27th May 2016: Wilshere on observant Ozil + Bellerin happy at Arsenal

Happy Friday. A very-quick round-up for you this evening and I’ll begin with some words of praise from Jack Wilshere about his team-mate and fellow lefty Mesut Ozil.

Speaking to Arsenal Player, Jack explained that what makes Mesut so special is his ability to spot things others simply can’t. He said:

What makes him the player he is, so special, and why people talk about him is because he sees things that other players don’t see. Along with that, he sees things early. You can see that when the defence and midfield are building up play, he’s looking around. When the ball comes to him he’s got a picture in his head and knows what to do. I’ve played in that position in the past and I think sometimes the boss still sees me in there. To watch someone like that, with his awareness and calmness on the ball, [is amazing]. When everything is happening quickly around him and he’s got players surrounding him, he’s always got his head up and is so calm.

Nothing we haven’t heard said about Ozil before in all honesty but the bit about the German being observant and quick-thinking is key to explaining his brilliance for me.

Speed of thought is far too-often overlooked in favour of athleticism in the English game when it comes to scouting as far as I’m concerned, and it’s worth pondering whether Ozil would even have made it as a professional footballer were he to have been born here.

I mean, he was average at best as a physical specimen as a young player and in my opinion there’s a good chance he’d have been deemed ‘too lightweight’ to make it. Thankfully, he has, and with a bit of luck we’ll continue reaping the rewards for a long time to come.

Finally for today, Hector Bellerin has been speaking abour reported interest from other clubs in his services. Our Cockney Catalan said:

I don’t really get informed about offers. My agent is the one that works on these sort of things, but I’m happy to receive interest from such great clubs. As a player it’s really nice. Right now I’m very happy where I am, at Arsenal and focusing on the national team. With these things, until you don’t know what to do until they arrive.

Standard stuff from Bellerin there and given he recently discussed how content with life he is in London, I’d say there’s as much chance of him moving anytime soon as there is of Jose Mourinho not being a narcissistic bell-end.

See you on Saturday.

24th May 2016: Prize money champions + Cech on Ozil

Evening all. I’ll begin tonight with the news that Arsenal have become the first club in history to be awarded more than £100 million after the Premier League’s payments to clubs for last season were released today.

Amazingly, the eye-watering figure is set to be some 60 percent higher next season, as the English top-flight’s gravy train gains yet more granules. The money’s obviously obscene, but does raise hopes even further that we’ll be big players in this summer’s transfer market. And for a club nicknamed the Bank of England club in the 1930s, you have to say it’s rather fitting we’re the first to break through the 100 million barrier.

Hopefully we’ll use the dosh to entice a string of star names to the club and not hoard it like tight-arsed, unambitious, overly-cautious, spend-thrift, piss-takers. Personally, I’d spunk the lot on a Neymar or a Gareth Bale, but as this isn’t fantasy-land, I’ll settle for a Gonzalo Higuain, a Robert Lewandowski or a Paulo Dybala, with maybe an N’Golo Kante thrown in for good measure.

Moving on and Petr Cech has been speaking about Mesut Ozil, describing his team-mate as “brilliant”. He said:

He’s been brilliant all season. Not only is he providing all of these assists, but in a game he is very important and very useful and he has improved in terms of goals scored. You could see that his overall game has been brilliant all year, so he definitely deserves to get the Player of the Season award. He’s raised the bar for next season so good luck to him for being able to keep it that high. He has great vision and, whatever he sees, he sees it much better than anyone else. He can execute the pass as well or use that space, with his movement or his pass. His quality with the ball, his passing and vision is extraordinary. It’s very tricky for the goalkeeper because you know anything can happen. He sometimes sees things and you think, ‘There’s no way he can put the ball there because it’s too complicated’, but he always finds the way. Even with his finishing, he has the calmness in front of goal, picks his spot very well and he can put it wherever he wants. When you look at these types of players everyone says, ‘They’re technically gifted, can pass and have nice vision’, but when it comes to running people question it. With Mesut you can see that he’s not [afraid of] running, pressing or the physical presence. He’s someone who works hard every day to be on top of his game and that’s why he’s at the top of his game, because he works for it.

Very high praise indeed for a player who was our stand-out offensive performer last season without question.

Now if we could just tie him down to a new contract and sign a forward or two to make the most of his creativity we might actually turn the talk into trophies. It’s not like we don’t have the money …

Until tomorrow.

