No laughing Mathieu

Like most people, I’m intrigued to know what will happen in January, not least because it’s rare to hear Wenger this bullish about doing business.


I am already busy. We are a bit short at the moment, especially in the midfield. We will be busy, yes.

It looks like El-Nenny is in the bag, a decisive piece of business, albeit for a ‘cheap’ player (even if, as suggested, he costs £7m that’s peanuts in the current market). But will there be anyone else? I have the feeling there might be. Why leave anything to risk when you are top and need as many weapons in the armoury as possible in order to keep that up?

I know we’ve said this before, and many times too, but for all the tumbleweed Januarys, there are one or two exceptions too. In January 2006 – ten years ago now, blimey, where has the time gone – he brought in Diaby, Walcott, Adebayor and Poom (Poom shake shake the room). So there are precedents.

But the football door often revolves, and we may also see Debuchy go the other way too. In fact, Wenger, who rarely gives much away, seems to indicate it’s in Debuchy’s hands.

“It’s not impossible. I’m happy if he stays, we’ll see.

On the one hand, it’s a bit of a headache if he leaves, because Chambers is the only backup short of recalling Jenkinson. I know we recalled Coquelin last January, but presumably the terms of loans differ and it tends to be a rare thing to do midway through a season.

But on the other, Debuchy has not played particularly well in the few games he’s had an opportunity, and could do with a new challenge. With the best will in the world, he’s not going to ever replace Bellerin full-time now. I just can’t see that.

So much in football depends on fortune or a lack of it, on opportunities grasped and opportunities missed. Would Coquelin have returned had Arteta and Flamini not got injured? Would Campbell have ever had more than a cursory run-out for Arsenal had our midfield not been decimated by injury? Would Bellerin have broken through this soon had Debuchy not had two bad injuries in his first season?

So I do feel a bit sorry for him. His Arsenal career, which he may have hoped would last three or four good years, has been massively curtailed. But on the flipside of the coin, that’s what happens in football and on this occasion Wenger has been ruthless. We sometimes accuse him of sentimentality but there has been none of it here – Debuchy was usurped by Bellerin and that was pretty much that. Yes, happenstance played a role initially, but it would have happened sooner rather than later anyway.

What would I do? I’d make him stay, because he’s our second-best right-back and we need as much strength as we can get in a season where we are fighting on three fronts – unless Wenger has someone new he can replace him straight away.

Things may well be more advanced than that though – Wenger hints as much. And Andrew on the Arsecast Extra suggests he was meant to play against Bournemouth but didn’t at the last moment. Make of that what you will.

You get the feeling an interesting month awaits.

(By the way, I’m enjoying this holiday lark, gentle blogging in my own time. You’re probably entirely indifferent, but I’m happy. Expect a return to blogstinence in January though…)

In for El-Nenny, in for a pound?

Well, Wikipedia says El-Nenny’s an Arsenal player, and as we all know, that’s as good as an announcement as it being on dotcom. *Ahem*.

But it does at least look as if, this time, Wenger’s pronouncements about looking for bodies ‘if we can find the right person etc etc’ are based on truth. if this story is correct then we’re in for a midfielder and we’re in for him early in the transfer window. Even if it’s not El-Nenny, I would be staggered if we came out of January with no reinforcements.

Of course most of us haven’t heard of El-Nenny – so what. We used to glow with pride when Wenger unearthed someone from nowhere for peanuts, then flog him two years later for the price of a multi-pitch training centre.

This profile on kingfut.com gives you a bit more of an inkling about him. Strong, with a good engine and a decent injury record. 100 league experiences in Switzerland and 40 caps for Egypt. At 23 he fits the bill, and I suspect that he’ll be squad cover at this stage.

This January comes at a timely juncture with various injury news leaking out and none of it positive. Wilshere’s return has been put back again, Welbeck is no nearer. Cazorla – I’d be surprised if we see him much again this season. Coquelin for me is the big miss, and he’s still a way off.

