14th December 2015: Barcelona drawn, Giroud 50-up and Ramsey on being top

So the draw for the last 16 of this season’s Champions League was made this morning and we’ve been paired with reigning champions Barcelona. Splendid.

Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Neymar and co will strut their stuff in north London on Tuesday, Febraury 23rd, before we head to Camp Nou for the return leg on Wednesday, March 16th. It’s obviously the most difficult draw we could possibly have gotten and the Catalans will be huge favourites, but as we proved in the home leg of our tie in 2011, with a little luck, we can beat Barca.

Whether we can go to their ground and get a result is another matter, but we do have a far better team, in my opinion at least, than we did for the last couple of ties between the sides. That said, you could argue with the likes of Neymar and Suarez replacing David Villa and Pedro, they’re improved too. Individually at least, if not, necessarily, collectively.

By the end of February, we should have the likes of Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck available too, perhaps one or both of Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla, and maybe even a shiny new recruit or two from the winter window, so who knows what our side will look like when we play the Catalans.

Anyway, regardless of what happens, it’s always exciting to see how we fare against the very best the club game has to offer, and Barcelona are still some distance better than the next-best in Europe in my opinion – Bayern Munich. After that though, I’d put us at least on par with the rest of the continent’s finest when we’re fully fit, so if we can somehow conjure an aggregate win over Barcelona, who knows …

Back to  reality, and yesterday’s game for now though, and a couple of our players have been to the official club site. First up, it’s Olivier Giroud, who after opening the scoring with his 50th Premier League goal for the club from the penalty spot at Villa Park, told Arsenal Player:

I’m pleased with that (50 league goals for Arsenal) and I don’t want to stop here. I tried to do a good job for my team-mates today and I did well with the penalty. I was the one who had to take it. We were very good on the counter-attack with Theo and Mesut and (got) another clean sheet, so it was a really good day. It is a fantastic week. We did a great job in the Champions League and we really wanted to finish the week with a win and to be top of league before Leicester’s game against Chelsea. It is nice and hopefully we can have a great game against Manchester City on Monday. I’m very pleased with the performance today and we are in a great position and even if everything was not perfect, we had a lot of chances today which is good for me and the team.

For a little context, Giroud became the third-fastest Arsenal player to reach half a century of Premier League goals for the club behind only Thierry Henry and Ian Wright, having achieved the feat in one game fewer than Dennis Bergkamp managed to:

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So the Frenchman’s in pretty good company (except for the turncoat at the bottom there), even if he took considerably more games to get to the 50-mark than messrs Wright and Henry.

Meanwhile, Aaron Ramsey, who sourced and scored our second against against Villa on Sunday, has been discussing being top of the table, and his return to his favoured central midfield position, telling Arsenal Player:

It was nice to be top of the league – maybe for a short period of time – it puts a bit of pressure on other teams. But it’s a busy period and we have to remain consistent through that and see where we are in the new year. I believe there are a lot more teams now capable of taking points off each other. We’ve been shown that this season with some of the results. But it’s important for us to look after ourselves and get through this busy period and see where we are in January. I’m really enjoying it (playing centrally). That’s where I feel I play my best football and can have an effect on the game. I’ve scored a couple and had a couple of assists as well in the three games I’ve played there. So I’m delighted with the way things are going in there, hopefully I can continue to do well there.

It’s hard to argue that Ramsey is at his best in the middle but whether Arsenal are at their best as a team with him there is another matter. Whilst it’s great to have the Welshman’s energy and goal-threat in the middle, we undoubtedly have less control and poorer ball-circulation compared to when Cazorla plays there. and against the better teams, my fear is that we’ll rue not having our little Spaniard fit and available.

A specialist defensive midfielder who can also distribute the ball like Santi would be the ideal type to partner Aaron, but who that player is and whether we can find and sign him in the January market is fanciful, if he even exists. We need a Sergio Busquets with pace, a Mikel Arteta who can run, an Andrea Pirlo who can defend. Suggestions on a postcard addressed to Highbury House or London Colney …

And that’s that for another day. See you tomorrow.

13th December 2015: Giroud and Ramsey send Arsenal top

Evening all. So goals by Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey secured Arsenal a 2-0 win over Aston Villa today, to send us top of the league and set us up very nicely indeed for the busy festive period to come.