13th May 2016: Ozil back + Wenger on departing trio and his own future

Happy Friday. Arsene Wenger held his final pre-match press conference of the season this morning as we build-up to the game against Aston Villa on Sunday, and the big news is that Mesut Ozil is back in training after missing last weekend’s draw at Manchester City with a hip injury.

Here’s what the boss said:

Mesut Ozil is back in training. No (nobody else is a doubt). Oxlade-Chamberlain is not back. From Sunday, I think everybody else should be available.

With Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini all out of contract and leaving the club this summer, the Villa game offers the trio a last opportunity to don the red and white of Arsenal, if selected. But the boss said he was unsure if any of them would play some part against the Premier League’s bottom side as he discussed their departure. He said:

Mikel Arteta is the captain of the club and has been a great leader. Tomas Rosicky has been with us for 10 years and I think everybody loves him as well. Mathieu Flamini has been an extremely strong leader on the pitch and off the pitch. We lose three big personalities. All of these players will have to decide if they go on in their careers as a football player or a coach. I don’t know yet (if they will be involved against Aston Villa).

Ideally, you’d hope we’re eight-nil up against Villa by half-time and we can sub the three of them on for a final 45 minutes of action in Arsenal colours, but given our third place finish is still not certain and there’s also a slim chance of securing second, any sentimental gestures will have to be carefully timed.

I mean, as much as I’m thankful for Arteta’s overall influence at the club these last five years or so, when he came on against West Brom at the Hawthorns earlier in the season, he looked like a player horribly out of his depth and was largely to blame for our defeat that day I felt. We can all do without a repeat of that situation, last game or not.

Anyway, good luck to the three of them in their future endeavours, whether that’s coaching at Manchester City, ruling over a billion-dollar business, or returning to the club and country where it all began for them.

Arsene’s own future is up in the air of course, with just one more year remaining on his contract. Recent reports have suggested the boss has been offered a new deal by the club, but he was quick to deny the story and insisted he has no definitive plans set in stone yet. He said:

I think about the next game. At my stage you want to do well. I’m committed with integrity and commitment, full commitment to the club as long as I’m under contract, but at the moment that’s all. No (I haven’t decided my future). What I focus on is respecting my contract and then envisage what I will do afterwards. I can understand people are interested in that, but that is not the most important thing. I extended my contract in a period that was vital for the club and after that i will see where I am personally and where the club stands at the end of my contract.

Which is the sensible stance to take of course. Even if he has a new contract on offer, now is certainly not the time to announce it, what with fan-unrest so apparent as the club bring yet another campaign to a close in which we flattered to deceive and saw somebody else lift the Premier League crown.

A bit short this evening I’m afraid but that’s your lot.

See you on Saturday.

28th April 2016: Cazorla in contention for Norwich + Ozil on his future

Greetings. It’s Thursday already, May’s on the horizon, the European Champions are a mere matter of weeks away but most importantly of all, there’s just a few more games to go before we can put this mad, bad season behind us.

But first it’s Norwich at Emirates stadium on Saturday for the first of our final three fixtures of the season and as we build up to the game, Arsene Wenger has provided an injury update to the official site, saying:

We have no big problems injury wise and there is not much time to go. The players are all available now. It looks good for the [European Championship]. Ideally, the players are not injured. Their injuries are accidental and traumatic injuries. It is good they have hope to go to the European Championship.

With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla back in full training, the boss also discussed team selection for the weekend, suggesting he faces a good problem in picking his starting XI with so many players to choose from. He said:

It is difficult and easy because all the players are at a good level. Any decision will be good, and any decision will be is bad as well because you have to leave a good player out. No, I don’t know (the last time he had a fully-fit squad) because between you have some players who make their place in the team like Iwobi and Elneny who we brought in January so there is more competition for places now. It’s Oxlade-Chamberlain’s first week in full training now, so I don’t think I will select him this weekend. Santi might be in the squad this weekend, I don’t know yet. He is available. Everyone is available, but maybe Oxlade-Chamberlain is not competitive yet.

It sounds like Cazorla may be ready for a place on the bench at least against the Canaries and it will also be interesting to see if Jack Wilshere is deemed sharp enough now to play a full game.

Regular readers will no doubt be aware I’m far from a fan of Aaron Ramsey playing in central midfield and would much rather Jack being paired alongside Mohamed Elneny or Francis Coquelin in front of the defence. But with only two from five, if you include Cazorla, it will certainly be interesting to see what the manager goes with.

