30th May 2016: A Bank Holiday round-up

Evening all. A very brief Bank Holiday round-up for you and I’ll begin with Granit Xhaka, who’s been discussing the confirmation of his move to Arsenal with Sky Sports.

He said:

I feel good, now I’m happy to be a Gunner. It’s been a big week for me but now it’s official and I’m very happy. Arsenal is a big club. I’ve seen the pitch, it’s unbelievable. It was a dream for me and I’m happy now.

He’s happy, we’re happy – everyone’s happy. Except Borussia Mönchengladbach fans obviously, and possibly Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny too, who’ll no doubt now find it much harder to get a start in midfield next season.

Elsewhere, The Daily Mirror report Arsenal have rejected an approach from Barcelona for Hector Bellerin, whilst the player himself says he’s happy to forego his holidays to represent Spain at the upcoming European Championships in France. He said:

Firstly, I want Carvajal to recover well and quickly. He’s a teammate and that’s most important. As for me, I’m here until the Coach tells me otherwise. I’m available for whatever the Coach needs from me. I’m delighted for the experience. I had planned a holiday with my family but I’m happy to cancel it for the call of the national team.

Finally for tonight, some words from Calum Chambers after he helped England under 21s win the Toulon Tournament for the first time since 1994. He said:

We’ve said in the meetings after games and throughout the tournament that we felt that the way we played and controlled the game, we were really confident. I can’t really think of a time in any of the games where we felt out of control and thought we were in trouble. We controlled the games, played the way we want to play, adapted to conditions and things as well and I thought we did really well out there. This is a really close group. The energy and atmosphere here is exciting. I think everyone looks forward to coming away and obviously over this trip especially we’ve just bonded together so much. They are memories that we can all have together and share.

And amidst rumours suggesting Arsenal are happy to loan the defender out this summer, casting doubt over his long-term future at the club, Calum said:

For me, I just want to play games, so, yeah, that’s it for me. But at the moment I am not thinking too much about next season, I just want to go and enjoy my summer. Then we’ll get back at it soon.

Unfortunately for the former Southampton man, given he was bought initially as a back-up right-back, Hector Bellerin’s rise to first-team prominence has seen him relegated to reserve reserve, with everyone fit.

As harsh as it sounds, I’m not sure he’ll ever be good enough for Arsenal from what I’ve seen. In my opinion, he’s performed best for us as a centre-half and will eventually settle in that position because he’s definitely not a defensive midfielder , despite Arsene Wenger talking up his suitability for that role last season.

Either way, good luck to him if he does depart on loan and the confidence boost gained from lifting a trophy with the England under 21s should stand him in good stead heading into next season.

Back tomorrow.

27th May 2016: Wilshere on observant Ozil + Bellerin happy at Arsenal

Happy Friday. A very-quick round-up for you this evening and I’ll begin with some words of praise from Jack Wilshere about his team-mate and fellow lefty Mesut Ozil.

Speaking to Arsenal Player, Jack explained that what makes Mesut so special is his ability to spot things others simply can’t. He said:

What makes him the player he is, so special, and why people talk about him is because he sees things that other players don’t see. Along with that, he sees things early. You can see that when the defence and midfield are building up play, he’s looking around. When the ball comes to him he’s got a picture in his head and knows what to do. I’ve played in that position in the past and I think sometimes the boss still sees me in there. To watch someone like that, with his awareness and calmness on the ball, [is amazing]. When everything is happening quickly around him and he’s got players surrounding him, he’s always got his head up and is so calm.

Nothing we haven’t heard said about Ozil before in all honesty but the bit about the German being observant and quick-thinking is key to explaining his brilliance for me.

Speed of thought is far too-often overlooked in favour of athleticism in the English game when it comes to scouting as far as I’m concerned, and it’s worth pondering whether Ozil would even have made it as a professional footballer were he to have been born here.

I mean, he was average at best as a physical specimen as a young player and in my opinion there’s a good chance he’d have been deemed ‘too lightweight’ to make it. Thankfully, he has, and with a bit of luck we’ll continue reaping the rewards for a long time to come.

