17th May 2016: Farewell Tomas Rosicky

Evening all. Having discussed Mikel Arteta in yesterday’s post, I’d like to focus today on another of our three departing players, Tomas Rosicky.

Signed in the summer of 2006 as a replacement for Villarreal-bound Robert Pires, the Czech’s capture was seen as quite a coup for the club at the time, particularly with Chelsea also being heavily linked with the player.

I’d first seen him in action playing against us for Sparta Prague at Highbury in 2000, when he capped a fine individual performance by scoring a brilliant solo goal, slaloming through our defence and burying a low shot past David Seaman. Impressed, I kept a eye on his career as he moved to Germany with Borussia Dortmund before we eventually made him a Gunner.

A decade on though, sadly his career with the club will be best remembered for his recurring and lengthy injury lay-offs more than his performances, but that’s not to say Tomas didn’t have some sublime moments in an Arsenal shirt.

I was still coming round from the anesthetic following a leg op when I got home and tuned in to see Rosicky score a screamer from about 3o yards against Hamburg in the 2006 Champions League, very early on in his Gunners’ career.

Having seen him produce a similar effort playing for his country in the World Cup a few weeks earlier, I remember thinking that I hadn’t quite appreciated how good his shooting from distance was until then – I’d always had him down as primarily a pass-and-mover and a dribbler.

Then there was a double at Anfield in an FA Cup game – the same one in which Thierry Henry destroyed Jamie Carragher if I remember right. In more recent years there’s been a few stunning strikes against Tottenham and in between I’m sure countless other bits of brilliance I’ve forgotten.

All of which is to say that even though I’m left feeling like I never saw nearly enough of Tomas in a Arsenal shirt these last ten years, and so can only imagine what he might have helped us achieve as a club had his body allowed him to play more often, I’m still thankful for the goals and guts (despite having a slight frame) he brought to the team over the years.

It’s hard for many fans to see him leave no doubt, and the midfielder has been discussing why he’ll find it just as difficult to wave goodbye to Arsenal. He said:

It was an amazing [reception from the fans] – if you spend 10 years somewhere it is really difficult as you are so attached to the club. It is unbelievable. It is very difficult to say goodbye after 10 years when you know everyone at the club. All the young English guys when I came here grew up alongside me, I have seen them since they were 16 years old basically – Jack, Theo, the Ox, Aaron and Kieran Gibbs, so many. I have seen them grow from little lads to the big players they are now and this makes me proud that I had an influence on their growth and education. That is why it is really difficult to leave.

I would say it’s time for that quintet to now really step up and show exactly how much they learned from an experienced pro like Rosicky, but I’m not sure how many of them will still be at the club by the start of next season, given Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gibbs have been linked with moves away from Arsenal over the last couple of months.

But back to Tomas and unlike Arteta, I think the Czech may well have more football still in him. Whether that’s in England, back at his first club Sparta Prague or elsewhere remains to be seen, but one things for sure, if his new employers can help him to stay fit for any prelonged period of time, they’ll have a hell of a player at their disposal. Even at the age of 35.

Hodně štěstí Tomas !

Until tomorrow.

14th April 2016: Injury update + Per on defensive discipline

Evening all and welcome back. For those interested in a spot of skiving off work first thing in the morning, Arsene Wenger’s press conference will be streamed live on the official from 9am UK time tomorrow. But the boss did provide his customary Thursday update on injury news to Arsenal.com earlier today.

Thankfully, we have everybody fit from last weekend’s squad who drew at West Ham, whilst the prognoses for our injured quartet of Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky sound promising. Here’s what Arsene said:

Next week they (Oxlade-Chamberlain and Cazorla) will be back maybe, they are not back in full training yet. Jack and Tomas are playing today for the under-21s. They have had no reaction from last Friday’s game and they look alright. From last Saturday’s game against West Ham, we should have everyone available who was in the squad.

