Braga against the goal machine

Grove

Arsenal 6-0 SC Braga

I am operating in the finite timeslot somewhere between getting home at midnight and going to work this morning: I have no time to lose.

Easy though it would have been to delay a reaction to last night’s pounding, I just couldn’t let it pass that long. It was a marvellous performance.

And it was a proper 90-minute pounding too. With the game to all intents and purposes over at half time, it could have turned into an exercise in saving energy and avoiding injury, but Arsenal were having none of that; they kept harrying and hounding to the final whistle.

All the goals were memorable in some way or other, but the way Chamakh took Wilshere’s cheeky back-heel was probably the pick of the bunch.

It’s worth expanding on those two players a little (see also this good piece on them in today’s Telegraph).

One is new and the other – in team terms – as good as new, but they offer increasing weight to the argument that Arsenal’s squad is better balanced and stronger this season than it was last.

Chamakh is a revelation. A willing front man who can toil away happily, holding the ball and distributing it, but who has a real eye for goal, I would wager that Bendtner is now sweating a bit. Why on earth did Wenger scrimp on the £7m by waiting this long to sign him? He could have made a real difference in the back end of last season.

As for Wilshere – well before the season started, there was some talk of another loan spell. Thank god that never came to pass, eh? Seeing him dovetail with Fabregas was watching two men on the same wavelength. For an 18-year-old with limited exposure to first team football, I thought he was incredibly assured.

And Fabregas – what can you say about him? I’ll leave it to Wenger:

“He has taken on another dimension. People forget that he is 23 years old, [an age] where other people start. He is a fantastic influence and it is important that he leads this team to winning and I believe it is a fantastic opportunity for the young players who play alongside him to improve as well. If you are 18 years old like Wilshere and you see Fabregas who is 23, it is a big opportunity to learn a lot.”

He could have had a hat-trick and certainly had a hat-trick of assists (if you can count his pass to Chamakh for the penalty – an assist to his own goal).

Kudos too to Jollygood, who by mid-September has already scored one more goal than he did throughout the whole of the 2009-10 season. What an option off the bench he could be if he keeps this up.

Overall, there are no holes to pick. We defended well and we were lethal going forward. Sure, sterner tests await – but right now we are looking balanced, hungry and it’s an absolute joy to watch.

Chamakh do and mend

The briefest of updates this morning ahead of my first trip to the Grove this season. A combination of being away for the Blackpool game (good job I didn’t miss many goals) and the shoe-horning of two internationals into the early part of the season means here were are, a month into the season, and I’ve gone all belatedly giddy.

I found myself comforted by the Guardian’s squad sheet.

Despite the early-season injury skittles – Bendtner, van Persie, Vermaelen and Walcott are all missing, as we know – there’s enough quality and depth in the squad to give us a very decent first XI indeed.

Perhaps I’m slightly jumping the gun here, seeing that Squillaci has never played in England. But I’m looking forward to seeing him make his debut. Wearing the number 18 shirt, he does at least not have the pressure of a huge pair of boots to fill.

Although Gilles Grimandi might disagree.

The main worry is the fact that Chamakh is our only fit and trusted front-line striker at the moment, and for the next month at least. Lose him and we are looking to Carlos ‘Chip It’ Vela or heading back into Arshavin territory (not a great success ploughing his lone furrow, let’s be frank). Beyond that, we are relying on the youth of players like Emmanuel-Thomas.

So please, Marouane – no injury.

But hey – must stop worrying about hypothetical scenarios. The reality of the day is: I’m off to see the Arsenal and I can’t wait.

More goals from Arsenal’s wings required

Scattering my eyes across the Sundays and the general theme hasn’t changed much: there’s the rustle of keeper talk and a persisting link to Everton’s Phil Jagielka. The latter story has been lingering long enough that the fee is now being quoted at a very un-Arsenal-like £15m. At that price, I can’t see us getting involved.

As for the keeper talk, well it appears to be a case of ABA – Anyone But Almunia. Akinfeev? Stekelenburg? James? You can never second-guess Wenger but I think we might still shop within the Premier League, on the basis that we cannot afford a costly bedding-in process. On that basis, do all roads still lead to Schwarzer?

As for our attacking options, it was noteworthy that Wenger said we wouldn’t be replacing the departed Eduardo. If this is true, then we will essentially have three central strikers (van Persie, Bendtner, Chamakh) and a substantial array of wide or deep attack-minded players to back them up (Arshavin, Rosicky, Nasri, Walcott, Vela, Wilshere).

I can see why he thinks that might be enough, especially allied to the goalscoring prowess of Fabregas. But if that is to be our lot, it’s worth returning to a theme I picked up at the tail end of last season – the need for more goals from those wide men.

We all know that van Persie has a good 20 goals in him, and Bendtner at least 15, but Chamakh, at least until we can judge him, remains an unknown quantity. Given the injury records of the first two of those, we need more from elsewhere.

Arshavin is exempt from the criticism about to come. With 12 goals scored despite playing up front on his own at times last season, we know he can pack a goal or two.

