15th December 2015: Welbeck worry, Cazorla on comeback and Ox on versatility

Evening all. Some worrying news to begin with today after reports this morning suggested Danny Welbeck has suffered a setback in his rehabilitation from knee surgery, and may now be out until February, having previously been expected to return shortly after the new year.

There’s no official word from the club as yet and we won’t know for sure until Arsene Wenger speaks to the official site on Thursday, or at his pre-Manchester City press conference on Friday, but either way, it’s bad news if accurate, particularly for a squad as stretched as ours is at the moment.

Meanwhile, another long-term absentee, Santi Cazorla, has been discussing his own knee injury, revealing he had no idea how serious it was initially. The Spaniard also said he hopes to be back in March, but the club think it may be longer:

I am trying to take it well. These are the things that happen in football and I am trying to recover as soon as possible. I have to be ready mentally to work and hopefully I can shorten the recovery time as much as possible. I do not want to set a time but I want to play in three months. I do not want to extend it more if it is possible. Arsenal have told me it will be between three and four months, which may be closer to four. I have already said that I will work hard, I want to make everything I can to play in March but we will see how it goes. We are not going to force it if is going to be bad. But my priority is to play in March. The club have told me to be calm and that when I return we will be in the finals (laughs). I hope so. The important thing is that the team do well and I recover as soon as possible.

Aaron Ramsey has obviously taken over the central midfield mantle in Cazorla’s absence, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been telling the Arsenal Weekly podcast that he too can play in the middle if asked. He said:

Versatility is an extra string to a player’s bow. In the long run it’s probably better to tie yourself down to one position and really become established in one area to be as good as you can in that position. However, you look at the likes of Philipp Lahm who is one of the best right backs in the world, but he can also go into midfield and play as if he’s one of the best midfielders in the world. Throughout your career you will always be asked to play slightly different positions here and there, and obviously the needs of the team comes first so if you need to fill in at a different position, you’ll be expected to do that. It’s important for any player to be versatile enough to be able to play in different positions. I’m quite lucky because I enjoy playing on the wing and in midfield as well. I’ve become more used to playing on the wing because I’ve played there more than I have in the middle. Growing up, I played more centrally which is why whenever I do get asked to play there, I’m more than happy to do that. There are times in the game as well when, because of the way the team plays, I might be on the wing but for a 10-minute period I might end up playing in midfield and I feel at home doing that. Sometimes it’s nicer to play in midfield because you get more of the ball whereas when you’re out wide you rely on people to get you the ball, but then when you are on the wing you have then license to attack a bit more and run at people which is a strong part of my game. I’m happy to play in both positions.

That certainly sounds as though the Ox wouldn’t mind playing through the middle but personally my thoughts on whether he’s best positioned more centrally or out wide are mixed. He’s been guilty of giving the ball away too often when deployed in the middle in the past and I think that’s a big reason Arsene Wenger is perhaps reluctant to pay him there more often.

That said, some of the Ox’s best performances in an Arsenal shirt have come when he’s played centrally. I’m thinking AC Milan and Crystal Palace at home and I think, if memory serves, Galatasaray away in last season’s Champions League.

A bit like with Ramsey, I think he can certainly be a good player in the middle, provided we have the right player(s) partnering him. For now though, given his, lets say, below-par form when he has played so far this season, the Ox just needs to work hard in training, find some confidence in his game, and force his way into the starting selection, wherever the boss decides to position him.

Until tomorrow.

9th December 2015: Champions League Preview – Walcott option + the Ox is overdue a big performance

Welcome back. There isn’t long to wait now before we find out if we’ll be playing Champions, or Europa, League football after the New Year, and I have to admit, I’m as nervous as Wayne Rooney waiting for his pizza delivery. Will one, large, stuffed-crust suffice as a mid-morning snack? Can we complete a minor miracle and make it out of our group?

