24th May 2016: Prize money champions + Cech on Ozil

Evening all. I’ll begin tonight with the news that Arsenal have become the first club in history to be awarded more than £100 million after the Premier League’s payments to clubs for last season were released today.

Amazingly, the eye-watering figure is set to be some 60 percent higher next season, as the English top-flight’s gravy train gains yet more granules. The money’s obviously obscene, but does raise hopes even further that we’ll be big players in this summer’s transfer market. And for a club nicknamed the Bank of England club in the 1930s, you have to say it’s rather fitting we’re the first to break through the 100 million barrier.

Hopefully we’ll use the dosh to entice a string of star names to the club and not hoard it like tight-arsed, unambitious, overly-cautious, spend-thrift, piss-takers. Personally, I’d spunk the lot on a Neymar or a Gareth Bale, but as this isn’t fantasy-land, I’ll settle for a Gonzalo Higuain, a Robert Lewandowski or a Paulo Dybala, with maybe an N’Golo Kante thrown in for good measure.

Moving on and Petr Cech has been speaking about Mesut Ozil, describing his team-mate as “brilliant”. He said:

He’s been brilliant all season. Not only is he providing all of these assists, but in a game he is very important and very useful and he has improved in terms of goals scored. You could see that his overall game has been brilliant all year, so he definitely deserves to get the Player of the Season award. He’s raised the bar for next season so good luck to him for being able to keep it that high. He has great vision and, whatever he sees, he sees it much better than anyone else. He can execute the pass as well or use that space, with his movement or his pass. His quality with the ball, his passing and vision is extraordinary. It’s very tricky for the goalkeeper because you know anything can happen. He sometimes sees things and you think, ‘There’s no way he can put the ball there because it’s too complicated’, but he always finds the way. Even with his finishing, he has the calmness in front of goal, picks his spot very well and he can put it wherever he wants. When you look at these types of players everyone says, ‘They’re technically gifted, can pass and have nice vision’, but when it comes to running people question it. With Mesut you can see that he’s not [afraid of] running, pressing or the physical presence. He’s someone who works hard every day to be on top of his game and that’s why he’s at the top of his game, because he works for it.

Very high praise indeed for a player who was our stand-out offensive performer last season without question.

Now if we could just tie him down to a new contract and sign a forward or two to make the most of his creativity we might actually turn the talk into trophies. It’s not like we don’t have the money …

Until tomorrow.

18th May 2016: Au revoir again Mathieu

Welcome back. Although there’s been plenty said and written about the departures of Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky in recent days, Mathieu Flamini’s exit from the club has been noticeably low-key in comparison.

Unlike for the former duo, there are no interviews or commemorative compilations on the official site for the Frenchman for instance. But no matter, because TremendArse has a few farewell words for the two-time Gunner. Only a few mind, because it’s getting late and besides, I’m sure the billions Mathieu’s due to pocket from mass-producing levulinic acid will help him to get over the apparent dearth of public appreciation.

Probably the least naturally-gifted with a ball at his feet of our departing trio, Flamini made up for his relative lack of footballing ability through his extraordinary stamina levels, aggressive ball-winning and overall defensive doggedness – mainly in his first spell at the club between 2004 and 2008, admittedly.

In fact, in the 2007-2008 campaign, Flamini was a midfield force to be reckoned with, complimenting Cesc Fabregas’ game-controlling passing to brilliant effect as we led the Premier League table for most of the season and enjoyed a run to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, knocking out reigning champions AC Milan along the way.

Thinking back, only a cynical scythe by Steven Gerrard, which ended Flamini’s involvement in the second-leg of the quarter final at Anfield, stopped us from progressing to the semis, after a mesmeric opening 20-minute spell of football by Arsenal was built on the brilliant ball-nicking of the Frenchman. He was everywhere and Liverpool couldn’t handle him, until Gerrard cottoned on and decided to consciously injure a fellow pro. Still, I’ve moved on …

But back to Flamini and perhaps his muted farewell can, in part, be put down to his insistence on leaving the club in 2008 for Milan, after running down his contract having reportedly indicated he would extend his stay. That was seen by many as an unforgivable abandonment and it’s difficult to get away from the feeling his decision was driven by money rather than football. But then he did leave to join one of Europe’s traditional giants and being half-Italian himself must also have been a major motivator for his move to Milan.

Then came the comeback, in the summer of 2013, when most fans had expected a big-money defensive midfield signing to fill the hole left by Alexandre Song’s move to Barcelona, but instead we got Flamini, offered a contract having initially only been granted access to club facilities to work on his fitness after he left Italy as a free agent.