The win at Villa Park capped a brilliant week or so for the club, in which we’ve managed three wins from three games, scored eight goals and conceded none. Not bad for a team missing several key players through injury. Not bad at all. And the cherry on our pre-Christmas schedule cake comes in the form of defeat for Manchester United yesterday and Tottenham today, plus dropped points for Liverpool too.

As expected, Arsene Wenger kept an unchanged starting line-up from last Wednesday’s win at Olympiacos but this time Theo Walcott started, and stayed, playing from the left flank with Joel Campbell on the other side. And after an opening period in which the hosts looked full of zest without creating anything of note, Mathieu Flamini clipped a delightful ball over their rampaging, and constantly-remonstrating, right-back Alan Hutton for Theo to latch onto.

Usually in a position like that, Theo tends to shy away from physical contact but not today. He showed great strength in a shoulder-to-shoulder with Hutton, bullied his way past his marker and intelligently cut across him only for the Scot to pull at Theo’s arm and concede as clear a penalty as you’ll ever see.

For a couple of moments it seemed, quite incredibly, that the referee would wave play on, but thankfully either his brain caught up with his eyes, or he received a little tip off via his headphones because he pointed to the spot. Giroud stepped up and confidently sent the keeper the wrong way to put us one-nil up with just eight minutes on the clock.

Half an hour later we doubled our lead in a move started and finished by Ramsey. Having won the ball in midfield with a well-timed tackle, the Welshman found Walcott who took his time and with team-mates pouring forward ahead of him, threaded the ball carefully through to Mesut Ozil. The German bamboozled Joleon Lescott with a classy body swerve, drew the keeper out towards him, before squaring the ball left to Ramsey who gleefully stroked it into an empty net.

The second half was fairly uneventful and I thought we looked a little jaded physically, which was far from surprising given we traveled to Greece during the week. The boss clearly saw the drop off in intensity too and reacted by making a double substitution, replacing Walcott and Campbell with Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain just after the hour mark. He then gave Ozil a little breather with five minutes to go, sending on Calum Chambers in his place to add a little more ballast to central midfield.

After the game, Arsene gave his take on proceedings to Arsenal Player, saying:

I’m very proud and happy of the spirit we show. That’s what people want to see. There’s a strength and togetherness coming out of the team that people feel and that’s the biggest satisfaction. It’s the best basis to make results. It was a convincing performance overall. In the first half we dominated the situation very well and got two goals. In the second half it was a bit more difficult physically because we gave a lot on Wednesday night and you could see that the legs were a bit tired. But overall we have shown maturity, didn’t give a goal away and came home with what I believe was a convincing win. It’s a great week – Sunderland, Olympiacos and today. We’ve scored eight goals and I think it was a fantastic week. I would like to give credit to the team for their mental approach to the games. It’s absolutely fantastic.

So we sit merrily top of the table at least until after tomorrow evening’s game between Leicester and Chelsea, and we can now look ahead to City’s visit to Emirates stadium a week tomorrow off the back of another win, another clean sheet and with the possibility, however slight at this stage, that our mercurial Chilean Alexis Sanchez might be back from his hamstring injury to face Manuel Pellegrini’s side.

Til tomorrow, league-leaders.

12th December 2015: Premier League Preview – Remi reunion awaits at Villa Park

Welcome back. Signed on the same day as Patrick Vieira back in 1996, Remi Garde is famously one of Arsene Wenger’s first two signings for the club, but tomorrow at Villa Park, old allegiances will be forgotten as he faces us as a manager for the first time.

Garde enjoyed a fairly unremarkable three-year stay with the Gunners after signing from Strasbourg, but did win the Double with us in 1998, though as a bit-part player. He made 31 appearances in the red and white of Arsenal before injury forced him to retire in 1999. Anyway, tomorrow he’s no different to any other opposition manager, in the sense that I want us to give his team a good spanking.

In terms of how we’ll line-up, we should have the same squad that traveled to Greece for Wednesday night’s win over Olympiacos and as such, I’m expecting an unchanged starting line-up. If, for instance, Olivier Giroud’s ankle isn’t feeling 100 percent after he seemed to strain it early in the second half in Athens, we do of course have the option of bringing in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, moving Theo Walcott up front and giving the Frenchman a breather.

