11th April 2016: Xhaka, Marquinhos and two others linked as silly season starts early

Evening all. Just a very quick round-up for you tonight because we’ve covered the reaction from Saturday’s disappointing draw at West Ham already and with our next game not until Sunday when we host Crystal Palace, it’s very quiet in terms of Arsenal news at the moment.

As is often the case when on-pitch talking points are scarce for the Gunners, transfer links to players supposedly on our shopping list begin to burgeon like Wayne Rooney’s waistline at Christmas. Granit Xhaka appears a very legitimate rumour, with Sky Germany having reported our interest a couple of weeks ago and barely a day passed since without a regurgitation of the story.

Today was no different, with the Evening Standard’s James Olley writing that we’re “confident of making” the Swiss international our first major summer signing. The player reportedly has a 25 million euros buyout clause in his contract but it doesn’t come into effect until the summer of 2017 and the German club are said to be holding out for £35 million for his services in this year’s window.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see but Arsene Wenger refused to rule out his interest in the player when asked about it in his last press conference so my money’s firmly on Granit becoming a Gunner sooner rather than later. Don’t argue with the logic.

Two fresher names being linked with Arsenal are that of 18-year-old Boca Juniors midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur and Marseille’s 22-year-old Mario Lemina, also a midfielder, and currently on loan at Juventus. I know very little about both but from the briefest of YouTube scouting missions, I can reveal the former’s a typically skillful south American ball player, whilst the latter seems far more defensively minded and boasts a sturdier, more athletic build.

With Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini and Tomas Rosicky all expected to vacate our midfield and the club this summer, the chances are we’ll sign at least two central midfielders, so a less proven, younger talent being brought in alongside an established star like Xhaka would make sense.

My choice would be N’Golo Kante (I know he’s not that young – I just want us to sign him), particularly as he already seems to be agitating for a move away from the shock champions-elect Leicester. But then ball distribution is probably one of Kante’s lesser-polished skill-sets and if we’ve missed one quality in our midfield area too often this season in Santi Cazorla’s injury-enforced absence and before Mohamed Elneny arrived from Basel in January, it’s passing.

The last name on the list is PSG’s Brazilian defender Marquinhos, who is reportedly unhappy at his continued role as understudy to compatriots David Luiz and Thiago Silva and is eager to move on this summer. French publication L’Equipe mentioned us as possible suitors in today’s edition but with half of Europe said to be interested were he to become available, it’s difficult to see that one happening.

So just the four names doing the rounds today and that’s with me only taking a half-arsed look around. I’m sure there’s lots more and they’ll continue to grow both in number and frequency as the summer approaches and then unfolds.

With next season being the last of Arsene Wenger’s current contract and the pressure on him to deliver big at levels never seen before, a busy close-season of transfer activity at Arsenal is anticipated. A major overhaul of the squad is in the offing and I for one am pretty excited about that prospect, especially if it involves first team integration for a player already on Arsenal’s books – a certain Wellington Silva.

See you on Tuesday.

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.

 

10th December 2016: Campbell, Bellerin, Iwobi, Wellington Silva

Evening all. We travel to Liverpool on Wednesday of course, but with a few days still remaining until that game, time now to look back at some of the reaction to yesterday’s FA Cup win over Sunderland.

First up it’s the manager Arsene Wenger, who compared the rise to first-team prominence of Joel Campbell this season, with Francis Coquelin’s ascension from Championship loanee to undisputed first-choice defensive midfielder for the Gunners last term. The boss said:

He is kind of in Coquelin’s position last year. Nobody expected him [to do well] and now he is taking his place in the team and he is ready to fight for the position and he is efficient. I agree [that he is playing with confidence]. That comes out of his game. Compare one month ago to today, he believes he belongs there and has a right to play.

I shared my thoughts on how good a player I think the Costa Rican has become for us in yesterday’s post, but one word I didn’t use to describe his game was ‘efficient’, as Arsene does above. Yet that’s probably the best one to sum him up.

He’s efficient going both ways; in attack he picks the right pass 99 times out of a hundred, or shoots first-time if at all possible, and when chasing back he doesn’t merely track an opponent’s run, he tries to forcibly win the ball back at the earliest opportunity. When you consider he’s not 24 until June, Campbell’s still got plenty of time to improve a great deal and if he consistently produces performances like yesterday, he’ll surely stay first-choice even with everyone fit, just as Coquelin has.

