13th November 2015: International involvement and remembering Lauren

Good evening. It’s Friday the 13th today of course and we all know what that means don’t we? Absolutely nothing.

Last night saw the first Arsenal involvement in the internationals as Alexis Sanchez and David Ospina both played the full 90 minutes when their respective nations, Chile and Columbia, played out a 1-1 draw. I didn’t see the match, Sanchez didn’t score, but I’m assuming he ran non-stop all game and then did a few hundred laps of the pitch afterwards just for fun.

There were also two more Gunners in action yesterday evening as Calum Chambers played the full 90 and Chuba Akpom the first 70, for England Under 21’s as they drew 0-0 with their Bosnian counterparts. I’m told it was a fascinating watch.

So on to tonight and Olivier Giroud scored the opener for France as they beat World Cup winners Germany 2-0. He was then taken off after 69 minutes but Laurent Koscielny played the whole game, so thanks Didier Deschamps, really appreciate it.

Elsewhere, Santi Cazorla came on a substitute for Thiago Alcantara just before the 30 minute mark and scored Spain’s second with a clinically taken effort as they beat England 2-0, for whom Kieran Gibbs was an unused sub. There were a few other Arsenal players in action tonight too, so for a comprehensive round-up take a look at the the official site here.

The international break can be a great time to take a look back and Arsene Wenger has been doing just that in discussing one of the lesser-celebrated members of our Invincibles team, Lauren.

My personal anecdotes about the Cameroonian include reading the name Lauren Bisan Etame Mayer on CEEFAX when we confirmed his capture and having no idea who he was but being excited nontheless as I always am by an Arsenal signing I know nothing about. Sure, they could turn out to be Stefan Malz but equally there’s always the chance they’ll be another Patrick Vieira.

After watching him a few times though, I labelled him ‘a right-footed Edgar Davids’ and I think he scored in that win over Liverpool at Highbury when Vieira was sent off for the second, consecutive Premier League game of the season and had to be talked out of leaving England. But more importantly, and I kid you not, I tipped him to replace the aging Lee Dixon as our next right-back before Arsene eventually played him there for the first time. In fairness, I also said I could see Emmanuel Eboue as a brilliant left winger, so …

Anyway, here’s what Arsene said:

He was, for me, one of the best full backs in the world. Not only because of his quality but he was a character, a real character. He was scared of nobody and when you needed the nerves you could count on Lauren. When he arrived here I had many discussions with him as I needed to convince him that he can become a right back and an outstanding right back. For a while, because he was a strong character, he didn’t accept it. Suddenly he understood that and I think that in Lauren and Ashley Cole, we had the best two full backs in the world.

My favourite memory of Lauren, aside from him bullying Ruud van Horse-face, was his FA Cup goal at Stamford Bridge as he ran down the right, cut infield onto his weaker left foot and found the bottom corner at the near post. What a goal.

I think in Hector Bellerin, we finally have a player capable of similar attacking feats from right-back now, which I think we’ve missed sorely through the Bacary Sagna years. Yes the Bac was a great defender, but he was a little clumsy on the ball for me and didn’t add much going forward the way Lauren did and Bellerin does now.

It’s an important point too, having fullbacks who are great on the ball, because in our style of play, with our wide midfielders/attackers often drifting infield, our fullbacks see a lot of the ball and so them being comfortable in possession is a massive plus, if not a must, in my opinion.

See you on Saturday.

11th November 2015: Wolves, Welbeck and Ozil

A warm Wednesday welcome to you. When the only live football on TV on a midweek evening in November is Chelsea Ladies v Wolfsburg Women, you know you’re in the middle of an international break.

I actually quite like the women’s game, and I’m a big fan of Arsenal’s very own Kelly Smith, who has a left peg in a million, but that said, tonight’s offering on Eurosport was about as enticing as a trip to the dentists.

If it was the Chelsea men’s team versus wolves on the other hand, I might have tuned in. But actual wolves mind, not Wolverhampton Wanderers. Otherwise that too, would have been about as enticing as a trip to the dentists.

