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Saturday, 30 September 2017

Tribute to a Gooner Legend

Frank Benn

This will probably be the hardest blog post to write that I've yet done. This morning we heard that our dear Frank Benn, legend of the Dover Gooners, has passed away. Some of you reading this will know Frank personally, others will have read about him before in these pages, and some will recognise his face from away games both here and in Europe over the last 20 years. For me personally I have had the pleasure of being in Frank's company on so many occasions, whether at Arsenal or elsewhere. He came to my wedding, knew my children, and is a genuine friend of our family. More than that he was a friend to so many others, a local legend known to hundreds. In terms of our travelling as a group of Dover people to watch Arsenal he is one of our originals.
Way back in the mid-90's Frank lost his wife. He was a regular in one of the local pubs, The Boars Head, where my brother and his mates used to drink. I think there was genuine worry for what might happen to Frank once he was on his own. At this point my brother Mick stepped in and got him to come along to Arsenal. Frank was a lifelong fan, but match going had been a thing of his younger years. It's said by some that Mick saved Frank by getting him back in to going to Arsenal. So it began that Benny started to follow The Arsenal over land and sea (and Leicester) until his health began to falter a few years ago. The fact that he was getting on in years didn't slow Frankie down in the drinking stakes and he would hold his own with most of us over the years, although he did become famous for falling over a lot once he was out of his tree. He followed Arsenal from Moscow to La Coruna and all points in between. In doing so he became well known and a popular friend to Gooners from all over the continent. The pre-season tours of Austria, where he'd go with my Dad and Mick, were where some of the most lasting friendships we have at Arsenal were made. Everyone there knew Frank, and everyone there liked Frank. 

Frank and his European friends from Austria, Germany, Italy and beyond

There was always fun to be had when Benny was about, often at his expense. He had his own song on the FA Cup Final trips down to Cardiff to the tune of the Sol Campbell song, something about being a "stupid old ****, who falls over drunk" and the stories are legend. There was the night he couldn't operate a turnstile in a petrol station shop to the point where Bill, one of our other Dover men, had to plead with him to stop because he was about to wet himself with the laughing. There was the night he was drunk as Mick and Tony played football on some forecourt somewhere and decided he was David Seaman, taking off at full length to save a ball that was about 15 yards away - Frank was in to his 70's at that stage! He informed everyone he had the address of their hotel should a taxi be required in Germany one night, not realising that the hotel he had the address of was from Belgium the night before. And then there was the day my Dad always loves to talk about when Frankie brought the travelling Gooner army to their feet in a German (at Schalke was it?) beer kellar; someone pointed out that a stein had gone untouched as they were leaving for something to eat, so Frankie lifted the 2 pint jug and downed it in one. I'm reliably informed that everyone in that pub cheered the old boy to the rafters. Frank was indeed a legend.
Being of the generation he was Frank was not politically correct. He would use words and phrases in the presence of certain people that would not be necessarily acceptable in this day and age, but Frank being Frank meant that nobody ever took offence. He was just Frank and everyone loved the old boy. He was with us in Copenhagen when we lost to Galatassaray, and in Paris when we lost to Barcelona. He went to the finals at Cardiff and Wembley and rarely missed a game that any of the others were going to. It didn't matter whether it was Selhurst Park or Ewood Park, just pick Frank up from his house and he was happy watching The Arsenal. He couldn't say "Keown" even when he was sober, but he loved Dennis Bergkamp. Who didn't? Looking back it's great that this old Arsenal man (who used to tell me about playing at Highbury in his youth) got to see the very best of the Wenger years and the success that we had.
The last time I got to speak to Frank was at the Dover Gooners dinner last year when we persuaded him to come along. He looked well at the time, especially considering how sick he had been in recent years. The dinner this year will now have a certain sadness attached as Frank was there when we had the first one in the upstairs room of another local pub back in 2003. Maybe going to football hasn't been quite the same since he stopped going, certainly him and Bill are missed by us all. The Christmas Eve lunchtime session has certainly missed his presence these past few years. Frank will always have a place in the hearts of the Dover Gooners -my Dad has known Frank all his life - and will always be a legend to his many friends, whether here in Dover, all over England, Norway, Austria, Germany or Italy. There will never be another Frank Benn. RIP old'un, I'll miss you.

