14th April 2016: Injury update + Per on defensive discipline

Evening all and welcome back. For those interested in a spot of skiving off work first thing in the morning, Arsene Wenger’s press conference will be streamed live on the official from 9am UK time tomorrow. But the boss did provide his customary Thursday update on injury news to Arsenal.com earlier today.

Thankfully, we have everybody fit from last weekend’s squad who drew at West Ham, whilst the prognoses for our injured quartet of Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky sound promising. Here’s what Arsene said:

Next week they (Oxlade-Chamberlain and Cazorla) will be back maybe, they are not back in full training yet. Jack and Tomas are playing today for the under-21s. They have had no reaction from last Friday’s game and they look alright. From last Saturday’s game against West Ham, we should have everyone available who was in the squad.

Whilst it’s obviously great to hear we’re nearing full fitness as a squad, with so little of the season left to play it’s unlikely any of those four players will have any significant role to play this season. Clearly, I hope I’m wrong, and Wilshere plays it to Cazorla who finds Rosicky to tee up the Ox for a title-clinching goal on the last day of the season, but you know…

Which means the onus to perform will firmly be on those who have helped us to impressive wins at Everton and at home to Watford, as well as that draw with the Hammers in recent weeks – which I’m quite happy with if I’m honest.

Despite the Andy Carroll-caused defensive shenanigans for ten minutes either side of half time at Upton Park, we’ve looked a fluent, dangerous side recently and I’d back them to win our remaining games, with the possible exception of Manchester City away, although they of course will hopefully be preoccupied by their European run.

Moving on now though and Per Metesacker and Laurent Koscielny have both been speaking to Arsenal Player. The former discussed the importance of defensive discipline between now and the end of the season, saying:

[We need] discipline. We lacked a bit of that desperation, even when 2-0 up at West Ham, to defend and get everyone behind the ball. To come back to that level is absolutely important in the Premier League, and if you don’t you will get punished. These details are very important to us and everyone can see it, it is obvious. We want to win every single match now, to put the teams in front of us under pressure. We have got the belief we can win every single one and that is the task from now on: to concentrate on the next one. When something is going against us in a game, we have to focus on ourselves and not get distracted by anything else. The focus and the mindset is really important. There are fast changes, even in a single game and also throughout the stretch of the season. We have to be ready and concentrate on ourselves and our games – anything can happen in football. We need to be there, when there is space and teams are dropping points. But that is not our business, we are just talking about ourselves and trying to win every single game.

Whilst Koscielny praised January signing Mohamed Elneny’s impact on the team. He said:

When he signed I could see he was a good player with the ball and how he could make good passes. He is not a player who takes the ball and goes from box to box with it, but he can help the team go higher up the pitch and keep the ball, which is very important. He doesn’t lose many balls during a game, he has scored and he has played well. He signed three months ago so his adaption to our philosophy at Arsenal and [to life] in England… I am very impressed with it.

As are we Laurent. Although Aaron Ramsey, and other central midfielders on Arsenal’s books, may just be sh*ting themselves a little bit whilst wondering how exactly they force their way back into the team. And if they’re not, they should be such has been the Egyptian’s start to life at the club. Keep it up Mo!

See you on Friday folks.

10th April 2016: Arsenal make work seem appealing + West Ham reaction

Sunday greetings. Dropping points at Upton Park was bad enough, but seeing Leicester and Tottenham both win comfortably today means it’s been a weekend to forget.

The irony that a new working week will now provide a timely distraction from football is pretty galling, but at the moment that’s the truth of the situation. So thanks Arsene, nice one Arsenal, good job Sunderland and cheers Manchester United – I’ve never looked forward to a nine-to-five more. I hope you’re proud of yourselves …

I suppose I ought to take a little look at the reaction from the West Ham game however, even if I’d rather do anything but. First up it’s Arsene Wenger, who gave his take on the game to Arsenal Player, saying:

We were [in control]. There are always a lot of positives. Overall, you can say it is not a bad result to draw here, but in the context of the league, where we are and what we want to achieve, it is a very bad result for us. I wanted to win the game. In the end we had the opportunities to score a fourth goal, but we were not calm enough. I think we rushed our game in the box and that is disappointing. One or two times on the counter-attack the pass didn’t come quickly enough out of the feet and that is why we missed.

