Jack and Theo have earned their chance

So here we are in the midst of another interlull, just when we didn’t need it.

I say ‘just when we didn’t need it’, but I’m pretty sure I say that every time one rears its ugly head. And who knows – after shipping four goals on Saturday, maybe a week away blasting the cobwebs away with international football is precisely what is required.

Don’t confuse this for a dislike of my national team – far from it. When push comes to shove I am a fervent England fan. I just see how they play (for the most part), and I see how Arsenal play (for the most part), and I know what I prefer.

For some years, it’s also been a case of there being little Arsenal interest too. Under George Graham we had an overflow of England players. Under Wenger, once the old guard left, it was the opposite. But Arsenal – and Wenger of course – can rightly be proud that once again we are contributing to the national side.

This squad has Walcott and Wilshere in it, but Gibbs is another recently capped England international, and there are a few others – Lansbury being one – who may yet also make the grade.

Both Walcott and Wilshere have good reason to be desperate to play in this one. Walcott was ditched for the World Cup finals (a blessing for us, ditto Nasri though they no doubt were devastated), so he will be keen to show Capello the error of his ways. He doesn’t need to convince me. Despite having the typical winger trait of drifting in and out of games, he has improved immeasurably this season and has scored eleven goals despite having a stretch out crocked (’twas ever thus).

Wilshere is the real story though. An ever-present for Arsenal this season, he possesses skills that cannot be taught, a determination that cannot be bottled (though a swig of that, if it could be, would have gone down a treat on about 50 minutes at St James’ Park) and a vision sadly lacking in many English youngsters. He’s the real McWilshere.

He is also the ultimate vindication of Wenger’s ITAGETWPROTP policy (‘If they are good enough, they will play regardless of their passport’). He’s an England fixture now and he deserves it. Let’s hope he can be the midfield fulcrum.

Naturally, we want them all back in one piece, but at the same time I can’t wait to see them pit their wits against Denmark, just as I look forward to Bendtner doing the same.

An Arsenal-heavy interlull delays my derby nerves

Before we can all properly address the tightening stomach muscles associated with Saturday’s derby showdown, we have for once got an interlull containing no little Arsenal interest to contend with this evening.

Not only has that serial ignorer and arch hater of English talent, Arsene Wenger, gone and quietly provided England with three players – Gibbs, Walcott and Wilshere, the latter since withdrawn through injury – but the opposition is France and one thing we haven’t got at the club is a deficiency of Frenchmen. The French national side even trained at London Colney, and as far as I can ascertain, they didn’t go on strike or have a strop.

I’m not quite sure how many of our French boys will start tonight but I’ll pop a guess that we’ll see all three of Clichy, Nasri and Sagna begin the game.

Looking forward to it as I am, it also has a rather combustible air to it and with five Arsenal players on the same pitch, the miserable sod in me has started panicking about injuries. We are told that Gibbs will start, which is fantastic news. To be honest, in his case it is a much needed game. He’s had a miserable run of injuries since having his foot broken almost exactly a year ago. By my money playing for England tonight will be his third comeback from injury this season, so of all our players on view tonight, he is the one for whom I will be clutching the lucky rabbit’s foot.

Across London, Chelsea appear to have been Arsenalled somewhat, with their first-choice centre-half pairing both now crocked long-term. Seemingly untouchable this season, Chelsea have in recent weeks wobbled somewhat and Arsenal’s two excellent consecutive away wins mean we have capitalised on it. However, we have had a dismal run of injuries at Arsenal for several seasons now, so you won’t catch me ner-nerring in the general direction of Fulham Broadway. Although many of our walking wounded are back in action, we’re still missing our best centre-half.

Koscielny has had a steep learning curve since he joined, and on current form you’d have to say our first-choice centre-back pairing is Djourou and Squillaci. The lofty Swiss had in recent games found his football boots after an absurdly long absence and is being talked of as another Arsenal renaissance man.

If talk in August had been of potential renaissances, who’d have put their money on Fabianski and Djourou?

For what it’s worth I reserve judgement – principally because he’s only been back a few games and he seems to be clad in various bandages every time he steps out onto the pitch.

As an appendix, my players of the season so far are Nasri (up a massive notch), Fabianski (purely for rising from the ashes), Chamakh (better than Bendtner) and Wilshere (staggering talent coming of age).

Right, I shall enjoy tonight. Tomorrow I might get in there early and endulge myself with a few pre-derby nerves.

Few links here I couldn’t be bothered to shoe-horn in:

Blanc’s new French revolution
Ashley Young to Arsenal [believe that when I see it]
Manu Petit on football life in London [in French]

Signing “quite soon”, but first it’s You Know What.