With a fully fit squad, I’d be very optimistic about our chances, but of course, we don’t have a full selection to choose from, as we’re missing our central midfield pairing in Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla and our best goalscorer in Alexis Sanchez. Throw in the fact their replacements have had one game to gel and find collective form and it’s hard not to worry as an Arsenal fan ahead of tonight’s trip to Olympiacos.

In terms of how we’ll line-up, the only change I can envisage would be bringing Theo Walcott in for a start at the expense of either Olivier Giroud, Joel Campbell or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Based on their respective form in last weekend’s win over Sunderland, the favourite to be dropped to the bench in favour of Theo would undoubtedly be the Ox. Yet barring any late injury concerns, my guess would be that Arsene Wenger will either go with the same starting line-up as last Saturday, or bring Walcott in for Giroud.

The Ox is certainly due a good performance and tonight would obviously be a great time for him to rediscover the sort of scintillating form he showed in pre-season. And the player himself has been discussing tonight’s game with Arsenal Player, highlighting the importance of both scoring early, but also keeping it tight at the back. He said:

If we can get that first goal we will really put them under pressure and we can push on and hopefully get another one. If they manage to score we are not out of it by any stretch of the imagination, we will just have to score a few more. We will see how the game goes but we need to defend first and foremost – keeping a clean sheet is the first task. We have got players in our side that can go and score goals and we will be focused on doing that. Olympiacos came to the Emirates and played really well on the night and showed us what a threat they can be. We have played at Olympiacos a number of times so it is a tough place to go and their fans can create a real buzzy atmosphere. It can be a bit intimidating but we have to feed off of that and go there and get two goals, defend well and get the result. Going into that game with nothing to lose, the boss uses the term: ‘playing without the handbrake on’. I think that is when we play our best stuff and if we do that we give ourselves the best chance.

On the opposite flank to the Ox, is likely to be Campbell, who fresh from scoring our opener against the Black Cats, will line-up against the side he played for, on loan from Arsenal, during the 2013-2014 campaign, scoring eight goals from 32 appearances for the Greeks. And the Costa Rican is expecting a tough battle in what he’s dubbed as our “most important game of the season so far”. He said:

[The win over Sunderland] was a good result for the team. We got the result and that’s what we wanted. Now we have to prepare mentally and physically for Wednesday’s game because it will be very difficult. We already played against Olympiacos at Emirates Stadium. They are a great team, a great rival and especially because they play at home. In the Pireo (Karaiskakis Stadium) it is very difficult to get points but it is the last game of the group stage and we will give our best. It is the most important game of the season so far. It will be a cup final and we have to win to continue in the Champions League.

I suppose it can only be a good thing that we have a player in our ranks who will know some of the oppositions players; their strengths and weaknesses, and also feel at home playing at their ground. But then that works both ways – they’ll also have a good idea of how they think they can stop Campbell from hurting them, having watched and studied his game at close quarters.

My gut feeling is that I need a poo we’ll do it tonight, but then I thought that just before the second legs against AC Milan, Bayern Munich (twice) and Monaco in recent years,  when we nearly manged the requisite result, but in the end fell tantalizingly, agonizingly, just short. Let’s hope tonight’s different and we can get the necessary win to carry us through.

Back tomorrow.


4th December 2015: Premier League Preview – Ramsey’s return to centre stage

Welcome back. We’ll get a first glimpse of a reconfigured Arsenal when we host Sunderland in the 3pm kick-off tomorrow, as we adjust to life without the injured Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez for the foreseeable future.

Taking centre-stage in midfield alongside Mathieu Flamini, will no doubt be Aaron Ramsey, and for the Welshman, it’s a chance to start showing why he deserves to be first pick in the middle of the park, even when everyone is fit again. He’s a different player to Cazorla of course, but what Aaron perhaps lacks in ball control, passing and vision compared to the Spaniard, he can make up for through his greater stamina, goal-getting capabilities and overall dynamism.