As for the importance of the game, with Leicester City not playing until they host relegation-haunted Chelsea on Monday night, we can go top with a win, displacing Manchester City, who climbed above the Foxes thanks to a jammy last-minute winner against Swansea this afternoon. Seeing as Manchester United lost today, we can also open up a four-point gap to fourth-place.

But the boss thinks only after the festive period will the table start to indicate which teams are likeliest to last the pace in the title race. He said:

I think you always see the real trend after Christmas. Of course every year you have a surprising team who is in the top four. Last year it was West Ham, this year it is Leicester. The question is always can they maintain their run. It looks like Leicester are producing the consistency and quality. The number of goals they score indicates to you, yes, they will remain up there and you have to consider them now as fighting for the Premier League.

And on tomorrow’s opponents Aston Villa, as well as the need for ‘focus’ from his own side, Arsene told Arsenal Player:

They have  Sinclair, they have Jordan Ayew, who can score goals like Gestede. They are a complete team. Vertout plays quite well, Gueye plays. They have young prospects like Grealish. I think there is a good basis for Remi Garde to work on and to stabilise the team. For us, after Wednesday night, it’s important that we straight away have a focus. I’m highly focused on the Premier League and I want us to manage to go from one competition to the other. That’s a sign of maturity as well.

Last season we beat Villa 3-0 away, then 5-0 at home before our 4-0 win in May’s FA Cup Final at Wembley, but this is a much-changed side we’ll face. They have a horde of new players, a new manager and despite being bottom of the league following a disastrous first few months of the season, they did manage a 1-1 draw at Southampton last time out, with many observers reporting they looked much improved. So tomorrow may not be as straightforward for us as it would appear looking at the standings.

That said,  I’m expecting nothing less than three points, Arsenal topping the table for at least 24 hours and then a full week to rest and recuperate before we welcome City to Emirates Stadium a week on Monday. Make it happen lads …

Back post-match.


11th December 2015: Injury latest, Welbeck on recovery and Wenger on Giroud

Happy Friday folks. Arsene Wenger held his usual pre-match press conference this morning, as we prepare for Sunday’s trip to Aston Villa, and revealed the latest team news ahead of the game.

We have no fresh injury concerns following Wednesday night’s win over Olympiacos, but none of our injured players are yet ready to return either. The closest, says the boss, are Mikel Arteta and Alexis Sanchez but the others are some way off a comeback yet. He said:

We came back Thursday morning, so we will see the players today. We have no injuries after the game. (Alexis Sanchez and Mikel Arteta are) short-term injuries, neither will be available for Sunday. No Arteta and no Alexis – who is the shortest one. The others will be (available) after Christmas. If you ask me if he (Jack Wilshere) will be fit before the end of December, no chance. He (Tomas Rosicky) is quite positive. He is running outside but not ready yet. End of January.

There were reports a few weeks ago that Wilshere had provisionally penciled in the Boxing Day trip to Southampton as his comeback game but the boss’ update today was pretty emphatic in ruling the midfielder out until the New Year, so that’s obviously disappointing, particularly with Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla ruled out until March at the earliest.

Our only other ‘long-termer’ is Danny Welbeck of course, and there was no word from the boss on the former Manchester United man’s likely return date from a knee injury which had ruled him out for the last seven months or so. But the player himself spoke to Arsenal Player recently, discussing his injury lay-off and also his ‘honour’ at being able to cite both Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger as managers he’s played under. He said:

Both (managers) have that presence and both are legends in the modern game. What can I say? They have won plenty of trophies between them and I have worked under Sir Alex and Arsène Wenger and it is a great honour to say that, but I want to be the best that I can be. I definitely feel free. Before we go out against a team we have analysed before hand (Arsène Wenger) gives the team a few pointers of what he wants us to be doing on the pitch and the lads stick to that. But he also gives you the freedom to express yourself and play the way you want to play. It is my first injury that has kept me out for so long. I had my operation and once that is sorted you can be out for a few more months. For the first month, in a leg brace, not being able to do anything, on a machine six hours a day, it was very difficult. But you have to try and see the positives. Luckily I had my family around me, my friends came down to London and I had my brothers. It was good to have people around me and have that support. You wake up in the morning and know you have double sessions in the gym it is hard but you have to see the positive side and I have learnt a lot more being injured on how to look after your body and prevent injuries. I have to see the positive side and hopefully when I come back, I will be flying.

