10th March 2016: Positive injury update + Sanchez reveals restlessness

Welcome back. Some good news to begin with today after Arsene Wenger revealed both Gabriel and Per Mertesacker will be fit to face Watford in the FA Cup on Sunday and referred to Aaron Ramsey’s injury as ‘a small alert’.

Given widespread reports were ruling the Welshman out from anywhere between 6 weeks and 6 years following the knock he picked up as a substitute against Hull on Tuesday, Wenger’s words sound promising. Here’s what he had to say about his sidelined stars when he spoke to the official site:

We had a few injuries at Hull – Gabriel, Mertesacker and Ramsey. Mertesacker and Gabriel are very positive, there is nothing wrong there, they are both good. There is a small alert (about Ramsey), we don’t know how bad it is. He (Laurent Koscielny) is not far, he will have tests until Sunday, but it could come too soon. He has a little chance. They (Petr Cech, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla) are all progressing nicely, but this week and next week they have no chance.

Let’s hope that ‘small alert’ remains just that and doesn’t morph into a ‘deafening drill’ because despite not really rating Ramsey as a central midfielder myself, if he is ruled out for a sustained period, we’re currently one injury or suspension to Francis Coquelin or Mohamed Elneny away from having to play Mathieu Flamini or Mikel Arteta  – and that scares me.

Elsewhere, Alexis Sanchez, who has struggled for goals and form since recovering from a hamstring injury sustained late last year, has been telling the official site that he feels ‘guilty’ when he fails to score and suffers sleepless nights as a result. He said:

I think that I’ve adapted really well in terms of fitting into the club and it’s been very good. But at the same time I’m not the kind of person to become complacent or think, ‘That’s it’. I always want to improve and give my absolute all to the team. The truth is that I do enjoy [the responsibility]. When I don’t score goals I feel like I’ve failed the team and I feel guilty. I go home, can’t sleep and I just think I have to play better.

Hopefully his goal against Sp*rs last Saturday will have boosted his confidence and will kick-start a prolific last portion of the campaign for him because if the Chilean can rediscover his best form, I’d feel confident of beating any team in the Premier League.

He’s one of those all-too-rare match-winners who can fashion a goal from nowhere and given how we’ve been struggling for fluency in our overall play these last few months, having that kind of individualistic ability in the team can become even more of an asset to a side.

Finally, from one Arsenal attacker who’s recently ended a goal drought to another, and Olivier Giroud has revealed he nearly missed Tuesday’s win over Hull, in which he bagged a brace, after becoming a father again earlier in the day. Here’s what our Gallic goal-getter told Arsenal Player:

I could have missed the game actually, so I was glad that he arrived during the night. I could have a little rest [after he was born]. I travelled to Hull and I wanted to dedicate these two goals to him. I’m very happy to score. We scored four goals, so that’s a good efficiency up front and at the back, so we can be happy with our performance tonight. It’s always hard for a striker not to score but you have to keep the confidence as high as you can and work hard at training. I’m very pleased to get back on the scoresheet and to smell the first goal. After, it was a good assist from Theo [for the second]. I succeeded to put two in the net and it’s nice for the team. It’s nice for me obviously and now it’s Watford. If we go through, we go to Wembley.

So the big arch awaits Arsenal for what would be the fifth time in three seasons if we can secure a win over Watford. Make it happen lads…

The boss holds his pre-match press conference in the morning so we may find out the full extent of Ramsey’s injury and get a better idea of who will start on Sunday.

See you on Friday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you on Friday.

12th February 2016: Wenger on Leciester

Happy Friday folks. Arsene Wenger held his pre-Leicester press conference this morning and aside from reiterating the latest injury news he gave to the official site yesterday, the boss insisted Sunday’s top-of-the-table clash against the Foxes is one Arsenal are very much looking forward to.