I mean, anybody can watch buses being parked just by going to their local garage, but seeing Jose Mourinho and his players being chased all over the Stamford Bridge pitch by a ravenous pack would make for superb entertainment by anybody’s standards.

After the match, Jose would no doubt have blamed an offside wolf’s tail, a distracting howl or Arsene Wenger, but nothing would have be able to detract from the fact his team had been ripped to shreds …

Meeeeeeeeeanwhile, Danny Welbeck, who I think could prove himself the best all-round striker we currently have at the club, if he can just get and stay fit, has been speaking to the Arsenal Weekly podcast about his move from Manchester United in 2014, and how his England team-mates already in north London made the transition easy for him. He said:

It makes it easier for you because, like any situation in life, if you go somewhere and see a familiar face then you can obviously bond with them. Knowing the England boys from international duty and growing up with them in the youth teams made it easy. They integrate you into the group a lot easier with the other lads as well. It was a new challenge but it was an exciting time for me to approach a new situation, move from Manchester to London and all of the stuff that goes with it. It was a whole new city, not completely new as I’d been to London before, but it was weird knowing that I was going to be calling London home and not Manchester. The thing that you miss the most is your family and that’s the most important thing. A lot of my family and friends do come to London to see me anyway. They come to all the home games so I get to see them quite a lot anyway. But I was leaving something that I knew after growing up in Manchester, coming to a new city, it’s an exciting period.

It may sound like a cliche but I think Welbeck has all the attributes to be one of the best around. I know he has a lot of doubters, who bemoan his finishing etc but I think he’s at the perfect club and has the perfect manager to help him become the finished article up front.

Of course first he has to play in order to improve and score the goals that win Arsenal games, so it was very worrying to read unconfirmed reports his injury wasn’t improving, and he may even be side-lined for the rest of the season.

The official update is that he’s still expected back around the turn of the year so fingers crossed those rumours were way wide of the mark and he’s back to provide Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott with competition in the second half of the season.

Elsewhere, Mesut Ozil, who incidentally, has shown signs of a fine mutual understanding with Welbeck in the relatively few times they’ve played together (think Villa Park last season), has been speaking to Arsenal Player about adding more goals to his game:

After training there are a few shooting drills that can help with self-belief. In general, when you look at my chances in front of goal, I’ve taken them well. Every player wants to score goals. I’m intending to score more this season than in previous years. It’s most important for us to perform well and to be successful – I’m looking forward to giving assists or scoring goals. My aim is to score more goals this season than in the last two. I think I’m on a good path and will achieve that.

His assists alone so far this season must have him in contention for the player of the year award, and if he keeps producing them at his current rate, he’ll take some stopping.

Especially when you consider that bar Jamie Vardy, there aren’t many stand-out contenders to be Eden Hazard’s successor. There’s a long, long way to go obviously, but it wouldn’t be the first time one of Arsene’s predictions proved spot on.

Back tomorrow.

10th November 2015: Wenger named Manager of the Month + Cech on winning ‘every game’

Evening all. I wish there was more to talk about, discuss and dissect, but seeing as we’re at the start of the 14th international break of the season (seems like 14 to me), Arsenal news, as you can imagine, is like Riyad Mahrez. A bit on the thin side.

Thank God then, that Arsene Wenger was today named the Barclays Manager of the Month for October, after guiding us to four Premier League wins out of four. To be honest, I think the boss deserves an extra special prize considering the circumstances surrounding, and manner of, those wins.

We blew Manchester United away within the opening 20 minutes, beating them 3-0 at Emirates stadium whilst playing some of the best football these shores have ever seen, and then won 3-0 at Watford, who boasted a mean defensive record at Vicarage Road until we turned up, took it easy in the first half just to lull them into a false sense of security, before casually putting three past them in the second.

Next up it was Everton, just a few days after we’d played a hugely draining game against Bayern Munich and lost Aaron Ramsey to a hamstring strain in the process, and we produced a very professional performance despite tired limbs and a depleted side to secure a 2-1 success.