I have to say Welbeck’s return is the one I’m most looking forward to, simply because I rate him higher than most others seem to and as Arsenal fans we’ve not seen much of him since he joined. He made an impressive start to his Arsenal career, then got injured, came back briefly, got injured again, and we’ve now not seen him play since April. Obviously I’m not saying he’s more important than Sanchez or Cazorla or Coquelin, because he’s not, but I genuinely think he could develop into a prolific striker for us given time to learn under Arsene and providing he can stay injury free.

Speaking of strikers, our current incumbent Olivier Giroud will go into the game at Villa having just scored his first-ever hat-trick for the club, in the most important game of our season so far, and Arsene discussed his fellow countryman’s qualities earlier today, saying:

He has gone through this calendar year with ups and downs but overall it is typical Olivier Giroud. That means when it doesn’t work, he puts effort in. I believe recently he has come back with an improved game and with his finishing. Wednesday was one of his best performances on all fronts, I must say. If you look at his record, I believe he has special qualities that are difficult to find. You want him to be efficient as well. Where he has improved a lot is his link play with the other players, and that’s very important in our team. He’s a guy who wants always to improve and he has a positive mentality, and a strong one. You want him to be efficient as well. Where he has improved a lot is his link play with the other players, and that’s very important in our team. He’s a guy who wants always to improve and he has a positive mentality, and a strong one. I think that’s why he has come back in a very strong way. We are in a job where you have to accept that in every game, you are questioned. In his job, as a centre forward, [it’s] even more. If you don’t score for three games, you’re questioned again. That’s part of the job. If you look at the number of games and the number of goals, you have to give him credit. He’s not only a goalscorer, he’s a guy who puts work in for the team. I think he’s among the best strikers in Europe.

I really like Giroud and appreciate what he brings to our side, but let’s not get carried away, hey. He’s not in Robert Lewandowski’s class, for instance, and probably never will reach that kind of level given his age, but than he’s also not a clumsy lump like some would have you believe. He’s a very, very effective lone striker for us but one I still think can be improved on.

Anyway, given he’s just bagged a treble and played brilliantly to win us a crucial game, perhaps now’s not the best time to talk about his perceived defects as a striker or potential replacements. I’ll just say that with him, Theo Walcott and Welbeck all fit, I’m actually quite content with our striking options, especially with the mercurial talent of Sanchez backing them up from the left. Defensive midfield is where I’d like more options …

Back with a preview of the Villa game at some stage tomorrow.

Have a good one.

10th December 2015: Giroud treble topples Olympiacos to send us through

Evening all. So Arsenal, a significantly under-strength Arsenal, traveled to Olympiacos last night, a team who’d won five and drawn the other one of their last six matches against English opposition on home soil, and won 3-0 thanks to Olivier Giroud’s first-ever hat-trick for the club.

Hands up who saw that result coming? I certainly didn’t, not such a comprehensive victory anyway, but Petr Cech says the Arsenal squad themselves most certainly did. He said:

Well, we could! (see the win coming) We were searching for it and we knew if we played our game, if we have a great team performance and great individual performances then we will have a chance, and we did say exactly that. The first goal was important because going 1-0 ahead, they knew that one goal would not take us through and were holding back as one goal can kill the game for them. So there was pressure from both sides and we managed to get the better side of that pressure ourselves. The second goal was obviously an important point in the game and we knew that we would be able to do it.

Arsene Wenger had spoken before the game about his side being prepared for any eventuality over the course of the 90 minutes but as it transpired, there were no complications to proceedings as far as we were concerned as in the end, we killed the game off with plenty of time to spare.

The boss made one change to the starting line-up from Saturday’s win over Sunderland; Theo Walcott came in for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to start on the right-hand side of our attack. Against the Black Cats, Joel Campbell started on the right before swapping flanks with the Ox and went on to get our opener from a left-wing position. But last night, the Costa Rican made the reverse journey, starting on the left before swapping with Theo and both players came to life after that switch.

The game began with the home side on the attack but we grew into the game and took the lead around the half-hour mark. Mesut Ozil, running away from goal, spun and placed a typically inch-perfect pass through to Aaron Ramsey on the left. The Welshman crossed and Giroud guided a header towards the near-post which their ‘keeper could only help into his own net.