Whilst it’s obviously great to hear we’re nearing full fitness as a squad, with so little of the season left to play it’s unlikely any of those four players will have any significant role to play this season. Clearly, I hope I’m wrong, and Wilshere plays it to Cazorla who finds Rosicky to tee up the Ox for a title-clinching goal on the last day of the season, but you know…

Which means the onus to perform will firmly be on those who have helped us to impressive wins at Everton and at home to Watford, as well as that draw with the Hammers in recent weeks – which I’m quite happy with if I’m honest.

Despite the Andy Carroll-caused defensive shenanigans for ten minutes either side of half time at Upton Park, we’ve looked a fluent, dangerous side recently and I’d back them to win our remaining games, with the possible exception of Manchester City away, although they of course will hopefully be preoccupied by their European run.

Moving on now though and Per Metesacker and Laurent Koscielny have both been speaking to Arsenal Player. The former discussed the importance of defensive discipline between now and the end of the season, saying:

[We need] discipline. We lacked a bit of that desperation, even when 2-0 up at West Ham, to defend and get everyone behind the ball. To come back to that level is absolutely important in the Premier League, and if you don’t you will get punished. These details are very important to us and everyone can see it, it is obvious. We want to win every single match now, to put the teams in front of us under pressure. We have got the belief we can win every single one and that is the task from now on: to concentrate on the next one. When something is going against us in a game, we have to focus on ourselves and not get distracted by anything else. The focus and the mindset is really important. There are fast changes, even in a single game and also throughout the stretch of the season. We have to be ready and concentrate on ourselves and our games – anything can happen in football. We need to be there, when there is space and teams are dropping points. But that is not our business, we are just talking about ourselves and trying to win every single game.

Whilst Koscielny praised January signing Mohamed Elneny’s impact on the team. He said:

When he signed I could see he was a good player with the ball and how he could make good passes. He is not a player who takes the ball and goes from box to box with it, but he can help the team go higher up the pitch and keep the ball, which is very important. He doesn’t lose many balls during a game, he has scored and he has played well. He signed three months ago so his adaption to our philosophy at Arsenal and [to life] in England… I am very impressed with it.

As are we Laurent. Although Aaron Ramsey, and other central midfielders on Arsenal’s books, may just be sh*ting themselves a little bit whilst wondering how exactly they force their way back into the team. And if they’re not, they should be such has been the Egyptian’s start to life at the club. Keep it up Mo!

See you on Friday folks.

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.

18th March 2016: Wenger on title race and team news

Happy Friday. It’s Everton away in the early kick-off tomorrow and nothing bar victory will suffice for Arsenal as we try to keep alive our faint hopes of ending the season as Premier League champions.

Many have already written us off and called a two-horse race between Tottenham and leaders Leicester but that, as things stand at least, is premature. If we win tomorrow we could end the day three points behind second placed Sp*rs and eight behind the Foxes with a game in hand – if Claudio Ranieri’s men slip up at Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace.

So when Arsene Wenger spoke at his pre-match press conference earlier today and suggested there’s still likely to be twists and turns and the title race was far from a foregone conclusion, you could see where he’s coming from.

On the other hand, with Manchester City just a point behind us, West Ham a further two adrift and even Manchester United not yet out of the top-four picture entirely in sixth place, we need to be just as wary of those behind us in the standings, as we hopeful of catching the two teams ahead. Here’s what Arsene said:

I would say we have to go step by step. Let’s get back to winning habits first, that starts tomorrow… if we win tomorrow, we’ll see. That’s our target. But at the moment, the only way to achieve something special is first to be realistic and humble enough to deal first with Everton. Things will change until the end of the season, that’s for sure. We have to take care of our own destiny, and that’s by producing the performances we expect from ourselves. It’s very tight, but I believe the Premier League is far from over. We are in a position where we hope for the best. I agree that a negative result would be very bad for us, but we focus on a positive result. We know now is the time for us to produce the result we want. We also have to look behind us because things can change very quickly. We want to move forward, but I’m conscious that our position is not secure, even where we are.

In terms of team news, the boss revealed only Mathieu Flamini, who went off injured against Barcelona on Wednesday, is unavailable from our last match-day squad and will be replaced by Calum Chambers. As for our long-term casualties, he revealed:

Wilshere is showing good signs now of recovery, Santi is a bit slower. The players who will definitely be back from injury [after the international break] will be Ramsey, Cech and maybe Flamini. But I don’t think Cazorla or Wilshere will be straight after the international break.