Finally for today, Hector Bellerin has been speaking abour reported interest from other clubs in his services. Our Cockney Catalan said:

I don’t really get informed about offers. My agent is the one that works on these sort of things, but I’m happy to receive interest from such great clubs. As a player it’s really nice. Right now I’m very happy where I am, at Arsenal and focusing on the national team. With these things, until you don’t know what to do until they arrive.

Standard stuff from Bellerin there and given he recently discussed how content with life he is in London, I’d say there’s as much chance of him moving anytime soon as there is of Jose Mourinho not being a narcissistic bell-end.

See you on Saturday.

21st May 2016: Xhaka resplendent in red and white + Bellerin’s loving London

Saturday greetings. It’s FA Cup Final day today of course and I’m sure I’m not the only Arsenal fan to be thinking that it should have been us taking to the Wembley field against Manchester United later rather than Crystal Palace.

A win over Watford in the quarter-finals would have set up a semi against Palace of course but as we all know, we f*cked it up big-style, like Jose Mourinho in his third season at a club. Anyway, good luck to the Eagles because as much as I dislike Alan Pardew, I do have a bit of a soft spot for the club who sold us Ian Wright.

But back to Arsenal and after the BBC yesterday reported a deal to bring Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka to Arsenal was close, today pictures emerged online seeming to show the player at London Colney wearing an Arsenal shirt.

Now normally, I’d say: “I’ll believe it when I see it” when it comes to transfer speculation linking us with new recruits, but we’ve seen it now, so: “I’ll believe it when it’s confirmed”, which if reports are accurate, should be imminently.

Xhaka’s signing does make you wonder what our first-choice line-up in central midfield will look like next season, seeing as Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey are all candidates, not to mention a youngster like Gedion Zelalem, who may stake his claim in pre-season after this season’s loan spell at Rangers.

Then there’s Alex Iwobi, who has also shown he can play there, so we’re certainly okay for numbers. That said, I still think we’re short an understudy for Cazorla, who’s passing and vision from deep we sorely missed after he was injured in late 2015.

In terms of potential departures, and I’ll admit I’d be surprised if we did because Arsene Wenger seems to rate him very highly and he’s also versatile enough to play wider and further forward, I’d give serious consideration to selling Ramsey this summer. More so than Theo Walcott even, because the latter appears willing, if not content, to play a squad role, and for all his obvious deficiencies as a footballer, is still a good option from the bench when we’re chasing a goal.

Ideally I’d like us to keep the Welshman and also sign a Cazorla-type, but if it’s one or the other, I’d much rather we cut Aaron loose and brought in a central midfielder who’s as good on the ball as Santi and who can orchestrate our play with the same quality of passing  as the Spaniard. That’s easier said than done but I’m sure we can find one if we looked hard enough. I’d start in Spain and Italy …

One player who definitely won’t be leaving Arsenal anytime soon though is Hector Bellerin, after the former Barcelona youth player explained why he doesn’t see himself in any other club’s colours. He said:

I say every year that England is my home now. I’ve lived there for many years; my family and my girlfriend are there. I’m very happy there so I don’t see myself anywhere other than Arsenal.

Excellent news. Bellerin has clearly seen a certain other Catalan leave Arsenal for Barcelona in the fairly recent past and decided that’s not a road he wants to follow and who can blame him? Nobody wants to be turfed out by their home-town club and end up turning out at a bus-stop in Fulham.

But Hector did admit it was once his dream to represent Barcelona and described how it felt to play at the Nou Camp, having faced his former employers in the Champions League with Arsenal earlier this year. He said:

How did it feel to play against Barca? For me, Barca was where I grew up since I was tiny, from eight years old. My dream when I was at Barca was to play at Camp Nou and I did – just not wearing the shirt I’d expected when I was little. It was something very special and beautiful.

Not as special and beautiful as playing at Emirates stadium though hey Bellers?

See you on Sunday.

21st March 2016: Wenger vents + Bellerin on having a breather

Evening all. With Easter on the horizon we’re at the start of a short working week for most, but due to the international break, we’re also just beginning what will soon feel like an eternity before club football returns.