We then had a couple of scares either side of the interval. Just before it, they almost equalised, and just after it, Giroud went down in agony clutching his right ankle deep in his own half after clearing the ball. For a few minutes it seemed as though our injury list would lengthen again, but thankfully, the Frenchman carried on after treatment and soon put us two ahead.

Ozil again provided the assist for the assist, this time lobbing a pass over towards Campbell on the right. He cushioned the dropping ball on his thigh and, under pressure, turned back on himself, produced a brilliant drag-back to evade his marker before playing a reverse pass neatly into Giroud’s path as the striker made a run into the box. The weight and direction of the pass by Campbell was so good, Olympiacos’ defenders were totally helpless and Giroud didn’t break stride in guiding a first-time finish low into the corner.

At that point, we were heading through to the knock-out stages but in the knowledge a goal for Olympiacos would see them through instead. So when our third arrived, not only did it effectively kill the contest in our favour, it also saved millions of Arsenal fans the world over from 20 minutes of gut-wrenching anxiety.

It came via a penalty which was given for handball after Nacho Monreal fired in a low shot from the left following a Hector Bellerin cross. Giroud stepped up, sent the keeper the wrong way and completed his hat-trick with a firm side-footed finish.

I think it’s a little unfair to highlight individuals for praise because it really was a collective team effort with everyone playing their part but given how far down the first-team pecking order Campbell was just a few weeks ago, I think he deserves a special mention. He was industrious going both ways, kept the ball well, plugged into our pass-and-move style with aplomb and produced an assist Ozil would have been proud of. If he carries on playing like last night, he’s first choice on the right as far as I’m concerned, even with everyone fit.

The draw for the next round takes place on Monday morning and regardless of who we get (please don’t let it be Barcelona), right now I’m just proud, if a little amazed, that we’ll be in it.

Til Friday, last-16ers.

9th December 2015: Champions League Preview – Walcott option + the Ox is overdue a big performance

Welcome back. There isn’t long to wait now before we find out if we’ll be playing Champions, or Europa, League football after the New Year, and I have to admit, I’m as nervous as Wayne Rooney waiting for his pizza delivery. Will one, large, stuffed-crust suffice as a mid-morning snack? Can we complete a minor miracle and make it out of our group?

With a fully fit squad, I’d be very optimistic about our chances, but of course, we don’t have a full selection to choose from, as we’re missing our central midfield pairing in Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla and our best goalscorer in Alexis Sanchez. Throw in the fact their replacements have had one game to gel and find collective form and it’s hard not to worry as an Arsenal fan ahead of tonight’s trip to Olympiacos.

In terms of how we’ll line-up, the only change I can envisage would be bringing Theo Walcott in for a start at the expense of either Olivier Giroud, Joel Campbell or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Based on their respective form in last weekend’s win over Sunderland, the favourite to be dropped to the bench in favour of Theo would undoubtedly be the Ox. Yet barring any late injury concerns, my guess would be that Arsene Wenger will either go with the same starting line-up as last Saturday, or bring Walcott in for Giroud.

The Ox is certainly due a good performance and tonight would obviously be a great time for him to rediscover the sort of scintillating form he showed in pre-season. And the player himself has been discussing tonight’s game with Arsenal Player, highlighting the importance of both scoring early, but also keeping it tight at the back. He said:

If we can get that first goal we will really put them under pressure and we can push on and hopefully get another one. If they manage to score we are not out of it by any stretch of the imagination, we will just have to score a few more. We will see how the game goes but we need to defend first and foremost – keeping a clean sheet is the first task. We have got players in our side that can go and score goals and we will be focused on doing that. Olympiacos came to the Emirates and played really well on the night and showed us what a threat they can be. We have played at Olympiacos a number of times so it is a tough place to go and their fans can create a real buzzy atmosphere. It can be a bit intimidating but we have to feed off of that and go there and get two goals, defend well and get the result. Going into that game with nothing to lose, the boss uses the term: ‘playing without the handbrake on’. I think that is when we play our best stuff and if we do that we give ourselves the best chance.

On the opposite flank to the Ox, is likely to be Campbell, who fresh from scoring our opener against the Black Cats, will line-up against the side he played for, on loan from Arsenal, during the 2013-2014 campaign, scoring eight goals from 32 appearances for the Greeks. And the Costa Rican is expecting a tough battle in what he’s dubbed as our “most important game of the season so far”. He said:

[The win over Sunderland] was a good result for the team. We got the result and that’s what we wanted. Now we have to prepare mentally and physically for Wednesday’s game because it will be very difficult. We already played against Olympiacos at Emirates Stadium. They are a great team, a great rival and especially because they play at home. In the Pireo (Karaiskakis Stadium) it is very difficult to get points but it is the last game of the group stage and we will give our best. It is the most important game of the season so far. It will be a cup final and we have to win to continue in the Champions League.

