Google+

Arsenal 2-2 Manchester City

It was one of those games where disappointment at the final whistle pretty quickly morphed into satisfaction. It was our best performance of the season so far – though it wasn’t quite enough to see off the champions.

It was all about Welbeck before the match (no, I’m not shortening his name and adding a zed, before you ask, and nor shall I be referring to him as ‘that chap’). His name got the loudest roar as the line-ups were read out. I think he had a decent debut, though he faded a bit in the second half. He wasn’t the only one to be fair.

It would have been an even better debut had his chipped effort, which lofted over the Head and Shoulders of Hart, hadn’t bounced back off the post. Should he have hit the target there? Harsh – he had the goalie thundering out at him and in the circumstances he did the right thing.

Our weakness was down the left, with Monreal playing fast and loose with the notion of left back. We got away with it once when City counter-attacked down that side, but not a second time: Nigel Flamini was involved at the start and finish of the move.

Step in Jack Wilshere, who played as well as I’ve seen him play in a year or two. He and Sanchez were absolutely superb all game. Jack was always looking to go forward and seems to have found that extra yard of pace that was missing at times last season. He was such a menace City upended him on plenty of occasions (something they did systematically when Arsenal broke or approached the area). Pellegrini had steam coming out his ears at the end of the game, moaning about fouls in the run-up to both our goals. All the while handily ignoring his own side’s methods to break up play. City are very streetwise, and if that’s what we’re becoming, then amen to that. About time too.

Wilshere’s goal was a joy, a blur of pass and move and a bounce of pace to make Clichy look like a fool. Which is always nice.

Sanchez was immense too, his energy often putting his teammates to shame. Where does he get that drive from? Bottle it and sell it and you’d be a millionaire. We’ve got a lot of attacking talent at the club, and he’s fast becoming the one you simply can’t drop. Low centre of gravity, incredibly skill in tight spaces, an eye for goal and amazing tenacity. And what a strike.

Booked for taking your shirt off. I’ve always disliked that rule, when people tug and nick at people and feign injury and dive without so much as a by-your-leave from the ref. Pah.

Downsides? I thought Ozil was a passenger until quite late on when he found a burst of energy. His body language, always hard to decipher at the best, spoke of frustration. That translated to the stands. He didn’t look that fit. Ramsey too looked less dynamic than usual.

At the back, we let our fourth headed goal of the season in (topping the table in that regard), and Wenger was happy enough to concede that we need a bit of work in that area. We were defensively suspect for both goals.

Then there’s Debuchy, who went down in agony, thumping the turf. “You wouldn’t go down like that if it wasn’t bad” suggested Shedman. “Giroud does it all the time”, said my brother. Nothing’s broken, but it’s a bad sprain and we’re now down to the bare bones at the back.

In fact his injury came at a very bad time. I thought we lost concentration during the time he was treated and a bit of momentum, and City’s equaliser felt like it was coming before it did. Frustrating.

In the end, we could have lost it with City hitting both posts, so we can’t be too upset. One win and three draws, six points from twelve. I wouldn’t read too much into any of that. The main thing is that we’ve picked up some form and wobbly defence aside, we’ve got some incredible attacking depth. We’ll need to fit Walcott back in at some point.

Nice problem to have.

Strange old day at the ranch yesterday, with Wenger choosing to saunter off to Rome to ref the Pope’s Peace Match while the dildo and blow-up doll madness unfurled back in blighty. The score was 6-3, which made me laugh a bit. At least it wasn’t 6-0.

And would you know it, as Wenger fiddled with his whistle [enough of that - Ed] Danny Welbeck signed for the Arsenal. As the chaps said on the Arsecast Extra, there was a curious reaction to the whole thing from many Arsenal fans. Residual doubts about his goal-scoring prowess is probably one reason why, but I do think that the frustration of an inactive second half of the transfer window played a part too.

Now that the calm of day (and subsequently night – that’s how I roll on the blogging front) has arrived, the mood’s more positive. I think he’s a decent signing. He’s a hard-working player at a good age, with something to prove. It’s got Arsene Wenger stamped all over it if you think about it. And of course, we need another striker, and he’s a striker. On top of that he cost £16m, which is a bog-standard rate for an English player. New TV deals has made £16m an average fee, so we’ve hardly gambled our life on it.

