13th May 2016: Ozil back + Wenger on departing trio and his own future

Happy Friday. Arsene Wenger held his final pre-match press conference of the season this morning as we build-up to the game against Aston Villa on Sunday, and the big news is that Mesut Ozil is back in training after missing last weekend’s draw at Manchester City with a hip injury.

Here’s what the boss said:

Mesut Ozil is back in training. No (nobody else is a doubt). Oxlade-Chamberlain is not back. From Sunday, I think everybody else should be available.

With Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini all out of contract and leaving the club this summer, the Villa game offers the trio a last opportunity to don the red and white of Arsenal, if selected. But the boss said he was unsure if any of them would play some part against the Premier League’s bottom side as he discussed their departure. He said:

Mikel Arteta is the captain of the club and has been a great leader. Tomas Rosicky has been with us for 10 years and I think everybody loves him as well. Mathieu Flamini has been an extremely strong leader on the pitch and off the pitch. We lose three big personalities. All of these players will have to decide if they go on in their careers as a football player or a coach. I don’t know yet (if they will be involved against Aston Villa).

Ideally, you’d hope we’re eight-nil up against Villa by half-time and we can sub the three of them on for a final 45 minutes of action in Arsenal colours, but given our third place finish is still not certain and there’s also a slim chance of securing second, any sentimental gestures will have to be carefully timed.

I mean, as much as I’m thankful for Arteta’s overall influence at the club these last five years or so, when he came on against West Brom at the Hawthorns earlier in the season, he looked like a player horribly out of his depth and was largely to blame for our defeat that day I felt. We can all do without a repeat of that situation, last game or not.

Anyway, good luck to the three of them in their future endeavours, whether that’s coaching at Manchester City, ruling over a billion-dollar business, or returning to the club and country where it all began for them.

Arsene’s own future is up in the air of course, with just one more year remaining on his contract. Recent reports have suggested the boss has been offered a new deal by the club, but he was quick to deny the story and insisted he has no definitive plans set in stone yet. He said:

I think about the next game. At my stage you want to do well. I’m committed with integrity and commitment, full commitment to the club as long as I’m under contract, but at the moment that’s all. No (I haven’t decided my future). What I focus on is respecting my contract and then envisage what I will do afterwards. I can understand people are interested in that, but that is not the most important thing. I extended my contract in a period that was vital for the club and after that i will see where I am personally and where the club stands at the end of my contract.

Which is the sensible stance to take of course. Even if he has a new contract on offer, now is certainly not the time to announce it, what with fan-unrest so apparent as the club bring yet another campaign to a close in which we flattered to deceive and saw somebody else lift the Premier League crown.

A bit short this evening I’m afraid but that’s your lot.

See you on Saturday.

12th May 2016: Wenger and Ramsey on Welbeck woe

Evening all. The shock of Danny Welbeck’s latest long-term injury is still seeping into Arsenal systems and his manager Arsene Wenger today discussed his striker’s misfortune when he spoke to Arsenal Player.

Blaming the incident on pure bad luck, Arsene explained how he’d been cautious in fielding the former Manchester United man after he made a dramatic comeback from his previous ten-month spell on the sidelines by heading home a last-gasp winner against Leicester City in February. Arsene said:

We’re all devastated, and Danny even more so. We can only feel sad and support Danny now in order to get him back. It was basically from an anonymous tackle. The difference between the tackle and the severity of the injury is baffling. We don’t understand that but we have to accept the verdict and we have to live with it. Danny has to deal with it unfortunately. We just have to give him the maximum support we can and show him that we trust he can come back. He scored goals and when he came on he had an impact. I pushed him in and out of the team because I knew he’d been out for a year. Sometimes for the big games I kept him out to recover from the efforts he has made. Sometimes people accused me of being too cautious but I knew that he did not play for a year and the intensity of the Premier League is so exceptional that you have to be cautious. The injury was accidental. I don’t think there’s anyone to blame, not our opponents or medical staff. It was completely an accident.