I suppose it can only be a good thing that we have a player in our ranks who will know some of the oppositions players; their strengths and weaknesses, and also feel at home playing at their ground. But then that works both ways – they’ll also have a good idea of how they think they can stop Campbell from hurting them, having watched and studied his game at close quarters.

My gut feeling is that I need a poo we’ll do it tonight, but then I thought that just before the second legs against AC Milan, Bayern Munich (twice) and Monaco in recent years,  when we nearly manged the requisite result, but in the end fell tantalizingly, agonizingly, just short. Let’s hope tonight’s different and we can get the necessary win to carry us through.

Back tomorrow.


8th December 2015: Wenger and Flamini chat Champions League

Hello again. So Arsene Wenger was joined by Mathieu Flamini when he faced the media at a press conference this evening, ahead of tomorrow evening’s game against Olympiacos.

The boss seemed in relaxed mood and expressed his belief that should Arsenal manage to progress to the last 16 this season, we’d be a threat to any of the other qualifiers. He said:

We can be dangerous if we go through because we come from far. Overall if you look at the numbers since the start of the Champions League group stage, we have played with 10 men in Zagreb, we scored an own goal at home to Olympiacos, every single game we were a bit unlucky but if we get through we will be dangerous that is for sure. At the moment we have two or three super-favourites [for the competition] and whoever gets through will have to chase them. As long as you don’t win the competition – at any stage to go out is bad. That is basically it. On the other hand, we have gone 15 times out of the group consecutively so you could say that is a good habit.

The ‘super-favourites’ Arsene refers to are obviously the holders Barcelona, Bayern Munich and possibly Real Madrid – on their day – but given we can’t draw the Germans in the first knock-out round, as long as we avoided Barca, I’d take anyone.

But before we get carried away, there’s the small matter of winning for the first time against Olympiacos on Greek soil, and winning by the necessary scoreline of course (anything bar 1-0 and 2-1 will do), but the boss was quick to highlight his team would be mentally prepared to deal with any course tomorrow night’s game might take, saying:

We have to put every scenario in our head, it is important we focus on the performance. The results come if we play well so let’s focus on that. When the goal comes I don’t know, but if we play well we have a chance to score. Mentally, you prepare yourself to adapt to every situation and give the right response to every situation you face. We will have to adapt to what is happening on the pitch and to all of the scenarios, accept them and respond. Ideally, you would like to not have to be patient but we might need to be. What is important is that basically the same for every game in Champions League you attack well and defend well, that is the best way, go into the game with a desire to win it and knowing you need to do both sides of the game well. Of course, we have a history where we have positive results. We know we can do it so the best way to do it is with a top-quality performance and that is what we want to focus on.

Meanwhile, Flamini says Arsenal’s vast experience in the competition can help us progress. He said:

Of course this is an important competition for me personally and for the club. We have a good test to prove we have the quality to go through and continue our adventure. Everyone is focused and I will try to help my partners. We are experienced for the big games and I believe we can progress.

I suppose the biggest concern about potentially exiting Europe’s premier competition isn’t that we’ll be out for another year, but the fact we’ll have to play in the Europa League and the adverse effect that competition may have on our domestic title chase.

I think we have to give it our all tomorrow and the team should be focused on scoring at least three goals. Obviously 2-0 would suffice but if we can get three, we’d have room to concede twice and still be in with a chance.

Back with a preview tomorrow.

Until then.

7th December 2015: FA Cup draw, Sanchez award and Gilberto on staying on top

Evening all and welcome to a brand new week on TremendArse. Just a couple of days after we played Sunderland at Emirates stadium, the draw for the third round of the FA Cup has been made, and we’ll be playing Sunderland at Emirates stadium. Weird.

But there’s absolutely nothing weird at all about the next bit of Arsenal news today, which is that Alexis Sanchez has been named the Football Supporters’ Federation Footballer of the Year for 2015, becoming the third south American attacker to win the award in a row after Sergio Aguero in 2014 and Luis Suarez in 2013.

