7th January 2016: Sanchez still sidelined but Arteta available for FA Cup clash

Welcome back. As Arsenal prepare to welcome Sunderland to Emirates stadium on Saturday and begin our defence of the FA Cup, Arsène Wenger today revealed the latest team news ahead of the game.

The big news is that Alexis Sanchez won’t be risked as he recovers from his hamstring injury but club captain Mikel Arteta is back in contention for a starting berth following his own injury lay-off.

Discussing the latest prognosis for several of his troops, Arsène said:

The team news is that, from last week, we have no big injuries, and the squad will be similar to the squad who played the last game against Newcastle. Will a young player or two start? I haven’t decided yet. The bad news of the week is that Alexis is not quite ready. It is a precaution because of his hamstring, and it takes a few more days. He’s not bad but he’s not ready. Nothing’s changed [from the original timescale] with Santi. It could be a bit shorter with him because he’s often quicker [to recover] than you expect him to be. Cazorla and Coquelin are doing well. Tomas Rosicky is not far, he’s back in full training next week, so should be available soon. Mikel (Arteta) is available.

So Sanchez shouldn’t be far off, Rosicky’s nearing a first appearance of the season, Arteta’s back and Cazorla and Coquelin are making good progress from knee injuries – but there’s no word on Jack Wilshere or Danny Welbeck. That’s obviously a big concern because whilst Arteta and Rosicky offer depth and cover, the England duo are genuine contenders for first-choice selection, if they could just get fit!

Mohamed Elneny still hasn’t signed, so with the above updates in mind and considering we’ve heard noises about significant rotation; with Mesut Ozil, for instance, being given the weekend off so he can rest up for our trip to Liverpool next midweek, and perhaps a first competitive start for Jeff Reine-Adelaide after his two-goal showing for the under 21s earlier this week, I’m guessing we could line-up a little like this against the Black Cats:

Ospina

Chambers Gabriel Koscielny Gibbs

Arteta Ramsey

Campbell Reine-Adelaide Oxlade-Chamberlain

Walcott

My reasoning behind the selection is that Olivier Giroud and Per Mertesacker haven’t had a rest recently, whereas Laurent Koscielny sat out our win over Bournemouth. Also, Mathieu Flamini is our only truly defensive midfielder in the absence of Coquelin and I wouldn’t want to risk losing him to injury ahead of our game at Anfield.

Giving Ozil the weekend off completely, makes sense, seeing as he’s our best player, I can’t remember the last time he was rested, and we’re royally f*cked if he picks up a knock. And who doesn’t want to see Jeff play? Let him loose I say. A start for Alex Iwobi is another possibility and it was interesting to read last month that he’d been deployed as a central midfielder for our development teams. Yet if Iwobi does start, I’m guessing it’ll be on one of the flanks.

Elsewhere, rotating both fullbacks is a given, I’d have thought, and I would have selected Mathieu Debuchy at right-back, shifted Calum Chambers infield and rested Koscielny too, but seeing as Debuchy didn’t make the squad for our win over Newcastle as his future at the club remains uncertain, I’m not sure he’ll play against Sunderland.

If he does, then great, and we can rest our entire back four, but after Tony Pulis ruled out interest in taking Debuchy to West Brom recently, Aston Villa manager and former Gunner Remi Garde has revealed he’s spoken to Arsene about the fullback. Garde said:

I had a conversation with Arsène a few days ago about some of the players and Mathieu Debuchy was among these players. It’s too early and it won’t help me or anyone to go forward in this style to make too many more comments.

If we do allow Debuchy to leave, surely it should be at the end of the window, which would let us rest Hector Bellerin for the Sunderland game and the fourth round of the FA Cup – scheduled for January 30th – should we progress.

We’d be keeping an experienced squad option for at least the rest of the month and Debuchy would then have the remainder of the campaign to play his way into the France squad for Euro 2016 at another club – something he clearly values above helping Arsenal to trophies.

That’s about it from me for another day.

See you tomorrow.

3rd January 2016: Debuchy to depart as Elneny nears arrival

Welcome back. I missed this yesterday, but according to Arseblog News, Mathieu Debuchy is close to completing a loan move to West Brom.

It’s far from unexpected, given the defender’s been very vocal about his desire for regular first team football ahead of Euro 2016, but it does mean our squad is weakened depth-wise. So it’ll be interesting to see if Arsene Wenger has a new signing lined up, or will instead trust an internal option to be Hector Bellerin’s deputy between now and the end of the season.

Calum Chamber’s is the obvious candidate but to be honest, I think the former Southampton man is best at centre half and I worry about his lack of pace at right-back, especially after what Swansea’s Jefferson Montero did to him last season. So if we can’t recall Carl Jenkinson from his loan at West Ham, I’d prefer a new signing. Torino’s Brazilian Bruno Peres for instance, if you really want a name.

Anyway, while one player heads for the exit door at London Colney, another should soon be arriving at Arsenal, as Mohamed Elneny’s move from Basel edges closer. Sky Sports reported this afternoon that we’re ‘on the verge’ of sealing his signature, so perhaps they’ve learned that his work permit application has been successful and he’ll pop up in a picture special on the official site as early as tomorrow. We’ll see.