And as we head into the latest Arsenal-less abyss, Arsene Wenger has left us with some introspection to keep us occupied by revealing his ‘hurt’ at recent civil unrest within the club’s fanbase. He said:

What hurts me is that at the important moment of the season we played in a sceptical environment. I think after the Tottenham game where we played a very good game with 10 men against 11 and came back to 2-2, I couldn’t understand why – at the moment when you need everyone behind the team – we had to hit that storm. From the media, OK. From our fans? It is a bit more difficult to take.

Whilst I definitely agree with Arsene’s sentiments as far as getting behind the team is concerned, I think it’s fair to say most fans recognized our performance against Tottenham was very good and but for a brainless moment of madness from Francis Coquelin, we’d probably have gone on to win that game.

The ‘sceptical environment’ wasn’t whipped up a by a hard-fought draw at Sp*rs, it was created by a succession of poor results that have seen us fall from pole position in the league not too long ago, to virtually out of contention for the title.

Throw in elimination from the Champions League and FA Cup (admittedly after the Tottenham game), and clearly fans have a right to vent frustration. And that’s before you factor in the depressing familiarity of Arsenal’s seasonal arc, or the industry-high price of a ticket to see the Gunners play.

But having aired his views on the lack of support from the stands for his side, Arsene then balanced things out (or back-tracked, if you prefer), saying:

I never complain about critics, especially when they are turned against me. But we have to get the fans behind us with our attitude, and make sure that they stand behind the team until the end of the season.

It’s the last six words that need properly processing for me. We go with what we have, players and manager-wise, until the last game of the season and then is the time to take stock and draw conclusions. See where we end up, how the end of the campaign pans out. We might win it, or we could finish sixth. Right now though, who the f*ck knows?

There isn’t a doubt in my mind a vociferous support can play a part in helping the team perform better and pick up points and with five of our last eight games at home, where we’ve struggled recently, the fans can come to the fore in a positive fashion. It’s up to us and the least we could, and should, do. That’s my view anyway.

Moving on, Hector Bellerin reckons we’re “definitely” still in the title race and that the international break has arrived at the perfect time as it gives the squad a chance to recharge, regroup and ready themselves for the final straight of the season. Speaking after our win over Everton, he said:

It is great time to go on the international break after a win, and it’s time for the players to recharge their batteries because it is the last bit of the season and it is important for us. We knew it was going to be a hard game. We were really looking forward to it and the team put on a great performance, especially in the first half with two great goals. That gave us the chance to relax a little bit in the second half. It is always a hard place to come and in the last few years we have always had tough games [here]. To get a win like that was important. I think the team has had more purpose with the ball lately and we are playing better football. That is showing on the pitch because we have to defend less because we are keeping the ball and creating way more chances.

Hopefully we can pick up where we left off in fortnight or so – playing fluently, scoring goals and keeping clean sheets.

But to do that, we’ll no doubt need all our players to return from international duty unscathed, so as always, all we can do right now is hope for the best.

See you tomorrow.

9th February 2016: Campbell bigs up Bellerin, Rosicky raves about Ozil

Evening all. There’s very little going on Arsenal-wise, so this post will be as short as the time Andrei Arshavin leaves between meals.

Speaking of our portly former playmaker, after spending two years with Zenit St Petersburg following his release from Arsenal in June 2013, he signed for Kuban Krasnodar in Russia last summer.

But his contract was terminated by mutual consent earlier this month and he’s now being linked with a club in Macedonia. Good luck to a true Gunners’ cult hero I say – the awesome foursome at Anfield and that long-range thunderbolt at Old Trafford will live long in the memory.

Yep. That’s how quiet it is. I’m resorting to talking about former players’ career paths. Anyway, Andrei is also said to be contemplating retirement which, considering he’s still just 34, is a bit of shame.

He lit up Euro 2008 with Russia and despite being a bit of a lazy bast*rd, was undoubtedly a very gifted footballer when he could be bothered to turn it on. Perhaps seeing as Chinese football is on the mother of all spending sprees right now, he might be able to secure himself one last payday in the far east if the Macedonian move doesn’t happen.