So good news on most but a little sketchy on Santi, which is of course concerning and also a little confusing, because when Arsene spoke a week or two about the Spaniard suffering a fresh setback due to an Achilles problem, the player himself took to social media to express his surprise at the stories of a delayed comeback and insisted he was on schedule to return at the start of April. All a bit weird.

Now usually, I’d play Arsenal Manager right about now and have a guess at tomorrow’s starting line-up but today, I’m not really feeling it. I just hope whoever’s selected performs well, we keep 11 players on the pitch for the whole game and emerge victorious to breathe fresh life into a campaign that’s nearing a flat-line.

Back post-match.


18th February 2016: Early Hull team news + Oxlade-Chamberlain’s contract

Welcome back. As we prepare to host Hull City in the FA Cup on Saturday afternoon, Arsene Wenger today provided a fitness update via the official site, with the standout news being Laurent Koscielny is on course to play.

Removed at half-time in our last game against Leicester, Sky reported the defender had sustained a dead leg so to hear the boss say he’s almost ready to return is obviously a big boost as we enter a difficult run of fixtures which includes games against Barcelona and Manchester United.

Arsene also discussed the fitness of Gabriel and Mohamed Elneny, as well as what sort of side he’ll select for the visit of Steve Bruce’s men. He said:

Koscielny is doing well. He has a test this morning and he looks positive. He (Gabriel) is running outside. He is out for Saturday. I will, as always, play a team who has a good chance to qualify. The normal squad is involved on Saturday. It is a normal squad and we’ll play a usual strong team. Elneny is fit. He is one of the players who could get a run [out] there. He’s mobile, he’s a very good player. He’s adapting at the moment and I think he’s there now. We’ll certainly see him against Hull. He has a chance to start.

I’ll discuss what I think our team for the game might look like in tomorrow’s post but two players who won’t be playing against us on Saturday are Chuba Akpom and Isaac Hayden who are of course on loan at Hull from Arsenal.

Arseblog news reported today that The Tigers’ press office say ‘both players are definitely out’ of the game which tallies with reports at the start of the month that FA rules prevent on-loan players taking the field against parent clubs regardless of any agreement on the matter between the two clubs involved. It’s the right call in my opinion but having seen Sanchez Watt play against us when on-loan at Leeds during the 2010-12 campaign, there’s obviously been a rule-change.

Moving away from the Hull game now and a story that caught my eye today was one about Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s alleged demands for a vastly improved new contract. I’ve seen some people losing their sh*t over the Ox wanting to double his money because ‘he hasn’t achieved anything yet’ and ‘has it all to prove still’ etc, but I’m not sure what the fuss is about if I’m honest.

He’s one of England’s best young players, an international, and despite his struggles this season, a player of huge potential. People may say potential doesn’t deserve reward but the reality is if we don’t pay him the going rate for someone of his ability regardless of age and whether he’s currently got the tangible goals and assists to back it up, someone else happily will.

If you don’t rate him then that’s a different matter, but personally I think he could develop into England’s very best attacker with a little luck and so would give him closer to the money comparable contemporaries earn. Raheem Sterling, who I don’t rate as highly as the Ox, was transferred for £50m and earns a reported salary of £180k a week for instance.

Then there’s marketability value to factor in, with the Ox being a young English starlet and all that stuff so without wanting to pretend like I know exactly how these things work, I don’t think the player deserves some of the stick he’s been getting about this. Every player on the planet tries his best to maximize his earnings and basically it’s his prerogative.

Hopefully club and player can come to an agreement over terms sooner rather than later because this summer the player will have two years remaining on his current deal which is when things can start to get more complicated. Plus the thought of us ever selling another first-teamer in, or approaching, his prime is pretty galling. Sign him up Arsenal …

Arsene should hold his pre-Hull press conference in the morning so I’ll be back tomorrow with thoughts on that, and also play Arsenal Manager again by guessing our starting eleven for the game.

See you on Friday.