Aside from Campbell though, the other standout players for Arsenal against the Black Cats were the two youngest members of our starting line-up, Hector Bellerin and Alex Iwobi, and both spoke to the official site after the game. Bellerin discussed the club’s aim of winning a third, consecutive FA Cup, as well as the team’s performance against Sunderland, saying:

That is the goal of the whole team. We love this competition and the fans love this competition so we need to try and do our best. We are trying to get the third in a row. We knew it would be a hard game. It is always hard in the third round of the FA Cup. We had a tough opponent and a lot of changes so we had to adapt to that. We didn’t start really well but the team responded like it should. It was a great effort by the team and it was very nice to get through to the next round. They started pressing really high and we knew we had to be a bit safe when playing the ball. Sometimes we make mistakes and that is normal but we knew how to respond to it. The team was up to the challenge. We didn’t rush the game and we knew we had to be patient. It is nice to get the three goals and that is confidence for the team as we have a difficult week ahead.

Whilst a jubilant Iwobi expressed his delight at realizing a child-hood dream of being an Arsenal player, saying:

It is amazing. It is the best feeling ever. It is a dream come true. Since I was a young boy I have always wanted to put on my shirt with Iwobi on my back with the Emirates [crowd] screaming my name. As a young kid I always wondered if I would get there and to have this opportunity today, I’m just thankful. It was a young boy’s dream come true. Playing at home with everyone screaming your name and giving you the confidence to express yourself – it felt like a proper debut. Training and playing with them [the first team] every day is such a learning curve. Hopefully I can train with them more and play more so I can develop every day.

The lucky, lucky (but obviously extremely talented) b*astard. I remember dreaming about pulling on an Arsenal top with my name on the back, the fans chanting my name as I left five defenders for dead, beat the keeper with a dizzying piece of skill before stopping the ball on the goal-line, kneeling down and heading home …

But back to reality and Iwobi really does seem another great prospect with a stride similar to Abou Diaby and a penchant for low-hanging socks like Alexander Helb and Paulo Dybala. He did the simple things well yesterday from a central midfield stationing and fully deserved the applause he received from the fans when he was substituted in the second half.

Finally, Wellington Siva was in Cup action for Bolton yesterday and very brief highlights of our Brazilian prospect in action can be seen on the BBC website here. For the record, if you haven’t followed this blog since I started it in June last year, you’ll be unaware how highly I rate Wellington, so I’ll tell you now: very, very highly.

Higher than any other un-established player under contract at Arsenal and although there were reports in the past questioning his mentality and fitness, I think those issues are now non-existent and I fully expect him to stake his first team claim at Arsenal next season, having had a year to acclimatize to the English game.

Til next week.

20th August 2015: ‘Wellington Silva is absolutely stunning’

Evening all. Not wishing to déjà vu you or anything, but only the briefest of posts today, because there’s very little going on.

Of course, we don’t play until Monday night, when we take on the most boring midfield in football history, as James Milner and Jordan Henderson bring their sleep-inducing, uncultured, club-footed ‘talents’ to Emirates stadium, to be side-stepped and passed around by Arsenal’s artisans.

But discussing Liverpool’s lynch-pins will keep, as there’s still a few days yet before the chuckle brothers come to town and also far more interesting issues to take a look at in the interim, like for instance, should I opt for just peanut butter on my toast, or go crazy and have peanut butter and margarine?

So much choice – a bit like deciding which Championship team to watch this year, after both clubs confirmed Wellington Silva’s season-long loan at Bolton today, taking Arsenal’s representation in the second-tier of English football to six.

And in what is the first instance ever, I can recall Arsene Wenger speaking about the Brazilian winger, he’s been telling the official site why he thinks Wellington’s signature will prove a successful snare for Neil Lennon and his club:

He’s a creative, tricky, quick player. He’s absolutely stunning to watch and I believe Bolton will be surprised by his quality. I believe he will do extremely well because he has gained a lot of experience in Spain, he has come back to England and I am confident he will have a big impact in the Championship.

That is high praise indeed from the boss and also, music to my ears – a sort of semi-confirmation of my eye for a talent. That said, I also thought Arturo Lupoli and Quincy Owusu-Abeyie were destined for great things at one time, so…

But I’ll admit it freely, I rate Wellington very, very highly. He’s from the same generation of Brazilian players as Philippe Coutinho and Neymar and played at youth level with that illustrious duo. That of course doesn’t mean he’s as good as them but Silva was selected in higher age groups for his national side because he was so highly rated as a teen.