Moving on, the only half-interesting Arsenal stories today are about two of our players each praising one of their team-mates. First we have Joel Campbell, who reckons Hector Bellerin has it in him to become of the best right-backs on the planet. He told Arsemal Player:

We speak the same language, so it is much easier to communicate with each other. We enjoy a very good relationship on and off the pitch. That helps us a lot when we are playing, by speaking with each other, helping each other and giving indications to give our best to the team. He is enjoying a very high level, but I think he can give even more. He has the potential to be one of the best in the world. He is showing that now, but he is still very young and he has a long way ahead. So I think the best of Hector is yet to come, we haven’t seen it yet.

Personally I think only Philip Lahm and Dani Alves come close to comparing with our Cockney Catalan but then I’m as biased towards Bellerin as Mike Dean is against Arsenal.

Next up, and finally for today, Tomas Rosicky has been speaking about what he thinks sets Mesut Ozil apart as a top perfomer – declining to play passes that aren’t on. He said:

Mesut was always a special talent and you could see that when he arrived here. He was out for some time last season so he couldn’t find his rhythm, but now, after playing since the start of the season, everyone here can see [how big a talent he is]. Him and Alexis are the game changers. Both of them have the strength to win games, so it’s vital for the team’s title chances that they perform well. The best thing that I like about Mesut is that he’s not forcing the final passes. We all know he has a great final ball but you can see that he only plays it when the game gives him that opportunity. If it’s not there then he’s not forcing it and he’s combining with other team-mates instead. That’s the thing I like most about him.

It’s a good point. For me there are few things more annoying when watching a team trying to play good (pass and move) football than a player trying to play a pass that simply isn’t on.

It’s lazy and unimaginative. The very best players – and Ozil’s clearly one of them – rarely if ever, take a punt with a pass so I’m glad Rosicky’s highlighted this small but significant nuance of the game.

See you on Wednesday.

8th February 2016: Arsenal look to Leicester

Welcome back. Although there’s still nearly a week to go before we welcome league leaders Leicester City to Emirates stadium on Sunday, Arsene Wenger, Aaron Ramsey and Hector Bellerin had a few words to offer on the Foxes when they spoke to the media after yesterday’s win at Bournemouth.

First up it’s the boss, who insisted Claudio Ranieri’s side will go into the game as favourites, but is backing home advantage and the support of the Arsenal fans to help his side come out on top. He said:

[Beating Bournemouth] is very good for the future as we now have a very big game at home against Leicester who are now the favourites for the Premier League,” Wenger told Arsenal Player. [A win] can maybe prepare you in a better condition for the next game. We have a week to prepare for that and I have to think about it. Leicester is a strong side but we are also a strong side. At home with our fans and support, we can do it.

Next to laud Leicester is Ramsey, who’s hoping Arsenal can take the momentum gained from beating Bournemouth into the game against the Premier League’s surprise leaders:

What they (Leicester) have done this season is quite remarkable but we will need to be right on it to get there points. Hopefully the momentum we have we can take into that game and come away with a big victory there as well.

And finally we have our Cockney Catalan, Bellerin, who though admitting the Leicester game is important in the sense that both teams are involved in the title race, also pointed out that every game is crucial in our quest to rack up as many points as possible. He said:

I think for us, every single game is crucial. We need to think game by game, it does not matter [who you play] and you need to get the three points. Obviously it is going to be one of the most important ones but you need to keep playing like that in every game.

It may be a cliche but Sunday’s fixture really is a six-pointer. Win and we reduce the gap to just two, but lose and Leicester restore the eight-point advantage over us they were no doubt celebrating last Saturday night.

I’ve been saying all season Leicester’s form wouldn’t last but as we all know, it has. Not only that, they’re playing like a title-winning team. I watched them win at Manchester City last weekend and it wasn’t just the individual brilliance of players like Riyad Mahrez and N’Golo Kante that stood out, it was how impressive they looked structurally and tactically as a team. They didn’t sneak a win against the country’s most expensively-assembled squad, they bullied them, out-played them and rendered them almost riposte-less.