His second debut for Arsenal was memorable for the fact it came against Tottenham at Emirates stadium, and having entered the action as a substitute, he quickly made his presence known in typically robust style, barking orders, cajoling team-mates helping us to see out a narrow win.

Just like in his previous season as an Arsenal player six years earlier, we led the Premier League for long stretches of the season in 2013-14 and Flamini played a bigger part than many expected, diligently deputising for Mikel Arteta in partnering Aaron Ramsey and doing it pretty well in fairness. His goal at Cardiff that season certainly sticks out for me for example.

Then there was the bromance with Mesut Ozil and if nothing else, helping our record signing to settle in London is enough for me to view Flamini’s second spell as worth the wages. His two goals against Tottenham in the league cup this term will probably go down as the highlight of his second spell at the club but his penalty concession against Barcelona having just come on as sub earlier this year must have been the moment any chance of a contract extension disappeared for good.

So Flamini becomes the third experienced pro to part ways with the club this summer and although I think it will be pretty easy to replace their footballing qualities, we might find it a lot trickier to compensate for their character. Let’s hope not.

Until tomorrow.

16th May 2016: Arteta bows out in familiar fashion

Welcome to a brand new week on TremendArse. Amidst the Sp*rs-inspired amusement last night, I completely forgot to expand on Mikel Arteta’s strike against Aston Villa, so apologies. In my defence though, how often do events like yesterday’s at Emirates stadium and St James’ Park align so side-splittingly brilliantly? Exactly.

Anyway, despite the fact it will undoubtedly go down as an own goal after our departing Spaniard’s effort struck the crossbar before rebounding in off the back of the Villa keeper, I couldn’t help but immediately think back to Dennis Bergkamp Day at Highbury back in April 2006. Bear with me.

I was there that day and witnessed the Dutchman crown a fixture named in his honour by stepping off the substitute’s bench and producing a trademark curler to put us 3-1 up against West Brom, sealing three vital points in the process as we battled (successfully in the end) to pip Tottenham to fourth place that season.

Of course, Arteta won’t be held in nearly the esteem Bergkamp is by Arsenal fans because he wasn’t as good a player, didn’t win as many trophies with the club as Dennis did and was an Arsenal player for less than half the time the Dutchman was.

Yet when he wheeled away to celebrate our fourth having arrived late into the box to powerfully side-foot the ball goal-wards from an Alexis Sanchez pick-out, the feeling of fate being at play was palpable – just like that orange-tinged day at Highbury a decade ago.

Arteta may have divided opinion amongst Arsenal fans over the level of his footballing ability (and for me he was an effective antidote to the stinging loss of Cesc Fabregas from our midfield in the summer of 2011, but also a symbol of regression in terms of our team’s collective quality), but his character, professionalism and popularity amongst team-mates and staff at the club has never been in question. There were clearly some very good reasons he was chosen to captain the club and he’s been nothing short of an exemplary in his leadership.

There were some memorable goals along the way; long-range free-kicks and a winner against Manchester City, as well as a formidable partnership forged with Aaron Ramsey a few seasons ago as we led the Premier League table for most of the season.

But if last season suggested his time was up as a starter at Arsenal, this season rammed that fact home with few first-team appearances forthcoming for the midfielder and fewer still when he looked like the Arteta of old. Injuries clearly took their toll in the end but we should be thankful to the Spaniard for steadying our side with his natural authority and calm passing in our time of need some six years ago. So thank you Mikel.

And Arteta himself expressed his gratitude at having been an Arsenal player when he gave an emotional interview to Arsenal Player following yesterday’s game, saying:

It’s a day I will never forget, I can only thank everyone for how you have all behaved with me and my family in those magnificent five years. When you leave the club is when you see what you mean to people and how you feel about the club. My emotions and the way I feel about the people cannot be any better. I was very scared about this day because 99 per cent, that was my last game as a professional footballer. I can’t even talk. I feel very honoured to play for this club and captain this place. This club is class and once you are here you never forget it. It’s going to be hard for me to move on, but I really enjoyed today.

So did we Senor, so did we.

All that remains to be said I suppose is good luck with the coaching at City next season and if you really love Arsenal, tap up Sergio Aguero for us when you get there. Tell him all about the wonders of London Colney and life as a Gunner –  you’d go from loved to legendary in an instant …

Back tomorrow.

10th May 2016: Welbeck worry + Giroud on getting back among the goals

Evening all. Some worrying news to begin with this evening as the Guardian have reported that the knee injury Danny Welbeck sustained against Manchester City on Sunday may need surgery and the striker is facing ‘months out of the game’.

A proper prognosis is expected tomorrow but Welbeck’s dreams of playing for England in this summer’s European Championships certainly appear over and he’s already in a race to be fit for the start of next season.