Arsene also spoke about the importance of building momentum following last weekend’s win at Bournemouth, the significance of this fixture in terms of the title race, and the inevitable anxiety that accompanies being league leaders. Here’s what he said:

What is important is to find the momentum back and that means that you win a few games. After, let’s not count too much on the weakness of Leicester because they have not shown too many. We want to find a consistency in our results until the end of the season, because we have big game after big game now. What I believe is that you do not have to be a super mathematician to analyse that it is a very important game, maybe not a decisive one for the Premier League but it is not far away from that. The pressure is on us as well, of course. I don’t deny that but I take that in a very positive way and as an opportunity to show how strong we are. I think the biggest pressure in our job is to play games without pressure. This is the kind of game we want – the kind of game we relish. When you play at Arsenal Football Club, that’s what you want. [Leicester] are still in a position where they think they have nothing to lose. But once you are top of the league, you can also think about losing what you have. That is where the nerves come in a little bit. I do not know how they will respond to that.

The boss went on to lavish priase on Claudio Ranieri’s side, pointing out that even the most sceptical of football followers are now convinced of Leicester’s title credentials and also discussed the first meeting between the two sides this season, our 5-2 win at their place back at the end of September. He said:

It is very romantic and I understand the whole country [being behind them]. That is human. I think as well that [the story] is good for football, and it goes against the usual practice in our game, which is spend and buy big stars. It is important to know that with quality work, quality scouting and quality management you can have great results. Leicester today are in a strong position and they have certainly silenced all the doubters since the start of the season because at Christmas people were saying they would not be there and now we are at Easter and they are still there. In the last week they showed they have solid potential to win the league, with two positive results against Liverpool and Manchester City away. Everybody now thinks they are on the same level as everybody else to win it and they have a mathematical advantage of five points. They are certainly more convinced of their quality now,” he said. “When we played them last, they were top of the table so that has not changed but their belief has been strengthened. The first game we played against them at Leicester was a very open game and it is true that their strength is to be very quick in transition from defence to offence. But we have to nullify their pace and attacking potential – we want to dominate the game, have the ball and be dangerous.

Although we’ll typically look to take the initiative in terms of possession as Arsene suggests above, it’s also pretty obvious that Leicester won’t mind us having most of the ball one iota. In fact they’d prefer it.

Their game-plan this season, on a very basic level, revolves around containing and then countering using the pace, poise and pizzazz of players like Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez. So it was interesting that Arsene hinted he’ll continue with the pacier Gabriel at the back alongside Laurent Koscielny, when discussing why Per Mertesacker didn’t start our last game:

It’s difficult for me to go into any individual assessment. I think he has played many games. Sometimes I use a different formula. Per Mertesacker is a great leader, a very respected one in our dressing room, but I have three entire backs and I adapt a little bit to their level of form, to the number of games they’ve played and to the opponents we play against. What are their strengths and where can they hurt us?

Given Arsene’s meritocratic selection policy which is heavily weighted in his players’ last performance, I’d say it’s very likely we’ll see just one change from the Bournemouth game and that will be Francis Coquelin returning in place of Mathieu Flamini to partner Aaron Ramsey in the middle of the park.

Some may expect Joel Campbell to regain his place on the right at the expense of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but after scoring a sumptuous goal last week and producing arguably his best performance of the season, my money’s on the Ox retaining his starting spot.

Back with a preview tomorrow.

28th December 2015: Gabriel and Ozil send Arsenal top

Evening all. Mesut Ozil inspired a much-changed Arsenal line-up to a 2-0 win over Bournemouth at Emirates stadium this evening, to send us to the top of the Premier League for at least the next 24 hours.

Arsene Wenger made four changes to his starting selection from the Boxing Day defeat at Southampton; Gabriel, Kieran Gibbs, Calum Chambers and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, Mathieu Flamini and Joel Campbell respectively.

The game had a pretty scrappy opening with both sides guilty of giving the ball away and failing to find any fluency in their passing but we took the lead after 27 minutes as Gabriel headed home from Ozil’s in-swinging corner.

The Brazilian defender was a threat from set-plays all game long and also defended faultlessly at the back bar one hairy moment where he appeared to kick a Bournemouth player rather than the ball inside our penalty area. It would have been harsh on him had a spot-kick been awarded but I’ve seen them given and we were a tad lucky to get away with that one I thought.