Moving on and Mesut Ozil has been speaking to Sport-Informations-Dienst about, amongst other things, his future with Arsenal following rumours of interest in his services from Barcelona, as well as ongoing contract negotiations to prolong his stay in north London. Here’s what our German schemer said:

I am very happy that I am able to experience this incredible city first hand and that I am able to play for such a big club. Everyone who has been here knows that there’s plenty to do in London. There’s no hurry (to sign a new deal), I still have two years on my contract. We will sit down at the end of the season. I will definitely return to Germany at some point. I feel at home there, and my family are all there. I’ve got a lot of options in a sporting sense. I’m not saying I’ll definitely return to the Bundesliga or that I will definitely go to Turkey. With that said, I’m not ruling it out. I may well see out my career here in England.

So certainly not the “Arsenal ROCKED as Ozil declines new deal and demands move away” reports we’ve seen recently, rather, just an honest answer from the player when questioned over his future plans. Arsene said recently that both Ozil and Alexis Sanchez were keen to stay at the club and nothing the former says above contradicts that.

See you on Friday.

22nd April 2016: Wenger on recovery time and Ozil omission

Happy Friday folks. We travel to the north-east to face Sunderland on Sunday afternoon and having played on Thursday night, some might worry the team haven’t been afforded enough time to rest and recuperate.

Yet Arsene Wenger cited a UEFA study in explaining why he’s not concerned about having to play again this weekend. Speaking at his pre-match press conference earlier today, the boss said:

Between Thursday and Sunday and Wednesday and Saturday morning is exactly the same. You know we played on Wednesday night at Barcelona and then on Saturday against Everton at 12.45pm. It’s no problem. In fact, there’s a very interesting study that has come out from Uefa that shows that the points taken by the teams three days later are not less than after four or five days. It’s the opposite and that is quite interesting. The study has been made in all the five best leagues in Europe. Nobody has proven that it is a disadvantage to have only three days rest. The points on average are better than after four or five days.

Meanwhile, Arsene also provided an update on the fitness of midfielders Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, hinting that we’re unlikely to see much of the trio this season given there are only four games left to play. He said:

They (Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain) are not ready yet and I haven’t decided yet, but there are not many games left. We still have games in the under-21s, I can put them in the play-off games [if they are available]. I cannot plan that (Wilshere playing against Sunderland). At the moment I do not know if I will take him on Sunday or not. Should I take him, you cannot plan that he will play a part in the game. He made a big improvement in the third [under-21s] game. In the first two he was alright, but in the third he found his burst back, the little change of pace. If I don’t take him this weekend, I will take him [in the squad] the weekend after, certainly.

Finally for this evening, Arsene also reveled his surprise at Mseut Ozil’s shock omission from the PFA Team of the Year. He said:

It’s a surprise for me. I cannot explain it, because it’s the players who vote. I don’t know why they did not pick him. Yeah [he deserves to be in the team]. When you are top of the assists, usually that’s a sign of quality that should get you a place in a top team.

Personally, I couldn’t give two hoots our peerless German pass-master wasn’t included. I mean, given the side was voted for by fellow players, it actually makes sense. His opponents this year clearly have it in for him after he proved too skillful, too elusive and too assisty when he faced them. Plus I don’t want him sharing a midfield with or providing ammunition for Tottenham players anyway, even if it’s only on paper.

Back tomorrow with a preview piece.

Laters.

20th April 2016: Cazorla back in training, Ozil and Sanchez keen to stay and Mahrez rumours denied

Evening all. Arsene Wenger held his pre-West Brom press conference this morning and amongst other things, revealed that Santi Cazorla is back in ‘normal training’.

Also discussing the latest on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere, the boss said:

Everybody is available from our last game against Crystal Palace. We have no big injuries. We will have a final test today. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is the only one not practising now. He (Cazorla) has joined normal training and he looks okay, of course still a bit short on the competitiveness front. We will try to get him maybe more training, and then join us directly maybe. He (Wilshere) has absorbed well his first obstacle of getting games. That means he has finally got 90 minutes and he has had no setbacks and the positives are that in every game he was sharper. That means he has a good fitness basis. Overall, the progression should be normal. I don’t think he will be available for selection [against West Brom], but from then it is whether I select him or not.