I’m not sure what to say other than our injury curse would be funny if it wasn’t so soul-destroyingly depressing. We’ve improved our medical department significantly in recent seasons yet remain extraordinarily prone to picking up long-term injuries as a club.

Wearing my Arsenal hat I suppose the best thing we can say about Danny’s latest knock is that it’s probably come at the best time it possibly could for us (other than ‘never’ obviously), with the season having just one more game to run.

But that of course is absolutely no consolation for the player himself, who’s not long been back from ten months out of the game with a different knee injury, and who I’m sure was relishing the prospect of representing his country at a major tournament in just a few weeks’ time.

I read somewhere that his ‘type’ of meniscus-related problem isn’t as bad as certain others and that he should make a complete recovery within around four months but when you then add match-practice etc, it may be closer to six.

Hopefully we’ll get good news tomorrow and the time-frame isn’t quite as long as that but for now all we can do is wish Danny a speedy recovery and hope he returns from injury in the same goal-scoring fashion as he did against Leicester in February.

Elsewhere, Welbeck’s fellow Arsenal front-man Olivier Giroud has been speaking to Arsenal Player about ending his goal-scoring drought after he headed home our first against City last weekend. He said:

The goal meant a lot because it has been a tough time for me on the pitch as I have missed a bit of efficiency, a bit of luck and a lot of things. Things haven’t gone my way to [allow me to] finish, but I kept the faith and knew that it would come back. It is always nice for a striker to score, even more with an assist for Alexis’ second goal which was important. We now have our own destiny in our hands to finish third or maybe second. These last few weeks I tried to set up goals. [Alexis’ goal] was my sixth assist but I’m happy to score too and help the team to reach our target and qualify for the Champions League. That is a great present. We are a team and a group that makes the difference. We try to help each other do the job. We fight for each other and we have a good understanding.

Meanwhile, his manager Arsene Wenger hailed Giroud’s performance at Etihad stadium, as well has praising his team’s ability to twice fight back from a goal down to secure a point. He said:

Olivier Giroud was questioned recently and I’m happy I kept confidence in him because I thought he had a top-level performance. He was fighting, he had control of the ball, he was finishing and he gave an assist. We showed a lot of character and the intensity of the game was very high. We dealt well with what was thrown at us and Manchester City looked like they were doing absolutely everything to win the game. They are difficult to beat and we have shown again that we can get results against top teams. The fact we came back twice each time we were down, we looked like we had the response to score. I think we could have won the game in the end. Overall, it is a positive result.

Given Welbeck’s injury, the onus will very much be on Giroud to continue his goalscoring against Aston Villa on the final day of the season, as we look to secure at least a third-placed finish.

Hopefully the striker can do just that and then we can head into the summer and reshape our squad in what promises to be a very busy transfer market.

Back 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.

8th May 2016: Giroud and Sanchez score to secure draw at City

Welcome back. Arsenal twice came back from a goal down to draw 2-2 at Manchester City this afternoon and ensure that just a single point against Aston Villa in our final league game of the season will be enough to guarantee a top-three finish.*

As for our hosts, they now face the prospect of welcoming new manager Pep Guardiola to England without Champions League football, with bitter rivals Manchester United just two points behind them but with a game in hand.

Yet City began today’s match like I feared they would – on the front foot and seemingly determined to wave off their departing manager Manuel Pellegrini with a convincing win in what was his last home game in charge of the club.

After dominating possession in the opening exchanges, City’s pressure eventually told when Sergio Aguero gave them the lead on eight minutes. With Arsenal forced to defend deep and appearing unable to get out of their own half, Aguero quite brilliantly fired home a half volley past Petr Cech at the near post.

The fact the ball was slightly behind Aguero as he struck it, and he was using his unfavoured left foot, made it the kind of conversion that demonstrates how valuable it is to have a truly top-draw striker leading your line. Not many other strikers in the world, let alone the Premier League, would have taken that opportunity in my opinion.

Given the spankings we’ve suffered after conceding early in big games in recent years, a lot of fans would have been fearing the worst but remarkably, we were level just two minutes later thanks to the interventions of Gallic Gunners past and present. (Okay, so Nicklas Bendtner would have done, in his sleep, but apart from that ..)

First, Olivier Giroud controlled the ball brilliantly on the left of the box and clipped a hopeful ball in the general direction of Alexis Sanchez at the far post. Former Arsenal left-back Gael Clichy tried to head it back safely to his ‘keeper Joe Hart but misdirected and saw the ball bounce dangerously across his own goal-line, clip the far post, and go out for a corner. Mohamed Elneny took it and Giroud easily escaped the attentions of his marker to head home his first goal in approximately four-and-a-half years.

