5th March 2016: Arsenal find form in draw with Tottenham despite Coq-up

Welcome back. Despite only managing to draw against Tottenham, I felt our overall performance today was much improved following three defeats on the bounce.

The 2-2 full-time scoreline at White Hart Lane, combined with Leicester’s win at Watford and Manchester City’s comfortable victory over Aston Villa, means we’re now eight points off the Premier League summit and will fall a point below Manuel Pellegrini’s men into fourth if they win their game in hand. In terms of the title race then, the point we earned today could be vital, just as the two dropped could prove fatal – only time will tell.

But for the immediate future, we have to be encouraged by our display today, particularly seeing as we had to play the final 35 minutes or so with a man less following Francis Coquelin’s second-half dismissal for a second yellow. That we managed to grab an equaliser with ten men, after two quick-fire Sp*rs strikes within seven minutes of Coquelin’s red card had cancelled out Aaron Ramsey’s exquisitely-taken first half opener, was as pleasing as it was surprising.

After all, this was a much-vaunted Tottenham team, proudly sitting a place and three points above us in the table at the start of the match, boasting the best defensive record in the league and the healthiest goal difference. Their team contained the media-hyped hybrid of Zinedine Zidane, Garrincha and Eusebio that is Dele Alli, and were managed by the man with the Midas touch in Mauricio Pochettino.

They fielded a core of oh-so-honest English lads who will no doubt conquer the Continent at this summer’s Euros, and who help form a team that plays in an innovative high-intensity style that will never ever waver as the season progresses. They’re destined for the title and there’s never been a a team quite like them. They’re one of England’s own …

And yet, they couldn’t beat an Arsenal side in their worst run of form of the season, missing key players and playing with a man less for almost half the game. Tottenham will always be sh*t, no matter how this one-off title-chasing campaign ends for them.

Back to us though and after a difficult first 30 minutes or so when the hosts piled on the pressure without creating many clear-cut chances, we went one-nil up with a goal owing as much to the composure and vision of Hector Bellerin as it did the magnificent improvisation of Ramsey.

Danny Welbeck, who played up front and put in a non-stop shift in his just his second league start in almost a year, picked up possession on the left, cut inside, looked up and squared it carefully to Bellerin. Our Cockney Catalan played it first-time to Ramsey in the middle who pulled off a brilliant back-heeled shot at goal, somehow generating elevation in guiding it past Hugo Lloris.

With six minutes of the half to play after that goal, we turned the screw and launched a couple more attacks as Sp*rs froze a little and the realisation appeared to dawn on them that they’re actually nothing special at all, and that they’re only in the title race because of a freak set of circumstances. At that point, we had them – they knew it and we knew it.

What we also knew at half-time though, was that Coquelin had been cautioned and would therefore need to be extra careful in the second half to avoid another booking. Arsene Wenger said as much after the game in revealing he reminded his compatriot at the break that he was treading a tightrope. Unfortunately, within ten minutes of second half action, Coquelin recklessly slid in on Harry Kane on the by-line, inevitably earning a second yellow and a red.

No qualms, no complaints, it was a mindless rush of blood and we were now up against it. What I would point out though, is that Kane, for all his striking qualities, and admittedly, as his goal later in the game highlighted, he has them in abundance, purposely made contact with Coquelin in that way all shameless divers do, when he could easily have hurdled the challenge and continued his run.

The striker jumped, left both his airborne legs trailing to ensure connection with Coquelin’s and I thought I’d point it out because I haven’t seen anyone else do it. Of course, it would be a booking 99 times out of a hundred, but a truly honest player with nothing but trying to get forward and score a goal on his mind would have left Coquelin trailing and without contact, they’d have been no caution. Sadly, they’re aren’t too many of that ilk around in football, even English ones, and we were left facing an uphill task to keep our lead.

A bit abrupt but I’ve run out of time. I’ll pick this up tomorrow.