I think his work permit woe, lasting four years as it did, really set him back, denying him the chance to work with a manager known for his development of young promise into top-level performers and prevented him from realising his precocious potential much earlier.

And such is the nature of top level football, sometimes you can miss your chance through injury or as in this case, administrative barriers, and never be afforded another one, no matter how naturally-gifted you are.

So despite the delay in his arrival to these shores, I’m still backing our boy from Brazil to make his mark on the Championship, before returning to Arsenal next summer, rejecting serious interest from top clubs all around Europe to declare his undying love for the cannon and carry our club to every cup in sight. No pressure Silva son.

But first he has to prove himself at Bolton and their official club site caught up with Sky Sports’ Guillem Balague for his expert take on what Wellington can offer the Trotters, following four years in Spain at various clubs. Here’s what he told them:

Last season Almeria were a team that didn’t really create much going forward and they were on the backfoot for a lot of games. As a result they ended up playing long balls forward often and that was something Wellington struggled with. When he did get the ball in at his feet he was able to create opportunities. He’s useful in one on one situations and is a fast and explosive player. There are less and less of this type of player in the market, because nowadays players have to be more tactically aware and ultimately take fewer risks. He is someone who can improve and will want to impress. He can make the difference and be more effective in the shorter spaces, rather than over a long distance. He’s someone who will think in his own way when he has the ball and is someone to be excited about.

So that’s me, Arsene and Guillem bigging up the wizardry of Wellington now. What greater trio of talent-tipsters could you ask for? Time for our samba starlet to show he can be a bona fide samba star. Over to you Wellz…

Til Friday.

18th August 2015: Wellington Trotts to Wanderers as Zelalem Geds to Glasgow

Evening all. There is just under two weeks remaining of this summer’s transfer window and while no new arrivals seem imminent, two more of our young guns appear to be on their way out of the club on season-long loan deals.

After Chuba Akpom, Isaac Hayden, Jon Toral and Emi Martinez all the left the club to join Championship sides on loan recently, Wellington Silva has been snapped in Bolton Wanderers gear – strongly suggesting he’s signed on loan with the Championship club.

Because if he hasn’t, the 22-year-old Brazilian, who finally secured a work permit to ply his trade in England after four years on loan in Spain with various clubs obtaining dual nationality, has some explaining to do.

Perhaps he became a Trotters’ fan in his youth, laughing out loud to Only Fools and Horses, or maybe Bolton have a big following in Brazil. But most likely I’m guessing, is the club haven’t had time to draft the ‘player has joined club on loan – we wish him the best’ article yet.

I have to say I can’t wait to finally see the former Fluminense winger in action on these shores, which will come as no surprise and also quite an understatement for regular readers of this blog. It’s been a long, arduous journey past the red-tapes-worths seeing as though we clearly don’t have whatever contacts Chelsea used last week, to reportedly gain a work permit for young Brazilian beast, Kenedy.

Now 22, Wellington has it all to prove to Arsene Wenger if he’s to return to the club and compete for a first team place but if he can reproduce some of the sublime skill he showcased in his younger years before his move to Arsenal, and in glimpses in Spain on loan, in a far more physically demanding league like the Championship, then we’ll undoubtedly have another special talent on our hands.

But it’s a big ‘if’, because his time in Spain wasn’t exactly spectacular, despite a fine season appearance-wise, with Almeria last season. He’s also said to have played no part in pre-season for either the first team or our academy, as he’s been working on a specially designed fitness regime at London Colney to prepare him for English football.

I’m a little disappointed he’s not been deemed worthy of a punt by a Premier League side but that said, he’ll surely be afforded more minutes a league lower and at his age, playing must be paramount in his thoughts. A fifth reason to watch more Championship games then, and Silva will no doubt learn a lot from legends of the game like Emile Heskey and Alan Hutton.

Elsewhere, Gedion Zelalem has been linked with a move to Scotland with Glasgow Rangers. As with Wellington, Arsenal are yet to confirm any deal and the reports I’ve read suggest Zelalem has traveled north to hold talks.

I have to say a move to the second-tier of Scottish football seems a bit bizarre to me considering how highly rated the midfielder is at the club but the Guardian have reported that Wenger feels the teenager will benefit from playing in front of a big crowd at Ibrox. Never underestimate the benefits a big crowd can have on ball-control…

Anyway, he’ll also have to bulk up to make an impact up north based on what I’ve seen of him and I just hope the Scottish club have players of a similar technical calibre to Zelalem to make use of his superb pass and move qualities, as well as the runners to receive his pin-point through balls.