13th February 2016: Premier League Preview – Arsenal prepare for Fox hunt

Saturday greetings. Today’s Premier League fixtures felt very much like the aperitif before tomorrow’s top-four feast, when Manchester City host Tottenham and we welcome league leaders Leicester to Emirates stadium.

I mean, it was still as hilarious to see Manchester United lose at Sunderland as it is annoying watching Chelsea take an early three-goal lead against hapless Newcastle as I write this, but these games, along with the rest today, are already pretty much insignificant in terms of the title race. All rather mid-table meek, or pre-crucial survival stuff.

You can be sure there’ll be no love lost in either fixture on Valentine’s Day however, as each of the four clubs strive to cement their title credentials at the expense of one of their direct rivals for the crown. We play first of course, kicking off at noon and hoping to reduce the gap to the top of the table to just two points, having seen ourselves fall eight adrift of the summit this time last week.

Defeat, even with 12 games still to play after tomorrow, doesn’t bear thinking about but for all of Leicester’s surreal success so far this season, in my opinion we’re by far the better team both on paper and the pitch, providing we play to our potential.

Yet as Claudio Ranieri’s men showed last weekend by containing and countering to win convincingly at City, they are a far more intelligent outfit right now than even earlier this season, when they often conceded first before coming storming back, but of course also reversed that trend in late September, when they struck first against us at their place only to eventually lose 5-2.

Their Italian manager has clearly seen his ideas and instructions seep into his side gradually over the course of the season and they now resemble a top side from their boss’ home country – defensively organised and hard to break down in a compact shape, but rapidly efficient in breaking forward and unerringly cut-throat when they get there.

It’s an evolution in Leicester’s playing style Arsene Wenger revealed he’s very aware of having studied the statistics, but as well as trying to stifle Leicester’s game-plan, the boss maintains Arsenal must play to their own strengths and that means dominating possession. He said:

I told my defence after the game [in September], ‘I’m not happy with your performance’ because they created goal chances. We created many as well. It could have been, 5-2 or 8-4. I was already impressed by their offensive potential. But it was a very open game. I watched our game again because I wanted to watch how this team moved since then. There is an evolution in their game. They are more cautious at the moment. They play a lot in their final third and come out very quickly. Look at the number of direct balls from their half to the opponents’ half. They are higher than anyone else because they have Vardy on his way straight away when they win the ball – they do it very well. They suck you in and go very quickly in the opponents’ half. At the time they were a bit more all going. Today they are a bit more ‘let’s sit here and use our strengths’ in a very efficient way, which is what they did remarkably well against Manchester City. We will try of course to stop their counter-attacking. But at home you have to express your strengths and our strength is to have the ball. We have to try to express our strengths and as well try to stop them from hitting us on the break.

In terms of how we’ll line up, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my guess would be that we’ll see one change from last weekend’s starting line-up against Bournemouth, with Francis Coquelin replacing Mathieu Flamini as our defensive midfielder.

That of course means Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would retain his place on the right of our attack and after he returned to form with a well-taken goal against the Cherries, I think it would be the right call by the boss.

And speaking of the Ox, Arsene says his recent good form – emphasised by a goal and an assist in his last two starts – has hopefully provided the boost in confidence the England man needed to kick-start his season:

He got an assist, then he scored and that sometimes opens a light. I’m convinced that in every career, you have moments where you think ‘I can do that’ and transform your potential into reality. I’m convinced that that will give him appetite to score more, to give more assists and to go more in the final third, where he can be deadly. You cannot imagine when you look at Alex that he will not score goals. He has power, pace, technique, finishing. I believe that only he maybe did not believe enough that he can score. That will convince him and hopefully it’s the start of many more.

I have to say the Ox’s struggles for form this season have baffled me at times. In pre-season, he was our stand-out player as far as I was concerned, and I thought it was a sign he would make his mark on this campaign like never before.

Clearly it hasn’t turned out that way and he’s actually found himself falling further down the pecking order with the emergence of Joel Campbell as a bone fide first-teamer, rather than bulldozing his way up it like I, and I’m sure many others, expected.

But if I’m right about him retaining his place against the Foxes, the Ox has a chance to shine in a huge game tomorrow, perhaps even be a match-winner, and prove that he deserves to start week in week out.