But there was absolutely nothing fortuitous about our second goal which arrived via the delicate, but devastatingly effective, left in-step of Ozil after 63 minutes. The German played a couple of one-two’s, the second with Olivier Giroud, whose flick left Ozil one-on-one with their keeper on the right. Instead of swinging his weaker right foot at it, our wizardry number 11 simply readjusted his body-shape to allow the ball to run across onto his favoured left peg and calmly passed the ball past their keeper.  What a goal and WHAT a player.

The visitors enjoyed plenty of possession (49%) but failed to create many clear-cut chances and in truth, it was a just the kind of comfortable win we needed after Saturday’s shock spanking at St Mary’s. We rested a few players, secured three points to send us top, Mesut Ozil inched closer to Thierry Henry’s Premier League assist record of 20 (Ozil now has 16) and Petr Cech also broke the division’s clean sheet record.

A couple of other things to note were that Theo Walcott had a day to forget I thought, Oxlade-Chamberlain played a little better than what he’s produced so far this season – the signs were there that he simply needs a run of games to build confidence – and Chambers performed adequately in defensive midfield but I’m still far from convinced he’ll be up to it against better opposition.

After the game, Arsene Wenger shared his thoughts on the match with the BBC, saying:

There was a little hesitancy at the start after our bad result on Saturday but slowly we got into the game and after that we created chances. After a disappointing result, not dropping points once again was most important for us.

And the boss also praised the outstanding Ozil, offering:

I said many times that he has added something to his game – a desire to be efficient and desire to score goals. He has become a complete sensational football player. I am very, very happy with his performances. He is one of the best in Europe certainly. In his position, he is sensational.

Sensational indeed. Personally, I felt the German was so much better than anybody else on the pitch it was embarrassing. Obviously that includes his own team-mates and it’s always a little disconcerting seeing Mesut roll his substantial eyes, puff out his cheeks and gesticulate in frustration as the Ox or Giroud or Walcott fail to live up to his lofty standards and play the right pass or mis-control the ball.

But on the other hand, he really is a rare talent and the ultimate team player so I’m sure he’ll continue laying chances on a plate for his team-mates and elevate their standards by leading by example. And on a personal level, Ozil will take some stopping from winning the player of the year awards if he keeps up this kind of form between now and the end of the campaign.

Mohamed Elneny’s signing is reportedly nearing completion and hopefully he’ll be available for our next game which is at home to Newcastle on Saturday. As if a new central midfielder signing wasn’t necessary enough, Jack Wilshere’s latest set-back makes it even more of a priority.

For now though, we can enjoy getting back to winning ways and leading the Premier League.

Back tomorrow.

2nd December 2015: Cazorla woe, Monreal on London and Gabriel talks Wembley

Evening all. Although not yet confirmed by the club, widespread reports today claim Santi Cazorla’s knee injury will keep him out of action for ‘at least the next three months’.

There’s not much more to add really, given the news is far from unexpected and I’ve gone over what our Santi-less options are over the last couple of days.

All I will say is that Aaron Ramsey now needs to really step up in the Spaniard’s absence and prove he’s worthy of playing there long-term, by helping us win enough games to sustain our title challenge for the rest of the season. One man’s misery can be another’s opportunity, or something.

Moving on from our injury woes and onto something a little more positive now, and Nacho Monreal has been speaking with the Arsenal Weekly podcast about how he’s settled into life in London following his move from Malaga almost two years ago. He said:

Everything feels right. I can say that I feel at home on and off the pitch. If you don’t feel good off the pitch and in life in general, obviously you can’t give 100 per cent. However, at the moment, I love England, I love London and I love my team-mates so everything is positive. When I arrived here I knew that the first thing I had to do was learn English because, if you want to speak to your team-mates, the staff and anyone here, you need to learn the language. It was difficult for me because I’m very bad with different languages but I am trying. Mikel, Santi and Hector were very helpful for me because I didn’t speak English when I arrived, I didn’t understand anything, so every time I had a problem or didn’t understand something they explained it to me. Even in the evenings, sometimes you have nothing to do and you can spend your time with them. They helped me a lot.

