15th April 2016: Wenger on team selection, Ozil and Wilshere

Happy Friday folks. With Leicester hosting a very dangerous West Ham side on Sunday and Tottenham facing a tricky trip away at Stoke City on Monday night, here’s hoping this weekend turns out far more positively for Arsenal than the last.

We host Crystal Palace on Sunday of course, and Arsene Wenger held his pre-match press conference this morning as we build up to the game. Having provided an injury update on midfielders Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain yesterday, the boss today discussed the potential involvement of two defensive players against the Eagles. He said:

I haven’t decided yet (if Per Metersacker will play). We are 48 hours away from the game so I will see. I have not decided that (who will play n goal). When it is decided I will have to inform the people first. Petr Cech is our No 1 but Ospina is also a fantastic goalkeeper. His numbers are absolutely exceptional in the Premier League. I felt that Petr Cech had only had one week of training (before the West Ham match last weekend) and was only just coming back.

Translated, that to me says Petr Cech will definitely start this weekend and Per Mertesacker’s a maybe, but if I was forced to guess, I’d say both will play from the off with David Ospina and Gabriel making way obviously. We’ll see.

Aside from team selection, Arsene also touched on various other topics, and I’ll start with his thoughts on Mesut Ozil’s nomination for the PFA Player of the Year award. He said:

He has been more efficient [this season]. I think he has created more chances and has scored more goals especially. I believe in a guy like Ozil, you see 10 to 15 goals, and I hope he will get to 10 at the end of the season but that is always what you think he should get. [When it comes to] providing chances, he is miles ahead on assists and combining the goalscoring with the assists means he deserves this award.

Whilst it’s true Mesut’s way out in front in terms of assists in this season’s Premier League with 18 (Riyad Mahrez is second on 12), for combined goals and assists (Ozil has 6 goals) the German is only joint fourth overall with Romelu Lukaku (18 goals and 6 assists).

The top three most productive players are Jamie Vardy (21 and 11), Mahrez (16 and 12) and Arsenal fan Harry Kane (22 and 3). So as much as I would love Ozil to be recognized for his assist-laden individual campaign, it has to be one of the Leicester pair in honesty. I’d give it to Vardy for what it’s worth.

Finally for this evening, the boss discussed Wilshere’s imminent return to the first-team fold having missed the entire season so far through injury. Having made a second appearance for our under 21s recently, the England international is penciled in to make a third on Monday night at West Brom, with Arsene saying the midfielder still needs more competitive game-time:

I think he needs one more game at least. He will play again with the under-21s on Monday. He should be involved in that. Then I will have to see how he compares to the other competitors in the first team. Once he is through three or four games then of course you consider him.

As I mentioned the other day, considering how late we are in the season it’s unlikely we’ll see Wilshere back to his best in an Arsenal shirt before the next campaign, and if we do, it’ll probably be as an impact sub late in games – a little like the end of last season.

But if he can go to the European Championships and enjoy a successful summer in France with England, perhaps that would go a long way in building confidence and helping him overcome any psychological barriers following such a lengthy layoff.

See you on Saturday.

13th April 2016: Ozil nominated + Iwobi on Okocha influence

Welcome to Wednesday on TremendArse. Arsenal may have blown their chances in the Premier League, both domestic cups, and the Champions League this season, but the consistently classy performances of one man haven’t gone unnoticed.

Mesut Ozil was today announced as one of six nominees for the PFA Player of the Year award and joins Dimitri Payet, Harry Kane and Leicester City trio Jamie Vardy, N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez on the list.

Ozil’s chances of success are obviously very slim due to the fact the Foxes look very likely to win the title, meaning one of their players is surely favourite for the accolade, whilst Kane being the league’s top-scorer with 22 undoubtedly gives him an edge over our German assist-meister.

Yet with 6 goals and 18 assists from 30 Premier League appearances so far this season, it’s obvious Mesut fully deserves at least being in the mix for the award, which in itself must be particularly satisfying for both the player and his manager after he was widely branded a big-money flop in his first two seasons after arriving from Real Madrid in 2013.

Meanwhile, Aex Iwobi has revealed the advice he’s been receiving from his famous uncle – former football star Jay-Jay Okocha. The teenager told Arsenal Player:

Before that I didn’t even know he had Twitter!. All my friends were asking if I saw what my uncle had said so I checked it out. It is crazy and I’m just happy I’m making him proud and hopefully I will be even better than him. He was at the Watford game and the Barcelona game,” added Iwobi. “The fact he comes to watch shows it means a lot to him and he shows his support. It is good for me. [I get advice from him] almost weekly. He came to my house the other day. Unfortunately I missed him because I was here [at the training ground] but we do keep in contact a lot. He does tell me what I need to do and what I need to work on. He is always telling me that he knows a lot has happened and that I have come far, but he says to stay humble and that I will go far.