But look at the record of the others: Rosicky, Nasri, Walcott and Vela scored just 14 goals between them, of which only nine came in the league.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect better contributions from all four of those. For the two younger players, Walcott and Vela, they at the right age and cannot now hide behind the excuse of youth. They will also have Wilshere breathing down their necks (and both Diaby and Eboue can play wide too).

Nasri – ditto Walcott – should be hungry following their World Cup snubs and Rosicky will be fighting for his future.

To them all I say: More goals, chaps.

A spoonful of hope on a cereal of improbability

Good morning to you all on a cloudless, plane-free and gorgeous spring London morning. Having no aircraft humming overhead or vapour trails criss-crossing the skies has been as peculiar as it has been welcome. It would have been even nicer yesterday had someone on my road not chosen the enforced tranquillity to fire up a tree-mulching machine – all day. It sounded like a giant having an electric shave.

Yesterday, I was giving some thought to which young players Wenger could feasibly slot in between now and the end of the season, out of necessity or opportunity, given that we are no longer challenging for first.

Then along came yesterday’s string of results, and however unlikely it may still feel, a win at Wigan today would put us three points behind the leaders with three games to go. Hope, however much you try and banish it to the attic, keeps peering his head round the banisters and gurning at you.

Goodplaya – who has been something of a lone voice of optimistic lunacy on Twitter – said yesterday morning, “Am I the only one thinking that if Spurs beat Chels we can draw level before they play again? Unlikely, but wd we feel safe in their shoes?” How right he suddenly is.

How might the Spuds’ result have changed Wenger’s plans? We’ll see today. On Twitter yesterday, there was a groundswell of opinion in favour of giving Eastmond (one league start, two sub appearances) a game in the middle of the park. With Denilson a major doubt – and hardly in the form of his career anyway – I’d take that gamble. I’d also play van Persie from the start, as with a back line of Campbell and Silvestre for the remainder of the season (injuries allowing – ha), attack is going to be our best form of defence.

Some other interesting stuff slewed out of the official website late last night. Wenger in recent days – since the Spuds win in particular – has been on something of a warpath and yesterday not only was he bullish about our chances of matching Chelsea from a financial point of view:

“I think we can overcome [Chelsea]. For a while we were not investing maybe because we had built the stadium but I think our financial situation is now becoming much stronger and we will be capable to buy the players we need to buy.”

But also he talked about transfers:

“We will announce the deals after the league [finishes]. He [Chamakh] is one of the players who has a good chance to join us.”

So good news there – the Chamakh deal sounds close and tantalisingly, he talked about ‘deals’ in plural and of money being available. Now excuse me for clutching at straws, but that’s just what I wanted to hear so clutch at straws I will.

Onto today, and here we go again. I’ve asked Goodplaya for some of his mind-warping optimism-inducing pills and we can take it from there.

Cor blimey, striker light

A very belated hello to the week from me. We’re midwayish between the Hull and Villa games, a hopeless time for blogging as we’re too far past the former and not near enough the latter.

What we are also is a mere eight days away from is the opening of the transfer window. The cynical amongst us – so that’s me then – will therefore conclude that we are exactly 39 days and an awful lot of hot fax paper away from any potential signing actually putting pen to paper.

I do however suspect we’re all in agreement that we need a new striker. Hell, even Wenger says so, though of course he couches any excitement with the usual Wengerish nonchalance.

We’re so much in need of a new striker that the notion of losing Alex Song to the African Nations Cup – the same Alex Song who couldn’t put his left foot past his right one for so many years but is now indispensable – seems to have been swept somewhat under the carpet.

But with van Persie effectively in the garage for essential repairs until the World Cup, Eduardo’s stuttering form, and Walcott and Vela’s continuing growing pains, it leaves us with Bendtner (hardly the finished article himself) and Arshavin (who’s not really a striker anyway).

The question is though, who? Gunnerblog asks the question, more to fire up the debate than anything else I suspect, ‘Should we sign Louis Saha’. To me this neatly sums up the kind of problem Wenger might have in January – simply that there aren’t a lot of top strikers available. It’s probably why the names Chamakh and Dzeko keep on being repeated. And repeated. And repeated.

As for David Villa – wishful thinking I’m afraid. He’d cost upwards of £30m, which in Wenger currency is three Wiltords. If Arshavin cost one-and-a-bit Wiltords, I find it hard to envisage Wenger withdrawing three from the Bank of Sylvania to spend on one player.

I wonder also what effect the impending World Cup might have on player recruitment. On the one hand, you might get some players, on the cusps of their national teams, who are itching for a move to enhance their prospects. On the other are the clubs unwilling to sell now, in the hope that the World Cup is the biggest shop window of them all.

So it might just be an interesting January. Our league record since van Persie’s injury is not that bad – W3, D1, L2 – with eight goals scored in six games, but nor is good enough to write home to your mother about.

“Dear Mum,
In this age of email, Twitter and Facebook, you might have noticed that when it comes to writing home, I’m a bit remiss. However, I was so struck by our form since Robin van Persie got injured that I became compelled to dust down my Parker and pen you this missive. Can we score enough to keep up a head of steam? Will Eduardo emerge from the doldrums? Can Walcott pick up a decent lick of form?
Look forward to your reply,
Yours,
Son”

So anyway, at this point I digress.