But back to yesterday’s win over Newcastle now and a few words from our match-winner Laurent Koscielny, who spoke to the media after the win. The defender discussed the game and his goal, saying:

It was a tough game. Newcastle were playing very well, especially on the right-hand side with their right back and Sissoko as well. It was difficult but in the end we won and that is the most important thing for us. We started the game well in the first 10 to 15 minutes. We had good movement with good passes. After that we were a little bit tired and at this moment we knew we needed to be stronger at the back to keep a clean sheet. After that we knew we would have the opportunities to score the goal. During the game this was the case and then I scored from a corner to help us win 1-0. Sometimes we need to win like this. I’ve scored against them (Newcastle) before but the most important thing is that the team wins and I am happy with the goal. We need to stay top. I was given the opportunity to score on the second ball and I did it so I was happy. It was important to start the New Year with a win.

Meanwhile, his central defensive partner Per Mertesacker gave his take on the victory, telling Arsenal Player:

We put in everything and we had to because Newcastle were good on the break and could have taken the lead as well. When you dig in and fight for your team-mates you get your reward. We never lost our lost our focus or our passion, and neither did the fans. We believe we can be a good team if we put the effort in. That is what it is all about. That is what I kept saying to the lads. To keep a clean sheet as long as possible and we did it all the way through. We are a threat offensively and could have scored more in the end. We need to share the ball better at times in front of the goal. We are pretty delighted with the performance where we did well and now we are looking forward to 2016 and having a successful season.

I’m not sure about the performance, but I was ‘pretty delighted’ about the three points. In all seriousness though, it’s great to hear both Koscielny and Mertesacker talk about being aware of the importance of keeping a clean sheet. Too often over the last decade or so, Arsenal teams have lacked maturity and attacked with little focus on keeping it tight at the back.

By contrast, our current crop stay compact and keep their shape throughout the 90 minutes and show far more patience when they fail to score early. There’s no mindless, over commitment of numbers in attack and it’s made us a far better balanced team. That said, we haven’t looked quite as secure defensively since Francis Coquelin’s injury so hopefully Elneny, if and when he signs, can be as effective a safeguard for our rearguard, as the Frenchman.

See you next week.

17th December 2015: Mourinho won’t be missed + Bruno Peres if Debuchy leaves

Well, well, well. Jose Mourinho has failed to last more than a few seasons in charge of the same club. Who’d have thunk it?

It’s not like he has previous for taking over a team, splashing big in the transfer market and working his psychological magic to motivate his troops to a few trophies, before his squad grow tired of his childish, egotistical, hypocritical ways and his soul-destroying footballing ‘philosophy’ and can’t wait to get rid of the c*nt. Oh wait …

Good riddance I say, and no, English football won’t miss his ‘character’ at all. Not one little bit. So I hope Manchester United, or any other top-flight club thinking of giving him a call think again. He may bring you silverware in the short-term but he’ll stink the place out eventually. He always does. The bad news as an Arsenal fan is that Chelsea will now start to win games more regularly and won’t get relegated, but I suppose we can’t have it all.

But from Mourinho, to the manager he fragrantly wishes he was more like, and who’s respect and one-club longevity he craves, Arsene Wenger, and the boss held his pre-Manchester City press conference this morning, revealing the latest team news and discussing much more besides.

Pointing out the fact the City game was still a few days away yet, Arsene explained Alexis Sanchez has a glimmer of hope of being ready to return from his hamstring injury and there are no fresh concerns otherwise. He said:

We are quite far from the game but at the moment, everybody who played against Aston Villa is available for Monday night and there are one or two possible comebacks. Maybe there is a slight chance for Alexis to be in the squad again but it is too early to be sure about it. He (Sanchez) is running but not participating in full training.

Given how well I thought Theo Walcott performed in Sanchez’s left-sided position at Villa Park last time, plus Joel Campbell’s industrious contribution on the right, I wouldn’t take any risks at all with our Chilean, despite the opposition being City, who remain the team I think are our biggest rivals in the chase for this season’s title.

We have a busy period after the City game and the last thing we need is for Sanchez to return too soon, suffer a relapse and be ruled out of the festive fixtures. I’m sure Arsene will make the right call and when asked if it would be him who made the call and not the player, he said with a smile:

Yes, because he (Sanchez) says he’s always ready.

Meanwhile, he was also asked about his transfer plans for the upcoming January transfer window and offered:

We are open-minded. We are not the only ones who can decide about the speed of the transfers because we have to adapt to the availabilities and the speed of negotiations and the willingness of clubs to sell. We are open to do something because we are short.

Amidst all the talk of a new defensive midfielder and perhaps even a new forward, it’s easy to overlook the fact we also have a bit of an issue at right-back. Clearly Hector Bellerin is first-choice, as he would be in any team in the world, but his back-up, Mathieu Debuchy, went on record recently as saying he wants talks with Arsene over his playing time.

Which is understandable, as he obviously needs to play regular first-team football to stand a chance of forcing his way into the France squad for the Euros in his home country next summer. So if the boss decides to grant Debuchy a move away, we’ll need a new right-back. Off the top of my head, my choice would be Bruno Peres from Torino.

He’s a lightening-fast, attacking full-back who’s very comfortable in possession and crucially, also a very good defender. Here’s a video showcasing both his defending and attacking, including a quite astonishing goal against Juventus at the end …

Back with more from the boss’ presser on Friday.

See you then.