See you on Sunday.

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.


28th January 2016: Squad takes three steps closer to full strength

Welcome back. With the winter transfer window coming to a close in a few days’ time, it’s looking increasingly likely that Mohamed Elneny will be the only addition to our first-term squad this month.

But when you consider today’s update from Arsene Wenger on our injury list, which confirmed that Francis Coquelin, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky are all back in full training, it’s difficult to highlight an area in which we’re lacking in options, even if you could argue we can be improved in terms of quality.

That said, with Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla still on the treatment table, I suppose our best two ‘passers’ from the middle of the park are unavailable, if you assume that Elneny will be more of a defensive option and Mikel Arteta is no longer up to the task. So if pushed, I’d say that’s the one potentially problem-position we need to find a solution for in the short-term, until Jack and Santi are ready to return.

Who knows, perhaps Elneny will show he can step in and circulate the ball like Cazorla, or Aaron Ramsey can alter my perception that passing is his weakest attribute by playing it around like Andrea Pirlo in his pomp. However we look to cover for Cazorla’s absence though, I think our results in January suggest we need to try something other than the Mathieu Flamini-Ramsey combination in there.

Anyway, here’s what Arsene said about team news ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup tie against Burnley at Emirates stadium when he spoke to the official site:

Mertesacker is out because of the red card, and everybody else is available, apart from Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla. After that it is just a question of selection and decision-making, that is the key. Jack and Santi are progressing well but they are at least a few weeks away. But these two apart, it is just about competitiveness and match fitness. Danny Welbeck is not completely ready but he is not far. He needs a game or two because he’s been out since last April. The Stoke [under-21] game is too soon because he only had one session with the team, and that is too short. Francis is available to play now because he has passed two weeks of full training. Tomas is also available for selection.

I’m sure we’ll get more clues as to which players might start against Burnley when the boss holds his press conference tomorrow morning, but we’ll no doubt be rotating the squad quite a bit, especially when you consider we host Southampton in the league on Tuesday.

Elsewhere Per Mertesacker, who as the boss mentions above will be suspended this weekend after falling victim to Diego Costa, er, falling over thin air, has been speaking to the Arsenal Weekly podcast about leadership, energy, managing the loss of players to injury, the squad’s development, mental strength aaaaaaaaaaaand team spirit – i.e the usual. He said:

There’s always a balance between having good leaders and a good team, but everyone needs to lead. Everyone needs to lead, to talk and give energy to the squad. It’s a balance and you don’t want to do too much or exaggerate at times, you just have to get the team going at times. In general we have a good balance in the team and a good squad. We’ve still got players coming back from injury but we’ve never complained about it, that is the main reason for our success. Players have stepped up, brought their energy and we’ve got the results as well. We won¹t look back on players being injured as a negative because other players have stepped up, especially this season. We’ve kept the same squad and we have obviously made some great additions over the past two years. In general, the team spirit has grown a lot. We are competing at the top and that’s something that was not always the case when I joined. The team is much stronger and mentally stronger as well. There are a few steps to go, the season is always long and to get consistency is never easy. There are challenges ahead of us but they make us even stronger, and I must say that the team spirit in the squad is huge at the minute.

Hands up who instantly pictured William Gallas lecturing his Arsenal team-mates in a pre-game huddle some years back when they read “you don’t want to do too much or exaggerate at times”?

Well I did, and it just reminded me that even if Gallas was arguably a better centre-half than Mertesacker, he didn’t have half the personality the German does. Sometimes, that can be more valuable to a team than ability.

Back on Friday.

5th January 2016: Coquelin on the Cup

Welcome back.  We begin our defence of the FA Cup on Saturday of course, when we welcome Sunderland to Emirates stadium, and as we build up to the game, Francis Coquelin has been discussing the competition with the Arsenal Weekly podcast.