Meanwhile, Gabriel, who like Monreal the year before, joined the club in the January transfer window last season, has been discussing his stand-out memory of his first year in North London. He told Arsenal Player:

It is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life, winning my first trophy with Arsenal, and the most important of my career. I spent a whole week just thinking about this game, and the fact that it was at Wembley, a stadium that everyone around the world knows. The thought of setting foot on such a legendary pitch, in this magnificent stadium, was amazing. I was lucky enough to play in the semi-final and the final was very emotional for me too. It was great to win a trophy so soon after arriving at the club, and also very important for my family. It was great to see the whole squad so happy at achieving our goal.

Although managers often bemoan the lack of options available in the winter window, Monreal and Gabriel are proof that quality can be purchased if you look hard enough and do your homework before hand. Considering how stretched our squad has become in recent weeks due to injuries, we clearly have an urgent need to strengthen in midfield in next month’s market.

With Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini in the final year of their contracts, there’s no worry over becoming over-stocked in that area once the likes of Cazorla, Coquelin and Wilshere regain full fitness. We need at least one new central midfielder, lets make sure we pay what’s required and get him in as early as possible after the New Year.

Back tomorrow.

9th October 2015: Gabriel gets real as he talks Brazil

Welcome back. A very brief one today because I’m as short on time as Jose Mourinho is in class, Chelsea are in history and Tottenham are in titles.

Gabriel, our feisty, no-nonsense, gem of a centre-back find from Brazil, has been speaking to Arsenal Player about his tough upbringing in south America, and a desire to improve his mother’s standard of living, as being the chief motivator behind his rise to stardom. He said:

She lived in a shack in a favela. I talk about it because I am not ashamed of saying it, and today I am proud of being able to help her, to give her a better life, and me as well because I always dreamed about it. Thanks to God, things are coming true. I have seen many things on the outdoor neighbourhood pitches. I have seen death, I have witnessed robberies, I’ve been robbed in Sao Paulo. I’ve seen many things. I practically grew up with this. But thanks to God I took a path in my life because, for all that I have seen, for the bad things I have witnessed, my life could have been very different. But I was strong. I thought about my mother’s story and told myself that my mother couldn’t go through this anymore. She can’t, she must have a better life. So thanks to God I took a different path and am here today. I am fulfilling a dream I had since I was little, and thanks to God things are moving in the right direction.

The former Villarreal defender also spoke of his hope he will be seen as a role model in his home country, where the pitfalls in society are plentiful, but a love of the beautiful game and the dream of becoming a professional offer youngsters a route to a better future:

Everybody knows about the corruption happening, and every day is a surprise. So I think Brazilians don’t like seeing that, but the kids have so many opportunities to play. Every neighbourhood has a football academy for the kids to follow this path, which is something I also want for the neighbourhood where I was born. I want to serve as a mirror to them, for them to see that I have gone through difficult times and managed to do it, and see that they can do it too. It’s not just me. If you work hard and respect the people above us, you can do it.

It’s often been said elsewhere that one of the reasons south America continues to churn out more quality footballers than any other area of the planet is because ‘street football’ is still thriving, unlike in Europe and particularly here in England.

I spoke to Tim Vickery, the Brazil-based football journalist for the BBC, about this subject almost ten years ago now and asked him why, in his opinion, other nations lagged behind Brazil in skill etc. He cited the demise of street football as being a major reason. The other factor of course is the one mentioned by Gabriel above – a burning desire to escape poverty which drives kids to give it all their all on a football pitch and in their dedication to the game.

That point was made about Alexis Sanchez recently and although this is a very interesting topic, it’s also one that deserves far greater time and research so I’ll leave it for another time, but I do still have that interview with Tim somewhere so will dig it up and perhaps post bits of it on here at some point.

I know there were internationals taking place tonight involving Arsenal players, as there were last, but I’m afraid I’ll have to leave discussing them until tomorrow or Sunday.

Whatever you’re doing, have a good one.


6th October 2015: Defenders talk, starlet signs

Evening all. Cloid is here, so news is scarce, but thankfully, a few of our players have been speaking about various stuff, not least Sunday’s scintillating showing against Manchester United at Emirates stadium, so let’s take a little look at what they’ve had to say.