If we talk in terms of spines, then Leicester’s shows no signs of any cracks. Kasper Schmeichel is doing a great job of impersonating his father at his best in goal, Robert Huth, whilst far from the most cultured of centre-halves, looks like the two-time Premier League winner he is, and his partner at the back, Wes Morgan, for me is Sol Campbell-esque in the way he reads danger and defends generally.

Then there’s Kante in midfield, who combines the relentless chasing and harrying of Lassana Diarra, with the front-foot effervescence of Blaise Matuidi, providing the Foxes with an answer for our very own Francis Coqulein in defensive midfield. And of course in Mahrez and Jamie Vardy, they have two of the very best attackers in the league this season.

But despite the indisputable quality of many of their players, Leicester’s team is playing far better than it should be on paper given it’s constituent parts, and that’s down to Ranieri, who I think hasn’t enjoyed nearly the level of praise he deserves.

I mean, just imagine Harry Redknapp or even Jose Mourinho – the press pet that he is – taking an unfashionable club with relatively modest resources and who narrowly avoided relegation last year with largely the same set of players, to the top of the Premier League as we near mid-February.

They’d be knighting Harry or plastering Jose’s face over every front and back cover they could find with a headline like: ‘The most special Specialist in Success that ever lived’.

So I’d just like to take this opportunity to say I think Claudio comes across as a genuinely lovely man, he’ clearly a very experienced and talented manager and I think his Tinkerman tag should now be replaced by something more befitting of his astonishing achievement so far this season.

All that said, it goes without saying I hope we put six past them on Sunday and that they finish runners-up to Arsenal come the end of the campaign.

Back tomorrow.

27th January 2016: Bellerin on Barca + Iwobi on working hard to wow Wenger

Evening all. A very quick post today because Arsenal-related news is as scarce out there at the moment as goals at Old Trafford this season.

Luckily then, Hector Bellerin, our brilliant Cockney Catalan right-back, has been discussing a variety of subjects with Amuse, including how he feels about Arsenal’s upcoming Champions League encounters with his former club Barcelona. He said:

Excited. My family as well! I played for Barcelona for eight years, so it’s a massive thing for me and my family, who have been watching me since I was young. The day the draw was announced I started getting texts and calls from everyone. It’s crazy how a game moves so many people. We’re very excited – it’s going to be a hard game, but if we did it against Bayern, then we can do it against Barcelona. We have a great team mentality and our confidence is very high, so we fancy anyone at the moment.

This interview was conducted after we’d just drawn away at Stoke in the the league but there’s no reason why the team’s mentality or confidence should be much different now, despite our loss to Chelsea since then. Because a) Diego Costa cheated again and b) losing by a single goal having had to play most of the match with a numerical disadvantage shouldn’t knock anybody’s confidence – the opposite ought to be true.

All of which is to say I agree with Hector – we should approach the Barcelona games with confidence and belief that we can emerge victors. In my opinion, they remain the best team in Europe with everyone one fit, but we’re capable of beating the best, as we’ve proved a number of times in the recent past by grabbing wins over the likes of Barca themselves, and as Bellerin points out, Bayern Munich, who unlike the Catalans, we’ve now managed to defeat both at Emirates stadium and in Germany.

That tie is still about a month away though so moving on and another young Arsenal star, Alex Iwobi, has been speaking about his fledgling career, this time with Arsenal Player, saying:

I grew up in a footballing environment. My dad, my uncle and my whole family loves football. I played with a local team with Chuba Akpom so I grew up with a footballing life. I see it helps me [to be related to Jay-Jay Okocha] and it gives me guidance, [it shows] what I need to work on and what I need advice on so it has helped me over the years. I don’t see it as pressure [to be related to him] but he is someone I look up to as motivation as I try to be better than him. I had a few doubts when I was younger, especially when I was 13 to 14 years old. I was questioning whether I was good enough at that age as I… had to work on a few things. I didn’t let it get to me but I stayed focused and try to prove to them why I should get another contract. It is very hard. You need to train well every day and you have to be in the boss’ eye and his mind all the time so that is what I’m trying to do all the time. I was just hoping to go out and learn but to play for Arsenal’s first team means so much [to me] because when I play I think about all I have done to get to where I am and I feel so happy to do it. I had a few chances like against Swansea where I came on and against Bayern Munich. I got to play 90 minutes against Sheffield Wednesday. I got a few chances and now I’m hoping to get some more. I don’t know what to expect nowadays but playing at the Allianz Arena with the world’s best players was just crazy. I’m taking it as it comes. You have to always be prepared as you never know when that chance will come.