Amongst other things, our tough-tackling midfielder revealed he was hungry for more silverware, having won his first major honour when we lifted the FA Cup back in May. He said:

It was my first major trophy with the club so I don’t want to sleep on this. I’m still hungry, even hungrier, and I want more, like everyone else at the club. The players are really stepping up and really want this silverware. It was a great moment but you need a little bit of the magic of the FA Cup to come back before the memories come back. When it does start, people will be looking at the pictures of themselves with the trophies and thinking that we need to hold it for a third time. What is nice is that the first round of the competition is at home and that’s great for the fans. It’s always going to be tough against Sunderland. They gave us a difficult game a couple of weeks ago, so we know it will be tough. They’re going to want to beat the champions as well, so they will be really, really motivated and beating us could give them a boost in their season as well. Everyone will be prepared for it. I don’t know if anyone’s ever held the FA Cup three times in a row before but it would mean something big for the club. We want to win any trophy so if we can get this one, we will.

Meanwhile, Mathieu Flamini has been praising team-mate – and BFF – Mesut Ozil, calling the German ‘easily one of the best’ players he’s ever played with. He said:

We all knew he was a top player but I’m glad he’s proving it every game. It’s very important to have him on our side because, as you can all see, he can make the difference at any time. He has been giving so many assists and has been making so much difference in the past few games, so it’s a pleasure to play next to him and it’s also a pleasure to watch him on the pitch. His vision is something that you don’t find very often, so he’s easily one of the best players I’ve ever played with. We are close friends and we have a good time on and off the pitch. That’s very important because, if you want to be able to perform, you have to feel happy in your head and feel confident off the pitch. I believe he is [happy] here and we have such a great atmosphere here that it makes it very easy for him to feel comfortable.

And finally for today it’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has been speaking to Arsenal Player about the importance of versatility in a footballer, saying:

Versatility is an extra string to a player’s bow. Look at someone like Philipp Lahm, who is one of the best right backs in the world but can go into midfield and play as if he’s one of the best midfielders in the world. All through your career you will be asked to play in different positions here and there and obviously the needs of the team come first, so if you have to fill in in a different role, you will be expected to do that. If you look at our midfielders, they are often asked to play in different positions. Aaron has played out wide and he goes out there and puts his own spin on it and does a good job. Over the years I can remember Tomas Rosicky playing out wide as well. If people play in another position, maybe they will play it slightly differently to someone else but they will put their own spin on the game. So for everyone it is important to have a versatile side to your game.

Now normally, after a a quote, I’ll share my thoughts on what’s been said, agree or disagree etc etc. But today, I can’t be asked.

So I’ll see you tomorrow.


1st December 2015: Cazorla ligament damage, Sanchez uncertainty and bullish Bellerin

So we begin a brand new month but sadly, it’s the same old sh*t when it comes to Arsenal and injuries. Reports today say Santi Cazorla has, as feared, damaged ligaments in his knee but the club are still assessing him and how long he’ll be unavailable remains uncertain.

What is for sure however, is that both Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez will miss our crucial Champions League game at Olympiacos next week. And speaking of the Chilean, he’s either got an ‘outside’ chance of making our game against Manchester City on December 21st, or he hasn’t, and will miss our next six matches, depending on who you believe.

So I guess it’s time to have a look at the boss’ options in midfield and further forward, in their absence. For the immediate future, with Mikel Arteta also missing through injury, Aaron Ramsey will have to partner Mathieu Flamini because the only other options we currently have available for the two central midfield berths are Calum Chambers and at a stretch, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The two wide attacking starting spots can be shared between Theo Walcott, Joel Campbell, the Ox and Kieran Gibbs and the sole striker role by Olivier Giroud, Walcott and Campbell. So we still have options and different things we can try despite our substantial injury list. With all those players fit, my preference would be to play Walcott from the left, the Ox from the right, with Giroud centrally, although Arsene Wenger would probably opt to swap the Ox and Walcott.