First up is vice-captain and one half of the blossoming Petr-Per relationship bringing much needed experience, maturity and security to the team, Per Mertesacker. The German World Cup winner says the Gunners ‘clicked’ defensively against Louis van Gaal’s men, called the win ‘special’ and expressed his hope the team’s confidence is just as high after the international break. He said:

We had a good understanding [defensively]. I think a lot clicked today. If one of us won a duel, the other would be there and that was the same in the second half. If he [Anthony Martial] ran past one of us, which can happen, someone else would be there straight away. It went well from the start and that’s always crucial. When you take your chances and are strong defensively, that’s a clear indicator that you feel good. [Sunday] was just special and then it’s always difficult for your opponents to gain a foothold when they are so far behind after 15 minutes. You could see how much the team wanted to respond [from Olympiacos]. As a team you try and remind yourself of what you can achieve and you could see that we have a lot of confidence. I hope that we can display that again in two weeks.

I suppose on the one hand, the current break from club football allows us to savour a brilliant win for a little longer than usual without the risk of a bad result replacing our joy with a new-found sense of doom. But on the other, there is the worry that any momentum in confidence and performance could be lost before the players reassemble to face Watford a week on Saturday.

Particularly when you factor in the potential for injuries while the players are away with their respective countries. So you can fully appreciate Arsene Wenger’s comments about ‘praying’ for his players to return unscathed because there isn’t much the club can do other than hope for the best and perhaps implore national coaches to look after them and not over-train or over-play our players over the next fortnight.

Alexis Sanchez is already a concern of course, with the groin injury that forced him off late in the second half against United, and although Arsene accepted his star forward would want to play for his country, particularly against a team like Brazil who they face later this week, you’d hope sense would prevail regardless of the player’s desire to play and he’s left out if at risk of making his injury worse.

Elsewhere, Per’s central defensive partner on Sunday, Gabriel, has been speaking to ESPN Brazil about his red card at Chelsea and Diego Costa, the Arsenal fans, wanting to stay a Gunner for a long time and learning from his new team-mates. He said:

As I walked off after being sent off against Chelsea I thought the fans would hate me, but the support was unbelievable. I have been tested by Costa before in Spain, I think he knows that we were causing him issues, but this is life, we move on. God is always fair but I should have listened to my manager and Cech when they said not to react to Costa. We will play again. The Arsenal fans make you realise how big this club is, I will post one picture and my phone will go crazy for 3 days. I want to stay here for a very long time, I don’t speak the language yet but I feel at home and this club is perfect for me. Having two players to learn from like Per and Laurent is a gift from God. I am shadowing them and picking up lots of things. I want to learn more from Laurent he is really good at coming from behind and taking the ball, I’d like to bring that to my game. Cech is a great keeper he talks to me a lot, I have learnt a few phrases that I know he will say, he is a leader.

If his refusal to be bullied by Costa and his eagerness to stand up for team-mates is anything to go by, Gabriel posseses plenty of leadership qualities himself, ones which will only grow the longer he’s at the club and maintaining his level of performance. Not wanting to tempt fate but he’s barely put a foot wrong since arriving in January and as many have observed, seems to relish defending as much as Frank Lampard does deep-fried Mars Bars.

Finally for today, Alex Iwobi, who was so impressive in pre-season when given a chance to travel and play with the first-team squad, has signed a new, long-term contract the club confirmed today.

I’ve only seen him play for us a couple of times, including the game in which he scored against Lyon at the Emirates Cup this summer and my initial thought was that he’s quick, slick and a little more efficient in his distribution than say, Chuba Akpom, has looked at times. Who knows how he’ll develop at this early stage but he’s clearly highly regarded by the club and is part of a long list of very promising young forwards on the books at London Colney.

See you on Wednesday.

1st October 2015: No defence for the defence

Welcome to a brand new month on TremendArse. Whatever your thoughts on Danny Murphy as a pundit, and mine are indifferent; he’s not as insightful as Gary Neville usually is but then he’s no dreary dolt, like Michael Owen, either, I thought the former Liverpool midfielder summed up our recent defensive displays perfectly when he spoke on talkSPORT today:

I’ve watched Arsenal in their last two games and I must say, defensively, Arsenal have been absolutely all over the place. Naive, gung-ho, thoughtless – it’s really not that difficult to play a bit more defence minded. With the players they’ve got going forward they will create chances.