All together in Paris

Monday, 18 September 2017

So they can do it after all

I last got around to writing something between the Stoke and Liverpool matches. Let's make no mistake here, the start to Arsenal's season has been a car crash on and off the pitch. The humiliation at Liverpool, who have been totally undone by everyone they've played since, was just a continuation of recent years against certain clubs. Wenger yesterday claimed it was down to the transfer window being open and the uncertainty caused by that. Utter nonsense. The fact there is that Wenger and Gazidis presided over yet another disaster of a transfer period and failed to deal with the buying and selling of players appropriately. To blame their incompetence off the pitch (while taking no responsibility himself) for the players performances on the pitch (while taking no responsibility himself) is symptomatic of the malaise which runs through Arsenal right now from top to bottom. No ambition, no plan, no leadership, no direction and, apparently, no money!!!
That's the negative stuff out of the way (I'm not going to go in to what happened at the stadium last Thursday as I wasn't there myself so nothing I have to say is really going to add to the debate) let's get on with the good stuff.
At the risk of stating the obvious we needed a good win at home to Bournemouth and we got it. I don't care that Bournemouth were rubbish, the players went out and won comprehensively. There was some decent football played and Lacazette scored a very fine goal, as did Welbeck with his second of the game. It doesn't mean forgiveness for what happened at Stoke and Liverpool, but you have to start somewhere. This was followed up with another very good win in the week against Cologne. Played against the backdrop of what was happening around the ground the players concentrated on the job in hand, after half-time at least, and again scored some superb goals. Even better was that Jack Wilshere was back in the squad and those present gave him the sort of cheer that Wenger hates as it tells him the fans love a particular player that he doesn't. Jack looked sharp from what I could see on TV so it was disappointing yesterday to see Elneny and Maitland-Niles named on the bench instead of him. I have a theory here that Wenger is going to make Wilshere's position at Arsenal so difficult that he has to ask for a move in January.
Yesterday was a game that I fully expected Arsenal to lose. In fact I expected us to concede at least four goals and be hammered yet again. What we got instead was 100% effort from everyone on the pitch, with no player really worthy of criticism - at least among those who started the match. Iwobi playing instead of the injured (really?) Ozil was a surprise but the youngster did everything asked of him on the day. For once the team was set up properly to play against a top class opponent and Arsenal should have won the game. My Dad pointed out this morning that we seem to be able to play well against Conte's Chelsea and so it proved again yesterday. Aaron Ramsey, by cutting out the flicks and tricks, and not just bombing forward aimlessly, was superb by keeping things simple. Along with Xhaka and Iwobi I thought we dominated the midfield for most of the game, with Kante, Fabregas, Pedro and Bakayoko pretty much anonymous on the day. I criticise Ramsey a lot on this site, and deservedly so, but I also give credit where it is due - yesterday Ramsey showed that when he plays properly and doesn't try to be Lionel Messi he is top class. On the theme of giving credit I have to say that Shkodran Mustafi had far and away his best game for Arsenal yesterday. It's a shame he got himself offside for the disallowed goal as he would have been a worth scorer of any winning goal yesterday. I thought he absolutely put Morata in his pocket throughout the match, to the point that Morata got frustrated enough to lose his head. If Mustafi can produce that kind of display on a consistent basis then I might begin to understand the money we paid for him. As I said above, the performance of the team was top class and as far as I'm concerned it was no coincidence that a certain German international (whose contract is running down completely under the radar compared to Alexis) wasn't involved.
This Arsenal team has a lot of catching up to do, and a lot of making up to do for the supporters. The game at Chelsea should stand as a spring-board to them for this season, showing that they can play well against other top teams. However, there have been enough false dawns in the past for me to get excited about it just yet. Let's see where we are after 10 games, or a few more away to the other big clubs, and then start to judge whether the penny has dropped. In the meantime I want to see the good run kept going with a handsome League Cup performance at home to Doncaster in midweek. Momentum is key if the season is to get on track properly.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

And another thing...