A few years back – roughly the time when Ashley Cole nearly swerved off the road – I’d have worried a bit about a young Manchester lad coming to Arsenal. We didn’t have a lot of British players back then. But now there are plenty of lads he’ll know from the England setup and I’m sure he’ll slot in just fine.

We’re short at the back of course, more so having sold Iggy Miquel. The result is that while it’s been a good window – one with a frame, and nice glass – it’s got no security locks. I can’t remember who it was, it might have been Alan Smith, or it just as easily could have been everyone on the internet, but it feels like we’ve once again gone into autumn with the sense of the squad being a frustrating man or two short of being spot on.

It might be fine. We might make it through the next 120 days without a calamitous injury pile-up in the rear echelons of the squad. That’s the gamble Wenger’s taken – unless he thinks Bellerin and Hayden are ready to be those back-ups right now. If so, it’s bold, if a little risky. (Others might say it’s a dereliction of duty).

Plenty to be excited about overall. Given we’ve not clicked at all, we’ve got five points from nine and have qualified for the Champions League. Get the balance right (ideally by the time City come to town – no pressure Arsene) and things could get quite tasty.

Everton 2-2 Arsenal

Textbook Twitter overreaction from me yesterday – right out of the manual.

The sarcasm

We’re two goals down at half-time. Being bitter and twisted, I can’t quite bring myself to give an online pep talk. But nor can I hashtag Wengerout or hashtag hopelessshower.

Retweet 1

Evidently still bitter and now commencing a war of snarkiness. This is the stat to use.

Retweet 2

Because this made me laugh when everything else was making me cross.

The overreaction

We’re one and a half games into the season and I’ve written us off.

The hasty backpedal

Just to prove that at no point did I not think we could get something from this. *Coughs*

There you go – what do I know? What do any of us know for that matter. It wasn’t a good performance, with several returning players patently not match fit, others battling injury, and others just not clicking. But we kept plugging on and instead of the narrative being about how we’ve not learned a jot over the summer, it’s all about the comeback.

It did look lost to me. But Wenger changed stuff around, with Giroud making a big difference, and things started to change. The breakthrough came from a couple of moments of class, as is so often the case – lovely cross from Cazorla, lovely little run from Ramsey – and the game changes. Games have a habit of doing that, which somehow still seems to surprise me despite having watched Arsenal for about 35 years.

Another from the left – this time Nach (natch) retrieves a long pass from Debuchy, curves one back in and Giroud plants a header in.

We rescued that one, and it feels a bit a bit like a win as a result.

Not really clicked this season, but we’ve still taken four points from six. If you were being cruel you’d say we just look unready, and a little blunt. But there are mitigating factors. World Cup, long trip to Turkey, a fractured pre-season. Injuries. I also think – rightly or wrongly – that minds are on Wednesday. It’s such a big game for the club, money-wise and to attract new players between now and September.

Either way, the moral of this story is not to pay too much attention to what I say on Twitter during a match.

Johnny Holiday

Nice long break from this lark, looking at sunsets and things, so much so that I didn’t watch much of the Emirates Cup, the Community Shield passed me by for the most part, and I didn’t see the Palace goals until about two days ago. I am a prawn sandwich, and if I was to organise myself into any kind of military unit, I’d probably be found in a brigade.

I’ve got caught up in the whole early judgement lark though, by god I have. We huffed and puffed against Palace and I screamed “New signings!” We laboured against Besiktas and I thought “Giroud, you great lump! Sanogo as a backup meh!”

I’m not the only one. One defeat for van Gaal’s United and they’re gone. They’re gone! Liverpool, because they huffed and puffed a bit too against Southampton and they’ve lost you know who, are going to fall off the face of the earth if you read the online predictions. Right off the earth! And Chelsea, well they kicked it all off so well that it’s finito. City too. It’s all over. All over!

We’ve played one league game.