Naive, gung-ho and thoughtless – exactly my sentiments about our defending when the full-time whistle blew on Tuesday night. If five goals had glossed over our frailties at the back last Saturday at Leicester, there was no similar attacking camouflage against Olympiakos and the brittleness we’re so often accused of was evident for all to see.

So what can we do to improve? The two central defenders likely to play in our next game at home to league leaders Man Utd on Sunday, due to Laurent Koscielny’s hamstring strain, have been discussing the debacle against the Greek champions and offering their views on what we need to do better.

First up is Gabriel, who has urged calm and remains confident we can still qualify from our Champions League group despite still having to face Pep Guardiola’s currently rampant Bayern Munich side twice in our remaining four fixtures:

It was a complicated night [against Olympiacos]. We were in a good place in the first half, defending well, we were happy. But the three goals were our own fault. We only have ourselves to blame for conceding them and now we have to rest, work harder, and then on Sunday come back and have a good game. We just need to be calm. We have to work hard and focus on putting in a good performance [against Manchester United]. I am sad that we lost an important game at home. But we can still qualify. We have a very strong team, with some very good players. We now have to try to win the remaining matches in the group.

Our vice-captain Per Mertesacker was similarly forthright in his appraisal of our last game and says it will take a while for the players to clear their heads before they can refocus and try to produce a far better performance against Louis van Gaal’s men at the weekend. He told Arsenal Player:

First of all, we are disappointed because we started quite well, especially on the break after they had set-pieces. We lacked that concentration and it is not understandable why we drifted and did not do the job we are used to doing. That is not acceptable and we will be punished [for that] in the Champions League. We need to get behind the ball and play better defensively. We lacked discipline, even when you get a goal back don’t rush yourself. Get your discipline back and with possession you get your chances. If we are not disciplined and do not chase the ball we have got no chance. We have got a couple of days to look back on that performance. I think everyone will have regrets and it is good to take that away. It will take a couple of days to recover and to think about Manchester United and play in a different competition, which will be a good opportunity to come back to the Emirates and play our football with possession and dynamism.

At least the players seem to have recognised their mistakes, evaluated where they went wrong and are clear in what they must do to improve. Or so you would say if this was the first instance of us f*cking things up to such an outrageous extent, but it’s not. It’s about the 151st time in recent memory, so I don’t blame any fans for yawning at Gabriel and Mertesacker’s words and switching off from the subject. To be honest, I’m not sure how we improve our squad’s collective mid-set and intelligence but that’s the issue I think here, brains, not ability.

The old ‘lack of leaders’ cliche certainly gains an awful lot of credence after results like Tuesday’s and as much as I lean towards the ideal of pure football, having the right mix of steely characters in combination with an easy-on-the-eye game-plan is crucial of course. Looking at our squad, only Francis Coquelin strikes as a player with the requisite organisational qualities. The rest of them to a man, including our captain Mikel Arteta and his deputy Mertesacker, have proven themselves lacking in that department.

Even if our football can be improved on the training pitches at London Colney, I’m not convinced character can be developed in the same manner, so the next time we dip into the transfer market, rather than focusing just on ability with the ball at a player’s feet, perhaps we need to scour the market for the kind of individuals who can make us a bit more of a savvy side when the sh*t starts hitting the fan in the midst of a game.

See you on Friday.

22nd September 2015: Gabriel ban rescinded but damage is already done

Greetings Gooners. There has been a shock development in the case of Mike Dean, Diego Costa and the Scandal of Stamford Bridge after the FA today rescinded Gabriel’s three-match ban for his straight red card on Saturday, displaying the kind of common sense and fair ruling they’ve so often shown themselves incapable of in the past.

The Brazilian defender still has a charge of improper conduct hanging over his head for failing to leave the pitch immediately following his dismissal, but for the time being, today’s statement means Gabriel is available for tomorrow’s Capital One Cup game at Tottenham should Arsene Wenger decide to use him. The full release from the FA reads as follows:

Arsenal’s claim of wrongful dismissal in relation to Gabriel has been upheld following an Independent Regulatory Commission hearing. The player’s three-match suspension has, therefore, been withdrawn with immediate effect. Gabriel was dismissed for violent conduct during the game against Chelsea on Saturday [19 September 2015]. The player is currently subject to a separate FA charge of improper conduct in relation to Saturday’s game and has until 6pm on Thursday [24 September 2015] to reply.