Despite playing out wide for our academy teams and in the Emirates Cup last summer, the club have been experimenting with Iwobi as a central midfielder, culminating in him making his first competitive start in an Arsenal shirt in that position in the FA Cup against Sunderland recently.

The fact he played so well against he Black Cats bodes well for the future and with so much competition at the club, his versatility might prove crucial if he’s to carve out a long-term career at the club. Good luck to him and I’ve really liked what I’ve see from him the few times I’ve seen him play so far.

Right, I think I’ll leave it there for today.

Back tomorrow.

25th January 2016: Last-man rule + reaction to Chelsea loss

Welcome back. I’ll start by pointing out that I don’t really feel like discussing yesterday’s game against Chelsea because it was highly annoying, hugely frustrating and f*cking boring to be honest, after the contest was cruelly corroded by the dismissal of Per Mertesacker after just 18 minutes.

I’d been looking forward to this fixture for quite some time too, but the game was ruined by that early red card and it got me thinking about the rule that ensures a player is sent off if he’s the last defender and commits a foul. People have suggested that when such an incident takes place in the box, the combined punishment of a red card and the concession of a penalty is too severe on the offending player and team.

So (and I’ll admit I wouldn’t be talking about this if the shoe was on the other foot yesterday), rather than dismissing a player, would a more suitable punishment not be a yellow card and a penalty conceded, even if the foul takes place outside of the box? I mean, Per denied Diego Costa a goal-scoring opportunity (if you pretend he actually made contact with the cheating striker) right? A penalty would give him that opportunity back and karmic balance would be restored.

And crucially, the match wouldn’t be ruined for the watching world. Anyway, just a thought, but it’s something that’s bugged me about the rules ever-since Jens Lehmann in Paris against Barcelona in what what the biggest game in our history, even if that particular incident was slightly different, with the ‘keeper committing the offence.

Seeing as I’ve ended up talking about our latest defeat to that despicable lot though, I may as well take a look at some of the reaction from Arsene Wenger and a couple of the players. First up it’s the boss who expressed his frustration at how the game turned out when he spoke to Arsenal Player:

It was disappointing as we couldn’t really play with our real team for 90 minutes. I was very disappointed because in recent games we have lost we have had really harsh decisions against us [like] at Southampton and today. We had such high expectations today. To lose the game the way we did is really frustrating today and difficult to accept. The difficulty was that we went straight away down at 1-0 and we had to attack without being at 0-0 which means you expose yourself at 10 men, but what can you do? I think we had a good attitude and fantastic spirit despite the negative result today, I think we should come out [of this] with even more belief.

Meanwhile, Hector Bellerin gave his take on the game, stressed the squad will not dwell on the defeat and instead look to get straight back to winning ways in our next game:

It is difficult because [even though we were] playing with 10 men we thought in the second half that we wouldn’t give up, and we had some chances to get a better score. It couldn’t be done and it was a bit unlucky on our part. We need to keep our heads up and move onto the next game. We can’t just be thinking about the result today. We need to focus on the next game and it does not matter about the trend, we are not thinking about that. We are just thinking about winning and getting ahead. We always think of it. We take it game by game and when it comes to May we will see where we are.

And finally, the thoughts of Petr Cech, who feels despite the obvious disadvantage of having had to play with a man less for most of the match, we played well and could easily have snatched an unlikely point. He said:

We are disappointed because we lost a game at home. We wanted to compete, we wanted to take advantage of playing at home, but unfortunately the decisive moment came quite early on in the game. Unfortunately Chelsea took advantage of that and scored. From there, they tried to control the game and playing 11 against 10 for 70 minutes is always an advantage [for Chelsea]. I thought that, even with 10 men, we came back very strongly in the second half. We could have actually scored the equaliser but we were missing a little bit of the last touch inside the box and around the box. There were always moments where we almost got there, but we didn’t find a real opportunity to put the ball in the net.