Meanwhile, Welbeck’s Arsenal team-mate Aaron Ramsey – no stranger himself to serious injury of course after Ryan ‘not a malicious bone in his body’ Shawcross broke his leg with a horror ‘tackle’ in 2010 – said he’s ‘gutted’ for Danny and wished him a speedy comeback when he spoke to Sky Sports. He said:

I have spoken to him and obviously he is very disappointed and gutted. He was in good shape, good form and he had a great opportunity to show what he could do for England in the summer. I’m gutted for him as well but I am sure he will back from it stronger and I hope he has a speedy recovery.

Needless to say I hope Welbz makes a miraculously fast recovery and is back banging ’em in for us just as we’ve established a 25-point lead over Pep Guardiola’s second-placed Manchester City in February 2017 …

Moving on now and Petr Cech has been discussing Arsenal’s ‘strange season’ and explaining why he hopes the club can build on it by going from ‘good’ to ‘great’ next term. He said:

It was a very strange season in a way. If you look at the number of injuries we had, it is not a big number compared to previous years or compared to other clubs. It’s not a big difference but unfortunately for us, every time we’ve had an injury, it’s been long-term. We had a great squad at the start of the season. Danny was coming back, Jack was coming back, and it was a very strong group. Unfortunately Jack got injured right before the start of the campaign, Danny had the same problem, Tomas had the same problem, and these were all long-term injuries. Santi and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain became long-term injuries too. If you have so many important players out with long-term injuries, it does give a chance to everybody else, but it can hurt you at certain times. If you have seven games in 21 days and your opponent has had six days off to prepare, you don’t have the advantage of rotating players. I thought we did so well most of the time to be able to cope with that, but unfortunately in the end we lacked a bit of energy in February and March when we dropped points. This is where the difference was made. Overall, it’s been a good season, not one you would look back on and call a brilliant season, but there were a lot of positives and things to build on. Hopefully we can step up and have a great season next year.

Let’s hope the big man’s right.

See you on Friday.

 

11th May 2016: Welbeck ruled out for nine months + Xhaka deal reportedly close

Welcome to Wednesday on TremendArse. Arsenal have confirmed Danny Welbeck will undergo surgery on the knee injury he sustained at Manchester City last Sunday, and will be side-lined for ‘approximately nine months’.

After yesterday’s report in the Guardian, we were all fearing the worst yet hoping for the best. The reality now is that Danny faces having almost another full season written off when you factor in regaining match-sharpness after his recovery, and that’s assuming his rehabilitation goes smoothly. Here’s what the club said in a statement on the official site:

Specialists determined surgery was required after scans and tests revealed significant cartilage damage. The 25-year-old was injured during Sunday’s match at Manchester City. Danny will miss the Euro 2016 Championship in the summer and his full recovery is expected to take approximately nine months. Since returning to action in February after injuring his left knee in May last year, Welbeck’s impact has been telling – scoring five times, including the recent winner against Norwich City at Emirates Stadium. Everyone at Arsenal will be working hard with Danny throughout his recovery and look forward to seeing him back on the pitch as soon as possible.

It’s devastating news both for player and club obviously and for an insight into just how highly regarded Welbeck is as a player and person, just take a look at some of the Twitter messages of support that have flooded in since the news was announced earlier today.

Regular readers will know much I rate the striker – which is a lot more than most fans, pundits and rival supporters seem to from experience. I was ecstatic when we signed him in the summer of 2014 and couldn’t quite believe Manchester United had let him go. Had he stayed injury-free since signing for us I think we may well have seen him develop to the extent that we’d already have the world class forward we all crave. Laugh if you like.