The team will need to adjust, either by playing more directly overall, or ensuring Mesut Ozil drops a little deeper to dictate our play in Cazorla’s absence. I read somewhere that no two players in the Premier League have passed to one another more than Cazorla and Ozil, with the Spaniard assisting the German’s assists, as it were. Kind of like Alexander Hleb used to do for Cesc Fabregas several years ago.

Yet when Ozil first arrived at Arsenal near the start of the 2014-15 campaign, the player he seemed to ‘click’ with more than any other was actually Ramsey, and that period coincided with the Welshman enjoying the best form and goal-scoring run of his career to date.

At the time Mikel Arteta was chief distributor alongside Ramsey in the middle, with Ozil ahead of them, so it won’t be quite the same, but if they start to combine as they did in that spell, we might not miss Cazorla as much we think. Ball circulation remains my main concern, as Flamini’s more Gennaro Gattuso than Andrea Pirlo, which is why I’m expecting a slightly deeper Ozil to pick up our Santi-less slack.

In term’s of replacing Sanchez’s qualities, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain needs to start showing the kind of form he did in pre-season and the Community Shield, because to be completely honest, he’s been awful by his standards when given an opportunity to play so far this season.

The boss said a little while ago that the Ox was too critical of himself but he needs to banish the self-doubt and produce what he has shown he’s capable of, which is being a nightmare for opposition fullbacks and an energetic, effervescent, penetrative, goal threat. He also needs to put in the sort of work-rate Sanchez does and show more defensive awareness.

The other options on the left are Joel Campbell and Theo Walcott, although my guess would be that Theo will be eased back into competition with a place on the bench tomorrow. We should be at full strength at the back, which at least gives us a solid base on which to build a slightly new style/system, given the changes in personnel compared to the majority of the season so far.

I’d say my overriding feeling about the team right now is anxiety tinged with excitement. I’m worried by our big-name absences but excited by what the likes of Ramsey and the Ox might produce. And Arsene Wenger highlighted the fact Arsenal remain close to the top of the table, despite being without a win in the league in three matches, and suggested our injury woes were ‘a challenge’ to the rest of the squad to show we can cope. He said:

We have gone through a little bit of a bad spell in recent games, but we are two points off the top. The great opportunity for us is that, despite that bad spell, we are very close. That’s why it’s important that we keep our confidence and our determination very high, and start winning again. It’s always a disappointment to lose players at an important moment of the season. But on the other hand, it’s a great challenge for the team and a great opportunity to show that we are ready for a fight and can deal with it.

The boss also discussed the Black Cats and the impact of their new manager Sam Allardyce, saying:

He has made them much more solid defensively, and much more difficult to beat. That is always very important when a team has a lack of confidence. With Sam Allardyce, you know that you will be confronted with a resilient team, who are quick on the break. They used that well against Crystal Palace for example, when I saw the game, and they have made results recently.

Getting the first goal is always important in games against teams like Sunderland, even more so when they’re managed by arch-pragmatists like Allardyce, because it forces them to come forward once in a while, as opposed to spending the whole game in their own half, time-wasting, spoiling, fouling and hoping for a lucky break from a set-piece to win them the game.

So a fast start and an early goal would be perfect and set us up nicely to hit them for six, which would send us top after Man City succumb to Stoke, United get hammered at home by West Ham, and Swansea burst high-flying Leicester’s bubble thanks to a Jonjo Shelvey-inspired supershow …

Back after the game.


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.

28th November 2015: Premier League Preview – Can we get back to winning ways at Norwich?

Evening all. Much to the consternation of environmentalists everywhere, we’ll make the 14 minute flight to Norwich tomorrow, as we try to secure our first win in three Premier League games.

We’ll also be looking to make it four wins in a row against the Canaries, since, if memory serves, a Per Mertesacker slip let in Grant Holt to grab the hosts a 1-0 win back in October 2012.

And after Manchester United and Leicester City both dropped two points earlier today having played out a 1-1 draw, we can climb back above both of them in the standings with a win tomorrow.