I’m not sure Alex is quite as naturally gifted as Okocha, because the latter had Ronaldinho-esque skill in his pomp, but I wouldn’t bet against Iwobi developing into a more consistently effective player.

Time will tell of course but our latest teen sensation clearly comes from good stock, seems to have a good head on his shoulders, is receiving some sound advice from those around him and could barely have made a more promising start to his professional career.

Iwobi also touched on his decision to play for the country of his birth, Nigeria, rather than represent England, where he’s grown up and made his name. He said:

It was a difficult decision picking Nigeria over England. England did contact me recently before I played my first competitive match for Nigeria, asking if I wanted to play for England. I’m very proud to represent Nigeria but I would like to say thank you to England for the chance they gave me, it was a difficult decision. The love Nigeria showed me… when I played for them in a friendly, the fans were just crazy. The fans almost eat you up because they love you so much. I’m enjoying playing for them. When you’re getting out of the airport there are fans already there screaming ‘Arsenal, Arsenal. Gunners for life!’ and it’s just mad. Some of them have Arsenal shirts and then others will ask me for Arsenal shirts. It’s a bit mad and the fans are crazy.

Right. That’s probably enough from Iwobi, at least until he’s banged in a hat-trick against Crystal Palace on Sunday anyway.

Arsene may hold his press conference tomorrow, or at least provide the official site with an injury update, so I’ll be back then as we start to look ahead to the game against the Eagles.

Laters.

6th April 2016: Alexis on injury fears, ambition and Ozil

Welcome to Wednesday on TremendArse. I’ll start this evening with an admittance from our south American superstar Alexis Sanchez that fear of sustaining another injury has hampered his performances since he returned from a two-month spell on the side-lines earlier in the campaign.

The Chilean tore his hamstring in our draw at Norwich at the end of November, and went on to miss 10 games in all competitions before making his comeback from the bench against Chelsea in late Janaury. Since then, Sanchez has struggled for goals and form by the lofty standards he set in his debut campaign.

There are mitigating circumstances of course, in that he failed to have a pre-season with Arsenal after helping Chile to win the Copa America last summer, before being rushed back to action by Arsene Wemger a lot sooner than most people had anticipated. Anyway, here’s what Sanchez had to say:

Before my injury I was 100 per cent fit. I was feeling well. After the injury I wanted to get back but it was hard. I had a setback and when I played a match, I was scared I would get injured again because the thing I like most in the world is playing football and when I can’t play, I feel sad. Football is my passion, my life and I always want to win. If I lose, I always go home sad, I can’t sleep and that upsets me. When I win, my team-mates are happy and enjoy their families the next day. Football is my life. I think I have adapted well to the club but I am never satisfied with what I do. I want to win the Premier League, the Champions League. I always want to win everything.

Despite having returned from injury over two months ago now, I think it’s fair to say Sanchez is still searching for his top gear. But with the Arsenal team a lot more settled and fluent in recent games, his own personal performances also seem to have improved, partly also perhaps because of a switch to the right flank. He’s notched up two assists and a goal in our last three games against Barcelona, Everton and Watford, so the signs are that he’s approaching something close to his best form again.

Arguably his best performance for us this season, aside from his hat-trick at Leicester in September, came in our mauling of Manchester United in October, when Sanchez scored twice in that ruthless opening 20 minutes in which we scored three times at Emirates stadium. And the forward suggested that game must be the blueprint for Arsenal, as well as lauding the quality of Mesut Ozil:

Before that match, we all had hunger and desire to win — you could see that in the eyes of the players before we went on to the pitch. When all the players have that look of hunger of wanting to win things, it’s difficult for another team to beat us. Ozil is a fantastic player. When I’m on top form, 100 per cent fit, because he has such quality, he can give me the ball with ease and that sets me up for scoring.

Needless to say our two most expensive-ever buys are also our two most influential attack-minded players, so hopefully we can keep them fit for the remaining eight games of the season and then tie them down to new contracts because there just aren’t many of their quality available in the market right now.

Finally for today, after promising there was more to come from him in yesterday’s post, Mohamed Elneny has revealed his joy at grabbing his first goal for the club having netted against Barcelona at Camp Nou last month, and also suggested the Premier League title is still within Arsenal’s reach this term. He told Arsenal Player:

I was very happy with it. However, I wasn’t happy with the result of the game as we didn’t qualify for the next round. It is something that you can’t describe afterwards – but I was very happy to score against Barcelona in the Nou Camp – it was a very beautiful feeling. Also, selecting it as Goal of the Month was very good. I hope to score more goals in the future, hopefully to help the team to win the league title this year.