We’ll never know of course, but I was confidently expecting him to flourish in our style of play and given I think he has all the raw attributes, expected Arsene Wenger to maximise Welbeck’s potential just as the manager has with so many forwards in the past. Fortunately, Danny doesn’t turn 26 until Novemeber so time is still on his side – enough to reach the level I think he’s capable of. Get well soon Welbz!

Onto more positive news and reports suggest Granit Xhaka will soon be a Gunner. As happy as I am we’re signing a very highly-rated central midfielder, I’m still struggling to work out what the manager’s starting selection in the middle of the park will look like come the start of next season. Time will tell of course but getting a big deal done so early augurs very well for the rest of our summer in the transfer market.

A very brief post this evening I’m afraid but that’s where I’ll leave it.

Until tomorrow.

9th May 2016: Wenger on City, Welbeck and Wilshere

Welcome to a brand new week on TremendArse. Just a very brief post for you this evening because I’m as short on time as Jose Mourinho is on common decency and Tottenham are on league titles.

So straight to the reaction from yesterday’s draw with Manchester City at Etihad stadium and here’s what Arsene Wenger had to say on the game, and the prospect of finishing in third place in the table:

It was a very intense game where we had a difficult start because Manchester City came out very strong. We suffered a little, but every time we went down we showed character and came back twice in the game. Overall, I think Manchester City had good intensity in the game and there were a few times when we were in trouble, but we delivered a very strong performance. It (finishing third) is in our hands now but we have seen again today that we just want to finish the job with the result. That shows you that we have to focus and keep the focus. It is important to maintain that. We have had strong concentration in recent games and our character has been questioned a few times this season. We gave the right response today on the pitch, but you have to say if you look we have the best results against the top-four teams. That doesn’t come without character.

We may well have the best record against the top four teams this season (and without checking I can’t be sure, because Arsene’s been a little loose with the statistical truth recently – think his line about us being ‘away champions’), but this has been a bit of a Peter Crouch season – freakish.

I mean, beating Leicester home and away and managing two draws with Tottenham in any other season would be seen as a bare minimum achievement, if not slightly disappointing. Against the the usual top four suspects on the other hand, i.e the two Manchester clubs, Chelsea and Liverpool, we’s managed just two wins in eight games this term (at home against City and United), drawn three (City away and twice with Liverpool) and lost three times (twice to Chelsea and United away) – hardly form to crow about.

Moving on, the boss also discussed Danny Welbeck’s injury and Jack Wilshere’s performance, having sent the midfielder on from the subs’ bench as the former’s replacement yesterday. He said:

Danny Welbeck has a knee problem. I hope it is not too bad. We need to wait for a scan, I hope that it is not bad one and a meniscus. Danny is a strong boy, he is not a guy who moves out quickly. We tried to keep him on the pitch and straight away he tried to move on and he said it was impossible. At half time, I looked at him and he was very down so he must have pain. Lets hope we have good news tomorrow from the scan. When I say good, that means he will not be out of the Euros. The bad news would be if he is out of the Euros, but I don’t know. I’m an optimist. I don’t know if it is a lateral meniscus. Lets wait until we get the real diagnosis. I felt that he showed he is well prepared physically. Overall, I believe that his performance was encouraging and that he will benefit from this kind of intensity in the game. He didn’t have too much time to think about it, but that is sometimes the best. His performance was positive.

Danny’s injury, like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s last week, is obviously a cruel blow for the player with the European championships around the corner, but hopefully it’s not as bad as feared and the striker can still make the plane to France. Fingers crossed.

As for Jack, I thought he was visibly off-the-pace yesterday, which admittedly is far from surprising considering how long he’s been out injured. But regardless, he didn’t hide, got himself involved and the game-time will no doubt have done him the world of good as he attempts to reach peak condition ahead of the Euros and then what will hopefully, finally, be an injury-free campaign for Arsenal.

That’ll do for tonight.

See you tomorrow.