In terms of how we’ll line-up, I’d expect Aaron Ramsey will come in on the right-hand side of midfield for Joel Campbell, which would admittedly be particularly harsh on the Costa Rican, given his fine performance against Dinamo Zagreb in midweek, but for me Ramsey remains the better option in that position.

Elsewhere I think we’ll be unchanged and should have Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the bench to give us one more attacking option should we need it as the game progresses.

There had been talk in some quarters of Ramsey playing alongside Santi Cazorla in the middle with both Francis Coquelin and Mikel Arteta currently out injured, but Arsene Wenger feels asking the Welshman to play deeper in a more disciplined, defensive role would take too much away from the player’s natural game, saying:

Ramsey is more an offensive player. I will use him sometimes there [centrally] when the game demands, but is he naturally with Cazorla a balanced pair? Defensively, certainly, it’s a very adventurous one! I used Ramsey on the right because he gives us a balance, because we have Ozil who is an offensive player, we have Sanchez, we have Giroud or Walcott and Cazorla so to balance a bit defensively, I use Ramsey on the right. That’s where I will certainly continue to use him. He is not afraid to tackle but he likes to go in the box and he has a good timing of runs and he wants the ball and he wants to go forward. If you take that out of him, and you say ‘look, you have to sit now, and sit there and wait,’ you kill his strengths. He [Ramsey] can do [the deeper role]. It is not that he cannot do it, but he can do it [more effectively] with Coquelin. Cazorla can [play alongside] Coquelin. Cazorla and Ramsey is a bit [attack-minded] and you know in my mind I have seen that the turn of our results last season was when I went for a bit of stability and put Coquelin in there. Now I am a bit cautious on that front and I do not want to unbalance the team. Arteta is not a Coquelin-type but he is a tactical player who loves to sit now because he is less [focused on] going forward. In my mind I always had Arteta and Flamini and Coquelin. But Arteta was injured so I played always Coquelin. Now with Arteta and Coquelin both injured we are of course a bit short. That’s why I play Chambers for 10 or 12 minutes to see how he positions and we are happy because he can do it.

I have to say I completely agree with that assessment by the boss. The only way I could see Cazorla and Ramsey working effectively is if Ramsey changed his game and mimicked Coquelin’s role as closely as possible, but as the boss says, that would be a waste of Ramsey’s natural strengths as a midfielder; the lung-bursting runs and goal-getting ability etc.

Elsewhere I think the team picks itself and the only position we might see a change, injuries aside, is in central defence where Arsene has occasionally rested Mertesacker for Gabriel so far this season.

Back post-match on Sunday.


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

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

He said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back with a preview tomorrow.

See you then.

28th October 2015: Mishmash Arsenal take night off at Hillsborough. Oh well

Welcome back. So we went to Wednesday on Tuesday and were comprehensively beaten 3-0 to end Arsene Wenger’s hopes of a first-ever League Cup for another campaign.

I’ll be honest, as much as I hate seeing Arsenal lose against anyone, in any competition, at any time, I was struggling to give much of a f*ck at full-time last night.

Not because I think the competition is not worth winning, because all trophies are in my opinion, particularly one we haven’t lifted since, funnily enough, beating Sheffield Wednesday 22 years ago.

But because our current priorities are the Premier League and Champions League and the fact most of our best emerging talents are out on loan and we have several first-team players out injured means we have to be sensible with our selection at the moment.

I’m fairly certain that if everyone was fit, we’d have seen the likes of Mikel Arteta, Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky playing last night and I’d wager it would have been a very different game with a very different end result.

But everyone isn’t fit of course, and so I think Arsene had no option but to blood academy players such as Glen Kamara and Alex Iwobi last night, even if he had to admit after the game that the youngsters were not ready for this level.

I actually thought Arsene’s assessment was a little harsh on Iwobi, but spot on in terms of Kamara. As for poor young Ismael Bennacer, he looks about 12 years old, and when he was thrust into action as a substitute for Theo Walcott after just 20 minutes, played like he was 12 years old. A bit like Iwobi however, I thought Krystian Bielik, the fourth and final Arsenal debutant on the night, didn’t look out of his depth.