Okay, here comes a long winded rant about a number of things. Expect to disagree with plenty of what you might be about to read, and marvel at the massive contradictions I make with my own opinions throughout this piece.
The opening day win over Leicester should have done nothing to paper over some serious cracks. Lacazette got us, and himself, off to the most perfect start with his early goal. What followed almost immediately was everything that might have been expected by the close observer of Arsenal in recent years. The defending was non-existent and Leicester ripped through us time and again. Rob Holding looked all at sea without Mertesacker alongside him but the presence of two left-backs in the central defence was a joke. We got out of jail thanks to Giroud and Ramsey (who has been outstanding in the first two games) so to see Wenger do exactly the same thing again at Stoke was bizarre. He questioned the centre of the defence after the game, completely overlooking the fact that  HE was the one who took the decision to play a winger at right-back, a right-back at left-back (Bellerin actually had a very decent game at Stoke to be fair to him), two left-backs at centre-half and Mustafi - I'm really not sure what Mustafi is apart from woefully out of his depth. Meanwhile Per Mertesacker was sat on the bench, Rob Holding and Calum Chambers were left out completely, and Gabriel was sold the day before to Valencia. What does it say to the central defenders at the club that Wenger would rather play Monreal and Kolasinac in their position instead of their own? Kieran Gibbs is still an Arsenal player yet he is frozen out to the point that Wenger would rather start Bellerin on the wrong side of the pitch than allow Gibbs to earn the wages he's still being paid. This is crazy management even by Wenger's standards of the last 10 years.
I have to say that, in hindsight, we were unlucky to lose at Stoke. The decisions of the officials were worse than bizarre, but maybe it could be argued we were lucky to get the win the week before when Mike Dean missed Ozil's handball. Whatever hindsight might show us it doesn't erase the fact that Xhaka has been awful so far, Welbeck is great until he actually sees the goal in front of him, and Mesut Ozil might as well go and sit in the stand. 
I've seen people defending Ozil this week and, perhaps, it was unfair for him to be singled out against Stoke. The counter to that is that Arsenal paid £40m+ for Ozil and he fails to ever dominate a game of football. To see him consistently picking the ball up in deep areas on Saturday, only to lay a five yard pass off to Mustafi, and then wave his international colleague past him with the ball, is stupefying to say the very least. Genuinely World Class players would take a game like Saturday and dominate it, take players on, make things happen, create space and opportunities for the forwards ahead of them. Ozil does none of this. I don't care what anyone has to say that is positive about Ozil as the fact of the matter is that he is scared of being tackled, refuses to take responsibility, and his end product is not that of a superstar signing. I would shed no tears if he was sold but nobody wants to buy him! There is a reason for that and the Ozil fan-boys refuse to acknowledge it.
If Alexis Sanchez had played Saturday then I am sure we would have won the game or, at least, not been beaten. He would have created similar chances to those missed by Welbeck (and Lacazette) and would have stuck away at least one of them. But what do we do with Alexis given his contract situation? Arsene has made a bit of a rod for his own back by insisting he won't sell him. I understand precisely why Wenger is going down that road. At the same time I can't help thinking we'd be better off selling him, even to Man City, if the money involved was over £50m - this is a change in my opinion from a few weeks back.. You have to weigh it against bringing in a new player who does want to play for Arsenal against losing Sanchez for nothing next year. The only way to get close to making that situation have little impact is to win the Premier League and, let's be honest, that isn't going to happen all the time we can't defend or are relying on a geriatric goalkeeper whose best days are long behind him. If the only way Wenger can get Thomas Lemar is by selling Alexis then maybe it needs to be done. And get Jack Butland as well while you're at it.
I managed to watch a good bit of the under-23 game on Monday night and three things struck me. Firstly Reiss Nelson should be a proper part of the first-team squad now. Theo Walcott was very good  up to Christmas last season and benefited greatly from the space created by Cazorla for those in front of him. After Christmas he regressed and seems to have no obvious role in the new formation - maybe he is another who should be cashed in so that Nelson can take his place on the bench. Secondly Eddie Nketiah could easily be making first-team appearances this season in the League Cup and UEFA Cup - he is a stunning goalscorer at youth levels so maybe he needs his chance. Thirdly, and most importantly, Jack Wilshere must NOT be sold or loaned out, and should immediately be restored to the match-day squad at Anfield this weekend. His red card apparently doesn't mean a first-team suspension. I loved his reaction to getting kicked (for a third or fourth time in ten minutes) by taking no more s**t from some talentless Man City oiks who should have been doing their summer holidays homework. I keep reading that he will have his work cut out to displace Xhaka and Ramsey, while Elneny and Coquelin are also ahead of him. One word for that - b******s. Have these people ever actually seen Xhaka? Can they not see that Ramsey ought to actually play in Ozil's position where he can be most influential at the top end of the pitch? Our central midfield, from current resources, should be Jack playing alongside Coquelin every time. People keep telling me Xhaka has "potential" while completely overlooking the fact he has been here a year and cost over £30m! Potential? You don't pay that for potential. He isn't a top player, simple as that. Jack Wilshere most certainly is a top player and should be back in the Arsenal team at the earliest opportunity. Put Coquelin alongside him and you have a pair of terriers who will make tackles and, in Jack, a player who will beat a man to get us on the front foot and bringing the next opposition defender towards the play, creating space as Cazorla does. 
Some final thoughts on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. There is a new narrative being played out on social media, influenced by a prominent Arsenal blog and those who write for it, that Arsene Wenger is upsetting the balance of the team by finding a place for Ox. In the system we are playing Ox is better than Bellerin. It's the Spaniard who is being accommodated in the side by finding a place for him. I touched on this above with the fact that we have three international left-backs in the squad but Ox and Bellerin have played in that position in the first two games. The sticking point with Chamberlain is his contract situation. My view on him, in contrast to Sanchez, is that we should keep him for the season as we don't stand to make huge money on his transfer. Chamberlain has to understand he won't play centrally, at any top club, and should carve out a niche for himself at wing-back - his abilities are so suited to the role. 