With our defence at full strength and Mesut Ozil thankfully still available, remarkably, we’ve got a pretty strong selection to call upon. Certainly one I’d be confident can beat the vast majority of sides in the league, but it’s games like the one against City in three weeks that would be the worry.

Jack Wilshere was also reported to be making good progress a couple of weeks ago, with a return date of Boxing Day when we travel to Southampton, penciled in as his comeback game. Then there’s Danny Welbeck, who’s due to return near the New Year and even if Sanchez misses the next month, he’s unlikely to be out much longer as hamstring recoveries don’t usually suffer setbacks.

Arsene’s main challenge I think, will be to get the team to adjust from having Cazorla and Francis Coquelin in the engine room to players with different skill-sets. For instance, for all of Ramsey’s qualities, his distribution isn’t nearly on a level with Cazorla’s so perhaps, as he already does quite often in fairness, Ozil will need to drop a little deeper, a little more often, to dictate our play from the middle of the park.

One man who’s very confident we can cope regardless of which players are out injured however, is Hector Bellerin. Speaking to Arsenal Player, the right-back said:

I have said it before, there is great depth in the team. There are a lot of young players in the team waiting to come through, and we have a lot of quality training with us every day. They are ready to step up so obviously every single player on the bench can do the same job as every single player in the starting XI. We don’t need to worry about [the injuries to Alexis and Koscielny]. The only thing we need to do is go out onto the pitch with the right mentality, it does not matter who we play.

Whilst I admire Hector’s confidence in his squad-mates, and completely agree about the team needing to have the right focus and mentality, we’ll undoubtedly be weaker with the likes of Cazorla, Sanchez and Coquelin missing through injury.

Whether we’ll be strong enough in their absence to win enough games to maintain our challenge for the two big trophies remains to be seen. We’ll find out soon enough.

See you tomorrow.

23rd November 2015: Coquelin absence confirmed. How do we cover?

Evening all. So Arsene Wenger held his pre-Dinamo Zagreb press conference this morning and confirmed Francis Coquelin’s knee injury would rule him out for ‘at least two months’.

He said:

I’m always cautious. It will be at least two months but I don’t want to speculate more than that. He has a scan today – we will know how long this afternoon.

Since then, a couple of pieces on the official site quote Arsene as saying ‘at least a month’, so either they’ve misheard the manager, or have been given a more positive update following the scan. Either way, considering we play tomorrow, we should get a more informed estimation of the likely length of his absence after the game.

Obviously it’s a bitter blow, however long the Frenchman is out for, especially in an area we are already deprived of the services of long-term absentee Jack Wilshere, with another central midfielder in Aaron Ramsey only just back from a spell on the side-lines himself. Yet the boss thinks we still have enough options in the squad to cover for Coquelin’s absence. He said:

It is of course a disappointment to lose him on the longer term but we have players who can compensate. We have lost a player of quality for a while and we know this can happen during the season. We have players who play in this position, like Flamini. We have players like Chambers [too], because he has been educated as a central midfielder. Sometimes this is a good opportunity for other players to turn up and show they can do the job.

Which is basically always the boss’ response when a player is ruled out for a sustained period and of course he’s right. Without a bit of an injury crisis in midfield a year ago, Coquelin would have remained on loan at Charlton and never had the platform to make himself such an important first-teamer in the first place.

I suppose the difference this time is that we don’t have an obvious candidate who can view this as a chance to make the position his own. Not unless you count Calum Chambers, and I don’t, despite what the boss says above.

It goes without saying I’d love to be proved wrong and for Chambers to come in and perform like a cross between Patrick Vieira, Claude Makelele and Diego Maradona alongside Santi Cazorla in our engine room, but I don’t see it personally. I think he’ll end up a fine central defender but I’m not sure he has the attributes required to play further forward, especially in a technically-intricate style of play such as ours.