I know other teams are decimated by injury, and often as many as us, but do they all have players out long-term like we do? It feels, from within my Arsenal blinkers, that when our players get injured they don’t do it in half measures. Walcott was out a year, Wilshere too, Welbeck’s disappeared, Rosicky disappeared, Cazorla got hit with one of the worst injuries you can get. With every passing week these long-term absences hurt us more.

So any bodies we can get in will help us, quite frankly, because for several key squad players, this season is basically a write-off.

Onwards today to Bournemouth – back in the saddle despite the cheeks being sore – and I’d be surprised to see the same starting XI as we’ve seen four times in a row. Poor old Mertesacker had a horrible evening on Saturday and maybe we’ll see Gabriel in for him. Ox might get a run-out too, despite his own mysterious form. Chambers for Flamini? I can’t see it, and to be honest, our options are very limited if you take Saturday’s bench as guidance – Ospina, The Jeff, Chambers, Iwobi, Gibbs, Ox and Gabriel.

That 4-0 was a shambles and left me feeling much as I did after Wenger’s 1,000th match mauling. But onwards we go.

And luckily, I have the memory of a goldfish, not an elephant.

If it’s broken, fix it

There we all were, shaking our heads at the sheer misfortune of losing two players before the game had even got going at Hillsborough in the League Cup, and agreeing that in terms of injuries, things had hit Peak Arsenal.

How naive! We still had the fun of the Hawthorns, where Coquelin fizzled out, and his replacement, not to be outdone, also conked out in short order.

But two crocks a game – well that can be improved upon, surely? Of course it can, with Koscielny, Alexis and Cazorla joining the ranks of the bandaged masses at Carrow Road. Peak Arsenal yet? I don’t want to tempt fate. I’d say there’s more fun and games to come on that front.

It’s not really a laughing matter, I know, but there’s no point in letting it tie you up in ligaments. It is what it is, but it’s desperate stuff alright and injuries are clearly affecting our game. We miss those who are out, and we rely too much on those who – somewhat miraculously – are not yet on The (Tony) Colbert Show.

Until the Norwich injuries, I had been imbued with optimism about Olympiakos. Mentally, Arsenal know exactly what they need to do. But Olympiakos? Do they stick or twist? I fancied our chances, but much of my positivity has, perhaps not surprisingly, dissipated. Without the energy and uncertainty of Alexis, and without the metronomic Cazorla, I wonder if we will have enough to get the job done. It was hard before and the mountain is even higher now.

Before then we have Sunderland of course, and I think we’ll have too much for them. We’ve had a week off to recuperate and we’ve probably been licking our metaphorical wounds (if only that helped literally, there’d be an army of Arsenal fans lining up at Colney with tongues dangling).

Of course, what injuries taketh, Forsythe giveth too. Ramsey and Ox are back ( a lot is expected of both), Koscielny might be OK (I’d play Gabriel anyway tomorrow) and Walcott is close. Keeping them fit – well that’s another matter altogether.

What can be done? As mentioned on the Arsecast today, hindsight is a wonderful thing but perhaps we should have thanked Rosicky and Arteta, and bade them farewell in the summer. As it is, they’re still here but I think a little retrograde ruthlessness is required in January. A couple of reinforcements need to be sourced – one at DM, ideally with something to prove and an exemplary injury record – and if that affects one of our injury-prone player’s chances of playing then so be it. There is no room for sentimentality.

We simply cannot afford not to strengthen, and I think we need more than a Kallstrom-esque punt. We need a numbers boost, a physical boost and a psychological boost. If there’s a £10m or £15m premium on a good prospect in January, so what? We have the money and we can’t keep waiting for people to come good. It’s all about this season.

Jam tomorrow can get stuffed.

I like jam now.

Looking back, looking forward

I would have been delighted in hindsight for this international break to have been as unremarkable as all those that have come before, but for all the wrong reasons it ended up being the most extraordinary one I can recall.