6th May 2016: Ox ruled out of Euros + Arsene on Arteta

Evening all. Some bad news to begin with tonight unfortunately because Arsene Wenger this morning revealed that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain picked up an injury in training this week and has been ruled out of action until next season.

Having recovered from the knock he picked up against Barcelona in February, the Ox’s latest injury cruelly comes just as he was on the cusp of a first-team comeback. Here’s what the boss said:

We have lost Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain during the week because he got a knee injury. He has injured his medial ligament in his right knee and will be out for six to eight weeks I think. Alex was back in full training when he picked up this new injury, which is not linked to his previous knee injuries. After that, Santi Cazorla came through well in a game for the under-21s. Everyone else should be available. We lost Per Mertesacker, the season is over for him because of his hamstring. That means Gabriel will come in for him. It is very sad. He was physically ready and looking sharp. He had one week’s training last week, but he planned to play on Tuesday night but got injured on Monday morning.

And on the player’s hopes of going to the European Championships with England, Arsene said:

There’s no chance. I had a little conversation with Alex and with our medical team. They told me yesterday that he will be back at the beginning of July. It’s bad news. Alex was out for a while and he was not overloaded with games. You want a guy of 22 years of age to go to the European Championship. It’s very bad. He’s an impact player as well so he could have had a great contribution to England’s success. England had quite a few problems up front so I think it’s bad news.

Bad news indeed, but for the player and England more so than Arsenal given we have just two games of the campaign to go. Hopefully a proper break over the summer will help the Ox to come back fully fit and focused so he can enjoy a better season than he did this time around.

With his contract situation still unresolved and recurring rumours of a move away, perhaps committing himself to the club long-term and removing that uncertainty over his future would also be beneficial for his game. Anyway, get well soon Alex!

Elsewhere the boss had some warm words for Mikel Arteta, whose contract at the club expires at the end of the season with reports recently of interest from Manchester City in securing his services as a coach for next season. He said:

It is true that he is out of contract here and when his contract finishes it is a good opportunity for me to thank him for his contribution, not only as a player but also as a great leader. What kind of orientation will he give now to his career? I heard about [coaching] as a possibility, but he could inform you much better than I can. He is free to decide to do what he wants, he will certainly need some time to reflect on whether he continues to play. I still think he can play, in the last months he has come back to a very good physical level and he is a position today where he can continue to play and he would be a very good player everywhere.

And on the possibility of offering Arteta a coaching role at Arsenal:

You want your former players to be at the club but you also need the positions to fill. You cannot create artificial positions at the club. If you have coaches in the under-16s, under-15s and under-14s who are very good, you will not kick them out to make room for players who want to coach. If we have positions available, we always give a good chance to the players who played here. Let’s not forget I’ve given the opportunity to many, many players to obtain their licence here, to educate them. After that maybe there will be someone else. We always open the door to give them an opportunity to be educated. After that we need the positions available to give them the job. We don’t know what will happen with the coaches’ movement.

It’s hard to argue with that in fairness. As popular and professional as Arteta is, if there’s no opening available he’ll have to look elsewhere. Perhaps one day he might return to be our very own Pep. Or not. Who knows?

See you on Saturday.

20th April 2016: Cazorla back in training, Ozil and Sanchez keen to stay and Mahrez rumours denied

Evening all. Arsene Wenger held his pre-West Brom press conference this morning and amongst other things, revealed that Santi Cazorla is back in ‘normal training’.

Also discussing the latest on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere, the boss said:

Everybody is available from our last game against Crystal Palace. We have no big injuries. We will have a final test today. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is the only one not practising now. He (Cazorla) has joined normal training and he looks okay, of course still a bit short on the competitiveness front. We will try to get him maybe more training, and then join us directly maybe. He (Wilshere) has absorbed well his first obstacle of getting games. That means he has finally got 90 minutes and he has had no setbacks and the positives are that in every game he was sharper. That means he has a good fitness basis. Overall, the progression should be normal. I don’t think he will be available for selection [against West Brom], but from then it is whether I select him or not.