Good morning from a sultry London. At least, I expect it to be sultry later on, or I want my money back. The shorts are on, perfectly complementing the hairy white legs, and I even got the electric fan out the loft last night it was so warm. That’s as big a meteorological death wish as you’ll ever see – it will be grey and dull within days.

According to Arsenal.com, ‘Fabregas [is] through to the next round’, which will fill the 23 men of Portugal with hope. I know he’s good and his beard is skill, but even he can’t do it alone, can he?

I tell you what though, he’s had as restful a World Cup as you could hope for as an Arsenal fan, playing a whole hour in total, which just about says it all about the strength of the Spanish squad. If they don’t go all the way to the business end of this competition it won’t be for the lack of options. If Fabregas was English he’d be our best player (burned out, missing passes, moaning about being bored).

Talking of which, I was interested to read that the English players were ‘bored’ in their swanky hotel. Apparently there’s nothing to do when they’re not training. What are they – twelve years old?

For those of an English hue, we’ve got the chop-slobbering prospect of another England v Germany humdinger tomorrow. Contrary to what you might think, our competitive record against Germany (penalties apart) is about 50:50. The two penalty defeats though, at the World Cup in 1990 and at Euro ’96, are the ones that most of us remember for obvious reasons.

Back in 1990 (peering through the sands of time) I was loafing about in Australia and found myself watching the semi-final at 3am in a small Queensland town, the name of which, like most things from 1990, I have long forgotten. Bizarrely, we had progressed through the tournament flattering to deceive (ring any bells?) but when it came to the semi-final we played out of our skin only to lose. The memory of Chris Waddle’s 45-degree penalty is etched in my mind, as are the hideous mullets on both sides (Waddle and Voller: guilty as charged).

Strangely though, come the semi-final Chris Waddle had dragged himself into the new decade by having his mullet cut off. Was it is his Samson moment (not Kenny Sansom before you ask – the biblical one)? Would England have won the World Cup had Waddle not dismulleted? Now there’s a thought.

Breaks my heart seeing that defeat even now.

By the second of those defeats, at Euro ’96, I was living in London, and when Southgate Waddled his penalty, I remember striking up a fat cigar in a pub on West End Lane, watching a few extremely frustrated and well-lubricated England fans ‘let a bit of steam off’ in the road.

So no, I don’t have any great recollections of playing Germany in the matches that matter, because by and large, in the matches that matter in my lifetime, we have lost to them.

Sorry this has been mostly about England – we’re promised a signing “quite soon” by the boss, and that could well be Koscielny – but there’s nothing concrete yet and I’m done with speculation.

Righto, enjoy your weekend.

World Cup thoughts: Stunts and psychology

I love the World Cup, and contrary to the experiences of some, I’ve loved this one just as much as any other. Who can argue with three live games of football a day?

Sure, the ball is an aberration but what do you expect from a tournament that is at least in part about Fifa’s bottom line? There’s no need for a new World Cup ball but we have one so that someone, somewhere, can make themselves a bit of money.

I understand that the commercial deals struck before the tournament are key to financing it, (in fact, Fifa are expected to make themselves a tidy $1bn profit from it), but the zeal with which they enforce the rules has been way over the top, as usual.

Prosecuting two Dutch women for organising this harmless stunt is ludicrous, and has in fact done far more than the stunt itself to promote the Dutch beer company that organised it. Talk about a ham-fisted reaction.

Maybe if Arsenal scheduled something along these lines to happen 60 seconds before the end of a dull league game – for example “Spot Perry Groves in a wig and win £100”, we’d have fewer empty seats at the final whistle.

Anyway, small digression there. As I was saying, I’ve enjoyed watching wall-to-wall football, even if England appear to have imploded under the pressure. I have always found the psychology behind the game incredibly interesting, even if I don’t fully understand it.

It’s mystifying to the public how very competent footballers can wilt so badly, but we always underestimate how much matters of the mind can affect football.

A great example is, of course, the majestic 49-match unbeaten Invincibles. With every unbeaten game that passed, they would have considered themselves harder and harder to beat. It helped that they were all exceptional footballers of course, but confidence plays a huge part in performance. That’s why, when they were eventually beaten at Old Trafford, there was an inevitable decline. You could say things have never been the same since, though that is perhaps over-egging things slightly.

The truth though is that winning breeds winning, and confidence breeds confidence, and that a team in the middle of a good patch where both things are in evidence will play much better than it ordinarily would. England thrashed Croatia 5-1 in September last year, and looked the part. Since then they have declined and that’s where we are now. The pressure that accompanies playing for England has exacerbated that.

Of course, it doesn’t really explain how other teams have managed to throw off the shackles and get cracking in their second games – but to me there’s no other explanation. For good footballers to turn in a display that bad, there has to be a collective case of the heebie-geebies.

