

All I would say is that there are plenty of contenders right now for that particular accolade and it’ll be interesting to see who Arsene goes with long-term, with Arteta now not first choice and in the twilight of his Arsenal career, and vice captain Per Mertesacker not too far behind him.

All that said, I’m not really one who places a great deal on emphasis on who wears the armband, especially when there are no absolutely outstanding candidates for the job like Patrick Vieira or Tony Adams were in the past.

If you’re basing it on experience then Petr Cech has a shout, on vocals, then I suppose Per gets it, on effort, it’s Francis Coquelin or Alexis Sanchez, on tenacity Coquelin or Wilshere, and if it’s based on coolness under pressure I’d give it to Laurent Koscielny.

In other words, take your pick. As long as they all compete as best they can, pass well and play with organised freedom, scoring goals and keeping clean sheets, I wouldn’t care if Hector Bellerin wore it, so long as whoever does is lifting at least one of the biggest prizes come May.

Back tomorrow.

28th July 2015: Wenger and Mourinho singing from the same hymn sheet – ish

Evening all. I think it’s probably fair to say that Jose Mourinho and the man he’d secretly love to be, our very own Arsene Wenger, don’t see eye to eye – and not just because the Portuguese manager is comfortably smaller in stature.

The pair harbour a rivalry not borne so much of on-pitch battle royales, tied by a mutual, albeit grudging, respect for one another, as Arsene shared for so long with Sir Alex Ferguson, and not least because Mourinho’s Chelsea have never lost to Wenger’s Arsenal.

But more one rooted in political and ideological differences which have often descended, thanks mainly entirely to the Blues’ boss, into distasteful and juvenile name-calling contests, and on one memorable occasion, into physical, touch-line jostling.

Arsene promising the ref that he’ll stop pushing Jose around

Yet as their respective sides prepare to face off once more on Sunday for the Community Shield at Wembley, both have focused on the importance of improvement in their existing playing staff, as being vital in what is currently an ultra-competitive and cash rich top portion of the Premier League.

Forget for a minute the duplicitous drivel spouted by Mourinho yesterday regarding Arsenal’s recent transfer net spend in comparison with his own side, and his calculator quote, because it is, frankly, embarrassingly easy to expose as bullshit, and instead look at what Mourinho said over a week ago about his own squad:

It’s a big challenge. To be better with the same people, the players have to be better individually than they were last year. So when they think: ‘Oh last season I did great’, this season it is not enough.

Which is the same message in essence, that Arsene often conveys when talking to the press – that developing and improving players internally, can sometimes be as good as, or better even, than external recruitment. Speaking at his pre Community Shield press conference today, he said:

We want to improve. We know we will be better and we work very hard to be better. It’s difficult to know how much better our opponents will be. Everybody tries to be better. We want to do well and we enjoy to play together. I think what you want is not to listen too much to what people say, because sometimes in the same week I get two different reproaches: one I don’t spend enough and one too much. I believe if you want to create success, which we want desperately, is to focus on inside and try to do as well as we can, believe in the football we want to play, play it as well as we can and let other people talk.

The main difference between the two though, is that you sense Mourinho is playing the poverty card nice and early because he’s unaccustomed to not being the dominant force in the transfer market, whereas not only has Wenger worked for years with severe financial restrictions, I’m sure he actually gets as much satisfaction from developing a Francis Coquelin as he does by landing a world star like Mesut Ozil. Maybe more so even.

Mourinho on the hand, might talk of blooding say, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, but has seldom selected unproven, but promising and experience-hungry talent, anywhere he’s been. Mainly because youth development inevitably entails a learning curve which is often costly in terms of points and competitions.

And for a short-term specialist, as he’s been throughout his career so far, he’s had no real need or desire to develop players. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how he gets on on that front, if Roman Abramovich can stand him for more than a few years this time, and he gets his wish of a truly long-term stay at a club like Arsene and Sir Alex have managed.

Right, moving on from route-one bus drivers and focusing solely on a specialist in winning trophies, developing players and elevating an entire club to the upper echelons of the European club game organically, the boss explained today how new signing Petr Cech can still improve, even at 33 years of age.

He said:

Petr Cech was already at the top but I believe that you can never deny that you can improve. He’s at the stage of his career, between 33 and 37, where a goalkeeper can be at his peak and he has the desire. As long as you have the right attitude you can always improve in life. I don’t think it’s down to different training methods, it’s just down to him to keep at the top physically and with his experience he will always improve.

Arsene also denied reports of a bid from Southampton to take their former player Calum Chambers back to St Mary’s on loan next season, saying:

They [Southampton] didn’t try to get him back on loan and I will not consider it. Not at the moment. I want to develop [Chambers] as a centre back and at the moment we have just the right number. He will get games here.

And responded to questions regarding the likelihood of Arsenal dipping back into the transfer market before the end of the transfer window, saying:

I don’t rule it out and I don’t promise it. As I said recently in the press conferences, if we can still strengthen, we will do it. We spend when we think we have to spend and do not listen too much to what people think or say. We just try to make the right decisions.

Finally, the boss provided the following update in terms of team news ahead of Sunday’s traditional season curtain-raiser at Wembley:

Ospina has just come back to training today. Alexis is coming back next weekend. Everybody else should be available apart from Welbeck.

And that’s your lot for today folks.

Back tomorrow.