Which leaves Mathieu Flamini and he doesn’t have anything to prove or show. We know what he is and that’s a decent back-up to shore things up late in games and start the odd one here and there. But asking him to play in every game would be asking for trouble, as far as our hopes of success this season are concerned, in my opinion.

The transfer window in January would obviously be one place to find a solution of course but as Arsene pointed out today, we can’t access the market right now, so we have to find a way to cope from within the squad.

My preference would be to get either Aaron Ramsey, or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, to try to mimic Coquelin’s qualities. I think they both have the energy required in the role and as intelligent young professionals, should be able to suppress their naturally attack-minded instincts and focus on the defensive side of midfield play; reading danger, making interceptions, tackling, staying positionally disciplined and generally disrupting our opponents through dogged physicality.

After all, that’s basically what Francis did himself, having fancied himself as more of an attacking midfielder for a long time. Wilshere’s another option of course but he’s some way from fitness just yet.

Whichever way Arsene chooses to compensate for Coquelin’s absence though, he has to decide soon and it has to work straight away, because we have a must-win game in the Champions League tomorrow and the busiest portion of the campaign is on the horizon.

Back with a preview tomorrow.

See you then.

22nd November 2015: Reports say Coquelin out for 3 months

As if Sunday evening wasn’t depressing enough in it’s own right as we ‘look forward’ to another working week, reports have emerged from France suggesting the knee injury sustained by Francis Coquelin during yesterday’s defeat at West Brom will keep him side-lined for 3 months.

Arsenal fans the world over will be losing their sh*t right now and understandably so, because not only is Coquelin crucial to our side, but we’re approaching the busiest period of the season and as I and many others have been saying since pre-season, not signing another quality defensive midfielder last summer was a massive gamble by the boss.

Well, if tonight’s reports prove true, I’m afraid just like last season when we suffered in the opening months of the campaign having failed to sign another central defender, we’ll only have ourselves to blame. We do have Mathieu Flamini of course for the immediate future, so the Frenchman will now have to up his game and form an understanding with Santi Cazorla until Coquelin returns, or we sign another defensive midfielder.

The alternative would be to ask another player, like Aaron Ramsey for instance, to adapt his game and focus on the type of chasing and intercepting Coquelin’s so good at, or perhaps even see how Calum Chambers fares in front of the defence given that Arsene Wenger has previously suggested he could play there.

That said, the only time I can remember Chambers playing for us in midfield was in the defeat at Southampton a year ago, so if that game is any kind of gauge, we’re better off using that as a very last resort.

In terms of who may be available to buy in January, obviously I have absolutely no clue but I’d suggest even if players aren’t being openly touted by clubs, we ‘make’ them available by bidding high enough.

If, for instance, Sevilla’s Grzegorz Krychowiak has a release clause of say £20m, as reported last summer, then trigger it. Just don’t say nobody good enough was available or we can’t resort to the transfer market every time we sustain an injury.

Of course we can’t, or given our rate of accumulating knocks, we’d have a squad of about 450 players. But with Mikel Arteta and Flamini surely being shown the door at the end of the season, we have a definite need to buy in the defensive midfield area. So do it January rather than July.

Bid for William Carvalho. Or Victor Wanyama. Or whoever the hell is deemed of the required level to play for us, but just get it done. For the record, I haven’t seen enough of Krychowiak, Carvalho or even Wanyama, to have a definitive opinion on their quality or suitability to our side, but the management must already have a good idea of who they’d like and I’d trust their judgement.

Before this news broke this evening, I was planning to go over yesterday’s game again and perhaps take a look at some of the post-match reaction but I think that game is best off consigned to history.

We play Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday so Arsene will have his pre-match press conference tomorrow and we should get more information on Coquelin’s injury then. But for now, we’re forced to envisage the foreseeable future without one of our most important players. And it’s worrying.

See you next week.