Friday, 11 August 2017

Not quite a Premier League preview 2017-18

Unfortunately I don't have the time to get a proper Premier League preview piece written in the traditional way today. I'm off to the game tonight so tempus fugit and all that. Instead of a proper preview I've listed below where I roughly think everyone might finish this season:

1. Manchester City - after all that money anything else would be a failure
2. Arsenal - I live in hope...
3. Manchester United - need Lukaku to miss fewer sitters
4. Chelsea - Conte won't be there in May unless something changes, but Costa might be
5. Scouse "This is our year" XI - Klopp to go at end of season
6. Everton - big money spent
7. London "This is our year" XI - things are not good in the Wembley Wanderers camp
8. West Ham - must be better than last season at home
9. Southampton - I keep backing them to go down so a different one this year
10. Newcastle - under Benitez I'd be shocked if they went down again
11. Watford - safe again
12. Leicester - might also see a new manager again
13. Burnley - if they can do as well at home again, need to pick up away points this year
14. West Brom - Pulis just signed a new contract so expert a sleepy time watching them
15. Crystal Palace - a battle but safe, could do with a couple of signings to stay up
16. Bournemouth - might need to survive by the skin of their teeth
17. Swansea City - could easily swap places with any of the bottom three
18. Stoke Rugby Football Club - bye bye, not missed
19. Brighton - can't see them staying up
20. Huddersfield Town - would be a welcome miracle for Herbert's old boys to stay up