We then ended October by heading west to Wales and Swansea, where despite being forced to field our seventh choice option on the right-hand side of our attack in Joel Campbell, we produced yet another 3-0 win.

So it seems inappropriate that Arsene should be presented with just the bog standard MOTM trophy, Barclays could at least have pushed the boat out a bit and super-sized it or something. The funny thing about the boss collecting that accolade though, is that it was just last week I think, when he reiterated his long-held dislike of individual recognition in the game when discussing the Ballon d’Or.

Moving on and Petr Cech has been speaking to Arsenal Player about our season so far, highlighting the squad’s work ethic as being key to our fine recent form. He said:

We started very well in the Community Shield, our first competitive game after we had a very good pre-season. Then the first league game came and we lost 2-0 at home. That’s possibly the worst start we can imagine, but we recovered from it and learnt from it. Since then we’ve been picking up points and as a team we’ve settled into the way we want to play. I think everybody understands their role within the team. People try to do their best every day to make sure we are ready to compete, and so far it’s been bringing the success. It’s [down to] the work ethic of the team. You never win things without going for it, without being focused, without being right in the training ground. So far, I have to say that the team are focused on what we are doing every day and I have to say that this is the key. You prepare every day and if you are really focused in what you are doing every day, then you give yourselves chances to win games. I believe that this team has that ability to be focused and ready to achieve. We are giving ourselves the chance to win every game.

I think our mindset in Premier League games so far this season is notable for the how focused it’s been, not just on winning games, but what we need to do to in each one to take all three points.

We’ve had fast starts and games won early, we’ve been patient and secured them late, we’ve dug in and been more direct when our passing was off or we were a little jaded physically, and in our last match, we managed to get something from a game we were struggling to stay in for long periods, with a patched-up side at the end of a marathon run of fixtures.

The word I’d use to describe us this season would be ‘mature’. For the most part anyway. Cech’s obviously been a critical component in our mental development this term, as many suggested he would be when we signed him in the summer, and it augurs very well indeed in terms of our chances of silverware this season if we can just keep it up and avoid more injuries.

See you on Wednesday.

9th November 2015: Gibbs on goals + Mertesacker on mentality

Welcome back. So international football is upon us again and as much as I usually hate the interruption of the club game, this particular break is very timely indeed for Arsenal, in that it allows some of our injured players time to recover before we next play.

As yesterday’s draw with Tottenham highlighted, our squad was stretched to it’s limit in certain areas recently, and our available players running on empty, after playing every three days for the last three weeks.

But when we travel to West Brom a week on Saturday for our next game, we could have the likes of Hector Bellerin, Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain fit and available again, which means not only should our starting XI be strengthened but we’ll also have a far stronger bench for Arsene Wenger to utilise if a game needs changing.

Speaking of substitutes, the man who unexpectedly picked up Olivier Giroud’s goal-scoring slack to secure us a valuable point yesterday, Kieran Gibbs, spoke to the press after the game about his goalscoring, the squad’s disappointment in not capitalizing on dropped points by Manchester City, our recent injury worries and more. He said:

The last time I scored was against Anderlecht away last season but in the Premier League it was a few years ago. We are disappointed obviously, with Manchester City dropping points we had a good oppourunity. It was important not to lose this game but now the international break, we can recover for a few players and they can come back fit and we can push on after. It has been difficult for the boss with options so in the last few games I have been coming on and I knew, looking across the bench that, probably, even though I’m a defender I’m one of the more offensive players on the bench. I was happy to come on in a big game like that and get a goal. The boss has been struggling with options especially in midfield and up front, so I think a few of the boys were tired having played last weekend, midweek and today. It was a chance for me to bring on some fresh legs and do everything I can to try and help the boys. In these types of games you can’t give up when you know what it means to everyone in the club and the fans. I think they were great for us today and spurred us on. You have to come on in those games and give everything you can to try and get the boys going. It feels like we are not disappointed because we didn’t lose, even though Manchester City dropped points so it was a good opportunity for us to get ahead of them. But we are going away in the international break and will come back raring to go again as we have a long way to go.