Right, I really, really don’t want to talk about or discuss that game anymore. It’s done, dusted and we need to move on.

Danny Welbeck should resume full training tomorrow, Francis Coquelin is already back in full training and we’re just three points off the top of the table. We’ve given ourselves a great platform from which we can make this a season to remember for the right reasons, rather than yet another that promised much but delivered little. It’s in our hands.

Back on Tuesday.

18th January 2016: The Cech Effect

Welcome to a brand new week on TremendArse. A couple of our players have been speaking about The Cech Effect © and how influential it is, after Petr Cech produced a man-of-the-match performance to help us secure a point at Stoke yesterday.

First up it’s Theo Walcott, who as an aside, I wish played as good a game as he talks more often. The speedster touched on why he thinks our draw at the Britannia stadium was a good result, hailed the squad’s mentality, and revealed Cech had helped his team-mates overcome any disappointment at not winning the match by putting things in perspective. He said:

All the big teams that have come here have struggled, with Stoke getting positive results. There were mixed emotions in the dressing room, but it is probably a fair result. We felt from the start we were up for the fight, physically. It’s a shame that we couldn’t get the result we desperately wanted but it is an improvement from previous performances here and we have got to be proud of that point. The mental strength in our dressing room is the strongest it has ever been. When you have the likes of Petr Cech coming in as well, he only enhances that. He has lifted everybody’s heads up, saying this is a very good point and that nobody tends to win here. We just have to look at him because he has been at the top level and won many things so if we have the belief that he has got, we can push on.

Meanwhile, Hector Bellerin explained that Cech’s presence between the sticks behind them, fills our back four with confidence, saying:

When we try to stop all the shots but they manage to get some on target then they have another man to beat and that is tough for them. We feel very confident with him in goal. They were great saves and it is very important to have a solid goalkeeper and Petr Cech is one of the best. I think he has given us that confidence at the back. It helps that this is a solid team defensively [that] has played a lot of teams together, and that you have probably the best goalkeeper in the league playing for you. Not long ago he broke the record of clean sheets so you can see that when you look back that the goal is covered by a great player and that is very important for us. We are very happy to have him. I think the team defended really well as a unit and Petr made some great saves which were very important. A lot of big teams have lost at this ground and at the end of the day it is a point that could matter a lot at the end of the year.

Mesut Ozil and his endless assists have rightly seen him emerge as a genuine candidate for the player of the year awards this season but in my opinion, Cech ought to at least be in the conversation for the individual accolades too.

The Stoke game was simply the latest top-notch display from the former Chelsea ‘keeper in what has been a near faultless first campaign for him in Arsenal colours. Aside from the opening day of the league season, when he was at fault for at least one of the two goals we conceded as we lost at home to West Ham, Cech has added a sense of authority to our defence, consistently produced crucial saves, and on the evidence of his team-mates’ words above, brought some much-needed maturity and intelligence to the squad.

His off-field impact is something I wrote about when it became clear we were on the verge of signing him back in late June last year, but as ever with a new recruit, there were still doubts in my mind whether he could be the same player for us, as he’d been for Chelsea for over a decade. I remember reading how he was a very vocal and respected figure in the dressing room at Stamford Bridge and hoped he would bring some of that winning ‘know-how’ to Arsenal.

I mean, whatever your thoughts on Chelsea as a club (and mine are that they’re the epitome of evil and I hope they get relegated before becoming extinct), nobody can deny they’ve had a prolific ten years or so in terms of winning trophies, whilst we’ve endured a relatively barren period in our history. Well, half-a-season into his Gunners career and it’s safe to say Cech’s lived up to our hopes, both in terms of performance and personality.

If he can carry on ‘keeping and cajoling in the same vein for the rest of the season, not only do Arsenal stand a great chance of winning a first Premier League title since 2004, Cech could very conceivably become the first goalkeeper to win the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award since Nottingham Forest’s Peter Shilton way back in 1978.