A decent appraisal I suppose but about as comforting as a smack in the mouth. A few of our players also had their say on the match, with Laurent Koscielny bemoaning his side’s frailty in one-on-one duels and explaining how they should have defended the threat of Andy Carroll in hindsight. He said:

We are disappointed. When you are 2-0 up and they come back, it is difficult. We have played well in the game but lost some important duels. They played on the counter-attack to cross the ball to Carroll who is good in the air. We conceded the same amount of goals [as them] today and it is difficult to come away with one point when we wanted more. He is quality when it comes to heading the ball. If you want to win the duel, you need to be stronger and arrive early on the cross. You can’t let them get a cross in easy because they have some good players on the wings. It is a job for everyone, not just the defender.s The guys on the flanks need to help their team-mates with defending. We will fight (for the title). We are professional players and we want to win. They [Leicester] have some important games. We will fight to the end. Mathematically, it is not finished so we will try.

Mohamed Elneny also insisted the team would continue to give it their all in the hope that somehow, Leicester and Tottenham collapse in the last few games of the season. He said:

We will fight until the end, until the last game in the league, to achieve what we want. Let’s see the final outcome then. Today we wanted to snatch the win even though we were playing against a strong team. Maybe the final result is not this much in our favour, however we are doing our best in each game. We conceded two goals at a very hard time. We should have ended the first half 2-1 up but the equalising goal came at a very crucial moment. At the start of the second half we started organising our team to win the game and step up our performance, however we conceded a third goal so we tried and pushed to get an equaliser. We finally did that but we couldn’t snatch the win in the end. We are fighting for the league title, this is why we had to play in an offensive mode to win the game, but thanks God for the final result. The best is yet to come.

You have to admire the optimism of our Egyptian enforcer, even if it’s very, very unlikely to see it vindicated. Danny Welbeck was more sombre in his appraisal, saying all we can do now is focus on ourselves:

I said before the game that we wanted to win the game, so it is points dropped. With the circumstances, going two up and then a goal behind, to get the equaliser was good. It was disappointing [not to win]. Stuff happens in football that is hard to explain. It is just one of those things. We tried to. It was difficult and they were threatening on the break as well. It was a difficult game for us. We just need to focus on ourselves and play the game that we want to. There is no point in us looking at other teams because we can’t affect them.

No we can’t, sadly. I guess we should start looking over our shoulders at those just behind us in the league as much as we set are sights on overhauling Tottenham into second place, because even if we can still very feasibly finish ahead of our north London rivals, we also need to be wary of the two Manchester teams in the race to secure a top four finish.

As such, the one big positive from this weekend’s results then, must be that we now have a six point lead over fifth-placed United with just six games to go.

Have yourselves a wonderful, football-free Monday everyone.

Back tomorrow.

17th March 2016: Ozil and Koscielny talk the talk

Evening all. With our season now confined to just the Premier League, we have no fixture congestion issues from here on in, no prioritizing to ponder competition-wise, just nine games to make up the 11 points we currently lie behind Leicester and then pray and hope our rivals in the title race drop enough to see us crowned champions.

At this point it’s already highly unlikely and every game feels like a title eliminator because if we were to fall any further behind, then realistically our challenge would be over even if it was still mathematically possible.