Of course, the concern whenever our players disperse from London Colney to link up with their respective national sides is that they return in good shape and ready to play but all we can do on that front is hope and pray they come back unscathed.

One man who won’t be going away on international duty is Per Mertesacker of course, who retired after winning the World Cup last year and the big German has been speaking about Arsenal’s title challenge, the draw with Spurs and our squad’s mental maturity, saying:

We want to be involved throughout the season, competing at the top until the last second. We promised ourselves to do better than last season, not to drop a lot of points too early. It’s an interesting position but we still have room for improvement. When you look at the first half we need to manage to play a lot better. We lost our creativity and our way to play a bit, but how we came back shows that we have got a good mentality and level of character in the squad. That’s important for the Christmas period coming up. Santi felt unwell in the first half and that was a bit of a disappointment for us, that he couldn’t continue, but what Mathieu and Kieran gave us when they came on is what we need. It’s really important that, even if we suffer sometimes, we can come back. We showed mental strength. The energy and creativity those players who come on give sets the tone and gives us goals. That’s massively important. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks we’ll get more energy because it’s important while having injured players.

It must be said Mertesacker hasn’t been quite at the top of his game recently and in my opinion he was poor in the away games against Sheffield Wednesday and Bayern Munich in particular.

But maybe that’s down to mental and physical fatigue so a fortnight without competitive action might be just what he needs to get back to his best.

Til Tuesday.

10th October 2015: In-form forwards and flowers

Evening all. So Theo Walcott continued his fine goalscoring form this season by grabbing England’s opener in the 2-0 win over Estonia at Wembley last night, despite playing from the right of the attack to accommodate Arsenal fan and Freddie Ljungberg wannabe, Harry Kane, as the central striker.

After the game, Theo spoke about wanting to help the Three Lions complete qualification with a tenth straight win against Lithuania on Monday night, the harder tests that lie in wait for the national team and scoring for his country. He said:

We have to be proud of ourselves. Having nine wins after the disappointment from the World Cup and bouncing back the way the players have done – the backroom staff have changed things and things are working for us. This team is definitely hungry and eager to do well. We want to make it 10 on Monday night. It is a nice little thing to have – we want to win every game but we will be more tested in these friendlies coming up [against France and Spain next month] and everyone wants to win competitions and make this country proud. There are some young, eager faces in that dressing room who are keen to do well but we are only going to be judged when it comes to tournament football. It’s a dream come true to score for your country. I’d like to score more goals, but the most important thing I want to play for this team and for us to do well.

I only saw the first half of the game last night and Theo looked every bit as ‘buzzing’ as he’d declared himself at his pre-match press conference. Unfortunately, Adam Lallana, who played just behind him on the right of a three-man midfield, wasn’t really on the same wavelength as Theo, which to be fair, is far from surprising given they’ve only had a few days to train together.

But what that meant was some of Theo’s intelligent runs were wasted, as he hovered on the shoulder of the visitors’ back-line waiting to be released on goal. England’s other midfield playmaker on the night however, Ross Barkley, did eventually reward one of Walcott’s dangerous darts on the stroke of half time, threading a nut-megged through ball into the path of the Arsenal striker as he made a superb run from wide right to the far post, before taking two cool, clinical touches in opening himself up and placing the ball into the net.

People will say it was only Estonia, and it was, but it was still fine movement and top-class finishing from a man at the very top of his game. He’s certainly enjoying a very consistent patch at the moment. Now if he can turn ‘patch’ into ‘season’, who knows how far Theo’s goals can carry Arsenal and England between now and the end of the Euros next summer.

Elsewhere, both Santi Cazorla and Alexis scored for their countries last night and several other Gunners are in action over Cloid so, as always, for a comprehensive round-up of minutes played, goals scored etc, head over to the official site here.

In fact, just scrolling down that page I noticed Hector Bellerin was an unused substitute for Spain’s under 21s on Wednesday night which suggests he’s either carrying a knock, was rested, or Spain has even greater strength in depth than I imagined. Because it would take a cross between Cafu, Lillian Thuram and Superman to keep our Cockney Catalan out of any team on current form.

Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger has gone all Swiss Toni, likening team spirit to flowers, saying you have to continually work on fostering it amongst a squad because it is vital for success. Asked about it’s importance, he said:

You can ask the question the other way around: can you be successful without team spirit? If I asked you that question, straight away you would say no. That just shows you how important it is. It’s difficult to put a percentage on it, but you know without it you have no chance. Afterwards, what is interesting is to know how big the team spirit is. You can have different degrees of team spirit, because without it you have no football at all – everybody would just do what he wants. But how far can you go in cultivating and developing that team spirit? That’s our target. We know that to have a chance of being successful, we want to be more of a team than any other side in the Premier League. Therefore, I believe it’s a little bit like a flower. You have to take care of it and look after it every day, or else it will slowly die. But as well, you can make the flower bigger, better and prettier if you care for it. We believe that part of the responsibility of the players and the staff is to take care of team spirit.

Jokes aside, high morale is unarguably a vital ingredient for any successful team endeavour, no matter what the setting, and I think it’s telling that Arsene has been all-too willing to rid the club of players who’ve reportedly been far from the most pleasant of characters, shall we say, in years gone by.

On the other hand though, in top-level professional football, I think I little nastiness can be a good thing. Some of the best players have had dark moods and providing it’s not too destabilizing for a squad, having one or two more temperamental characters can give you the perfect blend. I mean, as much as I love our current squad and rave about their ability, I find myself agreeing sometimes with critics who say we’re ‘too nice’.

Anyway, ever the idealist, Arsene may beg to differ and argue that quality of football can overcome the meanest of opposition mindsets, but the next time we’re left feeling like we’ve been bullied in a big game, perhaps he’ll revisit the subject. Or maybe he won’t.

Right, I’m off. See you in a bit.

7th October 2015: Walcott wants striker role for England

Hello and welcome back. Theo Walcott held a press conference while on international duty this afternoon and says he’s ‘buzzing’ after Sunday’s performance against Manchester United and wants to play centre-forward for England.

I know everyone would like to see me up front. Playing there for England, that’s what I want to do.

With the two Dannys, our own Welbeck and Liverpool’s Sturridge, not in the current Three Lions’ squad due to injury and caution respectively, Theo clearly has a greater chance of getting game-time through the middle than he would have otherwise. Whether England have the players capable, or willing, to provide Theo with the requisite service for him to be a success is another matter.

I say ‘capable’ because there’s no English midfielder with even half the creative ability of a Mesut Ozil or a Santi Cazorla, and ‘willing’ because I often get the impression that unlike other top countries, our national selection appear to be in competition with, rather than in alliance with one another. They all want to steal the show, hog the limelight, score the winner etc and very often that means they make the wrong decision when in possession.

Anyway, so long as Theo returns fit and healthy to face Watford on Saturday week, I couldn’t care less if he plays up front or in goal for England, because until we reassess what attributes we rate in a footballer as a country, we won’t be winning anything, so none of it matters. Qualify, don’t qualify – we have as much chance of lifting the Euros next summer as Newcastle do of winning the Premier League this season.

Elsewhere, Ozil has been speaking to German publication Bild about Arsenal’s upcoming Champions League clashes with Bayern Munich and the Gunners’ chances of winning the domestic title. He said:

It is true that there is a lot of pressure on us in the Champions League. We can beat Bayern, though, if we play at the same level as against Manchester United. I was a bit surprised to see Bayern beat Dortmund 5-1. Bayern’s results show that they are in great form. We have a lot of respect for Bayern, but we are not afraid of them. We are playing at home and we know how to score goals and be successful against Bayern. Of course, it will not be easy, but we have the potential to beat any team. We have a great team with a lot of world-class players. Our goal is to win the Premier League title. I think we can achieve it this season if we do not get any major injuries. But the season is still long.

Meanwhile, Ozil’s Arsenal colleague and fellow German Per Mertesacker has been discussing Arsenal’s attacking play in the United win, suggesting the players should be more convinced of their potential for such stunning football. He said:

It’s very important that they find each other in the final third. You could see the little pass from Theo Walcott to Mesut Ozil, how important that was, just a tiny little ball, and on the break we are very dangerous. The start was not shocking for us, I think we are capable of doing that, but we have to kind of remind ourselves that we can do such things.