If I don’t blog again before Christmas – and the chances are remote – then all that remains is for me to wish you all a fabulous break. Thanks for reading, for all your comments, for dribbling away on Twitter with me and for being gooners of the highest calibre.

Happy Christmas, a prosperous new year and a trophy in the cabinet.

The long and winding post

Morning all, and a long overdue ‘morning all’ it is.

I’ve barely been able to get on the pooter recently, I don’t know what’s going on.

I did snatch parts of the Emirates Cup over the weekend – all the parts except the goals. I sat through the first 75, goalless minutes of the Atletico game before being called away to feed the animals, then managed to miss the first 20 minutes of the Rangers game. I did however see Wilshere’s second goal, so that’s not bad – 75% of the matches viewed, 20% of the goals caught.

Concisely if a little simplistically, I took the following from the weekend’s action: a) Rosicky’s return adds a whole new attacking dimension b) Wilshere is the most exciting Arsenal youth product for a long, long time, c) our defence is still patchy and d) we have too many left-backs but still not enough quality in central midfield.

All of which there is time to fix, this being pre-season and all that. But overall, I would say I was heartened, particularly by our added width and some of our attacking play.

It’s been covered elsewhere, but it was also interesting to see how 4-3-3 has become flavour of the day. It certainly sets our stall out as an attacking beast, but the crunch will be whether it works against the chunkier and less dainty sides. Perhaps we’ll just revert to 4-4-2 in those scenarios?

Now, transfers. With one or two exceptions, it’s been a quietish summer, but you do get a sense that the market is going to explode into life at some point soon. From Arsenal’s perspective, we know this because Arsene has told us he wants all his business done by the time the season starts, and that he wants one or two players to come in. Whether we believe Wenger on this is quite another matter, but that is what he has intimated.

In the revolving door, waving goodbye, is Philippe Senderos. It’s not been confirmed, but strong rumours suggest he is Everton-bound. Eboue’s departure, at one point seemingly a certainty, is less clear now. Beyond those two possible departures, I can’t see anyone else leaving at all. And with Eboue, he is our only reasonable back-up for Sagna, so if he was to go, we’d need cover there anyway. We have sold wisely (if that is possible), but we cannot decimate our squad any further, with the possible exception of letting a left-back out on loan.

Incoming, the whole of the Arsenal-supporting world is eager for an experienced central midfielder (I’m really so tired of typing those three words), but thus far, apart from Vieira and Wenger fluttering their eyelids at one another, we’ve had no indication of anyone being looked at since Melo said no thanks.

And then there’s central defence: at one point we had seven central defenders (if you include Song – and he’s down here as a defender), but now that Toure has gone, and Senderos could well be next, we’re down to five. Is that enough? Do we possess enough quality there if Gallas and Vermaelen get broken?

So bearing all this in mind, why am I surprised that, along with Chamakh, we’re now linked with Kalou?

I would argue our priorities lie elsewhere, but I’m not the Arsenal manager, and we all know how Wenger loves to throw a googly.

And finally, I promised (as one or two other blogs have) to make the following known:

Arsenal are filming some scenes for a Theo Walcott ad at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday. Rather than just fill it up with extras, they want genuine Arsenal fans to come along.

It’s 9.30 till 4 (quite a long day), but Nike will give you lunch and a free Arsenal shirt of your choice (home or away). On top of that, of course, there’s the chance to feature in a Nike film about your team.

Anyone interested in attending should email their Name, age, contact details, preferred shirt and size, and ideally a picture to nike@knucklehead.co.uk

So tuck in if you fancy it – could be fun.

New man Friday?

Ready to pounce here, preparing to swoop there: there’s genuine hope that Arsenal’s summer business is beginning to be done.

Clearly, the most likely and immediate incomer is defender Thomas Vermaelen, due we are told for a medical tomorrow.

All he needs to prove to Tony Colbert is that he hasn’t got balsa legs and the deal should be done. His arrival – fingers crossed and all that – could precipitate a bit of movement in the other direction. I can’t see Senderos staying (the only player currently on my transfer ‘Ins’ – strictly speaking he counts as an addition to the squad), but nobody is clear if any of our central defenders, Djourou apart, will 100% be here next season so your guess is as good as mine.

Other linkees are Marouane Chamakh, Felipe Melo and Uncle Tom Cobley. I have no idea of the veracity of any of these, except for the latter, of course. Cobley is not a footballer.

And finally, Theo Walcott’s peculiar pre-pre-season continued tonight with a second half cameo for the England U21s that was full of promise. He’s been average one moment and excellent the next, and substituted twice at half time – once for the seniors and once for the U21s.

The bottom line for me here is that Walcott is a work in progress. It’s absolute lunacy (though sadly, absolutely predictable) for people to write Walcott off so early in his international career, as some have done. He’s 20 years old. He still has a lot to learn, but overall, in a year that included 4 months out, Walcott has made massive steps.

Nothing to add, really.