Let’s hope so Mo. In fact, I can picture it now, Elneny smashes home the title-winning goal on the last day of the season against relegated Aston Villa, as Chelsea beat Leicester at Stamford Bridge, with Tottenham having dropped out of the picture entirely after going on a six-game losing streak.

It’s still on. I’m tellin’ ya …

Back tomorrow.

28th March 2016: Ozil talks Pep and purchases

Easter Monday greetings. Some more from Mesut Ozil to begin with today and our assist-maker supreme has been discussing the impending arrival of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City and suggesting Arsenal will need to be active in this summer’s transfer market in order to compete next season.

He said:

We know that it will not be easy and that we need reinforcements if we want next season to be on top here again. It is again interesting to see who invests in who and how much the clubs do during the summer break. In addition, great coaches are coming into the league. I am thinking primarily of Pep Guardiola. Wherever he has been, he had success. I wonder what he will do with Man City. He will be imprinting his football in England and people will be surprised.

Kick and rush proponents will be surprised, sure, but those fans with a less primitive, and more discerning, footballing eye will know exactly what’s coming from Senor Pep – press, pass and move football at a level England has never witnessed from one of it’s own sides before. How long it takes him to form his team to his tastes, is the question.

As Mesut suggests though, what Guardiola’s arrival does almost guarantee, is that sooner or later City will be very difficult to keep up with, so our summer recruitment needs to be spot on.

Personally, I’m just looking forward to Wellington Silva taking the league by storm next year when he’ll have returned from his loan at Bolton, but I wouldn’t say no to a Julian Draxler, a Paulo Dybala, a Mats Hummels or an Ngolo Kante either …

A super short post today but it’s a Bank Holiday, no-one will be reading anyway and I’ve got to try and enjoy the last few hours of my all-too-fleeting, long weekend.

Laters.

27th March 2016: England impressive and Ozil hopeful

Happy Easter Sunday. You’ll have noticed my posts having been shorter recently and, I’m sure you’ll be devastated to learn, that trend will continue for the next few days. .

Partly because of the international break and the resultant slow-down in Arsenal-related news, and partly because I’m still acclimatizing to a dramatic change in my availability to blog. So bare with me.

I did manage to watch England last night though and have to say that for once, they were very, very impressive – mentally, tactically and technically. Despite going two-nil down in Germany, the Three Lions earned a deserved win over the reigning world champions thanks to goals by Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Eric Dier.

And though the Tottenham connection is undoubtedly a little sickening, Kane and Dier, if I’m honest, weren’t even the best Spurs players on show, because Dele Alli was the outstanding performer on the pitch I thought, grudgingly putting all club loyalties aside. He produced a couple of moments of close control and skill that have made me completely reconsider my assessment of his abilities. He’s not the new Jermaine Jenas after all – he’s England’s Paul Pogba.

Anyway, the collective England performance filled me with hope that 50 years after England’s one and only trophy win, based on last night, a second may not be as unlikely as most people would have previously thought heading into this summer’s European Championships in France. It also made me more resolute in my belief that Wayne Rooney really shouldn’t be in England’s starting line-up with everyone fit, no matter what he did in qualifying or his status as the country’s highest-ever goalscorer.

From an Arsenal perspective, Danny Welbeck started and played well from the left before being substituted and, very worryingly indeed, taking a seat on the bench with a massive ice-pack on his knee. Hopefully it’s nothing too serious, for obvious reasons. The only other Gunners’ representation on the night was Mesut Ozil, who started for Germany but was pretty peripheral to be honest, fluffing one decent opportunity by miscuing his shot on his weaker right foot.

But that’s okay because he was sensibly saving himself for us. And speaking to German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, Mesut explained that he thinks Arsenal are still in the race for the Premier League title:

I do not think it impossible. Although there are only a few games left, Leicester have a run against some of the big teams to come. We ourselves must in any case not allow any more slip-ups. The hope of the title is still there – we have the players for the title. They deserve to be up there; Leicester fight for every point. We see in every game that players of Leicester want to achieve something. We ourselves have not been focused in every game and that is not possible in the Premier League since there is no opponent you can beat easily. Leicester have been great but there are still a few games. I think we still have a chance to catch them up. We must, of course, hope for mistakes.

Well, I guess he’s right and he’s right. It’s not impossible but we need mistakes from those above us and lots of them. For now, all we can do is hope and try to take maximum points from our own remaining games.