Maybe one way of reminding themselves would be have the three goals from Sunday played on a loop in the changing rooms before every game but what’s also important to remember, is that the mesmeric quality of our football last weekend was all rooted in a collectively high level of effort. The harder you work, the luckier you get, or whatever the saying is.

Right, that’s where I’ll leave it for today because there is nothing else to talk about thanks to our old friend, Cloid. The lingering c*nt.

Til Thursday.

5th October 2015: Damn it feels good to be a Gooner

Welcome back. I don’t know about you, but my usual Monday morning blues, much like Chelsea’s presence in the title race, were nowhere to be seen today.

No feeling of dread at the prospect of another long working week, no fantastical thoughts of a career change, or perhaps even relocation to sunnier climes. No siree. All I felt was pure, unadulterated bliss, having watched us produce a powerhouse performance like yesterday’s. So thank you Alexis, thank you Arsene and thank you Arsenal, it’s not always easy, but at times like these, being a Gooner seems like a privilege.

Unsurprisingly, Arsene Wenger was very happy with the team himself, when he spoke to the press after the game, and explained his side’s game-plan against Manchester United:

I believe in the [first half] we started very strong and decided to press very high and play with great pace, and we did that very well. After in the second half we decided to be disciplined, control the result and we did that very well. We had two aspects in our game that was pleasing and we were convincing today. It gives us a strong answer to all the questions raised in the week.

And when asked if the destruction of the team who went into the weekend as league leaders was the perfect end to a difficult week, he said:

We won our last Premier League game 5-2 and we won here 3-0 so in the Premier League we have scored eight goals in two games against two difficult opponents. Overall it was a convincing performance. It was a strong response against Manchester United following our disappointment on Tuesday night.

Arsene also shared his thoughts on the performance of two of his players specifically. First, he discussed Theo Walcott, praising the striker’s display and pointing out the 26-year-old is still improving as he adjusts to life as the team’s central spearhead:

I must say Walcott had a hugely committed performance today in a hugely convincing way. He didn’t score but I like to praise the strikers when they don’t score and contribute and give assists. He was involved in two goals – Ozil’s and Alexis’ [second] one. He did really fight today and showed he can fight, commit and protect the ball as well. He is gaining some aspects of his game as a centre forward and they are improving.

Next up for appraisal was the youngest member of our first-choice selection – 20-year-old right-back Hector Bellerin. The manager conceded that along with the rest of his defence, the Spaniard had not enjoyed the best of games against Olympiakos but was much improved against United and picked out Bellerin’s aerial prowess on Sunday as unexpectedly strong. He said:

He has improved defensively and I think his defensive performance was average against Olympiacos, like most of our players on Tuesday night. On that front we responded very well and he was part of that. He is very good in transition from defence to attack but even in the air he was good today and he won some surprising headers. He is 20 years old and when you look at what he is doing already I think he has a great future.

Although he was prompted to give his opinion on those two players by reporters, Arsene made clear his belief that every one of his players, from goalkeeper all the way through the team to Theo at the top, played well when he spoke to Arsenal Player after the game:

You can say from Petr Cech up to Theo Walcott everyone had an outstanding performance and a convincing one. I like to observe teams when they are under pressure to see how united they are and how well they respond. It was important when you are a bit shaky to start well. Alexis got two goals and everybody up front always looked dangerous and our midfield looked balanced and sharp. It was a good game. You go through disappointments in the season and the way we responded was very convincing. I like this group and I like even more the performance we have shown today.

Sometimes, a few members of the team stand out in a win, with the rest rated as unremarkable, but like the manager, I genuinely felt that all 11 players on the pitch for us yesterday contributed to our success in a big way. It was the complete team performance; expansive yet compact, disciplined yet adventurous.