I’m afraid that’s where I’ll leave it for today. Pretty short I grant you but there’s plenty of post-match player interviews over on Arsenal.com to catch up with if you’ve haven’t already taken a peek.

Back tomorrow.

7th August 2015: Fighting talk from Wenger on Premier League eve

Here we are then. On the starting grid again and the lights are amber. Engines are revving, clutches are biting and one racer, our racer, says he’s ready for the battles that beckon on what will inevitably be a treacherous track to the Premier League title.

The season begins in earnest tomorrow and although we’ll have to wait until Sunday to see Arsenal in action when we entertain West Ham United, we did get some words from a bullish Arsene Wenger to help keep us occupied following his pre match press conference today:

I’m ready for a fight and of course motivated to start well. One of our targets is to start strong. We had a good preparation and that should give us the needed confidence. The Premier League is a fight in every single game so we have to prepare ourselves mentally for that and come out of the blocks straight away against West Ham.

From an Arsenal perspective, it’s the season of great expectations. The squad appears, on paper at least, our best equipped to become domestic champions in a number of years, and also talented and deep enough to provide a realistic challenge to the continent’s best, for what would be the club’s first-ever Champions League crown.

But rather than being intimidated by such a a huge wave of optimistic anticipation, Arsene says he much prefers the current challenge of being declared genuine contenders, to being dismissed as potential champions before a ball has even been kicked, as his side so often were in pre-seasons past:

Yes of course [there is expectation], but we enjoy that. Before we suffered sometimes from the fact that at the start of the season, nobody considered us at all because we lost our best players. That period is over now so we are happy to be under this kind of pressure.

Having ended last season in third place in the table and as FA Cup winners, to many, progress and success would no doubt be winning one of the big two trophies. Yet we won’t be the only club with those lofty ambitions and the reality is a maximum of two teams can win them. So what does the manager think would constitute a ‘successful’ campaign in his opinion?

For me, success is to get the maximum out of the potential of the team. That is the real success. We also want to do better than last season because we always want to move forward. That means that the target is quite high. We won the FA Cup last year and we finished third in the Premier League so our target is very high. Our ambition is to win the Premier League but we have to sustain that by performance and fighting spirit in every single game.

Besides getting his players to perform at the peak of their powers, we’ll also require a little more luck on the injury front and avoid the kind of long-term absences we suffered to the likes of Mesut Ozil, Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud in the first half of last season.

Which is a point the manager made himself today, highlighting the fact that we were actually the league’s best performing side, points-wise, over the last 26 league fixtures of the previous campaign.

The boss then reiterated the need for a flying start and expressed his belief that his current set of players are good enough to win the league without further signings, saying:

Let’s start strong this season… I believe we have the needed ingredients. But we have a tricky start as well because we have two derbies and Liverpool in the first three games, so we have a difficult schedule from the start. We need to maintain our game. hat’s important as well – that we develop what we do well and do not stand still. That means we develop our cohesion, our passing game. If we are capable to keep the cohesion and the solidarity we have at the moment through the 38 games, we have a good chance.

Yet in typical Arsene fashion, he didn’t rule out new arrivals if the right opportunities arise:

But we do not rule it out if something exceptional comes up to do it. I’m very happy with the squad I have but we always look to strengthen and if that turns up, we will still strengthen.

He also kind of dismissed the Karim Benzema stories by labeling them ‘just media talk’, but I wouldn’t expect anything else from the boss really. All that tells us is no deal has been reached but doesn’t rule out the possibility of negotiations behind the scenes. That’s what I’m clinging to anyway.

There was also more from the boss on various other, stuff from rule changes to Alexis Sanchez and team news too but I’ll look at some of that tomorrow and also pick what I think will be our starting eleven on Sunday.

But finally for today, the club have confirmed Serge Gnabry has signed a season-long loan deal at West Brom, so best of luck to the young German at The Hawthorns. Hopefully he can earn a regular starting spot and help the Baggies take points from all our title rivals this term.

And by my estimation, with several loan deals now tied up for an array of our young stars, only Joel Campbell and Wellington Silva remain as peripheral players in the first-team squad.

Whilst the former has been strongly linked with Palermo in recent days and is still on extended holidays after playing for Costa Rica over the summer, the Brazilian is reportedly on a specially designed fitness regime at London Colney and I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see him stay with the club having spent the last 14 seasons on loan in Spain securing a passport. Another loan would just be cruel Arsene…

Til Saturday.