And as we prepare for the season’s final straight, two of our spinal players have been having their say on what they feel is required if we are to beat the odds and lift our first league title since 2004. First up it’s Mesut Ozil, who had some fighting talk when he spoke with Arsenal Player, saying:

Last year we won those last eight [remaining] games but we don’t care about that now. It’s important what happens now. We have to concentrate now and give everything on the pitch. We have to fight. I know the teams playing us will fight to take the points against us, so the games will be tough. We have to fight on the pitch and we have to think from game to game, not that we can win eight games in a row and take the points. Now it’s not possible to win just our games [and that to be enough] so other teams need to lose points as well. The first step is to believe in us. We have to work harder than before. We have tough games coming but we have to take the points. If we win the title, we will be very happy because we believe in us. If you see the whole season, we’ve played very well. We’ve lost some points because we weren’t concentrated or we didn’t score. Now we have to fight for each game to take the points.

Nothing to argue with there and our German assist-meister certainly sounds determined. I’ve seen him get some stick for his alleged ‘lack of effort’ in last night’s loss to Barcelona but I think part of the reason he may have been at less than 100 percent intensity is because deep down, both team and manager knew we were facing an impossible task – especially after Barcelona took the lead to make it 3-0 on aggregate.

So rather than not trying, I think Ozil was sensibly conserving energy, perhaps even on manager instructions. Whether that’s true or not only the player and Arsene Wenger can know for sure of course, but that’s how I’m reading it and you can’t stop me.

Meanwhile Laurent Koscielny says the side have lost a little confidence having dropped so many precious points recently and must now concentrate on the basics to get back to winning ways and rebuild belief. He told Arsenal Player:

We are frustrated because the most important thing in a game is to finish with three points, which we have not done [much]. We haven’t been fighting like we did in the last six months because we lost a little confidence in ourselves and it is harder to win some games. We need to come back and help our team-mates with defending, attacking and a controlled passing movement. We didn’t lose our capacity physically or our technique, we just need to do more. We also need to come back to our basics, be simple and then the confidence will come back. When we get a win, it will be better and after we can play with more confidence, movement and try things we didn’t do before. We need to get back to this and when the results come back, we will be stronger.

If there’s one thing you can always rely on from Arsenal, it’s talking a good game, whether it’s the manager or any of the players. Now if they could just translate all that sensible spiel into on-pitch performances and points, we might yet pull off a minor miracle between now and the season’s end.

But as we all know, our margin for error has all but evaporated, so starting at Goodison Park on Saturday lunchtime, we simply have to walk the walk.

Until tomorrow.

7th March 2016: Wenger on team news and growing pressure

Welcome back. Arsene Wenger held his pre-Hull press conference this morning, revealing the latest team news, as well as discussing the growing unrest among Arsenal supporters following a feeble run of form that has seen us fall eight points behind Premier League leaders Leicester City.

But first to availability for tomorrow’s FA Cup replay against the Tigers and the boss hinted at a strong selection for the game, whilst providing updates on the fitness of Laurent Koscielny and Petr Cech. He said:

We lose Coquelin from his bad tackle on Saturday and everyone else looks available. I have to see how everybody has recovered today but overall we should have the same squad that went to Tottenham plus Alex Iwobi will certainly be added to the squad. Petr’s scans were better than expected, but it will still be four weeks for him. So after the international break. Laurent will be short for Hull. he has a chance to be available for the weekend, but I think even for then he will be short.

Nothing surprising in all of that and considering the Cup now appears our most realistic opportunity to secure silverware this season, I suppose the game takes on added importance. But more on that in tomorrow’s post when I’ll be playing Arsenal Manager again and trying to guess our starting XI, so tune in.

On to the swirling sh*tstorm engulfing London Colney at the moment and particularly the manager’s office. There have been numerous stories over the last week or so about Arsene’s future, with one paper going as far as to say the boss will be asked to leave if we fail to beat Hull tomorrow.

Then there’s rumours of legendary ex-players like Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp all supposedly being lined up to step in if the club decide to make a change, ignoring the fact all three of them have zero experience of top-level management (New York City doesn’t count). Anyway, the boss was inevitably asked about his future and pressure from irate fans and here’s what he said:

I feel privileged to have the confidence of the club for such a long time. On the other hand, I work seven days a week with full commitment. I’m not part time and since I have been here I have given full commitment and that is all I can do. I always have the same pressure, which is the same pressure I apply to myself. After that, people talk and you have more people talking than 20 years ago and more opinions. That doesn’t change the pressure. The real pressure comes from your desire to win the next game and that is the only one that matters really. I do my job and one day someone will replace me. That is part of life and as long as you have done well and given your best [that is what matters]. That is what I try to do. I try to do my best and leave this club in the best shape so the guy coming after me will have good potential to work with.