I hope they can find the solution by Wednesday but like the players themselves, my confidence has drained out of me and my glass is now half empty.

It might be time to change the tune of the England vuvuzelas to this:


(To be fair, the above clip won’t mean much unless you grew up on a diet of crap British telly in the 1980s)

Hibernation over

Well here we all are again, a little dustier and a trifle older, but here we all are nevertheless.

I did try to get excited about the internationals. But I couldn’t. I missed the Ukraine game entirely, and though I did watch the Belarus game, it was so inconsequential that I lost interest faster than I do when I periodically attempt doing some DIY. From an Arsenal perspective, England taught us naught: Walcott still has a fair chance of making it, but for Gibbs and Wilshere it’s a non-starter.

We did learn that Eduardo has the summer off – maybe he can go caravanning with Aaron Ramsey. And of course, Almunia might fancy tagging along, assuming his chest infection has mended by then.

Onto the Arsenal, at last. We’ve got Brum on Saturday, and although their new owner has promised £20-40m for the transfer window, Chinese riches will do them no good until January and we’ll rightly be viewing it as three points that should be ours.

Talking of foreign ownership, I now make it just nine of the 20 English Premier League clubs under English ownership – a seismic change, the effects of which we probably cannot yet foresee. Better run in some cases, more commercial in most, but who’s to say it’s all for the best? I have my doubts that all of the owners are as benign as they’d have us think. And where are all the English investors?

Arsenal are in a strange place in that, while majority-owned by foreign investors, the old Arsenal boardroom still has a lot of power. But as we’ve seen over the last year, with Kroenke and Usmanov both increasing their shareholdings substantially (the former adding to his stock only today), it’s only a matter of time before something will give. It’s been, by comparison to some takeovers, something of a slow burner. But it’s happening.

Onto this weekend, and we’ve got the usual clutch of injuries – with perhaps the most significant absentee being Almunia, still just 50:50 for Saturday. That was some chest infection.

I know he’s made some errors this season and that, in general, he’s a bit of a wobbler, but I’d not put Mannone ahead of Almunia. Sure, Mannone’s done well, but Almunia’s experience will always win it for me. Now, whether he’s our long-term keeper is another argument entirely…

More from Wenger tomorrow – and I’m told by the folks at Arsenal.com that “Friday night is back” too. This is all good, I suspect. Having said that, I never knew it had gone, seeing that I didn’t have a Setanta subscription, but there you go. Trailer below, if you’re interested.

Time slows down to a crawl

I feel like I should really log in here for an update of some description – but there’s not a whole lot to bat on about, as you are about to find out. All talk is of England’s match tomorrow and as a result, the Arsenal blogs and Twitterers are all pretty quiet.

And as for England – well as it’s against Croatia, and it’s a qualifier, it should be worth watching, but with no Arsenal involvement I always find it a bit tougher to get myself into a lather about. Walcott, who came of age with that memorable hat-trick in the first fixture in Zagreb, will be hopeful of a berth in the final 23 next summer, but realistically – unless we swoop for a current England international in January – he will be the only one. Barring improbably miraculous break-through seasons, this World Cup will come too soon for our younger emerging English talent, ie Gibbs and Wilshere.

You’d think Walcott’s place is a done deal, and given his pace, his promise and his general improvement, he might too. But nothing is guaranteed there either. I don’t remember him setting the summer friendlies alight, nor was he a regular in Stuart Pearce’s U21 side, so he will be acutely aware he needs to perform this season to be sure of a place on the plane. It’s a big year for him for Arsenal too, and it’ll be good to have him back – ideally on Saturday.

The lack of Arsenal involvement is a relatively new phenomenon. We had a hatful of England internationals in the late 80s and early 90s (Seaman, Adams, Bould, Dixon, Winterburn, Thomas, Rocastle, Smith, Wright, Merson off the top of my head all played for England – though amazingly, Paul Davis never did), and three Arsenal players in each of the last three World Cup finals going back to 1990, when there were none.

So what am I saying? Simply that there’s nothing to talk about until Saturday. Reading the above, that much is clear.

For further proof, look no further than the club’s official mouthpiece, where the top story is van Persie talking about his favourite childhood book. It’s all for charity – so good work and all that – but it’s not enough to write a blog about. I suppose I could mention Merida rejecting a loan deal, Watt wanting a Carling Cup place or Hoyte becoming a man at Watford. But really, I’m not going to. Give me the real stuff.

Trouble is, until Wenger speaks on Thursday, we won’t know the rate of attrition among our returning international players, or who will be returning from injury on Saturday. Logging in every day to the Arsenal.com Injuries page is not going to make the blindest bit of difference.

Well, that rambled on a bit. Miraculous, really.