According to The Mirror’s John Cross, Arsenal have ‘proved’ Gabriel made no contact with Costa in his red card incident and our ‘legal team compiled a ‘dossier’ of Costa’s dirty tricks which convinced the Football Associaton to uphold the appeal’.

Whilst I’m obviously glad we’ve used video evidence to bring some of Costa’s despicable antics during the game to the FA’s attention, including his kick-out at Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, I do wonder if they’d have charged the Chelsea player had we not done so. I mean, his behaviour was clear for the watching world to see and should have been addressed retrospectively, regardless of any encouragement from us, but I’m not convinced it would have been.

Frankly, if the authorities don’t discipline the Chelsea striker (and he’s shown himself a better ‘striker’ when lashing out at opponents than he’s been when putting the ball in the back of the net so far this season) with a punishment in line with his crimes, then they’d be wasting a great opportunity to try to stamp out this type of violent, game-wrecking, cheating from the English game. Let’s hope they use as much common sense in dishing out a lengthy ban for Costa as they have in upholding our appeal over Gabriel’s red card.

All that said however, the overturning of Gabriel’s ban and the prospect of a lengthy suspension for Costa doesn’t come close to making up for the fact that the damage, in terms of Premier League points, has already been done. At the time of Gabriel’s dismissal, we were comfortably drifting towards the interval and quite conceivably have gone on to win the game.

Instead, as today has shown, we were unfairly reduced to ten men and went on to lose the match. Why Mike Dean’s role in all this hasn’t been looked at is beyond me because a more incompetent refereeing performance you’d struggle to find anywhere in professional football.

Chelsea and Jose Mourinho’s response should be fun to hear as the Portuguese will no doubt find a new word for ‘campaign’ to suggest evil forces are conspiring against his side. Speaking of the Enemy of Football, it was interesting to see a video of his post-match press conference put up by various websites including the BBC, because it brought to wider attention his belligerent, warped and venomous mood after the game. I think it was Sky Sports’ Andy Burton who was ridiculed by Mourinho for suggesting Costa had crossed the line during Saturday’s game.

The manager said something like ‘you must have played badminton when you were a kid’, implying that football was a man’s game and his player had done nothing wrong. How the press, as a collective, let Mourinho get away with such insulting, snide comments – his default mechanism for deflecting difficult questions and criticism – is bewildering. Perhaps they ought to approach interactions with him in a more no-nonsense, hard-hitting style like their Spanish and Italian counterparts have done in the past, because letting him treat them with such disdain should just not be accepted.

For all his successes and undoubted ability to win football matches, his attitude, in public at least, is quite simply sickening. For a long time he was said to be a master in mind games but I wouldn’t give him the credit for being calculated. Arsene Wenger has his faults as a manager but he could teach Mourinho an awful about being a human being and treating others with respect. For that, as well as the fact he’s a top manager himself, I’m proud he represents our football club.

As I’ve been writing this post, the FA have confirmed they have issued Costa with a three-game ban for violent conduct on Saturday. It’s not nearly long enough in my opinion, but I suppose some consolation at least, for last weekend’s refereeing shitshow, if not the dropped points.

Back tomorrow.

21st September 2015: Charges all round as FA release statement

So the FA have today confirmed they will be charging Cheatsea’s Diego Cheata for his attempt to rip Laurent Koscielny’s face off with his bare hands, in the 43rd minute of Saturday’s game at Scamford Bridge.

But just in case they’re accused by Jose Mourinho of having an agenda against his ghastly club, they’ve also charged Gabriel with ‘improper conduct for his behaviour following his dismissal’, both clubs for failing to control their players and warned serial troublemaker Santi Cazorla for his behaviour following his own dismissal.

Meanwhile, Arsenal have also confirmed they are appealing wrongful dismissal and the three-match ban given to Gabriel. The full FA statement read:

Following the game between Chelsea and Arsenal on Saturday [19 September 2015], the FA has taken the following disciplinary action. 