Although, as Arsenal fans, we can appreciate better than most the fact that emotions can alternate drastically between joy and despair from fixture to fixture, for the next fortnight at least due to the international break (Cloid), we can all say: damn it feels good to be a Gooner.

Back tomorrow Gs.

6th September 2015: Coquelin and Cech on Euro hopes

Evening. Thanks for dropping by. A post as short as an amnesic goldfish’s memory for you today, because A. I can’t really be arsed, and B. there is so little going on Arsenal-wise, that Newsnow may as well suspend it’s dedicated category. Thanks a lot Cloid.

Aaron Ramsey was in action for Wales earlier this afternoon and they could have secured qualification for next summer’s Euros with a win over Israel, but failed to find the net and had to settle for a goalless draw. Hal Robson-Kanu, who led the Welsh attack, was released by Arsenal as a kid apparently. I didn’t know that until today, so thanks Twitter. And if you didn’t before reading this entry – you’re welcome.

But speaking of the Euros, they take place in France, who will be hosting their first tournament since they won the World Cup on home soil in 1998, and Francis Coquelin has been telling the official site how he would love to force his way into Didier Deschamp’s squad for the tournament. He said:

Every player wants to represent their country and the Euros in France is something massive for any French player to be a part of. To be part of the squad would be amazing but there are loads of things to do first and the most important thing is Arsenal. If I play well here maybe I will get a chance for France, but the most important thing is Arsenal. As any French player would, though, you want to play for France and hopefully it can happen one day. It would be unbelievable. I won the Under-19 Euros and it was something unbelievable as well. To win the Euros with the French national team would be even more crazy. If I perform well here, maybe I will get the chance to play for France but I think the most important thing is to stay focused on Arsenal and then things will come along.

Aside from the fact Francis is proving himself to be a very, very good footballer, his mentality should be highly merited too. Not only are his words above a great reflection of a man who’s grounded and focused, but his on-pitch demeanour since he established himself in this Arsenal team epitomises the kind of traits that detractors of Arsene Wenger’s side so often highlight as supposedly lacking. He’s vocal, an organiser, and showcases genuine leadership qualities. And the 24 year old, despite at the time being about seven by my maths, fondly remembers watching Thierry Henry and co lift the World Cup:

Of course I remember it. All my family were watching the games so I remember it well. It was such a great feeling. To play in front of a home crowd in France would be unbelievable with the support of all the French people. We have to wait and see, and work hard, that’s the most important thing.

Elsewhere, Petr Cech has also been discussing the upcoming international tournament, telling the Arsenal Magazine he hopes the Czech Republic can still secure qualification after dropping points in both of their last two fixtures. He said:

Since I joined the national team, I’ve never missed a European Championship. I’ve always qualified. Ever since I was 16 I’ve played in every single European Championship at every level so I hope that run will continue. I used to play in France and it would be special for me to play the Euros there. We had an absolutely brilliant start to the campaign. We won our first four games, including matches against Holland and in Turkey. Unfortunately we’ve dropped points in the last two games – we drew at home against Latvia, which was a blow because we had a lot of chances. In our last game we played Iceland away and although we went 1-0 up, we lost the match. I think this is the game we look back at and can have regrets because if we had got a point or three, it would have put ourselves much closer to our target. We complicated our situation a little bit but we are still second and have four games to play. I believe that we have the team to qualify and hopefully we will prove it.

I bet Cech wishes his country could call on our effervescent number seven Tomas Rosicky right now, but hopefully they can secure a place in the finals and Rosicky can have something to look forward to after another prolonged period on the sidelines.

See you next week.

4th September 2015: Cumbersome ‘Cloids’ and rating Renaissance Coquelin

A warm welcome back. I’m glad it’s Friday but sort of wish it was next Friday in a way. Not wanting to wish my life away or anything you understand, but I wouldn’t mind being able to ⇒⇒ fast forward past this annoying void of club football; the likes of which shall now be known as Cloid ©®™, as in, ‘another f*cking Cloid’s coming up next week dammit, just as Joel had nabbed his 8th goal in three games and was hitting some form as well…’.