All that said, the match may have turned out very differently, even with a patched up side containing very inexperienced players, had we not suffered a double injury blow at the start of the game. First, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain felt a tightness in his hamstring with just four minutes played and was taken off as a precaution with Walcott, who had no time to warm up, replacing him.

That lack of preparation time for Theo proved disastrous as he felt something in his calf and was forced off himself to be replaced by Bennacer. The hosts went on to score three times, aided and abetted by what I can only describe as quarter-arsed defending by Arsenal. It wasn’t so much that we defended badly I felt, but that we just didn’t defend.

On their first goal for example, Per Mertesacker didn’t attempt to block the shot even though he was perfectly positioned and could have executed it in his sleep and for their third goal, having seen an unmarked opponent loitering in space at the back post, Per simply ignored the potential threat.

I know people are quick to say ‘well done’ to lower-league sides achieving giant killings but at the same time I think we should’t be patronizing. This was no Wrexham. It was a decent Championship team beating an Arsenal XI comprising of toddlers and first-teamers who didn’t even try to disguise their lack of appetite for the game. Anyway, well done to Sheffield Wednesday for beating us and I wish them the best of luck for the rest of the competition. I really mean it.

The biggest concern from the night for us however wasn’t elimination, it was the loss of two players to injury. The fact they were both candidates to cover for the injured Aaron Ramsey on the right obviously makes it worse because the only options we have, if they both fail to recover by Saturday for the game at Swansea, would appear to be Joel Campbell, or playing another player out of position.

Yet there’s little point in speculating what Arsene would do until the extent of the injuries to Walcott and the Ox are known and hopefully we’ll get a positive update from the boss tomorrow.

See you then.

26th October 2015: Thoughts on team selection against Sheffield Wednesday

Welcome to a brand new week on TremendArse. We travel to Sheffield Wednesday in the Capital One Cup tomorrow evening of course, and Arsene Wenger has revealed the latest team news ahead of the game.

Per Mertesacker is available again after missing the win over Everton through illness, but Mikel Arteta remains sidelined along with Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck.

With our second-choice ‘keeper David Ospina also still nursing a shoulder injury, Arsene confirmed that Petr Cech would play against the Owls. All of which means we seem a bit stretched if we want to rest the majority of our first-choice, outfield players in preparation for Saturday’s tricky trip to Swansea.

If we assume Mertesacker and Chambers will form the central defensive pairing and be flanked by Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs, we look solid enough at the back, particularly with Cech in goal behind them.

But further forward things become a little more unclear in terms of who starts. Mathieu Flamini will deputise for compatriot Francis Coquelin you’d have thought, but his partner in central midfield in the last round of the competition at Tottenham, Arteta, is unavailable and there is no obvious candidate to step in if we rest Santi Cazorla as surely we ought to, given the Spaniard’s recent exertions and crucial role in our team.

My preference would be for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to be given a go centrally alongside Flamini if there isn’t a youngster deemed ready to step up. A change of position may actually be just what the Ox needs at the moment, given his struggles on the right so far this season as I discussed in yesterday’s post. A more central role would no doubt see him far more involved, enjoy more possession and hopefully facilitate him regaining some much-needed confidence.

That said, we’d then have one fewer option for the three positions behind the striker. Against Spurs, we played the Ox from the left, Ramsey in the middle and Joel Campbell on the right. So even if we draft in say, Alex Iwobi to play on the left, with Ramsey unavailable we have a vacancy behind, I’m assuming Theo Walcott, given the fact he didn’t play against Everton.

Arsenal academy expert Jeorge Bird’s ‘possible team’ on his blog has the same line-up I’ve suggested above, but with Glenn Kamara partnering Flamini in front of the defence, Ben Sheaf operating in the Mesut Ozil role behind Walcott, and the Ox spared a start.