And when asked if the game against the Baggies was important, he offered:

It is important, of course. We want to win our games, instead of focusing the table I think it is very important to focus on the process and quality of what we do. At the moment that is frustrating as there is a lot of quality in our game, but we have not exactly got the wins that we wanted. We have to focus on that. We want to finish as high as we can. It is not a consolation, it is about getting the best out of the team and focusing and giving everything in every single game. We need to show we have the mental level to compete until the end. Our job is to give absolutely the maximum until the last day of the season. You expect that from ambitious, professional football players. We have values at this club that we respect and that we have to respect until the last minute of the season.

Arsene also cleared up a few other topical uncertainties. He revealed that both Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil were keen to renew their contracts at the club despite reports to the contrary, he himself would definitely see out the final year of his contract next season, and speculation linking Arsenal with a summer move for Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez was wide of the mark. On the latter, he said:

No, and even if there was I would not speak about that at this stage of the season [out of] respect to Leicester.

As you might have guessed from the matter of fact tone and length of today’s blog, I’m pressed for time but also a little short of patience when it comes to words from the Arsenal camp right now.

Let’s see the players and the manager do their talking through football tomorrow evening, go on to secure at least third place in the league and then we can regroup and ideally, address our shortcomings via the transfer market.

Because as Arseblog ruefully noted recently, interest in this season has waned dramatically along with the teams chances of silverware and aside from anything else, I think people are just a bit bored. I know I am.

Back pre or post match depending on my day tomorrow.

Until then.

19th April 2016: Elneny on settling, Per on Ozil and Iwobi on Kanu

Welcome back. Arsenal Wenger holds his pre-West Brom press conference in the morning so we’ll get the all-important, crucial, title-impacting team news then.

He’ll also no doubt have to respond to reports in this morning papers that some of his players and staff are growing concerned about certain managerial descision he’s made of late, so at least we have some drama to look forward to because on the pitch we’re nothing short of depressing at the moment.

But for today, I’ll focus on three of our players who have been speaking to Arsenal Player about various things. First Up it’s Mohamed Elneny who reckons he knew it would only take him three weeks to adapt to English football. That seems a bit precise to me, but whatever, here’s what he said:

I was [able to settle] because God helped give me the strength to adapt to my situation. I know it is not easy but God gave me the strength to adapt quickly. Some said I would find it hard to adapt to the physicality of the Premier League but I thought otherwise. I even told my agent to give me three weeks to show him how well I could adapt. I know I can adapt to all kinds of people and every league I play in. The Premier League is the best and strongest league in the world because there are so many surprising results. It is difficult to compare it to the Swiss and Egyptian leagues because everyone knows that the Premier League is the best. It is amazing. Everything is wonderful, from the fans to the style of play. I enjoy playing for Arsenal so much. It’s a different kind of football, it’s faster and first class.

Splendid stuff. Elsewhere, Per Mertesacker has been waxing lyrical about compatriot Mesut Ozil, saying:

I felt that when he was fit, he would be at his best – that was my prediction. I hoped that he would stay fit so we would get the best out of him, that was just my simple idea. You could feel he would help us win games. He is [progressing], especially in the final third. We try to give him the ball to make the final decision or make the final ball because we know that is where he is at his best. When he fulfils his potential, he has 20-plus assists in him and has even got the ability of scoring 10-plus goals. When he can be difference between 30-plus points, it is vital for the team. I think he realises he can now grow here, even in a foreign country. He gets the respect now and it is going to be even tougher for him. Everyone tries to block his left foot because he is so dangerous with it. Now he needs to find different spots and positions where he can find solutions but I’m convinced he can take this challenge to be at his best and the player we need him to be.

Wonderful words. And finally, Alex Iwobi has been speaking about fellow Nigerian and ex Arsenal star Kanu. He said:

As a kid, especially playing at Arsenal, I did look up to him. He was just a classy player and I have spoken to him a few times as well. We have had conversations about Nigeria, about myself and what I need to do. [He says] to just be relaxed and he congratulated me and told me I was doing well. To hear that [praise] from such a player like him is crazy and I just have to prove him right. I don’t feel pressure, it is just a privilege to hear that.

Excellent eulogising.

And that’s where I’ll leave it. Brace yourselves for the presser. Arsene’s either going to come out swinging or take the fifth. Either way it’ll be more interesting than the remainder of our season I’d wager.

Back tomorrow.