Monday, 7 August 2017

Chelsea get Arsenal's care in the Community...Shield

It's always enjoyable at Wembley when you win. Yesterday Arsenal did just that and we were able to leave with the smiles of winners, even if it is just a friendly with a slight prestige about it. Given the players Arsenal were missing, and then Mertesacker getting injured fairly early on, it was a decent result against the Champions. The game itself wasn't entirely dissimilar to the FA Cup Final some ten weeks ago. Arsenal were the better side for most of the game, albeit not creating quite as much as we did back in May. However, we had more than the balance of the play with more possession, more shots and more territory than Chelsea did. The BBC website ran a match report stating Chelsea took a deserved lead having dominated the game - I can only assume whichever cretin wrote that has been given their cards this morning.
For me there were three star performers for Arsenal on the day. Nacho Monreal was outstanding yet again at the back and this was even more impressive when you consider he had to take over from the BFG in the centre when he took Cahill's elbow just above the eye. Monreal has really developed in to one of the very best players in the Arsenal team over the last couple of seasons and his consistency has been largely outstanding. Sead Kolasinac came on for Mertesacker and was put on to the left of the back three. He went on, in my view, to produce one of the most impressive debuts for Arsenal in recent years. You can't have failed to notice he is a bit of a "unit" and he certainly makes best use of his frame. The Bosnian looks strong and powerful but also showed no small amount of pace yesterday. To cap it off by attacking the aerial ball and scoring a deserved equaliser topped off a very good day for him. In front of them I was surprised to see Xhaka get the official man of the match award, especially as he was badly at fault in the build-up to Chelsea's goal - of course he provided the excellent free-kick for Kolasinac's goal. For me the best player on the pitch yesterday, and this will surprise many reading it, was Mohamed Elneny who surely produced his finest display in an Arsenal shirt. The Egyptian was everywhere and made tackles, won the ball, used it well and nearly scored too. With Xhaka being disciplined in his positional play at the base of the midfield Elneny's marauding play ahead of him, while keeping things simple with the ball, allowed Arsenal to pretty much dominate that area of the pitch.
My notable disappointments from yesterday were Bellerin, who seems to be going backwards right now, and Rob Holding who looked out of his depth for the first time. I thought he was really poor and tried to be far too clever with the ball at times. He also won little in the air at times yesterday and, for me, wouldn't get a start on Friday if Mertesacker is fit to play against Leicester.
Our new centre-forward was also in action and he hit the post at the end of a fine move he was heavily involved in but apart from that was rarely seen. With no Ozil or Alexis it was difficult to see how Arsenal would provide him the kind of chances he looks like he will need to score goals. Worryingly I don't see a player with express pace - there was one ball played into the channel for him in the second-half where David Luiz gave him a two yard start and then ran past Lacazette to take the ball. I hope he can hit the ground running when we get the Premier League started on Friday night.
In the main talking points from the game I thought, at the time, it was a dive from Willian while the slowed down TV pictures show Bellerin accidentally brush his leg with a knee - not a penalty but probably not a dive. Then there was the elbow on Mertesacker. Did Cahill deliberately do it? No. Did he lead with a swinging elbow? Yes. Is that dangerous and a red card? Yes. He did it again when he beat Xhaka to the header that set up their goal. Something to keep a watch over as the season gets going. And then the red card. Pedro knew exactly what he'd done and laid down pretending to be hurt as a result. Credit to the referee for taking no notice and making the right decision. 
So a trophy to start the season and a good day out for my family at Wembley yet again. I never tire of going there and there is nowhere better to win. Two trophies this year at the home of Tottenham - the gift that keeps on giving. 
It's not a bad way to get the season started. I am, however, concerned at the way certain non-playing members of the squad were, in Arsene Wenger's words, invited "to be part of it" while others weren't. Arsene says he has 33 players and that is too many. I probably agree but he is forcing out the wrong 6 or 7 and retaining some youngsters who, with the apparent exception of Reiss Nelson, are nowhere near good enough to play for Arsenal, at least not yet. Jack Wilshere should not be sitting at home watching when others are taken with the squad even though they're not fit to play. Jack isn't the only one and it must be driving a wedge between members of the team. It's not healthy and I believe we will end up regretting the way Wenger is treating the likes of Jack, Gibbs, Debuchy, Jenkinson, Lucas Perez etc.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Members Day - the difference in attitudes of players