I have to admit I’ve never seen either Kamara or Sheaf play and considering the Ox’s relatively modest number of minutes played so far this season, would be a bit surprised to see him left out even if he’s currently part of our first-choice selection.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see but a first glimpse this season of one or more of our academy prospects seems certain, and as somebody who enjoys appraising fresh, emerging talent almost as much as a glittering, high-profile purchase, I for one am looking forward to tomorrow’s game just that little bit more.

Obviously some of our very best young hopefuls, like Chuba Akpom, Gedion Zelalem and Dan Crowley are out on loan at the moment, but nonetheless it’ll be intriguing to see how the likes of Sheaf and Kamara fare against Championship opposition, not least because they may soon find themselves on loan in that division.

I’ll discuss the game at Hillsborough more in tomorrow’s preview but moving on for now and Arsenal were today fined by the FA for breaching certain regulations in relation to Chambers’ transfer from Southampton in the summer of 2014.

Apparently we dealt with an agent who wasn’t properly licensed but it seems it was a genuine oversight as opposed to a calculated flaunting of the rules and we move on, lessons learned and our procedures reviewed to rule out a repeat in the future.

Right, a bit brief but that’s all I have for today. Back pre-match tomorrow.

See you soon.

25th October 2015: Thoughts on our title challenge + Ox’s flummoxing form

Sunday salutations fellow top-of-the-leaguers. Yes, I know we’re now ‘officially second’, after Manchester United and Manchester City today played out the most mundane, nil-nil draw featuring two ‘big’ teams you could ever be unfortunate enough to sit through, but we’re level on points with City at the summit, and at this stage of the season, goal difference can go swivel. We’re joint top in my eyes.

As I subtly suggest above, the Manc derby this afternoon was manky, so much so, that it will have left researchers into the theory of nominative determinism very excited indeed. For all the billions spent building their squad, City without Sergio Aguero and David Silva are a bit sh*t, and United, well, let’s just say Anthony Martial is the only outfield player I’m slightly jealous they can call their own.

With Chelsea doing their best to break the record for the worst title defence in history, and their special manager Jose Mourinho seemingly incapable of arresting their decline, plus the fact City and United look far from frightening at the moment, it’s really hard not to start wondering whether this could finally, at long, long last, after years of shedding star players and suffering through the Marouane Chamakh years, be the season we’re crowned champions of England once again.

As always, time will tell but after losing our opening league game of the season at home to West Ham and then dropping another two points in our next game at Emirates stadium against Liverpool, we really couldn’t have done much better than we have in the first quarter of the league campaign. In fact, after taking just four points from the first nine available, we’ve won six of our last seven Premier League games now, with a Mike Dean-inspired win for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge the only blot on our copybook.

And looking ahead at our next six fixtures in the league; Swansea (a), Tottenham (h), West Brom (a), Norwich (a), Sunderland (h) and Aston Villa (a), it’s not inconceivable we take maximum points before we host title rivals City four days before Christmas.

A lot will depend on keeping our core of regular starters fit between now and then but if we can do that, and then welcome back the likes of Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky just after the festive period, perhaps even strengthening the squad with a Gabriel-like quality signing in the winter window, we’d be superbly positioned for the last five months of the season.

If you were to ask Arsene right now about such a scenario unfolding, he’d no doubt politely inform you he was only looking as far ahead as Wednesday’s game against Wednesday, but deep down, I bet he’s slowly getting reacquainted with that magical old feeling of being genuine competitors for the crown.

But to break from the day-dream for a minute, one player I feel who really has to improve on his performances so far this season if we’re to keep our current run of wins going, is the bewilderingly bereft-of-form Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, especially now that Aaron Ramsey has been ruled out for a number of weeks with a hamstring tear.

On the eve of the season, if I had to pick one player to have a good season based purely on pre-season performances, it would have been the Ox and he duly spanked home our winner against Chelsea at Wembley to win us our second Community Shield in succession.

Yet, barring a lively first half on the opening weekend against the Hammers and some decent moments at White Hart Lane in the Capital One Cup, he’s been very, very poor in my opinion.