21st November 2015: Beaten by the Baggies

So we’ve gone from joint-first to fourth in the space of a few hours after we lost 2-1 at West Brom today, but the biggest blow of the afternoon isn’t the three points we surrendered in my opinion, it’s the injury to Francis Coquelin, if it turns out to be a serious one.

The fact Manchester City were outclassed 4-1 at home by Liverpool means we didn’t lose ground on the team I think remain favourites for the title, but since the summer, my stance has been that to have any chance of winning the league this season, we’d need to keep Coquelin fit, because we simply do not have another player in the squad capable of doing the job he does for the team.

Hopefully we’ll get some good news regarding his knee soon, but looking at the tackle that caused it, the extension of his leg and the jarring impact, it could quite easily be ligament damage. Please don’t let it be as bad as that …

The game itself was one we could have won, but in the end, marginally lost after the hosts responded to Oliver Giroud’s Mesut Ozil-assisted opener after 28 minutes, by scoring twice before the interval to turn the game on it’s head.

In yesterday’s post I wondered if Kieran Gibbs’ goal against Tottenham just before the international break may tempt Arsene Wenger into handing the left-back a starting spot at the expense of Joel Campbell, with Alexis Sanchez swapping wings to the right and Gibbs lining up ahead of Nacho Monreal, but concluded it was unlikely. Yet the boss did just that and to be fair, it worked okay.

Our problems were more defensively on the day, and as much as I appreciate what Mikel Arteta has brought to the club in his time with us, he’s simply not good enough anymore judging by his performances. I think it is telling that he admitted he’d thought long and hard about signing a contract extension because he wasn’t sure he was up to the level required. In the end, he clearly felt he could still offer something but unfortunately for us, that ‘something’ is being a liability.

Although he was unlucky to concede the free-kick that led to the Baggies first goal, getting a toe to the ball as he did, his part in defending the delivery was poor. Giroud was furiously berating his own team-mates as their players wheeled off celebrating and I’m fairly certain Mikel was the target of his anger.

As for West Brom’s second goal, Arteta was in the wrong place at the wrong time, trying to defend the near post but succeeding only in impeding Petr Cech from doing his job and deflecting the ball past his own keeper. That he instinctively tried to stop the ball with his hand was symbolic of a player who’s not just slow of foot, but also of mind, at the moment.

I realise that may sound harsh but when you’re talking title challenges, you’re speaking about fine margins and to be fielding a player so fragrantly not up to the task, both physically and mentally, is madness. Sentiment should have absolutely no place in competition. Hindsight’s 20-20 as they say, but Mathieu Flamini should have replaced Coquelin when he hobbled off after 11 minutes, not Mikel. In all honesty, Flamini’s far from an adequate understudy for Coquelin in my opinion, but he’s infinitely a better bet than the player Arteta is these days.

Santi Cazorla may have salvaged a point for us but did a John Terry and slipped as he tried to convert a late penalty. But we can’t really blame the little Spaniard as it was bad luck, combined with a little unsporting behaviour in trying to put Santi off his spot-kick by the West Brom players, that led to his miss I felt.

Other points to make about the loss include Per Mertesacker’s worrying recent habit of not attempting blocks. I mean, he just stands there at times, refusing to even attempt to close down a shot, assuming, i’m guessing, that he thinks opponents won’t hit the target or that Cech’s better off having a clear sight of of the strike.

Ross Barkley’s deflected effort off of Gabriel’s attempted block at Emirates stadium recently perhaps justifies Per’s reluctance to attempt blocks but I’d prefer we tried to stop shots at source whenever possible. The way Per was manhandled by one of their players for their equaliser was also annoying to see and overall our defending as a unit was poor on the day.

Hector Bellerin looked like a player who’d just returned from injury and wasn’t yet up to match speed and even Laurent Koscielny, our best defender, didn’t play at his best.

Given this was an away match at a difficult ground against organised, resilient opponents straight after an international break and with us still deprived or several players through injury, our performance and the result doesn’t worry me too much.