I don’t know if it’s an overreaction to say that football is going to change in the light of what happened in Paris, but I think – in the short term at least – that’s exactly what will happen. We’ve already been told that security will be stepped up in Premier League games, and to be honest, that’s the right response. The events in Paris (and elsewhere) show that anyone is a target. However hard it is to get your head round or accept, that’s the truth of it.

Whether it will have long-term effects on football is hard to say. The optimist within me hopes not.

But right now the memory is utterly raw and there are some direct knock-on effects for Wenger. Are his French players ready to play? Particularly the ones who were at the game, who would have heard the explosion, felt the fear and watched the events across the city unravel? They weren’t at the races on Tuesday, but nobody really expected them to be.

If I had to guess, I’d say that our entire French contingent, if fit, will want to be out there (and ideally, together). It’s a bit of a cliché but “one for all and all for one”.

As was discussed on the Arsecast, perhaps in the case of Giroud there is no other option anyway. Alexis needs a break and I’d hope he won’t start at WBA tomorrow. But short of Gibbs stepping up to the plate, we might not have any other option. Most of the other mooted returnees are of course not ready to return – a situation with Made in Arsenal stamped all over it – so we are once again light on squad rotation options.

It’s hard enough to hit the ground running after normal international breaks, and this one could be even trickier.

But off we go again, and that’s the way it should be.

Vive les rip-roaring reds!

No place to Jekyll and Hyde

And so to the derby, which gets no less nerve-wracking with the passing of the years. I almost always profess my fear and pessimism prior to the game, which stands me in good stead whatever the result turns out to be.

But I do think it’s going to be a tough one. Under Pocket Tony, Spurs have become a lot better defensively and they’re clearly harder to beat (two things that seem plain wrong to type next to the word ‘Spurs’).

I read yesterday that they’ve ‘only’ let nine goals in, but we’ve only let eight goals in, so we’re no slouches in that regard. On that basis can we expect a low-scorer? Who knows, but I don’t think it will be 5-2.

Our defensive league form seems all the more peculiar given our expert resemblance of a sieve in all other competitions, where we’ve conceded 14 goals in six games. Consistency of back four will have helped in the league, but today we’re definitely without Bellerin and possibly without Koscielny.

I’m not really worried about their replacements. Gabriel didn’t play that well in Munich, but he wasn’t alone. And while the general consensus seems to be that Debuchy is gambolling around like a lamb, I think that’s a bit harsh. He’ll be better for the games and is improving.

Bouncebackability

It’s a strange thing that in a season where we’re competing very well in the league, we’ve already lost six games overall. The worrying thing for me is that we seem to switching off randomly. All three of our Champions League performances and our final Coca Cola Cup match had whiffs of complacency about them or at the least a lack of concentration (though Munich would have blown most sides away). And in the league, it was the same story on the opening day.

I don’t really understand why, but at least – bar that opening day – we’ve been very solid in the league.

We’ll need to be sharp with the ball today to counter their high pressing and can’t afford to feel sorry for ourselves after Wednesday. Giroud’s mini purple patch will help and he needs to impose himself today.

But now I’m blathering. A sure sign that derby day is upon us.

Come on your rip-roarers!

Going for it | AGM | Superhuman Alexis

The break nearly broke me

I try – lord knows I try – to get enthused by watching England, but unless it’s a whopper of a match I just can’t. This fortnight has been triply hard. Firstly because England have already qualified and could dance a naked jig on the centre circle while waving wet haddocks for all it mattered. Secondly because – big fan of the Baltic republics as I am – it was not a pulse-racing double-header. No pulses were harmed in this instance. And thirdly because we’d just turfed Man Utd right out of the Emirates without so much as a by-your-leave.

Which reminds me…

Was that performance really two weeks ago? I like to record such victories on this blog, but I got a bit waylaid on Sunday evening by, erm – there’s no other way to put this – beer. We had a loosener before the game, then we powered down a beer-flavoured plastic Emirates pint at half time to dry the agitated throats. It all went a bit wrong after that, I confess. We retired to a hostelry after the match to chew the cud of a fantastic performance and to let the crowds dissipate, but we slightly misjudged the whole crowd-dissipation thing and drank too many beers.