I’m really up for this one. It’s a six-pointer no question, probably pivotal in terms of our title hopes and also has a bit of an ‘us versus the rest of the country’ vibe to it. Leicester are the nation’s darlings right now – it’s up to us to ruin the romance of their surprise rise on Valentine’s Day, and reignite our own charge for the title.

Back post-match.

COME on Arsenal …

11th February 2016: Welbeck return in sight + United States tour announced

Evening all. Arsene Wenger today provided an update on team news via the official site and revealed Danny Welbeck could be ready to make his long-awaited return from a knee injury against Hull in the FA Cup a week on Saturday.

In further good news for our challenge for silverware this season, the boss also confirmed that Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere are back running, and their respective comebacks are now just a matter of weeks away. He said:

It is a similar squad available to last week, we are still early in the week but we should have everyone available. Of course Rosicky [is out], and Wilshere is not ready. But everyone else should be available. He (Welbeck) is doing well, it is a bit early for him maybe but he is now back to full power in training. It is a big possibility [he could be involved against Hull next week]. We gave him one or two days recovery after the under-21 game, but now he is back in full training. He has worked very hard and he is fit. They (Wilshere and Cazorla) are back running, they are on a fitness programme now so it means it is not a question of months anymore, it is a question of weeks for them to be back.

It’s good to know we’re getting there. The last three long-termers – if you exclude poor Tomas Rosicky – have comebacks in sight and even if being fit for full training and match-fitness are two different things, we can at least look forward to having three potentially first-choice players available for selection again in the not-too-distant future.

I’ve harped on about Cazorla’s importance to our side and how his absence has deprived our football of fluency often enough on this blog, but Welbeck, who is closest to a comeback, could prove a big player for us in the run-in.

Although he’s capable of playing on the flanks to great effect, it’s the prospect of him leading the line with Mesut Ozil in behind and Alexis Sanchez from the left that intrigues and excites.

Add either Aaron Ramsey, Joel Campbell or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to the right and we have a front four with just about everything. Pace, skill, strength, creativity, endeavour and hopefully, lots of goals.

Meanwhile, Arsenal have announced their second tour of the USA in three summers. Having played Thierry Henry’s New York Red Bulls in 2014, Arsene will again take his squad across the Atlantic as part of their pre-season preparations for next season.

An announcement on the official site read:

Arsenal Football Club can announce that it will be playing two pre-season matches in the United States this summer. The first game will see Arsène Wenger’s side take on the 2016 MLS AT&T All-Stars at Avaya Stadium in San Jose on Thursday, July 28 at 9pm (ET). MLS All-Star teams have previously featured former Arsenal players Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg and, this season, supporters could see the likes of Kaka, Didier Drogba, Sebastian Giovinco and Bradley Wright-Phillips in the MLS All-Star squad. The Gunners will then go on to play Chivas de Guadalajara at the StubHub Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, July 31 (kick-off time to be announced at a later date).

Whilst the boss had this to say on the upcoming trip:

Pre-season is a critically important time for us and we are delighted to be going to San Jose and Los Angeles to participate in the 2016 MLS All-Star game and to play Chivas. We have tremendous support across America and enjoyed our visit to New York in the summer of 2014 when we played the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena. We look forward to giving our US fans the chance to see the team play live.

The club also confirmed these two fixtures would be our only ones outside of Europe during the close season.

Long-distance tours are obviously not ideal in term of preparation for a new campaign but they are now firmly part of the summer schedule for most clubs so at least we won’t be the only ones having to overcome jet-lag and time-zone readjustments.

On the plus side some of our growing number of fans in the States will be able to watch their team live and of course, the main reason for the trip, is to promote the Arsenal brand and earn some extra dough to perhaps put towards a Paul Pogba or a Paulo Dybala …

Back tomorrow after Arsene’s held his pre-Leicester presser.


10th February 2016: Some chat from Chambers

Welcome to Wednesday on TremendArse. The pre-Leicester lull in Arsenal-related news is beginning to grate now because unlike most fans, who simply occupy themselves with life between games, I choose to write a daily blog about the club, so the dearth of stuff to discuss really is quite a pain in the Arse.