And there are plenty of Arsenal players in action over the course of this current Cloid, but to be honest, I haven’t really been keeping up with who’s playing where and all that stuff, so if you’re someone who prides yourself on knowing exactly how many minutes Hector Bellerin was or wasn’t afforded on his first call-up for Spain, then there’s always International Watch on the official site for a comprehensive round-up of Arsenal involvement.

My engagement with Cloid over the next week or so will be restricted to random moments when I’m switching channels and stumble across a game in which players who interest me are playing at half pace, trying to avoid injury and get this this sh*t over with as quickly and carefully as possible. Like earlier this evening in fact, as I discovered Mesut Ozil was in action for Germany as they hosted Poland.

From the little I saw, Ozil was his usual silky self, roaming around playing little passes that seem far from flamboyant, but are devastatingly effective in helping his team control possession and create goal-scoring chances. He was sorely missed at Newcastle despite us managing to win the game I thought, so I’m glad he’s back fit and look forward to seeing him return to our line-up when we face Stoke at Emirates Stadium a week tomorrow.

Elsewhere, Arsene Wenger has been speaking about one of his favourite subjects – mental strength. The boss was obviously responding to pretty scathing criticism of his squad’s supposed psychological shortfalls by Gary Neville on Sky a couple of weeks ago, and suggested not only do pundits need other pundits to provide punditry of their punditry, but that back-to-back FA Cups are proof that there is no inherent mental weakness in the Arsenal dressing room. Speaking to beIN Sports (and transcribed by Arseblog News), he said:

Opinions for me have to be documented. We won the cup last year. You don’t win the (FA) cup unless you are mentally strong, believe me. That’s why I don’t agree with that. You have to respect everybody’s opinion. Pundits are just people who are filmed by a camera and give their opinion and you have to accept that but if a pundit gives an opinion and is not right in six months, nobody will come back and say: ‘well, why did you say that six months ago? You were completely wrong.’ It’s just an assessment and an opinion you have to respect. The modern world, people are informed. People are informed and have opinions but at the end of the day someone had to make decisions. People who make decisions have to be responsible and stand up for their decisions and that’s not exactly the same for the opinion. That’s part of our job, to be confronted with different opinions and to accept that sometimes people are wrong and sometimes people are right. That’s part of it. I disagree of course.

Which is fair enough, particularly when you consider a large portion of what was said by Neville revolved around his belief that Arsenal could not win a title with Francis Coquelin as the defensive midfielder, which ignores the fact that the renaissance of Francis as an Arsenal player was arguably the single most important factor in our superb second half of last season.

Plus the fact that the Frenchman is statistically one of – if not the – best defensive midfielders in Europe this calendar year. The guy’s played out of his skin and barely put a foot wrong. Ironically, Neville made his comments on the night of our game against Liverpool, in which Coquelin’s crucial first-half ball recoveries epitomised what he brings to our team; superb reading of opposition through balls and attacks, pace in chasing back, tackling and tenacity. What he admittedly lacked in that particular game was poise and precision in his passing, but then that could have been said for our entire team that night.

Generally, his passing, both long and short, is brilliant. It was his pin-point, cross-field pass which led to our opening goal in May’s FA Cup Final for instance. And for someone who’s not blessed with gigantic height, his ‘heart’ and ‘desire’ (two qualities presumably adored by England’s assistant manager Neville) more than make up for that. Plus he’s actually very good in the air regardless.

I think when insisting you need two, ten-foot tall, imposing, no-nonsense animals in the middle of the park to win the Premier League, Neville’s forgetting his beloved Man Utd enjoyed the vast majority of their success with Paul Scholes and Roy Keane as a midfield duo – neither of whom were built like Nemanja Matic or Morgan Schneiderlin height-wise.

For me, Coquelin’s fast developing into our own version of Claude Makelele (only with more pace), because the thing that set Makelele apart, was his reading of, and efficient reaction to, danger. Coquelin has shown similar signs of game intelligence and if he can keep it up over the course of a season and beyond, ‘the Makelele role’ may well have to make way for ‘the Coquelin character’, in footballing parlance.

See you on Saturday.