I went to Members Day at the stadium yesterday with my wife and two boys. Overall it was an enjoyable day out for everyone, but not without faults. Given that Arsenal have been holding the event off and on at Emirates for the last 11 years (and a couple at Highbury before that if I remember right) you would think they'd have things right by now. The biggest annoyance on the day? The FA Cup was behind Block 7 in the North Bank for photos - these were being done for free, so an excellent initiative from the club. Of course the queues were long so it was a case of watch the training session or get a photo with the FA Cup for those of us who live far enough away that arriving at 1030 was out of the question. No matter, a steward told us we had until 1245. At 1225 I went to Block 7 (I was actually sitting just there in the stand) to find young children being turned away by one of Arsenal's many jobsworth employees as the queue they had was going to take them past 1245 and "I've got to get the Cup upstairs." I saw later on the official Facebook site that the FA Cup made its may to the "adults" Q&A player session in the hands of Aaron Ramsey. Now given that Members Day is essentially a family event I have to question why the FA Cup was taken away from the kids like that. Frankly it should have sat where it was until every child/family that wanted to had had their photo taken with it. Not just that, but the arrogance and attitude of the senior steward was unnecessary. 
The training session itself was, I am sure, slightly more relaxed than a normal day at Shenley. The players did a light warm-up, and a few passing drills, followed by a series of small sided games across, and then in one half, of the pitch. This meant we all got to see some action rather than just the players actually being coached. Ozil, Jenkinson, Chambers and Gabriel were working only with the fitness coach while Debuchy joined in the main group until it was time to play the "matches" at which point he appeared to be not allowed to be part of things. He cut a forlorn site standing next to one of the goals and watching on. Given Debuchy's quality as a footballer, and a man who has done well for the most part when playing for us, I found that hard to watch. Why ostracise a bloke who can genuinely do a job for us at either right-back or centre-back? Francis Coquelin was missing completely from training having got hurt on Saturday against Benfica, though I was also told later by a member of the staff that he wasn't at the training ground the day before either. Aaron Ramsey didn't train but, as I mentioned above, was actually at the stadium.
The open day, on the pitch at least, ended with the quite brilliant prize for 20+ Junior Gunners of playing against the 1st team on the Emirates pitch. The youngsters were given a day out at Highbury, arrived on the 1st team coach, used the away dressing-room, and also were given a full PUMA Arsenal away kit and trainers etc. It has to be the prize to end all prizes.
After all that we went to the Junior Gunners Q&A in one of the Club Level lounges. At that event we were joined by Theo Walcott, Shkodran Mustafi, Sead Kolasinac, Calum Chambers, Olivier Giroud, Gabriel, Jack Wilshere and Alexis Sanchez. The adults, well me at least, were as excited as the youngsters when the players came in to the room. My eldest won the chance to go on to the stage and play a small game with Calum Chambers which was great for him. There were some questions asked to the different players, none of which would be described as probing given that they came from the children. Walcott, Mustafi, Chambers and Wilshere were excellent, Kolasinac seemed a bit lost as he told us his English isn't great yet so Mustafi was translating everything in German for him, while Giroud, Sanchez and Gabriel acted like naughty schoolboys on the far end of the stage clearly not that interested in being there. Annoyingly when the event came to an end the players were rushed out of the room to stop the kids getting photos and autographs with them. This winds me up intensely for a number of reasons. Theo, Calum and Jack all seemed keen to stay and sign for everyone but they were virtually manhandled out by the Arsenal staff. Theo Walcott seemed genuinley embarrassed by the whole thing and I guess that tells you what a decent lad he really is. Quite why the young fans couldn't get the moment with their heroes I really can't fathom. When put in context with the fan events in China and Australia a couple of weeks back, and the access those fans got to the players, you have to wonder why it's only those of us who live here that seem to miss out at our fan events.

So now we move on to Sunday and the Charity Shield at Wembley. It's a strange kind of hybrid of a fixture, somewhere between a pre-season friendly and a competitive game. I read yesterday that Laurent Koscielny is free to play on Sunday but banned now from the first two Premier League games instead. I guess that means the FA are saying Sunday is a nothing game. Perhaps we can tell Sky that too and go back to not needing a penalty shootout if the game ends in a draw. Having been thrashed by Chelsea in China it will be a test for Arsenal and I think we will see something approaching a first-team at least at the start of the game. I will try and do a post following the game, depending on how time treats me on Sunday or Monday night.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Don't think we've got a problem?