I know what you’re thinking: why write one then you ****? The answer is: I’m not sure. I like writing, and I love Arsenal, so it kind of makes sense to combine the two. It certainly beats going to the gym after work. I mean, if it’s typing or working on my triceps, there’s only going to be one winner. And who needs guns when you’ve got a cannon …

Sooooooooo, Calum Chambers has been speaking with Arsenal Player, discussing how he feels he’s progressed as a player and also picking his standout team-mate – and moment – of the year 2015. The former Southampton man said:

I have not played as much as I did the year before but I think it has been good for me as I have been able to take a step back and learn from the players in my positions and in training really focus on my role. [I have been] learning from the more experienced players and watching them in games. I think [Mesut Ozil] has been unbelievable. He is a world class player and it is a privilege to train with him so he has been my standout player of 2015. My favourite moment of the year would have to be the FA Cup final. That was an amazing experience and a really enjoyable moment.

After playing quite regularly as both centre-back and right-back at the start of last season, Chambers has indeed enjoyed far less game-time this term, but I think that may well change in the final few months of the season.

Following Chambers’ arrival in the summer of 2014, Hector Bellerin emerged as first-choice right-back from virtually nowhere and Gabriel was bought just over a year ago so competition for a place in the back four increased considerably.

But now that Mathieu Debuchy has left on loan, Chambers is Bellerin’s understudy, albeit he’s still fourth-choice for a game at centre-half and probably also now just as far away from an outing as a defensive midfielder behind Francis Coquelin, Mathieu Flamini and Mohamed Elneny.

What will certainly aid his cause is having the right attitude when not playing, something Debuchy evidently lacked but Calum himself has highlighted as paramount when speaking with the official site:

You’ve got to have a good attitude. I think that is one of the most important things for me growing up at Southampton. It is all about attitude and the willingness to learn and learn off others. You have to try to go into every session wanting to learn more and try to improve. You can either coast through it or give it the mindset that you want to learn and improve in that session. Stepping into a professional environment and playing first-team football, I think the most important thing I learnt is that you have to be confident enough to express yourself on the pitch in front of a big crowd. You always have to enjoy training, enjoying playing. That is one of the most important things for me. You don’t go through games perfectly. You can watch it back and there will be things you have done wrong. I think you can learn from every game, every decision and every touch – just analysing yourself. I have to keep striving to want more, wanting to improve. The level of the games now means you have to keep at your game every week. My mindset is on improving massively. You have to want to be a better player so I think from a young age you have to have a good attitude and want to learn and improve. You could say that separates the greats from the ordinary – that willingness to go the extra step. I’m sure all the best players want to learn and get the best information from people as possible. I think that is very important.

After a great education in the famed Southampton academy, Calum’s certainly under the tutelage of the right manager as he strives to develop his game. A little similar to another former Saints’ starlet, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, I think he, and we, are yet to learn what his best long-term position will be.

Some will say playing in different roles isn’t helping his development but I think many more experienced footballers can be shown up as examples of how operating in different areas of the pitch proved beneficial in the long-run.

Personally I think Calum may be best at centre-back but if he can learn to cope with pacier opponents and continue contributing in the attacking third like he did with that exquisitely-taken goal in the FA Cup against Burnley recently, then perhaps right-back is where his future lies.

As for defensive midfield, I would say that’s the least likely of the three positions he’s been tried in so far. Either way, it’s good to know we have yet another intelligent and talented young player working hard to improve and impress at the club.

Until tomorrow.

6th February 2016: Premier League Preview – Arsenal to face familiar A-foe-be

Good evening. Arsenal face south-coast opposition for the second time inside a week when we travel to Bournemouth tomorrow afternoon, looking to secure our first Premier League win in five fixtures.

With Leicester City’s dream season continuing unabated as they beat Manchester City 3-1 at Etihad stadium earlier today to remain clear at the top of the table, we’re now eight points behind the Foxes, so the pressure on us to get back to winning ways in the Premier League has obviously been amplified.