See you next week.

25th March 2016: Barca want Ozil says report + Rami rates Elneny

Happy Good Friday. It’s still very quiet at the moment in terms of Arsenal news and I was considering not posting gain until after the internationals but that would be as lazy as Andrei Arshavin, so here I am.

I’ll start with a report in Spanish newspaper AS which says Barcelona are “keeping tabs” on Mesut Ozil and that the player himself is “crazy” about a return to Spanish football and would jump at the chance to join the Catalans where he could supply assists for the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.

There could be something in the story, or it could be completely fabricated, like Chelsea’s history. Who knows, and with the summer transfer window still a good few months away, who cares?

What I would say is that with the more and more clubs awash with big money and the number of players of Ozil’s class extremely limited, demand for his services will undoubtedly be fierce. So I suppose his longevity at Arsenal will be dependent on whether a) we pay him enough to stay and b) he wants to remain a Gunner and feels he can achieve his trophy-winning goals with Arsenal.

Moving on and our former goalkeeper Rami Shabaan, who was an international for Sweden but has an Egyptian father, has been speaking about Mohamed Elneny’s move to Arsenal and reckons the midfielder has the potential to become a star for the Gunners. He said:

Looking at Egyptian players historically, there have been some amazing talents, but only a few have been able to take that step. I think that Mohamed Elneny will be one of them. I think he’s going to fit the club perfectly, and listening to what the boss says about him as well only makes me more convinced. Football is like a religion for Egyptians, especially with the tough times in Egypt at the moment. I remember when I went to Egypt. It was like a superstar had arrived at the airport. For me it was a shock. You can’t compare that with Sweden. In Egypt, they really praise their stars. He [Elneny] has really adapted and I hope he gets more and more time. But it will take time. I hope he can make that step to be a regular and become something really big at Arsenal.

Lets hope so and he’s certainly made a very encouraging start to life as an Arsenal player. With Santi Cazorla scheduled to return from injury in the near future, it will be interesting to see who the boss selects in central midfield because neither of the current incumbents, in Elneny and Francis Coquelin, have done much wrong in the last few games when we’ve really started to look like a fluently-functioning team at long last.

Time will tell I guess.

Back tomorrow.

22nd March 2016: Ozil rubbishes ultimatum reports and discusses footballing upbringing

Welcome back. I’ll start this evening with Mesut Ozil, who today rubbished mischievous recent reports that had suggested the German schemer would push for a move away from Arsenal if Arsene Wenger remained as manager.

He tweeted:

Much like Duncan Castles’ piece for ONE World Sports telling us ‘third parties’ have sounded out Jose Mourinho about shocking football to it’s core and succeeding Arsene as Arsenal boss, the Ozil story about him giving the club a ‘me or my manager’ ultimatum is no more than made-up sh*t-stirring.

Moving swiftly on then, but sticking with our assist-king Ozil, the German has been reminiscing about how he honed his footballing abilities in an interview with Arsenal Magazine. He said:

When I was younger, if I saw something lying around, I would try to juggle with it. I would always go on vacation with my friends and we would always play games like two touch using a tennis ball, or play with a basketball, which is heavier than a normal ball. [I didn’t just play] with chewing gum or tennis balls, sometimes with basketballs or medicine balls too – even ones that are 5kg, though that is very difficult. Sometimes on the pitch if the game has finished and I see some tape on the floor, I’ll take it and play with that too. What helped me before was playing against older people. I would play against my brother and his friends and they were always five or six years older than me. When I was 11, they were already 17 or 18. It was tough to play against them and the pitch I grew up playing on wasn’t that nice, it always had stones on it. You had to be really concentrated when you got the ball. I think that kind of stuff helped me more. Juggling with tennis balls is good but I think what helped my technique was the pitch I grew up on in Gelsenkirchen.

I have to say reading that made be smile, but also left me very confused. Smile because I did most of the above; play football with and against my brother, his friends, our cousins, their friends, all of whom were considerably older than me. I too kicked tennis balls and basketballs and even tightly rolled up socks (to avoid breaking stuff in the house). Yet what confuses me is that I’m not a World Cup winner who’s played for the best club in the world and Real Madrid. Weird.

On a serious note, I’ve long held the view that talent acquisition for a footballer comes at a young age and can’t be coached. It’s self-taught and Ozil’s a great example of a player who developed his abilities in a chaotic playing environment as opposed to pristine playing surfaces in a state-of-the-art academy where physical attributes are way more valued than footballing intelligence, speed of thought and ball control. Anyway, that’s a topic and discussion for another time because I’m beat and need to make the most of what little of my evening I have left.

Laters.