After helping us to win the FA Cup in May, scoring a scorcher in the final at Wembley of course, Sanchez then went off and won the Copa America with Chile over the summer to cap off a brilliant first season as a Gunner.

Then after a slow start to this season by his standards, mainly due to his delayed summer hols, the Chilean rediscovered his best form in our win at Leicester City at the end of September by scoring a hat-trick and pretty much maintained it until he pulled his hamstring at Norwich just over a week ago.

On winning the award, Sanchez said:

I’m delighted to receive the FSF Player of the Year award. It’s been a great year for me on the pitch and I’m thrilled it has been recognised by the fans. Arsenal have enjoyed a good start to the season and it was disappointing to pick up an injury at this important time. But I‘m hoping to be back soon to help my team-mates have another successful year.

Whilst Arsene Wenger offered:

Alexis has had a fantastic year – winning the FA Cup with us and the Copa America with Chile. He has made a huge impact on English football since his arrival and I’m very happy that his skill, ability and dedication has been recognised by football fans across the country.

Finally, Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters’ Federation, said:

Alexis is a fantastic player who has lit up the Premier League since arriving in 2014. He’s a constant threat and played a huge role in helping Arsenal win the FA Cup last season, including a goal in the final. Thierry Henry called him Arsenal’s best signing of the past six years – and we certainly wouldn’t disagree. He’s a worthy winner of the FSF Player of the Year award.

I’m not sure who Thierry has in mind when he says past six years because for me, Sanchez is the best ‘goalscorer’ signing we’ve made since, well, Thierry himself.

Moving on now though and lastly for today, former Gunner and a member of the Invincibles, Gilberto has been speaking to Arsenal Player about what it takes to sustain a title challenge, saying:

The hardest thing when you achieve this level in your game is to maintain it. To keep it up is the hardest job because it doesn’t depend what you do on the pitch, it depends on injuries, suspensions and also the focus from everyone. It’s important for everyone to be focused on what they have to do, to keep doing their job at the highest level they can. Everyone wants to beat you and of course you want to beat everyone. The confidence is high but you must be careful and not let it go over the limit of what is necessary. You keep going and do your job the right way. It’s important to keep your focus at the maximum level that you can, to maintain it’s very hard, but I hope they can keep it up and end the season with another trophy.

With Francis Coquelin out, what Arsene would give to have a Gilberto in his prime available right now and I guess that’s his challenge in next month’s market – finding a defensive midfielder of similar quality to the Brazilian.

Right, back tomorrow when I’ll start to look ahead to Wednesday night’s make or break Champions League trip to Olympiacos.


6th December 2015: Wenger and Ramsey on Sunderland win

Welcome back. So another weekend of Premier League football comes to a close and looking back, it was almost the perfect set of results from an Arsenal perspective.

Manchester City and Liverpool lost, Manchester United and Tottenham drew, whilst we managed to beat Sunderland despite having to come to terms with a much-changed line-up because of a spate of injuries to key components of our first-choice selection.

I would revel a little more in Chelsea’s hilarious defeat at home to Bournemouth but a) the Blues are in a relegation battle, not the title race and b) I genuinely expect them to lose every match they play between now and when Jose Mourinho gets handed his p45. When they evade defeat, it comes as more of a shock these days …

Anyway, moving on from London’s worst, to the capital’s top-flight finest, and Arsene Wenger has been talking about his pre-match nerves before yesterday’s game at Emirates stadium and hailing his side’s victory as ‘pivotal’, telling Arsenal Player:

In my mind I was a little bit more nervous than usual because I felt it was a pivotal game. It was our first game without the injured players and we absolutely had to win. We played against a difficult team who were well organised and good on the break, so all the ingredients were there for a disappointing result. Because we hadn’t won for three games people would have said we were in a crisis, so it was important to get the win. We were a bit edgy, a bit nervous, in the first half but in the second half we played with more freedom, fluency and incisiveness which is how we won the game. It was a tough one and if you look at the results in the Premier League it was like that. It’s been a good day for us, because we have won the game and that makes helps us prepare for Olympiacos. Secondly it puts us in an interesting position again and that’s all positive. The squad that was out there for Sunderland – the good news is that we won and that we don’t have any injuries. It makes it obvious for the media to guess who will go to Olympiacos.