But beat Bournemouth tomorrow and we have an opportunity to close that gap to just two points as early as next weekend, when we host Claudio Ranieri’s league leaders on Valentine’s Day and attempt to take some of the romance out of their surreal success story so far this season, along with the three points.

Standing in our way first though are the Cherries, who themselves have exceeded most people’s pre-season expectations and currently sit relatively comfortably in 15th place in the standings, five points above the relegation zone and with a game in hand over the teams below them.

One of their most in-form players at the moment is striker Benik Afobe, who of course came through the Arsenal youth ranks having joined our academy at just six years of age, before we eventually let him leave for Wolverhampton Wanderers in a reported £2 million transfer in January last year.

I remember Arsene Wenger describing Afobe as a ‘deadly finisher’, or something along those lines when he was still an Arsenal player, and after struggling for goals in several loan spells earlier in his career, he managed 19 from 30 appearances in a temporary spell at then League One side MK Dons in the first half of last season, leading to his switch to Wolves, where he continued his prolific form a division higher scoring 23 times in 48 appearances.

So it was unsurprising to see him back at a Premier League club so soon and he’s already managed three goals from his first four top-flight games for his new side since arriving last month, to suggest he’s more than capable of finding the net consistently at the highest level of the English game.

Some have recently criticized Arsene, saying he boobed big-time in letting Afobe leave without giving him a chance in the Arsenal first-team but I think that’s harsh and probably stems from being a little under-informed, given Afobe’s progress at the club was severely hampered by injury.

Also, as has been shown countless times in the past, timing, in terms of competition for places, often plays a big role in whether a young player gets a prolonged first-team chance at Arsenal or has to leave in search of regular football elsewhere. That’s something Arsene touched on when discussing his former player at yesterday’s press conference, when he said:

He (Afobe) was very young, he had big competition in front of him with Robin van Persie, and players like that, so I gave him authorisation to go somewhere and play, which he did. You educate people to influence their lives and give them success, that is what we do. When they do not manage to play for us, if they do it somewhere else we are of course very happy for them. Benik has done extremely well, even beyond the expectations of many people and that’s great, that’s down to him and congratulations to him. I think the best way to stop (him) being dangerous is for us to have the ball and dominate the game and being aware that Benik is quick, strong and has good movement in the box. We are used to facing these kind of strikers in the Premier League because in every single club there are top-quality strikers. That’s the same with Bournemouth.

I must admit I haven’t seen Afobe play much other than the odd highlight clip so can’t really comment on his best attributes with too much authority, but his goalscoring record speaks for itself and we’ll obviously need to keep him on a tight leash given his form. Especially when you throw the ‘ex factor’ into the equation, which will no doubt spur him on to try that little bit harder against the club that let him leave.

As far as our line-up  is concerned, I do wonder if Arsene might make a change or two seeing as we’ve failed to score in our last three league games. It may be a match to give Theo Walcott a return to the striker’s role for instance, with Olivier Giroud dropping to the bench. I mean, Theo’s clearly been out of form playing on the flanks in recent weeks but then Giroud’s hardly been banging them in for fun. A rest for the big Frenchman, and at the same time, a show of faith with a return to his favoured position for Walcott, could prove beneficial for both players in the long-run.

At the back I think we’ll see Per Mertesacker return at the expense of Gabriel to partner Laurent Koscielny after the German missed the FA Cup clash with Burnley through suspension and watched the Southampton game from the bench. Francis Coquelin starting alongside Aaron Ramsey in central midfield in place of Mathieu Flamini, is another very likely change in my opinion providing the former is now deemed completely match-fit.

The rest of the line-up should be largely unchanged from the Southampton game though, with Petr Cech in goal, our two Spanish fullbacks, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez all starting. But a bit like up front, I’ve a feeling Arsene might want to freshen up the right hand side of the attack, where we could see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain come in for Joel Campbell for instance.

I wrote earlier this week that I don’t really like Ramsey in central midfield because of his unreliable distribution but given he’s hardly ever played in a two with Coquelin, the boss may want to give that combination a chance to prove it can work before trying something else, such as bringing in Mohamed Elneny or even handing Alex Iwobi a Premier League starting berth as a central midfielder.