His lack of form is obviously playing on his mind too, because Arsene recently spoke about the Ox needing to trust in his own ability more and not be too self-critical, yet when he was subbed off against Everton yesterday after another pretty ineffectual display, he was shaking his head and his disappointment at his personal display was obvious for all to see.

My hope is that an extended run in the starting-line-up with Ramsey injured will help him to rediscover his mojo, and I think the boss may offer him the same advice Ramsey revealed he’d received during his own struggles for form in previous seasons – simplify your game, take the easy option more often and stop trying to force things.

Perhaps then we’ll start to see the Oxlade-Chamberlain who looked so impressive during the close season and Ramsey will return from injury facing a real battle on his hands to win back his place.

See you next week.

2nd October 2015: Wenger stands firm as he’s grilled on goalkeeper selection

Good evening Gooners. There’s only one place to start today and that is with Arsene Wenger’s press conference this morning, where the manager was unusually tetchy as he faced a bit of an inquisition into his team selection for last Tuesday’s loss against Olympiakos.

Asked again about his decision to play David Ospina rather than Petr Cech in goal against the Greek champions, the boss went on the defensive, stating his belief that both his goalkeepers were ‘world class’ and that Ospina was not to blame for the defeat in midweek. He said:

Looking at Ospina and Petr Cech, I think I have two world-class goalkeepers and it is the easiest choice I have to make because I can pick either of the two and I am very comfortable. It is the most difficult as well, because the two of them are world-class players and always you have to leave one out. No matter who plays you have a good goalkeeper in goal. One pundit says something on television and all behind that they repeat exactly the same thing. It is quite boring because nobody came out with numbers of this game where the game was won and lost. It’s quite depressing to read that and to hear that, to all come just to the same conclusion and not watch well what has gone on on the pitch. We have lost the game because we didn’t defend well, yes the goalkeeper made a mistake but we could still have won the game [despite] that.

I like the fact reporters are now asking difficult questions at these gatherings because for far too long I’ve felt that managers generally get too easy a ride from meek journalists, who are either afraid, or incapable, of making the kind of inquiries that would elicit insightful responses.

I’m not saying we’ve got to a stage where managers are intelligently grilled on tactical nuances or offered blunt appraisals by the press on certain players, as you often get in other countries for instance, but moving away from simply asking for an injury update or a manager’s ‘thoughts’ on something or someone is a step in the right direction in my opinion.

That said, what Arsene highlighted about Tuesday’s game is hard to argue with. Yes Ospina made a terrible mistake which led directly to us conceding a goal but then if, for example, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had done better on that first-half counter attack we had and scored or set-up a goal, perhaps the game would have turned out very differently.

Too often, one moment in a game is used to define the entire ninety minutes of action and that’s a bit simplistic. So in that respect, I agree with the manager – our loss had far more to do with collectively bad defending and in-game management by the team, than the selection and performance of the goalkeeper on the night. A better question to ask would have been ‘why do Arsenal seem to have these games every so often when they show all the intelligence of 11 Robbie Savages?’. Arsene then expanded on where he felt we went wrong, saying:

Maybe we lost the focus to defend and we just thought that we want to score more now. We were too much orientated on offensive drive and not enough on defensive caution. We learn from victory and we learn from defeat. We are eager to learn from what happens to us but it is true the disappointment is that it happened to us before and it has happened again.

Which goes back to what I said earlier this week that we were basically just a bit thick for a period in that game. Having just made it 2-2 and with plenty of time on the clock for a winner, we should have regrouped and taken our time in finding the next goal whilst ensuring we kept it tight at the back.

Anyway, that subject’s getting a bit boring now and if the squad’s soul-searching in the latter part of the week leads to a win against United on Sunday, then we might look back and say our shambolic showing in the Champions League was perfectly timed as far as our title challenge is concerned. That’s what I’m clinging to anyway.

Back tomorrow with a preview of the United game.

Have a good one. Laters.