I’m sure this isn’t the first time we’ve heard these words from Wenger and they probably won’t be the last. He’s in charge and he’ll make the call on when to call it a day – that much is pretty clear. Whether that’s healthy or not is up for debate but it is what it is and unless results continue to disappoint, nothing will change at least until the summer.

If I were to guess though, I’d say nothing will change at least until the end of Arsene’s current contract which expires in May 2017, at which point, we may have just won the treble. Unlikely of course but the point is that trying to guess what the world will look like so far down the line is a fool’s errand. Just look at Leicester.

A bit short but I’m afraid that’s where I’ll leave it.

Back pre-game tomorrow.

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.

26th January 2016: Koscielny on Giroud, Giroud on Giroud + my opinion of Wellington Silva

Man it’s windy where I am today. The snow-storm that caused so much damage to the east coast of the United States has arrived in London, minus the snow, but bringing blustery conditions that seem to to have set off every car alarm within a 10-mile radius of me. Soooooooo annoying.

Not as annoying as Diego Costa’s face, and constant cheating, mind, but then who or what is? Certainly not Olivier Giroud, as far as his compatriot Laurent Koscielny’s concerned anyway – quite the opposite in fact. Laurent has been raving about the striker’s qualities, saying Giroud is ‘the best’ when he keeps his game simple. He told Arsenal Player:

When he plays simple, he’s the best. He’s tall, he’s big and when you try to find him, he keeps the ball. No defender can pass him. He’s so massive and that’s one of the best qualities for a striker. When he can play like this, with one or two touches and staying in the box – which is where we want him – we can score in the air. I think Olivier has a work rate for the team which is very high. He’s not just a forward, he’s always there [when we have] free-kicks or corners against us. He’s the first guy who tries to head the ball. It’s important that he can give assists too. You can see now that he smells the situations well – when he needs to shoot quickly, or control the ball, like he did against Liverpool with his second goal. I think he’s in good form this season and I hope he will stay in that form until the end of the season.

High praise indeed and given his contribution to Arsenal’s cause not just this season, but since he arrived at the club from Montpellier in 2012, Giroud deserves it. He’ll never be quick, a nifty dribbler, or, flicks aside, be able to combine at speed with team-mates in tight spaces, but he does possess pretty much every other attribute you’d want in a forward.

He’s a big, strong, scores goals for us at a rate of just under 1 every 2 appearances, is great in the air in both boxes, helps to release pressure on our defence by holding the ball up, works his socks off and, at times, has a great first touch. All that said, I’d still like a more mobile forward if not to replace Giroud, at least share the sole-striker’s role with him, because there are games where Giroud’s ineffective and a a different style of player at the tip of our attack is needed.

And Giroud himself has also been speaking with Arsenal Player, explaining that having to work his way up through the lower leagues in French football has been the making of him as a top-level professional footballer. He said:

It is harder to get noticed when you come from a small club but it’s all about playing and when you don’t get your chance, you need to go to another club to get enough playing time. I succeeded in doing that on loan and I always used to score goals. Afterwards I succeeded step by step to play better and better and reach my level today. I definitely feel tougher because the beginning of my career was different to than if I played for Marseille, PSG or Lyon. When you have to face difficulties it always helps you in the future when you have to be strong and have to face your responsibilities. It definitely helped me in my career and that’s why I can say that I am tougher today. I thought I could play at this level when I played for Montpellier and won the league. I wanted to reach this level then and today I am proud of that. I don’t want to stop here and I always want more because when all this stops I don’t want to regret anything. I really want to give everything to my limit.