It’s not my fault. If we performed like this on a more regular schedule, we wouldn’t need to treat it like New Year’s Eve. But we don’t and we did and well, you know. I went to work on the Monday in the fug of victory and it was worth it. I bet I wasn’t the only one.

But what does it all mean?

Alan Davies on The Tuesday Club said it elegantly, and Wenger has since reiterated it: we have to go for the title. On the one hand it seems absurd to state it, because Arsenal should be ‘going for it’ every year – but football is a fickle mistress. On the other hand, despite the summer transfer stasis and the opening day hoop-la, here we are in mid-October in the thick of it.

Who’s going to take the league by the scruff of the neck? You might scoff at it being us, and to be frank I do too because I’m an epic cynic, but all the contenders have lost twice and the team that is the least ‘work in progress’ is probably us. Consistency of performance is the key here, and that’s where we’ve fallen down in the past. But that Utd game… can they keep it up… it’s the hope that kills you.

The AGM left me with mixed feelings

Two good write-ups from Tim Stillman and Angry of N5. I think the whole £3m fee was obfuscatory in the extreme and the silence from Kroenke was a bit embarrassing. Why bother coming if you don’t engage? You get the feeling he’d scrap it in a flash if he could.

But because he can’t take the club private he can’t do that (I hope I have understood this right). And that’s mostly because of… Alisher Usmanov who owns 30% of the club. Were it not for him Kroenke could and possibly would hoover up everything in his path and do whatever he likes.

Why am I torn? Without Usmanov, maybe even this level of transparency would not happen. But it’s Usmanov. So yeah.

There’s a game on

Of course there is. We’re at Vicarage Road tomorrow and I can’t wait. Superhuman Alexis seems to be fit, which is both baffling and brilliant. He’s scored three in two for Chile, six in three for Arsenal – so nine in five – and all with a dicky groin and a foggy jetlagged head.

Is it any wonder there’s talk of a new contract? I think footballers earn too much (what is it, 71p in every pound of revenue to the player?) but Alexis is so totemic, such a one-man whirligig, that all scruples go out the window. His skill and energy and dedication and sheer bloody-mindedness do not grow on trees. He’s the best player in the Premier League at the moment, and one of the best in the world. Even when neutrals buff off my Arsenal bias I’m not far off the truth in saying that am I? He’s incredible. Where would we be without him?

Who are the legends of today to match the Adams’, the Wrights, the Bergkamps, the Vieiras and the Henrys of this world?

We will look back at Alexis in that bracket. You know it.

Let’s corral the jet-setting rabble and get ourselves three points tomorrow.

Because we’ve got to go for it, and that starts tomorrow.

Come on you rip-roarers!

Sweet and unsavoury

I must confess, I didn’t see Gabriel escaping his ban. I’m happy that he has, of course, as it was a nothing flick of the foot and was clearly provoked by someone with the Corinthian spirit of a piranha.

But I’m not quite sure how Arsenal ‘proved’ that Gabriel didn’t touch Costa (as I have read elsewhere), and even if that were true, does that mean intent is no longer a factor? It appears that Arsenal have tested the latest rules whereby the FA permits clubs to appeal “the legitimacy of the dismissal itself and against the severity of the three-game punishment”. I think it’s a common-sense result, which is the last thing I expected from the FA, but I’m not sure how the process now works if I’m honest.

Nevertheless, combined with a deserved ban for Costa, it’s bound to raise Mourinho’s hackles. Whether the whole unseemly affair ends up motivating Chelsea, or giving us the shot in the arm we need, only time will tell but I have my own suspicions it might benefit them more than us, beyond the obvious three points. You can be sure Mourinho will try to engender a siege mentality. I wouldn’t really blame him – it can work. Just ask George Graham. And Jose Mourinho.

Tonight, we’re back in the saddle after two straight defeats, both of which will have been more mentally than physically sapping. The Zagreb one because we were complacent and predictable, the Chelsea one because yet again we lost to them in the league and our pitiful league record continues.