As I’ve said, it’s the potential long-term absence of Coquelin and if our worst fears are confirmed I think a January signing in that position becomes an absolute must. Identify the player, pay the price and if that means the likes of Arteta, or anyone else for that matter, is pushed down the pecking order to the extent they fail to make match-day squads, then tough luck. We’re trying to win the league, not running a retirement home.

More on Sunday. Til then.

4th November 2015: Champions League Preview – Braced for Bayern, the brilliant ball hogs

Welcome to Wednesday on TremendArse. So it’s Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena tonight, as Arsenal aim to repeat our feat from a fortnight ago by beating the Bavarians.

Brace yourselves Gooners. Because it’s unlikely to be easy viewing later, what with Pep Guardiola’s penchant for creating football teams that hog a football like Frank Lampard does all-you-can-eat buffets.

If Pep’s Barcelona were the epitome of efficiency in possession, he’s fashioned a Bayern side that exhibits similar levels of exhilarating economy, through quick-witted and rapid-fire ball circulation, with a breathtaking killer instinct to top off their domination of the ball.

Frankly, as an opponent, it must be hellish at times trying to stay focused, composed and motivated amidst a blur of opposition ball retention. A bit like those drills you see in training when four or five players form a circle and pass it around, as one poor sod is tasked with trying to intercept from the middle.

If you’ve ever been the piggy in middle in a situation like that, you’d no doubt admit that after a while of having the ball zipped marginally beyond your reach, it’s hard to fight the urge to simply slide in with abandon and clatter into one of your tormentors.

Yet that’s exactly what we have to make sure we do – avoid losing our heads and stay defensively controlled, as Arsene Wenger highlighted at his pre-game press conference last night. And the boss listed this need to stay mentally robust, as part of a three-point plan if we’re to be successful this evening, telling Arsenal Player:

Firstly we need to convince ourselves that we can do it and after that find a strong defensive performance without diminishing our offensive potential. It’s in three steps – the first hurdle is psychological, the second is to be at the right level defensively as a team and the third is try every time we can to attack.

Watching that interview, and remembering Arsene’s comments after the game between the sides at Emirates stadium last month, you get the impression we didn’t expect Bayern to dominate the ball to the extent they did before the game.

Yet once the match kicked-off and it became apparent we’d enjoy a lot less possession than we’re used to, the boss dropped Mesut Ozil deeper and decided to adopt a full-blown counter-attacking set-up during the course of the first-half.

He also attributed the success of our more direct attacking once Olivier Giroud had replaced Theo Walcott up front, to the latter’s contribution in stretching the Bayern defence earlier in the game.

The inference being that not only had Theo tired their back-line by the time Giroud entered the action, but perhaps having to face a very different type of threat in the brute physicality of Giroud later in the game was too much for them to cope with.

In fact, I remember Rio Ferdinand, speaking after the game on BT Sport and from considerable experience of course, saying how hard it would be for a centre-back to have to adapt late in a game from facing the threat of blistering pace to sheer strength and an aerial battle.

Unfortunately, unless say, we unexpectedly start with Joel Campbell at the tip of our attack and leave Giroud in reserve for the later stages again, we don’t have the personnel to do the same tonight.

But perhaps it can work in reverse. Giroud can soften their defence up a little with aggressive hold-up play, before a more pacey, nimble option comes on to run at drained legs. Although the only options we’d be able to call on would be the raw duo of Alex Iwobi and Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Campbell if he doesn’t start, or a defender like Kirean Gibbs.

Time will tell of course but it’s worth remembering that on our two games against Bayern in Germany over the last couple of years, we’ve won one and drawn one despite fielding, for me at least, two inferior starting XI’s to the one we’re likely to boast tonight.

Encouragingly, our midfield terrier Francis Coquelin, seemed in bullish mood when he spoke alongside Wenger at the pre-game press conference, declaring:

We’re up for it and the team is ready.