Now look, before you nobble me – I’m not saying Arsenal are going nowhere, nor am I saying they’re going to motor forth. I’m not saying our game against Besiktas was easy on the eye. To be honest, that tie is in the balance. The fact is though, I don’t think I can judge on the basis of one game, or two, when nobody’s quite ready and some players aren’t even back. And I know everyone’s under pressure to pass judgement right now, but what’s the point? There’s buying and selling to be done, in all probability, across the entire league.

I can’t remember who it was who pointed it out, but back in the day nobody would even publish the league table until about three games were gone. I think that’s sensible. Most teams are like new foals staggering about with giant hooves and spindly legs.

That said…

There’s obvious scope for more bodies at the club. Wenger has said it. We all think it. In an ideal world, you’d maybe say a new centre-back, a defensive midfielder and a striker (perhaps Pele, Ferenc Puskas or at the very least Lionel Messi). If I was going to push my neck out at this juncture, thereby completely negating the above rant about pointless conjecture, I’d say we’ll get one more for sure and maybe two, if the wind is in the right direction. Three, you’re having a giraffe.

But I am utterly hashtag ITD.

What I do know though is that it is, quite literally, early doors.

Wenger has always been something of an expert at the surprise signing. You could never bet against him pulling a Frenchman with something to prove out of a hat. The ultimate ‘Abracadabra’ was Sol Campbell, who emerged like a mirage, grinning into the Colney sunshine. On that occasion Wenger allowed himself a wry smile in public, while behind the safety of his office door he was far more effusive, flicking his fingers and saying the word ‘sick’. Sol Campbell was the surprise signing benchmark.

So yes, Wenger likes a surprise signing. He really likes one.

But they’re becoming harder to do. The rapacious internet leaves no stone unturned. The web is a foreign language too far for Wenger. Imagine the chit-chat with Podolski. Wenger thinks #aha went downhill after Living a Boy’s Adventure Tale. It’s Oldie v Poldi.

But Wenger likes a challenge, and if he can defeat the internet and its binary inquisitiveness, then quite frankly it’s like a trophy to him. There’s a small glass of Dubonnet with his name on if he can sign a player for Arsenal from right under the nose of the internet.

That’s why I gave myself a small fist-bump when I switched Twitter on last night to read that we’re close to signing Calum Chambers from Southampton. “If this one comes good”, I said to myself while whistling suggestively, “Wenger’s defeated the internet again”.

Even if it doesn’t happen, Wenger’s back on form. Everyone knew (and hoped) about Sanchez before he came. Debuchy was common knowledge. The name of Ospina was a bit more Wenger, but Chambers has come from nowhere. It’s hallmark stuff from Le Boss.

People are taking it seriously because it comes from the BBC’s David Ornstein, who is pretty adept at separating wheat from chaff. If you don’t follow him already, you really should.

At 19, Chambers is very young. With only 25 appearances at the top level, he’s also very inexperienced. Being English, he’s expensive – I’ve read £7m and I’ve also seen £16m. But he’s versatile, being a right-back also able to play centre-half, much like Sagna. It makes sense in many ways. Debuchy number one, with a more inexperienced number two who can also fit in elsewhere.

That would leave Jenkinson with the fight of his life. Should this deal go through he’ll almost certainly go on loan, which is what he needs to kick on. Coming back to Arsenal would be tough, you’d think, a huge challenge. Ashley Cole was one of the few players to come back from loan a better player, but he was far younger than Jenkinson.

Anyway, we shall see. I’ve enjoyed this summer so far, what with the World Cup and some Arsenal business cooking nicely. There’s a sense of urgency and a dynamism this year that felt absent for most of the summer of 2013.

Long may it last.

The recruitment continues apace, with Debuchy coming in as our first-choice right-back. In the website photoshoot he’s got his arms on his hips (psychologists will tell you he’s ready and in control – that’s a good sign for us. He may also be showing off his armful of tats, two of which seem to be dates in Roman numerals. Not his birthday, I checked. Perhaps his children’s. Is this interesting? No? Sorry).

Last summer, at about this time, and a lot later, we tore our hair out trying to second guess what Wenger was up to (answer: not a whole lot), but there’s no angst this summer. Two signings in, both filling obvious gaps. And it feels like there’ll be more – two or three, I’d guess.

Is that the kiss of death? I don’t think so. But if it is, I’ll delete this post and pretend it never happened.