I’m torn about the line-up. On the one hand beating Spurs should always be a priority, and our form needs reversing pronto, so we should play our strongest side. But on the other hand, I think Debuchy and Gibbs – to take two examples – would benefit from another game now, and will almost certainly be better for a second game in a week.

No reason why that extra rotation couldn’t come round on Saturday rather than tonight, but it doesn’t seem very Wenger to do it that way.

Certainly, we can’t let two defeats become three, then become four. So if we’re still stewing in our frustration, Gabriel’s un-ban hasn’t made a difference to the mood, and the thought of a derby hasn’t got the juices flowing, then we need our heads looking at.

We’ll find out more tonight…

(And for the eagle-eyed, stalwart few, yes, this site looks different. It’s a long story and I need to fix it all again. Joy, oh joy.)

Theo, nothing about signings, and the sound of ambition

I have very little to say about the England game – less than normal, in fact – other than to say that it will have done Theo a world of good to nab some goals. And he’s better on the right, but we know that anyway.

That position has to be back on the table from now, surely? I think we work better with pace on the flanks, and that’s the one thing he guarantees us. Against the massed ranks of defence that are now the norm at the Emirates, is he not a better option buzzing in from the right than trying to lead the line?

It leaves the usual midfield conundrum: who to drop to play him or Ox there? I think the only answer can be rotation, to be honest. Ozil one game, Ramsey another, Cazorla too – there is competition and competition is healthy. A little risky to change a proven system, but the upside is the revolutionary possibility of players staying fresher for longer.

We’re lucky we have options there to be honest. And when Jack returns, we’ll have even more. A glut of attacking midfielders to counter the reliance on Coquelin at the base – but I don’t want to go into that anymore. You could lose years off your life by fretting about our transfer strategy. Here we are and we have what we have. And time will tell us if what we have is enough.

Are we ambitious enough, as a club? And even if we are, are we ever going to be able to bridge that obvious gap between paying our way and accepting the largesse of a foreign owner keener on brand-building for a country than on making a profit? Actually, the Gooner covers that quite nicely here. Food for thought at any rate.

I will leave you with the below as more food for thought, because I’ve been pondering it since I read it a while back, and I’d be interested to know whether others agree or whether I’ve simply misjudged it. It’s something Brian Marwood said as Man City closed in on de Bruyne, and after the Champions League draw:

“We want to get as close to winning it as we possibly can. We’re in it to compete, not just to get through the group stage; it has to be more than that. We haven’t been shy of spending money over the years because we have an ambition to be successful. Last year was a disappointment – that is how we are measured now. We were hurt by not winning [the Premier League] last year and not doing better in the Champions League.”

Why did it stick with me? In one paragraph it sums up a sense of naked ambition and bullishness that, in Champions League terms at least, you don’t hear much from Arsenal (“When we talk about the destination, it’s not winning a Champions League, it’s making fans proud,” Gazidis said back in April). Maybe I missed the memo, and am judging harshly as a result. Five consecutive last-16 knockouts have turned me into the arch-cynic that I now am.

And maybe of course, he speaks like that because he can spend £49m and £58m on two players and not bat an eyelid. With FFP evaporating before our very eyes, it’s a case of ‘To the victors go the spoils’ – at least financially.

Signing Alexis and Ozil and Cech &c is a sign of ambition, right? It is, of course it is, and this squad is as good as we’ve had in perhaps seven years. But do we do enough? Or do we actually do all we can in a market where – rich though we are – we are simply not able to pull the shots when it comes to the top echelon of players?

Maybe it’s just a perception then, but to me it feels like we strive to qualify for the Champions League to keep our seat on the top table and to attract players, but without really thinking we have a chance of winning it.

The Champions League equivalent of the ‘fourth place trophy’…

The summer of glove

What a pleasant football-less summer I’ve had to date. That’s the main point to take from the almost one month of nothingness from me. I can’t say I’ve missed it too much, frankly – I’ve even stopped watching re-runs of the cup final. I’ve made snarky comments (it’s the equivalent of keeping your engine ticking over) from the sidelines but apart from that – not a whole lot.