And when asked if the game against the Baggies was important, he offered:

It is important, of course. We want to win our games, instead of focusing the table I think it is very important to focus on the process and quality of what we do. At the moment that is frustrating as there is a lot of quality in our game, but we have not exactly got the wins that we wanted. We have to focus on that. We want to finish as high as we can. It is not a consolation, it is about getting the best out of the team and focusing and giving everything in every single game. We need to show we have the mental level to compete until the end. Our job is to give absolutely the maximum until the last day of the season. You expect that from ambitious, professional football players. We have values at this club that we respect and that we have to respect until the last minute of the season.

Arsene also cleared up a few other topical uncertainties. He revealed that both Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil were keen to renew their contracts at the club despite reports to the contrary, he himself would definitely see out the final year of his contract next season, and speculation linking Arsenal with a summer move for Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez was wide of the mark. On the latter, he said:

No, and even if there was I would not speak about that at this stage of the season [out of] respect to Leicester.

As you might have guessed from the matter of fact tone and length of today’s blog, I’m pressed for time but also a little short of patience when it comes to words from the Arsenal camp right now.

Let’s see the players and the manager do their talking through football tomorrow evening, go on to secure at least third place in the league and then we can regroup and ideally, address our shortcomings via the transfer market.

Because as Arseblog ruefully noted recently, interest in this season has waned dramatically along with the teams chances of silverware and aside from anything else, I think people are just a bit bored. I know I am.

Back pre or post match depending on my day tomorrow.

Until then.

15th April 2016: Wenger on team selection, Ozil and Wilshere

Happy Friday folks. With Leicester hosting a very dangerous West Ham side on Sunday and Tottenham facing a tricky trip away at Stoke City on Monday night, here’s hoping this weekend turns out far more positively for Arsenal than the last.

We host Crystal Palace on Sunday of course, and Arsene Wenger held his pre-match press conference this morning as we build up to the game. Having provided an injury update on midfielders Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain yesterday, the boss today discussed the potential involvement of two defensive players against the Eagles. He said:

I haven’t decided yet (if Per Metersacker will play). We are 48 hours away from the game so I will see. I have not decided that (who will play n goal). When it is decided I will have to inform the people first. Petr Cech is our No 1 but Ospina is also a fantastic goalkeeper. His numbers are absolutely exceptional in the Premier League. I felt that Petr Cech had only had one week of training (before the West Ham match last weekend) and was only just coming back.

Translated, that to me says Petr Cech will definitely start this weekend and Per Mertesacker’s a maybe, but if I was forced to guess, I’d say both will play from the off with David Ospina and Gabriel making way obviously. We’ll see.

Aside from team selection, Arsene also touched on various other topics, and I’ll start with his thoughts on Mesut Ozil’s nomination for the PFA Player of the Year award. He said:

He has been more efficient [this season]. I think he has created more chances and has scored more goals especially. I believe in a guy like Ozil, you see 10 to 15 goals, and I hope he will get to 10 at the end of the season but that is always what you think he should get. [When it comes to] providing chances, he is miles ahead on assists and combining the goalscoring with the assists means he deserves this award.

Whilst it’s true Mesut’s way out in front in terms of assists in this season’s Premier League with 18 (Riyad Mahrez is second on 12), for combined goals and assists (Ozil has 6 goals) the German is only joint fourth overall with Romelu Lukaku (18 goals and 6 assists).

The top three most productive players are Jamie Vardy (21 and 11), Mahrez (16 and 12) and Arsenal fan Harry Kane (22 and 3). So as much as I would love Ozil to be recognized for his assist-laden individual campaign, it has to be one of the Leicester pair in honesty. I’d give it to Vardy for what it’s worth.