Defence is obviously an area that needs attention, as illustrated by Arseblog the other day. But it looks like we’re in for another midfielder too. Whether it’s Khedira or not – and it feels like there’s some smoke and mirrors going on there – it’d not surprise me to see us strengthen there.

This makes sense to me. But if we do, would anyone make way? To be honest, I’d not have been massively surprised to see Arteta moving on this summer, but he’s featured so heavily in all the Puma marketing, and told us he’s happy as Larry, that I can’t see that happening. Diaby? Maybe, if someone would have his large wages. Flamini? Maybe.

Does it matter though? If Wenger is keen to stockpile midfielders it’s easy to see why. We mostly always play with five in the middle, and suffered our usual Arsenal-esque midfield injury pestilence last season. Diaby didn’t play at all, The Ox was injured a lot, Ramsey got skittled over at Christmas, Walcott not long after. Ozil did his hamstring, Wilshere only started 19 league games. Rosicky might well be the Peter Pan of football but he’s clearly an impact player these days.

We relied too heavily on some players – Arteta, Ozil and Cazorla spring to mind – as a result and what’s the next best thing to solving our injury woes? Buying more midfield players, that’s what. Could this approach work with a 25-man squad limit? It might be tricky, but it’s not impossible.

Let’s have a look. In defence we ideally need two of every position – that’s ten. We still need to recruit two of those, three if Vermaelen goes.

That leaves fifteen players (sixteen if you take a gamble with three centre-backs). Rosicky, Arteta, Wilshere, Ozil, Ramsey, Cazorla, Flamini, Diaby, Podolski, Giroud, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sanchez are obvious ‘keepers’ to me, though Diaby’s position could be in peril.

If we kept Diaby that would leave two more spaces. One for a new defensive midfielder leaving one to be hoovered up by other hopefuls currently on the squad list: Zelalem, Sanogo, Gnabry and Campbell.

If we were to buy another striker, I think it’s curtains this season for Sanogo and Campbell. But I can see Wenger keeping Sanogo as the blunt sword he’s been so far (he’ll get better once he grows into his paws).

So what does this all mean, I hear you ask?

I’d say, if I was to stick my neck out, that I have no absolutely no idea at all.

Update

And I’d clean forgotten about the U-21 players not counting on the 25-man list. So we’re fine: we can stockpile midfielders and probably buy another striker too. You know where to go for cold, hard, real sense on this matter – @Orbinho

It was one of those days when the stars aligned and Arsenal fans got a bit giddy. The best of days…

I suspect that Puma riding the crest of the Sanchez wave might not have been that accidental, either. Someone in the Arsenal PR department will be pouring themselves a glass of something cold this evening. There’ll be some schnapps wheeled out at Puma.

The Sanchez deal had been building a head of steam, so signing him wasn’t entirely unexpected – unlike the Ozil one, which came out the blue like a thunderbolt. The price, too, has had less mention than Ozil’s, which can only be a good thing. Last year we nearly fell off our perches when we spent £42.5m on one player. It was so far out of our comfort zone. Now, we’re back shopping in the same luxury outlet. That we can do it more often is a huge relief after years of relative parsimony and a healthy, but often untouched bank balance.

It’s just such a boost. The kind of player with power and speed and goalscoring ability that we really missed last year. 21 goals for Barcelona. It’s a signing that’s really got people going.

He’s even using his first name on the shirt, and has taken the number 17, which has pleased all those with Alex Song shirts. Just a little bit of tweaking and Bob’s your uncle.

And you know, maybe there is a domino effect. Would he have come if Ozil hadn’t come last season? Possibly, but who knows. From selling our best players, which we did for quite a few years, we’re now buying top ones and keeping the ones we want to keep.

It doesn’t feel like the last either. Claude Debussy’s looked like he’s on his way for a while. We’re also being linked to Khedira, the kind of rumour I’d have laughed out the room last summer and not even mentioned. Tough transfer to do? Probably. But not as impossible as it would’ve been in the past.

Exciting times.

And so to Puma, who finally launched their ‘trilogy’ of shirts. There’d been more leaks than a Welsh farm, so again, we knew what was coming, but I think they’ve struck a good balance. Stick with tradition, classic designs home and away, with a cheeky third shirt which also doffs its cap to the past.