I’m pretty relaxed because I don’t subscribe to the theory that we are watching other sides tear past us as we dither and loll about in the transfer doldrums. This happens every single year – every year! – and we’re only 13 days into the actual transfer window. If I let myself get fried about it this early I’d end up looking like Emmett Brown (as opposed to Gilles Grimandi, or on a bad day, Leo Sayer).

And in Petr Cech, I think we’ve done an astute bit of business. (OK, I confess, I just wanted to shoehorn that headline in – apologies if I’m a month late and someone else beat me to it.) Our squad’s pretty strong and for a while now, for me it’s been more about how we play and set ourselves up, and less about who we actually have in our squad. I think we’ve made mental strides and are less naive.

| Do we need more goals? |

Now look, if we could secure a 25-goal striker, I’d be all over it. Goals are great and goals win you games. Not one of our defeats last season was by more than two goals, and most were by one.

That said, these things are never as simple as all that.

For a start, we can expect more goals from Welbeck next season. Maybe not 20, but more than 8. We can expect more from Walcott, if he stays, and stays fit. Giroud can bag a few more and the list goes on. There are more goals in this side from our strikers and from the midfield.

But we hardly shot blanks last season – we only scored two fewer league goals than Chelsea. They just happen to be a bit more solid than us, and they have a bloody-minded mentality that we are still learning.

So do I think we will buy a new striker? If one is available, I can see Wenger being ruthless as he was with our goalkeepers. And if Walcott leaves – yes probably. But I can also see him not signing a striker, and to be honest, would that be an unmitigated disaster?

| Elsewhere |

I don’t think we’re done yet. I couldn’t tell you who we’ll get or where, but Cech aside, it’s all housekeeping at the moment. New deal and loan for Jenks. A case of Poldi Lang Syne. Diaby has left the building – good luck to him. Sanogo will follow and so will others. We’re trimming the fat.

And now pre-season is upon us. There’s a game on Sky on Wednesday in Singapore. It’s sort of kind of back!

Creaking back!

The arrival of an Arsenal legend

It won’t have passed you by that today is a significant anniversary.

That’s right, it’s eighteen years and three days since Gilles Grimandi joined Arsenal, a signing that heralded in mops of curly hair and, erm, mops of curly hair. As someone with a mop of curly hair, I mark this seminal moment every year by wearing my Grimandi 18 shirt – possibly the only one ever sold – bouffanting my hair up à la Gilles, then heading outside and needlessly getting in someone’s face with a ‘bof’ and a shrug of the shoulders.

It’s also 20 years since a bloke called Dennis joined. I’ve got used to the years zipping by, but twenty years! Oh Dennis, you beauty. You glorious, joy-bringing bugger. You silky-footed tease.

I wrote this about him for the Arsenal Magazine in 2014, just as his statue was unveiled:

“I was driving across London when I heard on the radio that Arsenal had signed Dennis Bergkamp. Dennis Bergkamp! At Arsenal! I pulled over at the nearest shop and bought every single newspaper I could get my hands on. I was at Highbury later that summer to see him score his first two goals against Southampton, and can remember the ecstasy like it was yesterday. Such calmness, power, precision and skill. Wow. That was the effect Bergkamp had on the club and the fans – he brought some much-needed stardust to a team that had grown tired. He was a world class player who was signed in his prime for a huge fee and his arrival took Arsenal off in a different direction. We didn’t know it at the time, but Bergkamp’s arrival was to herald a new era in which the football Arsenal had been synonymous with for years (sometimes a little unfairly) was swept away by a more technical, stylish approach. We’re still playing that way today, and while Bergkamp can’t take all the credit, he has written himself – effortlessly, of course – into Arsenal folklore.”

The word legend is bandied around fairly carelessly these days, but Bergkamp is a bona fide, card-carrying legend.

World class brilliance.

Twenty years!

Come back, Dennis!

(By train, obviously.)