Finally for this evening, the boss discussed Wilshere’s imminent return to the first-team fold having missed the entire season so far through injury. Having made a second appearance for our under 21s recently, the England international is penciled in to make a third on Monday night at West Brom, with Arsene saying the midfielder still needs more competitive game-time:

I think he needs one more game at least. He will play again with the under-21s on Monday. He should be involved in that. Then I will have to see how he compares to the other competitors in the first team. Once he is through three or four games then of course you consider him.

As I mentioned the other day, considering how late we are in the season it’s unlikely we’ll see Wilshere back to his best in an Arsenal shirt before the next campaign, and if we do, it’ll probably be as an impact sub late in games – a little like the end of last season.

But if he can go to the European Championships and enjoy a successful summer in France with England, perhaps that would go a long way in building confidence and helping him overcome any psychological barriers following such a lengthy layoff.

See you on Saturday.

7th April 2016: Wenger on team news, reluctance to rotate and learning from Leicester

Evening all. It seems like an age since we last heard from Arsene Wenger but the boss was back in front of the press this morning as he held his pre-West Ham press conference and discussed everything from team news to transfer speculation and lots in between.

I’ll start with the latest on our injury list ahead of our trip to Upton Park on Saturday and the big news is that Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini “could” return to action against the Hammers. Here’s what Arsene had to say:

We have a similar squad available. Ramsey could join the squad again because he had a good training session on Wednesday and would normally have a final test on Friday. There’s a possibility he could be back in the squad. Flamini is in a similar situation to Ramsey. Santi and Alex [Oxlade-Chamberlain] are the only injuries now. At the moment we [are waiting] on Alex coming back to fitness and Santi to practise. They should not be too far. Overall, the injury situation looks quite good. Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere will play for the under-21s on Friday night.

To be honest, even if Ramsey is deemed ready to return, I can’t see how he gets back in the side at the moment because Mohamed Elneny and Alex Iwobi’s recent form surely makes them impossible to leave out. The former’s passing, and blossoming partnership with Francis Coquelin in the middle of the park has been, as far as I’m concerned, the catalyst for our transformation from a bit of a misfiring shambles, into a fluently functioning and winning team again. So that’s one of Ramsey’s roles unavailable.

Then there’s the right hand side where Alexis Sanchez is currently playing, in part because he’s struggled on the left but also to accommodate Alex Iwobi, who’s impact in the three starts he’s been afforded in our last three games has made him integral to our threat in the final third. It’s a little unexpected, but right now the reality is that the only member of our British core worthy of a starting place is the one who will, in all probability, start against the Hammers – Danny Welbeck.

It was unsurprising then, given the above, that Arsene explained he was unlikely to change what’s been a winning formula for him of late, whilst also maintaining the title race was still far from decided. He said:

I’m always reluctant to change what works. [It is] down to the confidence gained from our last two games. Team play has improved in those games and our game is based on mobility, speed and technique. We have found a good balance in our game. We know that we need nearly the perfect run and we know as well that we don’t look only in front of us, we look behind us as well. We are chased by a group of teams who can make it very difficult for us so we have just to focus on our performance and hope we finish [the season] in a very strong way. As long as it’s mathematically possible, there’s a strong possibility [Arsenal can catch Leicester]. You look at the difficulty of the Premier League and they have been very consistent but every game is very, very tight. That can go the other way.

And speaking of the Foxes, the boss cited their shock surge for the Premier League crown this season as vindication for his long-held and often-criticized belief that money doesn’t guarantee success. He said:

What we learn from Leicester City is what I knew for a long time, which is that it’s not just only down to the amount of money you spend. It’s down to the quality of players you bring in and sometimes the opportunities are not always necessarily linked with the amount of money. If you look well, they finished very strongly last season and on top of that they brought some players in who have given them something more, like N’Golo Kante. He had a huge impact. We have spoken about [West Ham’s] Dimitri Payet – you could say along with Payet he is one of the players who had a big impact in this league.