As I mentioned earlier, if there’s one thing Giroud doesn’t lack it’s a world class work ethic, and that has to be the foundation for any player, whether they’re as naturally gifted as Wellington Silva, or more modestly talented with a ball at their feet like say, Mathieu Flamini.

Speaking of our Brazilian winger, having just turned 23 and returned from a two-month injury layoff with a torn hamstring, he’s wowing Bolton fans with his ability and work-rate in equal measure. The alleged past problems with professionalism that appear to taint his reputation in the minds of so many simply don’t exist anymore, if they ever even did to any alarming extent.

As far as I’m concerned, he’s an outrageously skillful footballer who luckily for us, is also a team player like compatriot Neymar, knowing when to pass and when to go it alone, rather than an over-the-top and largely ineffective show pony like Adel Taarabt or Yannick Bolasie, who perform step-overs for fun but rarely tap into their team’s pattern-of-play with any meaningful consistency.

A friend of mine recently asked why Bolton were doing so badly in the Championship at the moment if Wellington was as good as I believe he is, and my answer was simple: he’s amazing but his team-mates aren’t and he’s a footballer – not Superman. Put him alongside better team-mates on a similar wave-length, playing on better surfaces, and I’m confident he’ll confirm his class with goals, assists and overall performances.

It’s a bold prediction but I’ll make it anyway: I think Wellington will prove himself a better winger than any player we currently have who can play wide with the exception of Alexis Sanchez. He may even be suitable more centrally, either in the number 10 role or up front, given a chance.

If you haven’t guessed, I can’t wait to see him pull on the red and white and if we end up selling him before he’s given a chance like so many expect us to, I’d be amazed and devastated, because I think he has the sort of potential that is very rare, even for a Brazilian. Thankfully then, it seems Arsene Wenger rates him as highly as I do, so it’s likely he’ll get his chance at some stage fairly soon – hopefully next season.

See you tomorrow.


22nd January 2016: Elneny endears and promises endeavour

Happy Friday folks. I’ll start today with our new signing Mohamed Elneny, who has been speaking with Arsenal Player about his move to the Gunners and the Premier League.

Encouragingly, the Egyptian midfielder sounds like he’s got his feet firmly on the ground, is eager to improve and impress, and endeared himself to Gooners everywhere by labeling his new club ‘the best team in the Premier League’. He said:

I expect it to be a massive shift in my career and a big starting point. I would like to achieve a lot and prove to myself and everyone that I am capable of playing in the Premier League and any league around the world. Hopefully I can develop my skills more and more. I always work hard to develop all aspects of my skills to benefit the club I play for. As I mentioned before, Arsenal is a big club and I have to live up to this responsibility. That’s why I work hard to develop myself continuously. I can see that Arsenal are having one of their best seasons, that makes me very enthusiastic to play with the best team in the Premier League, both now and in the past. That is why I am very keen to accept this responsibility. I am very aware of this and I am well prepared for this task.

Having been an unused substitute for our game at Stoke last weekend, Elneny is of course yet to make his debut for Arsenal and it would have been nice to hear what Arsene thinks of his new recruit’s physical readiness for Premier League football. I mean, because of the winter break in Switzerland, Elneny hasn’t played a competitive game since early December.

Perhaps that might have been a better question for reporters to have put to Arsene at his press conference yesterday, rather than ‘are Chelsea specialists in failure?’. But of course, an update on Elneny’s match-fitness isn’t nearly as important to some sections of the press (Sky) as trying to instigate bad blood between Arsenal and Chelsea before they meet on Sunday.

Even if Elneny is ready to compete for a starting place though, my guess would be that the FA Cup game against Burnley next weekend might be deemed a better time to hand him his full debut by the boss, rather than in a high-pressure London derby. Then again, who knows? If he’s ready, he’s ready, and he could be our secret weapon to catch Chelsea’s midfield off-guard and run rings around the likes of John Obi Mikel and Nemanja Matic. We’ll see.