Meanwhile, Aaron Ramsey, who marked his return to central midfield with a goal and an assist, discussed the win over Sunderland, the title race, and surprise league-leaders Leicester City, when he spoke to reporters yesterday, saying:

It was very important to get the win after losing one game and drawing another and it was important to get back to winning ways and close the gap on the top and it was nice to do it at home in front of the fans. It (the title race) is really close at the moment. Teams are taking points off each other so it is going to be tight all the way through and it is important to keep ourselves in the race for this busy time and into the New Year and it was a good way to start ahead of December. It felt really good today. I feel a lot more comfortable and it (playing in the middle) suited my game a lot better, I could time my runs into the box and get on the end of things and I could have had two or three goals but at the end of the day I’m happy. It is quite a surprise Leicester are there but full credit to them, they have been exceptional but it is important for ourselves and what we have done today.

A lot was made of Ramsey’s re-stationing in the middle in the build-up to the game and although I felt the team stuttered and failed to find the kind of fluency we’ve become accustomed to seeing from Arsenal these last 12 months or so, that’s to be expected as the balance of the team readjusts.

A bit brief this evening but that’s all for tonight folks.

See you next week.

5th December 2015: Win over Sunderland sends Arsenal second

Saturday night salutations. We secured our first Premier League win in four today, as goals by Joel Campbell, Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey helped us to a 3-1 win over Sunderland at Emirates stadium to lift us up to second in the table.

I didn’t catch the opening half-an-hour of the action, thanks to a failed ignition coil in my car which resulted in me having to drive at Per Mertesacker-pace as I returned home from the shops, but from what I’ve read and heard, that wasn’t such a bad thing as the visitors enjoyed the better of the opening third of the match.

Just as I’d found a stream and settled down, Mesut Ozil picked up possession and sliced Sunderland’s defence wide open with a perfectly-weighted through ball on the left, to allow Campbell to guide home our opener without breaking stride after 33 minutes. Apparently, the Costa Rican had begun the game on the right but had swapped flanks with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain shortly before scoring, so it was a timely switch of position to say the least.

From the 15 minutes or so of the first-half I saw, Sunderland were far more adventurous than I had anticipated before the match and drew level on the stroke of half-time as Giroud found the net at the wrong end, clumsily slicing his attempted clearance into his own net following a Sunderland free-kick from our right. It was unfortunate for the Frenchman if I’m honest, with one of their players stepping over the delivery, leaving Giroud with little time to adjust his footing.

Thankfully for the striker and us, he made amends by heading home our second just past the hour mark from a left-wing cross by the typically-industrious Ramsey. After that, Sunderland looked dangerous and created a few openings as the game swung from end to end and both sides gave the ball away with regularity in midfield, but we settled the contest in stoppage time when substitute Calum Chambers fired in a cross-shot from the right and the ball eventually fell to Ramsey who scored via a deflection off their keeper from close-range.

Cue a little hop, skip and jump from Arsene Wenger on the touchline as the Gunners leapfrogged both Manchester City and Manchester United, who lost and drew respectively today, in going second in the table behind an annoyingly consistent Leicester City, who swept aside Swansea thanks to a hat-trick by Riyad Mahrez.

After the game, the boss discussed the game as well as the surprise league-leaders Leicester, telling the BBC:

We started a bit nervous and edgy in the first half. We were unlucky to come in at 1-1, so I was positive. I told the players they still had 45 minutes to win the game, and play with more pace and different angles. You see this Premier League is a battle. Sunderland played a dangerous game on the break. It could have been one of those days, but we kept our determination and the mental aspect was good. We have lost players in the heart of our game, so we had to find a balance again. It took us time to get going. [Premier League leaders] Leicester have been very impressive. The best you can do is to win games, and hope that they drop points, but that is not happening. We go to Olympiakos in midweek, which Leicester don’t do, so they have an advantage in that way too.

I have to say, as much as I’ve been impressed by the Foxes this season, I really can’t see them keeping up this form for the rest of the season. So in terms of the title race, I think it was far more important that City lost, United drew and Tottenham also dropped points today, because I think those teams will eventually prove the bigger threat to both our title and top-four hopes by the end of the season.

Time will tell obviously, but for now, we can stay upbeat, despite all our injury woes, as we look ahead to our crucial midweek date with Olympiacos in Greece.

Til tomorrow.