He’s right of course, money alone doesn’t secure silverware, but it sure as hell helps. The other thing is that more than once after we’ve lost to the likes of Chelsea in the past he’s come out post-game and witheringly said something like, “They use their money well”, suggesting his team were beaten by a cheque book rather than the wit of an opposing manager. I love Arsene but he can’t have it both ways …

That’ll do for tonight.

See you on Friday folks.

6th April 2016: Alexis on injury fears, ambition and Ozil

Welcome to Wednesday on TremendArse. I’ll start this evening with an admittance from our south American superstar Alexis Sanchez that fear of sustaining another injury has hampered his performances since he returned from a two-month spell on the side-lines earlier in the campaign.

The Chilean tore his hamstring in our draw at Norwich at the end of November, and went on to miss 10 games in all competitions before making his comeback from the bench against Chelsea in late Janaury. Since then, Sanchez has struggled for goals and form by the lofty standards he set in his debut campaign.

There are mitigating circumstances of course, in that he failed to have a pre-season with Arsenal after helping Chile to win the Copa America last summer, before being rushed back to action by Arsene Wemger a lot sooner than most people had anticipated. Anyway, here’s what Sanchez had to say:

Before my injury I was 100 per cent fit. I was feeling well. After the injury I wanted to get back but it was hard. I had a setback and when I played a match, I was scared I would get injured again because the thing I like most in the world is playing football and when I can’t play, I feel sad. Football is my passion, my life and I always want to win. If I lose, I always go home sad, I can’t sleep and that upsets me. When I win, my team-mates are happy and enjoy their families the next day. Football is my life. I think I have adapted well to the club but I am never satisfied with what I do. I want to win the Premier League, the Champions League. I always want to win everything.

Despite having returned from injury over two months ago now, I think it’s fair to say Sanchez is still searching for his top gear. But with the Arsenal team a lot more settled and fluent in recent games, his own personal performances also seem to have improved, partly also perhaps because of a switch to the right flank. He’s notched up two assists and a goal in our last three games against Barcelona, Everton and Watford, so the signs are that he’s approaching something close to his best form again.

Arguably his best performance for us this season, aside from his hat-trick at Leicester in September, came in our mauling of Manchester United in October, when Sanchez scored twice in that ruthless opening 20 minutes in which we scored three times at Emirates stadium. And the forward suggested that game must be the blueprint for Arsenal, as well as lauding the quality of Mesut Ozil:

Before that match, we all had hunger and desire to win — you could see that in the eyes of the players before we went on to the pitch. When all the players have that look of hunger of wanting to win things, it’s difficult for another team to beat us. Ozil is a fantastic player. When I’m on top form, 100 per cent fit, because he has such quality, he can give me the ball with ease and that sets me up for scoring.

Needless to say our two most expensive-ever buys are also our two most influential attack-minded players, so hopefully we can keep them fit for the remaining eight games of the season and then tie them down to new contracts because there just aren’t many of their quality available in the market right now.

Finally for today, after promising there was more to come from him in yesterday’s post, Mohamed Elneny has revealed his joy at grabbing his first goal for the club having netted against Barcelona at Camp Nou last month, and also suggested the Premier League title is still within Arsenal’s reach this term. He told Arsenal Player:

I was very happy with it. However, I wasn’t happy with the result of the game as we didn’t qualify for the next round. It is something that you can’t describe afterwards – but I was very happy to score against Barcelona in the Nou Camp – it was a very beautiful feeling. Also, selecting it as Goal of the Month was very good. I hope to score more goals in the future, hopefully to help the team to win the league title this year.

Let’s hope so Mo. In fact, I can picture it now, Elneny smashes home the title-winning goal on the last day of the season against relegated Aston Villa, as Chelsea beat Leicester at Stamford Bridge, with Tottenham having dropped out of the picture entirely after going on a six-game losing streak.

It’s still on. I’m tellin’ ya …

Back tomorrow.

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.