Until Tuesday.

10th December 2016: Campbell, Bellerin, Iwobi, Wellington Silva

Evening all. We travel to Liverpool on Wednesday of course, but with a few days still remaining until that game, time now to look back at some of the reaction to yesterday’s FA Cup win over Sunderland.

First up it’s the manager Arsene Wenger, who compared the rise to first-team prominence of Joel Campbell this season, with Francis Coquelin’s ascension from Championship loanee to undisputed first-choice defensive midfielder for the Gunners last term. The boss said:

He is kind of in Coquelin’s position last year. Nobody expected him [to do well] and now he is taking his place in the team and he is ready to fight for the position and he is efficient. I agree [that he is playing with confidence]. That comes out of his game. Compare one month ago to today, he believes he belongs there and has a right to play.

I shared my thoughts on how good a player I think the Costa Rican has become for us in yesterday’s post, but one word I didn’t use to describe his game was ‘efficient’, as Arsene does above. Yet that’s probably the best one to sum him up.

He’s efficient going both ways; in attack he picks the right pass 99 times out of a hundred, or shoots first-time if at all possible, and when chasing back he doesn’t merely track an opponent’s run, he tries to forcibly win the ball back at the earliest opportunity. When you consider he’s not 24 until June, Campbell’s still got plenty of time to improve a great deal and if he consistently produces performances like yesterday, he’ll surely stay first-choice even with everyone fit, just as Coquelin has.

Aside from Campbell though, the other standout players for Arsenal against the Black Cats were the two youngest members of our starting line-up, Hector Bellerin and Alex Iwobi, and both spoke to the official site after the game. Bellerin discussed the club’s aim of winning a third, consecutive FA Cup, as well as the team’s performance against Sunderland, saying:

That is the goal of the whole team. We love this competition and the fans love this competition so we need to try and do our best. We are trying to get the third in a row. We knew it would be a hard game. It is always hard in the third round of the FA Cup. We had a tough opponent and a lot of changes so we had to adapt to that. We didn’t start really well but the team responded like it should. It was a great effort by the team and it was very nice to get through to the next round. They started pressing really high and we knew we had to be a bit safe when playing the ball. Sometimes we make mistakes and that is normal but we knew how to respond to it. The team was up to the challenge. We didn’t rush the game and we knew we had to be patient. It is nice to get the three goals and that is confidence for the team as we have a difficult week ahead.

Whilst a jubilant Iwobi expressed his delight at realizing a child-hood dream of being an Arsenal player, saying:

It is amazing. It is the best feeling ever. It is a dream come true. Since I was a young boy I have always wanted to put on my shirt with Iwobi on my back with the Emirates [crowd] screaming my name. As a young kid I always wondered if I would get there and to have this opportunity today, I’m just thankful. It was a young boy’s dream come true. Playing at home with everyone screaming your name and giving you the confidence to express yourself – it felt like a proper debut. Training and playing with them [the first team] every day is such a learning curve. Hopefully I can train with them more and play more so I can develop every day.

The lucky, lucky (but obviously extremely talented) b*astard. I remember dreaming about pulling on an Arsenal top with my name on the back, the fans chanting my name as I left five defenders for dead, beat the keeper with a dizzying piece of skill before stopping the ball on the goal-line, kneeling down and heading home …

But back to reality and Iwobi really does seem another great prospect with a stride similar to Abou Diaby and a penchant for low-hanging socks like Alexander Helb and Paulo Dybala. He did the simple things well yesterday from a central midfield stationing and fully deserved the applause he received from the fans when he was substituted in the second half.

Finally, Wellington Siva was in Cup action for Bolton yesterday and very brief highlights of our Brazilian prospect in action can be seen on the BBC website here. For the record, if you haven’t followed this blog since I started it in June last year, you’ll be unaware how highly I rate Wellington, so I’ll tell you now: very, very highly.

Higher than any other un-established player under contract at Arsenal and although there were reports in the past questioning his mentality and fitness, I think those issues are now non-existent and I fully expect him to stake his first team claim at Arsenal next season, having had a year to acclimatize to the English game.

Til next week.