Some people are staunch defenders of various brands – Adidas fans, Nike aficianados – but all I care is that they don’t balls around with the designs, and they haven’t. Mind you, if you’ve got a six-pack it’ll help. I’m a middle-aged man with a paunch.

Of course, they’re available all over the place, including here. I know this because JD Sports have sent me a shirt, the little devils. Now I just need to get rid of my wine belly. I need to be ‘buff’, at least that’s what I think it’s called these days.

So, new shirts, new striker. A deal done in the middle of the summer. You’ve changed, Arsenal. You’ve changed.

I’m sure you’ll all agree that no time is a bad time to shoehorn in an inappropriate Musical Youth headline.

Yes yes, I know he plays on the right-hand side. And that ideally we don’t want ‘pass Debuchy on the left-hand side’ to be the opponents’ tactical Plan A. And anyway, why would Debuchy be passing on the left-hand side? OK, I concede, it’s awful. But I’ve mentioned Wenger on the beach, I’ve thrown a cursory comment or two towards the World Cup and with not much else to fall back on, I’m resorting to shambolic wordplay.

Of course, he’s not actually signed yet, there’s still plenty of time for the tits to head in a northerly direction, but there’s a lot of noise about this one and he could well be our first signing of the summer, paid for by selling a player who was no longer ours anyway. How very Arsene that would be.

You can see his stats over at Arseblog, and some almost entirely positive comment from an NUFC blogger (unless he’s doing an “I’ll drive you to the airport if necessary”.)

He’s in his peak years, he’s used to the Premier League and he’s an established international. Nor, at £8m, is he expensive. So on the basis that this was a position that needed filling, but not the most crucial area of weakness in the squad, I think he’d be an excellent signing.

The Sanchez rumours bubble along too, and I’m hoping there’s no smoke without fire. It’s an ambitious one though, and as we saw last summer with ambitious attempts to land strikers, these things are easier said than done. What’s promising is that since last summer (let’s skirt over January for the sake of this point, y’alright there Kimmy) we’ve quite evidently upped what we can spend on players. £42.5m on Ozil buried our transfer record, with bells on, and the fact that we’re in for a £32m striker fills me with some confidence that, even if this one doesn’t quite come to pass, we’re no longer scrabbling around pretending.

An Englishman abroad

On another note, I see Ashley Cole is off to Roma. Now, as you know, we’ve not got a lot of time for almost-swerving-off-the-road left-backs in this part of north London, but I’m glad he’s decided to go there. English players have many faults, and one of them is parochialism. I know they earn good money here – better money than in most places – but the more English players that go abroad to learn both football, and to experience another culture, the better it will be in the long run for England.

Right, I’m going to make a cup of tea and watch the transfers roll in*

*Slash, just make a cup of tea.

Am I the only one heartened by seeing Wenger on a beach having fun?

Everyone else is having fun. From my sofa, far from Ipanema, I am having the best fun since Italia ’90. Back then, a flawed but eminently watchable England side made it all the way to the semi-finals – our only visit there since 1966. Or was it 1066? I always get confused by the sixty-sixes. One thing I can say for sure is that we were managed by the Duke of Normandy and that someone got a nasty eye injury.

The football’s been exciting, the backdrops eye-watering (though not because of a Norman arrow), the fans passionate, the sun shiny. It’s been superb. And if I could put my finger on one thing that makes it so different, it’s the fans. Its location means that – unlike normally – most of the fans are South American. Argentinians are trucking over the border in their hundreds of thousands, there are Chileans, Colombians, Costa Ricans, Mexicans everywhere. The grounds are full. Everyone’s sitting together, no hint of the need for segregation. How nice that’s been.

Anyway, back to Wenger. He’s been spotted emerging from the water Baywatch style, rugged in a 64-year-old kind of way, he’s played beach football (or is it volleyball, I don’t know – when you grow up going to beaches lashed by high winds and icy cold, you mostly cower behind hastily erected windbreaks). He’s doing his telly, he seems relaxed and he seems like he’s having a bit of a break from being harangued by us.

He deserves it, to be honest.