By my recollection, Coquelin and Ramsey have only ever played as a partnership for 45 minutes this season – the first half of our opening-day defeat by West Ham – so even if many, myself included, aren’t convinced it can be effective, hopefully the doubters can be shown up as not knowing nearly as much as we think we do, and that duo will gel to form the midfield platform on which we go on to win things this season.

How I’d love to be proven wrong as Coquelin stealthily covers Ramsey’s goal-getting forward raids, Mesut picks up the Cazorla-less circulation slack and we function fluently as a team all the way to the Treble …

Whichever line-up Arsene opts for however, the objective is very simple: we need to win because a manageable gap could very quickly morph into an insurmountable one if we’re not careful.

Back post-match.


2nd February 2016: Premier League Preview – Southampton at home

Evening all. So we resume our chase for the Premier League title when we welcome Southampton to Emirates stadium in a couple of hours’ time and after a poor January points-wise, a win tonight has become all the more important.

We secured just five points from four league games last month; losing to Chelsea, drawing at Liverpool and Stoke, and managing only to take all three points from our home game against Newcastle.

And after playing the Saints, we travel to Bournemouth before hosting league-leaders Leicester City in our other two Premier League games in February – far from an easing-looking fixture-list, but one Arsene Wenger says he feels confident in tackling:

The [coming weeks] can be pivotal but not decisive. They will give a clear indication of the strength of the teams and who can cope with the importance of the games. At the end of the day somebody will win and the team who will win has to go through the important games with strong performances. It’s a big month for us. I am quite confident, having everybody available, that we can do very well. What is important now is for us to be capable of focusing and coping with that kind of expectation level. I don’t feel that we have really struggled recently because we had two difficult away games with Stoke and Liverpool and we didn’t lose. We had a bad result against Chelsea and of course, if you put the three results together, it looks like we’ve struggled but overall the Chelsea result is under special circumstances. If you take the history of our season, we started with a defeat against West Ham and the way we responded and where we are today shows that this team has the capability of responding under pressure. I’m sure that we will show that in February.

Hopefully starting tonight. We owe Southampton a beating after they won 4-0 the last time the two sides met on Boxing Day, but if I remember correctly, this fixture last season was a very close contest and it took us 88 minutes or so to score the only goal of the game through Alexis Sanchez.

To be honest, I’d be happy to win by a similarly slender score-line tonight and Arsene says his team are eager to put right that big loss at St Mary’s in December by producing a ‘strong performance’:

They gave us a tough game last time and we have to put that right. It is a very important time in the season as we go into big, big games and have 13 matches to go. They were dominant in the challenges and the duels. We just came out of a very tough game at Man City, and maybe didn’t have the urgency to cope with that. We were a bit unlucky with three goals on the decisions of the referee as well. The message [this time] is that we play at home and we want to put things right and put a strong performance in because the strength we show at home now in the remaining games can be decisive. The defeat against Chelsea was very unlucky, because our performance was right – it was not a Southampton performance. Our performance, our energy level, our commitment and the quality of what we did was very good. It is an encouragement. Sometimes you have to raise a little bit above the result and keep the positives. In that game there were a lot of positives.

Which is right. In the loss to Southampton we simply weren’t at the races and were soundly beaten by the better team on the day, whereas against Chelsea, the early dismissal of Per Mertesacker and our subsequent display with a man less shouldn’t have affected us confidence-wise.

In terms of the team tonight, I’m guessing Mertesacker will return in place of Gabriel having served his one-match ban for that red card against Chelsea, but at the same time wouldn’t be surprised to see Laurent Koscielny given a breather with the Brazilian starting alongside Per instead.

Further forward, Aaron Ramsey should partner Francis Coquelin in midfield, Mesut Ozil will surely start ahead of them, as will Sanchez on the left, but the right flank and up front remain a little more uncertain now that we have increased personnel options.

Personally I’d go with Joel Campbell on the right and Olivier Giroud up top but the boss could conceivably select Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott in those positions respectively. We’ll see.

Right, not long until kick-off now and the line-ups should be announced soon so I’ll leave it there.

Back on Wednesday.