Diego Costa has been charged for an alleged act of violent conduct which was not seen by the match officials but caught on video. The Chelsea forward was involved in an incident with Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny in the 43rd minute of the game. He has until 6pm tomorrow (Tuesday 22 September 2015) to reply. Off the ball incidents which are not seen at the time by the match officials are referred to a panel of three former elite referees. Each referee panel member will review the video footage independently of one another to determine whether they consider it a sending-off offence. For retrospective action to be taken, and an FA charge to follow, the decision by the panel must be unanimous. 

Arsenal defender Gabriel has been charged with improper conduct for his behaviour following his dismissal, whilst teammate Santi Cazorla has been warned for his behaviour following his sending off. Finally, both clubs have been charged for failing to control their players under FA Rule E20. 

Both clubs and Gabriel have until 6pm on Thursday [24 September 2015] to reply.

The first thing to ask is why has Diego Cheata been charged for only one act of violent conduct? Even if you discount the chest bump on Koscielny and the provocatively forceful palms to Gabriel chest, that still leaves the attempted face-off, scratching Gabriel’s neck and kicking out at Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. A hat-trick of violent acts.

I was hoping a for a wave of condemnation for the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard’s behaviour and although he’s received criticism in some quarters, when you have a high-profile figure like England assistant and Sky pundit Gary Neville going on Twitter to say ‘I like Diego Costa’ following the game, is it any wonder his constantly grotesque behaviour on a football pitch is tolerated? In fact, as Neville’s tweet suggests, it’s accepted, admired and perhaps even encouraged, which is ridiculous.

We may as well make our next signing from the WWE roster because if its grappling the fans want to see, then why not give them the real deal, rather than an average striker who spends most of the match trying to maim opponents and the rest of it shouting at the referee trying to get his victims dismissed.

Anyway, as Arsene Wenger said after the game, Gabriel, no matter how much he was provoked both physically and verbally by Diego Cheata, should have remained as cool as Koscielny, and not reacted. The man who’s place in our starting line-up the Brazilian has occupied in recent weeks, Per Mertesacker, has been giving his take to the controversial game when speaking on German TV. As transcribed by Arseblog News, he said:

First of all, he (Diego Cheata) should have been sent off. That’s what should have happened above all. He went far too far and it seems that English referees lack the common sense that’s necessary. The officials certainly didn’t look good in this situation. Having said that, Gabriel can’t let himself be provoked and he should have been walked away from the scene by his team-mates. So we have to take responsibility for the situation, too.

It was also put to the World Cup winner that Cheatsea fans seemed to revel in their striker’s behaviour at the weekend, which is bizarre given English football is very vocal about it’s dislike and supposed intolerance of dark arts like diving and cheating, often blaming foreign players for introducing them to the Premier League. He said:

Well, they certainly didn’t (hate cheating) today. Today the player got a standing ovation from his own fans and that shows you that the rivalry is more important than what happened on the pitch. That hurts, because it definitely didn’t show fairness and certainly didn’t show respect. Those are things football should stand for and that’s why I don’t want anything to do with this (*these sort of antics) myself. I hope it gets punished retrospectively since that option exists. The guy (Costa) was already punished a few times, but so far he hasn’t changed. So I hope the right conclusions are drawn and since there were several violent conducts, it should be easy to make the right decision.

And that’s the point right there – ‘it should be easy to make the right decision’. Except as today’s statement from the FA has shown, they have chosen to completely ignore the majority of Diego Cheata’s crimes on Saturday and in doing so, passed up the perfect opportunity to make an example of a hideous character who is a stain on the English game.

Multiple charges for multiple offences would have been fair and also increased the likelihood of Diego Cheata changing his ways. Instead he’ll serve any short ban he’s given after an inevitable appeal sees it reduced and continue scamming his way through the season at the expense of the competition’s integrity, quality and, ultimately, it’s reputation.

Mourinho told reporters after the game that Diego Cheata ‘needs’ to play this way and all but told the assembled press to shut up about it, because it’s players like him who sell the league to the millions around the world. But he’s wrong on both counts of course.

Players like Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure, Eden Hazard, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil draw the crowds and flog the television rights worldwide, and you can show the heart, fight and determination which sets the Premier League apart from the rest, without being a Cheata like his star striker.

Til Tuesday.