Let’s hope so.


8th October 2015: Stars align to create our formation

Like lots of things in life, the formulation of a football team owes as much to chance and timing as it does to carefully considered construction. None more so than our current first-choice selection in my opinion, which, when you scan through it, is full of near-misses, unlikely success-stories and unforeseen captures.

Take Petr Cech, who would even have dreamed the Chelsea legend would swap Stamford Bridge for Emirates stadium a year ago? Or Hector Bellerin, how many gave him a chance of becoming our undisputed first-choice at right-back in the summer of 2014?

If you replace Gabriel with Laurent Koscienly from Sunday’s starting line-up against Manchester United, you’d be left with most observers’ best Arsenal 11 and you could say every player’s success, or mere presence on the list, is a surprise in one way or the other.

Per Mertesacker? Written off as too slow for the Premier League only to become one half of arguably the best central defensive pairing in the league. Indeed, his usual accomplice in pocketing attackers, Koscielny, was considered a liability at the back a few years ago, yet is now rated as one of the best in the business in his position.

Nacho Monreal was never a good enough left-back people insisted, myself included, yet a spell at centre-back last season brought out a more tenacious side to his game, improved his aerial ability and now you’d struggle to name a better left-sided full-back in the division.

Then there’s Francis Coquelin. Renaissance Coquelin more like, from on-loan at Charlton and a failed left-winger in Germany with Freiburg, to statistically the best defensive midfielder in Europe. Mind-boggling. Alexis Sanchez’s arrival from Barcelona – if you saw that coming, even at the start of summer 2014, you’re either high up the Barcelona hierarchy or a big, fat, liar. Ditto Mesut Ozil. Completely out of the blue.

Aaron Ramsey struggled in his early years, enjoyed a stunningly prolific goal-scoring season in 2013-2014, which was completely unexpected after failing to convince for a number of years, albeit very early ones in his career, was booed by sections of the home support and is now playing very, very well in a new position on the right, providing our side with vital balance.

On to Theo Walcott. In all honesty, I’ve been championing his cause as a striker for years amongst friends, and for the last few months on this blog, yet even I’m slightly surprised at quite how quickly and smoothly he’s taken to the role. I thought it would take him a longer stretch of games to settle up front than it appears to have done.

I’ve left Santi Cazorla until last because not only has his reincarnation as a deep-lying, game-controlling, creative yet defensive, all-action maestro been startling considering his past as either a more advanced number 10 or wide player, but Arsene Wenger has also admitted he was uncertain whether the diminutive Spaniard was physically compatible with a fast, ferocious English top flight. Speaking to Arsenal.com, the boss said:

You could question whether he was physically equipped to play in the tough Premier League. It’s true that I had that doubt, but his quality was so big that I was ready to take that gamble. His technical quality, his right foot, left foot, his availability, his vision and the quality of his passing made me go for it. I thought, ‘If there is a team in the Premier League where he has a chance to make it, it’s with us.’ That’s why I went for it.

Arsene also revealed he’d been aware of Santi’s talents years ago and that Invincible Robert Pires, who played with him at Villarreal, had raved about Cazorla’s quality:

After that Robert Pires moved to Villarreal and played with him. Sometimes I asked Robert, ‘Are there any good players there?’. He said to me straight away, ‘Cazorla is a fantastic player’. So Robert was a scout for me! He at least confirmed the impression I already had about Santi.

Anyway, whether it’s luck, coincidence, cultivation or a concoction of all three, our current selection have a mouth-watering chemistry if Sunday’s showing is anything to go by and I can’t wait to see what they can achieve assuming they stay fit.

Finally for today, the FA have fined and warned both Arsenal and Chelsea following the scandalous clash at the Bridge last month when Diego Costa cheated his side to victory, and some of our fixtures around the Christmas period have been moved around for television.

Back Friday.