That said, Arsene – ha, you knew there’d be a ‘but’, didn’t you – I do have one question. I speak as a married man when I ask you – how have you pulled this one out the bag? Are Mrs Wenger and the family with you? I hope they are, shopping hard in Rio or lolling about with you on Ipanema, because if Mrs Wenger’s in England waiting for you to get back, I sense that your section on her football offsetting spreadsheet will be be severely in deficit.

I can picture it now. Old Arsene will stroll through the door whenever he deigns to return from Brazil, all sun-tanned and happy, perhaps whistling, and with nothing more to do than to dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s on some faxes to kick off an epic signing spree.

But Mrs Wenger’s there, bags packed and a taxi revving in the drive ready to take them on their summer holiday to Majorca for two weeks.

“Get in Arsene, we’re going to be late”.

“But Cherie, I have little bit transfer niggles…”

“Not now mon chou-fleur. I’ve been sitting her for a month waiting for you to get back. We’re off on our holiday”.

Arsene looks at his watch. It’s the 15th of July. He’ll be back by 1st August, no later.

“Very well Cherie, let’s go”.

Wenger draws his Nokia 6230 from the pocket of his baggy shorts. He scrolls down the menu to Dick Law.

“Dick, are you there? I have little bit time niggle. We have still month before the end of the transfer window. Remember Ozil? Yes yes, let’s wait and do it like that again. Au revoir. Ciao-ciao”.

 
It’s been the worst kept secret, and now it’s not a secret at all – Wenger has signed up for another three years. If he lasts the distance, that’ll be a mighty 21 years at the helm, a phenomenal achievement in the want-it-now era. It’s a whole generation. Remarkable, in many ways.

I’m happy for him, and I’m glad he’s staying, because we’ve all seen him live the highs and lows in recent years (the lows being increasingly frequent). He’s looked almost ill through the pressure at times this season, so to see him as we saw him above warms the heart.

I suspect he did think of calling it a day, but Arsenal closed the gap on the leaders this year and won the cup. It’s a successful season by any benchmark and the side has matured. He wants to see this team through.

It’s a leaner, hungrier and more talented side than it has been for years, and with Park and Bendtner gone, I can’t think of many players who are at the club by some curious magic rather than thanks to ability. The side is on the right track.

I’d be lying if I didn’t have my reservations though. For all the consistency this season, we were badly shown up, in terms of approach as much as anything else, on three painful occasions. On all three days, we were despairingly slow out the blocks. As a side, without Walcott, we lack pace and more generally, a bit of power. Ozil aside, we’ve had several poor transfer windows.

All these things need to change, but Wenger is in a good place, and on a good platform, to do that. All of them can be addressed.

Whether he does push the boat out, and change, only time will tell. In times past he’s needed to, but hasn’t. History tells us he’s stubborn. All too often he’ll do a shimmy and pull a Kallstrom from the hat.

I hope, as I hope every summer, that this time things will be different, and that we’ll be bold and decisive. These are in all probability the last three years of his reign. Now’s the time to push on.

Over to you, Arsene. Onwards – and hopefully upwards – on the Wenger rollercoaster we go.

Basking

The last two weeks have mostly revolved around basking in cup glory. Just when you think it might all subside, up comes another excellent video and I’m off again, bouncing up and down at Wembley, all wide-eyed and happy.

Not much has happened since. We’ve lost Fabianski to Swansea (a good signing for them – though I thought he might go somewhere like Italy) and Sagna to TBC FC. But we knew both of those things anyway. The transfer wheels are spinning, and if you read what you believe, HMS Southampton is being shelled and torpedoed into submission. Women, children, 32-year-old strikers, left and right-backs into the lifeboats first.

(In all seriousness – I do feel sorry for Southampton. An excellent side that already has the wolves at the door. They won’t all leave, but whoever comes in next to manage them has a job on their hands manning the pumps).

But like I said before, I’m staying detached from this transfer hullabaloo. There’s too much smoke, and too many mirrors. Too much swooping and not enough action, too many come-and-get-me pleas and not enough signing on the dotted line.

We live in a world where footballers who want to leave cite a lack of attention on their birthday.

Swat it aside, folks, and ignore it.