I went to the game yesterday and got my first look at this new Arsenal squad in the flesh. I had enjoyed the game on the Saturday with some very decent attacking play on show against Benfica, but the defending had been largely woeful. Having seen some good football, however, I was really excited and looking forward to the Sevilla game. I took the family and we sat in Club Level as has become our tradition for the Emirates Cup.
What followed on the pitch was a familiarly frustrating sight of pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, give the ball away. I counted up two genuine shots on target in the whole game from Arsenal. There were a couple of efforts wide, or over the bar, but mostly it was the usual boring passing the ball to death while going nowhere. At the other end Sevilla passed the ball with a purpose, by which I mean their passing was intended to result in an effort at goal rather than making pretty patterns across the pitch. At the same time as this they showed that the "defence" employed by Arsenal yesterday was also totally inept with the notable exception of our most consistent player, Nacho Monreal.
It's time to lay out some facts here regarding our defence. We have three international footballers currently being forced out of the club in the shape of Debuchy, Jenkinson and Gibbs. Two of these lads are Arsenal through and through. Meanwhile we have had a pre-season of Wenger using Elneny and Maitland-Niles out of position at centre-back and, quite frankly, being damaged as a result. Neither of these two players are defenders and it has done them no favours to be ripped apart by Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Benfica and Sevilla in the last couple of weeks. We had Hector Bellerin back yesterday but all we saw proven down the right was that we look a whole lot better at both ends of the pitch when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain plays in his position - if Barcelona offered serious cash I'd be more than tempted to cash in on Bellerin, while keeping Debuchy and Jenkinson. On the other side I was impressed by Kolasinac, especially going forward, on Saturday. However, we showed that there is nothing there to cover him in the event of an injury unless Monreal is moved away from his highly effective role in the back three. Cohen Brammall is surely living the dream at Arsenal, and good luck to him for that, but the lad was so far out of his depth it was quite frightening yesterday. It's not his fault, he just isn't a top level footballer. What I've seen from him reminded me a lot of Glen Kamara and Ismael Benaccer when they played in the League Cup at Sheffield Wednesday. You have to wonder why Kieran Gibbs is being shown the door.
Of course the defence has largely been bereft of Holding, Chambers and Mustafi for the pre-season schedule. At the same time should we really be reliant on the promising, but mostly untested, Holding? Or Chambers and Mustafi who have failed to look the part during their Arsenal careers to date? There is also the worrying sign that Laurent Koscielny might have lost half a yard of pace - King Koscielny has always made the odd error at times when his concentration has slipped, but take away his speed and you have a Mertesacker without the ability to read the play. Worrying times for a defence that was already sub-standard.
At the top end of the pitch I was very pleased to see Lacazette get a goal yesterday. He grew in to the game but was having to move in to areas of the pitch he might not like to be just to get some service. As a result we saw some useful link play from him when coming wide, but this was at the expense of having anyone in the centre when the ball was moved on. Aaron Ramsey had a fine game, while Welbeck looked good in the first-half and non-existent in the second. Of course we are missing Alexis Sanchez at this point, but maybe that's something we ought to get used to - who knows how bad his flu might get?! And then we come to my favourite person, Mesut Ozil. That feeling of frustration I mentioned above is almost exclusively a result of him getting the ball. So many times he has possession of the football and you feel yourself thinking "right, now go at them!" What you get instead is a three yard pass to the nearest Arsenal player, usually one of the full-backs, while he trots off to find space to do it all over again when he gets the ball next time. Something that summed him, and the way Wenger has this Arsena team playing, came in injury-time. There we are, 2-1 behind, and Petr Cech comes charging forward to joint he players in the penalty-area for a corner. Ozil, having just passed up the opportunity to score down in front of us, is standing over the ball. He chooses to play it short and the ball never does get crossed in to the penalty area. Frustrated? Is it any wonder?
It's wrong, of course, to judge too much on pre-season games. Until recent years very few people even saw these games as they weren't televised - there wasn't much call for Southend v Arsenal, for example, to be on the box. As a result, if you weren't at the games then you only had a brief newspaper report to find out what went on. Following the pioneering Makita Tournament's, Amsterdam Tournament, and now the far-east and American "tour" matches there is a market to see these glamour friendlies so we all have a chance to see what's going on. Most of it remains irrelevant until the league starts, but that doesn't mean I can't be worried and annoyed already! Roll on Members Day this Thursday...will Alexis be there?