It was pretty poor game overall in truth, albeit one punctuated by very good goals and the next one arrived after the interval, by which point Danny Welbeck had long left the action after injuring his knee and being replaced by a far-from-match-fit-looking Jack Wilshere.

Kevin de Bruyne was the man to get it, picking the ball up midway inside his own half, running at the retreating Arsenal defence and firing low into Cech’s near post from about 25 yards.  Yes we could and should have defended it better but it was a great goal by a quality player to be fair.

Arsene Wenger responded by introducing Theo Walcott in place of Alex Iwobi and the former should have equalized after making a brilliant out-to-in run from the right to leave himself one-on-one with Hart, but miscued his finish. Yet we did get our second moments later. Sanchez picked up the ball from Nacho Monreal, played it forward to Giroud and continued his run.

The Frenchman, despite being very tightly marked, managed to somehow produce the most perfect first-time layoff back into Sanchez’s path. With the City defence parting like someone in their vicinity had let off a particularly rotten one, the Chilean whipped the ball past Hart and into the bottom corner first-time.

With over 20 minutes still remaining, I expected much more of a City onslaught given how important it was they won the game for their top four hopes, but it never really materialized and aside from a Wilfried Bony volley that rattled our cross-bar, the hosts never looked close to forcing a winner.

With Tottenham losing at home to Southampton earlier in the day, second spot remains in sight but we need Newcastle to beat our neighbours on the final day and for us to be beat Aston Villa. Given the Magpies could well be fighting for their Premier League lives, it’s not out of the question then, but either way, today’s draw means a win over Villa will guarantee us third spot and negate the need for an annoying Champions League play-off. It could be worse.

See you next week.

*our goal difference is 12 better than Manchester United.

7th May 2016: Second still in our sights as we head to City + Welbeck warning

Saturday greetings. Despite Leicester being crowned champions earlier and our top four place all but secured already, Arsene Wenger underlined the importance of winning at Manchester City tomorrow when he spoke at his pre-match press conference yesterday.

With Tottenham hosting a dangerous Southampton in the early kick-off on Sunday, before travelling to a Newcastle United side battling for their Premier League lives on the final day of the season, second spot is far from out of reach for Arsenal, even with just two games to go. But to give ourselves a chance, we’ll have to win both games and the boss says the “future of Arsenal Football club depends on this game”:

Sunday’s game is still important, even if Leicester are champions today and we are second best. It is still a very important game because part of the responsibility of being professional is to prepare the future. The future of Arsenal Football Club depends on this game. There’s a European Championship and there’s a Copa America [in the summer]. To get our players back, we made a schedule. It’s absolutely very difficult because the European Championship finishes on July 10. If you think that you have to give at least three to four weeks of holiday to the players who go to the end [of the tournament], that means they come back at the beginning of August. Our target now is to secure a position in the Champions League next year. If possible, to get second place or at least secure third place. On Sunday we can achieve that. We still have two games, and if we win those two games we will be alright.

In terms of how we might line-up, my guess is we’ll see a few changes to the starting line-up from last week’s win over Norwich. Gabriel will come in for the hamstrung Per Mertesacker of course, but I’m also expecting Danny Welbeck to be restored upfront in place of Olivier Giroud.

I think a change in central midfield is also very likely, with either Aaron Ramsey moved forward at the expense of say, Alex Iwobi, or dropped to the bench to make way for Francis Coquelin or even Santi Cazorla or Jack Wilshere. I hope so anyway!

This fixture last season was a springboard for a superb run of form in the calendar year of 2015 of course and Danny Welbeck, who missed out on the 2-0 win in January last year, says Arsenal’s game-plan that day was spot-on. He told Arsenal Player:

I remember watching it at home on TV with my family. The performance was outstanding, from the first minute until the last. It was a great team performance, everyone worked hard throughout the game and I think tactically we were spot on with how we approached the match. I’ve got some good memories [at Man City], and a couple of bad ones as well. I think it’s important to focus on the next game coming and make sure that it’s another good memory.

And although Manuel Pellegrini’s men come into the game off the back of a hugely disappointing Champions League semi-final loss to Real Madrid, Welbeck warns City will prove difficult opposition for Arsenal. The striker said:

For them to be going into a Champions League semi-final second leg and having the opportunity to progress to the final is a major situation. Them not qualifying will put a bit of a downer on their confidence but City have a great squad, a great team and have great players in and around the whole club. There’s a lot of players who can come in on the weekend and provide a very stern test for Arsenal.

Which is very true. Even without David Silva and Vincent Kompany, who are likely to miss the game through injury, City can still field a star-studded selection who may just want to thank Pellegrini for his management in what will be his final home game as City manager by putting in a top performance. Lets hope not.

COYG!

Back post-match.