Moving on and as we prepare to play the first of three home games in our next four Premier League fixtures, Laurent Koscielny has been discussing the importance for taking maximum points at Emirates stadium if Arsenal are to be crowned champions. The defender told Arsenal Player:

If you want to win the Premier League, you need to win all your home games. Our seven away games will be very difficult because we play against Man City, Man United, Tottenham, West Ham, Everton, so we need to do the job well at home so we have the points. We take each game and we will see. We want to play and win all games. We are in a period where we play many different competitions, we play the Champions League, the FA Cup, Premier League. This weekend is an important game and next weekend too, because it is the FA Cup and we won it twice and we want to continue like this. In February March, we will have Champions League so we need to take it game by game and that’s it.

You obviously don’t have to win all your home games to win the title but you know what Koscielny means. We have difficult tests ahead away from home so winning all our games at Emirates stadium from now until the end of the season would obviously help our cause no end.

Back tomorrow with a preview.


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.

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.

30th November 2015: Wenger defiant and bullish as injuries pile up

Welcome to a brand new week on TremendArse. The early prognoses on the injuries suffered by Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and Laurent Koscielny in yesterday’s draw with Norwich, are reportedly mixed.

The latter’s hip complaint is not thought to be as bad as it appeared at Carrow Road, with the defender struggling to walk straight as he left the pitch, after The Guardian today reported the club hope Koscielny will return to training before the end of the week and should be in contention for Saturday’s game against Sunderland.

For more worryingly however, the same article says the club fear a torn hamstring for Sanchez, which would side-line him for a month, and worst of all, ligament damage to Cazorla’s knee, in which case the Spaniard would follow Francis Coquelin in being unavailable for a number of months yet.

To most fans and observers, we’re in the mother of all injury crises, even by our lamentable standards, yet Arsene Wenger stood firm on his decision to play Sanchez yesterday, despite revealing in the build-up to the game that the Chilean was a doubt for the match due to a ‘hamstring alarm’. He said:

The players are there to play football and not to be rested when the press decides they need to be rested. He says it is a kick on his hamstring. I fear the reality is worse than that. Nobody is scientifically developed enough, not even the press, to predict exactly when a guy would be injured. I must say that with all humility we are not position to predict that, despite all our test he looked alright. We checked him and when you have no force and no middle stretch in your hamstring then there is no problem and he had that. I believe that it is normal that a player gives everything in a game and I’m surprised you are surprised. You have plenty of players across Europe who play every single game and at the moment we are short as Walcott is not there, Welbeck is not there, Oxlade-Chamberlain is just coming back. I can take a gamble on one and in case I can take a gamble on another one.

And the boss also expanded on Cazorla’s injury, saying:

In the first half he got a kick on the knee and it got worse. I don’t know if he has jaded his knee ligament or he it was just a kick on the nerve but the worrying thing was it got worse during the game.

Yet despite all the injuries, and to players who are simply irreplaceable by other squad members by most people’s estimation, Arsene remains confident he, and what’s left of our decimated squad, can cope with the challenges ahead. He said:

We have Ramsey (who can play in central midfield). I can understand you worry for us, but trust us, we will be there. We have to go through that spell. We had a bad spell of a few games now with Tottenham, West Brom and today we only have taken two points but we are still not far and going through a bad spell and not being far. It is not enough but at least we had an opportunity to come back.

You have to admire the boss in a way for remaining defiant, albeit a little cocksure, despite his players dropping like Ashely Young over thin air in a penalty box, but privately he must be as concerned as the rest of us.

How we’ll cover for absent first-choice players and what that will mean for the way we play is obviously going to be an important topic of conversation over the coming days, but personally, I’m holding fire on playing Arsenal manager until the full extent of the damage to our injured players is confirmed.

Despite the undoubted brilliance of Sanchez and the goals he generates, in terms of both the time he might be out for and his importance to our style of play, the player I’m currently most concerned about is Cazorla. Hopefully any scans he has show no ligament damage and our ambidextrous little game-runner is back before we know it. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Til Tuesday.