Friday, 27 May 2016

Squad Review Part Four - Strikers, News on a new Arsenal Captain?

The Arsenal goals trust


The final part of the squad review focuses on Arsenal's attacking players. It's fair to say it wasn't a vintage year for any of our main goal scorers, though the most creative player in the group did have a productive season. If only we'd signed a top class centre-forward to actually put away the opportunities on a more regular basis...


Mesut Ozil
He ended up one short of Thierry Henry's record number of "assists" in a season. This, of course, is a Sky Sports created Premier League record which has only become remotely a "thing" since the invention of Fantasy Football. There was a period, however, in mid-season when Ozil was untouchable as a player in the Premier League. Undoubtedly it was his best spell at Arsenal as he dominated games week after week. From that point on it was inconceivable that he wouldn't beat Henry's mark but he regressed to the disinterested image that has been the main feature of his time with us. At the same time he was let down by those he created for at times. For me he doesn't take enough responsibility by taking players on and he certainly doesn't shoot enough or score enough goals. There was talk mid-season about him maybe moving on but that would be a massive shock now.

Olivier Giroud
Giroud scored well in excess of 20 goals again across the season, and that is easily forgotten. The reason it's forgotten is that his form after the Liverpool game in January was absolutely awful. He put in a great display against Huth and Morgan when we beat Leiester at home, but from there on wasn't worth a place in the side until the final two games. He scored a good hat-trick on the final day but it shouldn't cloud what had gone on in the preceding 3 months. At the same time it shouldn't be forgotten that he got another hat-trick at Olympiacos in the magnificent team display that got us through in 
the Champions League and he was flying at that point. With the drying up of his goals went our Premier League challenge. Giroud is a good centre-forward, but he isn't a top one. If he was our reserve striker, mostly deployed from the bench, I would be more than happy with him.

Theo Walcott
What went wrong Theo? He started pre-season really well, picking up where he'd left off the previous campaign, and did well in the early going in the Premier League. The game at home to Man Utd was a demonstration of all that can be good about Theo. His pace and movement destroyed their central defenders and made the room and goals for Alexis and Ozil on the day. Naturally he was injured shortly thereafter and didn't come back until December. Nevertheless he scored a spectacular goal in the win over Manchester City that put us five points clear at Christmas. He then enjoyed another extended run in the side to the end of January but his performances grew more and more woeful. He came on and got the important equaliser at home to Leicester but it was downhill again after that. Things got so bad that he actually had the crowd howling with laughter when he characteristically fell over the ball at home to Palace. His Arsenal career seemed to have come full circle in that moment and it was difficult to differentiate between 2016 Theo and the young boy that made his debut in 2006 on the first day at the new stadium. He has been unluckily left out by England after playing an important part in their qualification for Euro 2016 and he now stands at a crossroads. He signed a new contract last year, but his Arsenal career seems to be going nowhere. We all still want him to succeed, but is he really worth yet another chance?

Alexis
He appeared knackered in the early going this season having played the Copa America (and he does so again this year) but still had enough to destroy Man Utd in October. His hat-trick at Leicester had seemed to announce he was back at his best. However, he went on a lean run before injury at Norwich kept him out for a while. This should have been just the break he had needed but when he came back in the side he was frustratingly poor, and wasn't working anywhere near as hard as he had in the past. His constant coming inside with the ball became easy to defend against as the opposition now had him well scouted and worked out. His equaliser at Spurs showed he was still the man for the big moments, however, and a move to the right-wing when Iwobi came in to the side gave him a new lease of life. His goal scoring form returned at the end of the season, and the presence of both Coquelin and Cazorla in the final game brought out the best in the little Chilean as he now had more space opened up to him. We need him to come back fit from his exertions in the USA.

Danny Welbeck
Injured for almost a year until his sensational return to the pitch against Leicester. Welbeck weighed in with a nice few goals, and his partnership with Iwobi was a real breath of fresh air late in the season, but he still misses more than his share - the last minute cock-up in the Watford FA Cup game springs to mind immediately, and he had also missed a couple against Leicester before that last-minute header. He didn't complete a full game at any time, and Wenger was clearly wanting to use him sparingly - Giroud's form made this less possible. Concerningly he was constantly having his injured knee iced immediately after every time he played, before seriously injuring the other knee at City and cruelly missing out on the Euros as a result. Like Giroud he isn't the answer, but he can play in a number of positions across the front-line and is a valuable asset. If only his knees can recover...

Joel Campbell
Surprisingly not transferred before the season started he was an anonymous figure early on. He played in the League Cup game at Spurs where his work ethic was eye-catching, and his willingness to make a tackle particularly impressive. He got a massive slagging for the Sheffield Wednesday game, completely overlooking the fact that he was actually putting in a shift on the night. When he got his Premier League chance at Swansea he took it with both hands, scoring a lovely goal in to the bargain. For some reason he never really got a proper run despite impressing just about every time he played. The Swansea home game saw him score one of our best goals of the season and turn in one of the best individual displays as well. When Wenger took him off the crowd went crazy with derision at the Manager. This seemed to serve for Wenger taking against Campbell even more as he was involved less and less, with Walcott inexplicably continually gaining selection ahead of him. I think Campbell is an excellent player. He works hard, creates goals, scores goals and is perfect as a squad man - and he's done all of this playing out of position on the wing.

Alex Iwobi
The surprise package of the latter part of the season. He actually had a very impressive pre-season campaign and scored in the Emirates Cup win over Lyon. Mostly deployed as understudy to Mesut Ozil for the FA Cup games he got a shock start in Barcelona where he combined to great effect with Danny Welbeck. He did the same again at Everton a few days later and scored a superb goal, before netting his first home goal a week after that. His style in those early games set him apart at a time when the rest of the team looked stale and slow going forward. Alex played in a few different positions as well, including a deep-lying midfield role late on at West Ham where he controlled the game in the last 15 minutes. This boy looks to have a great future ahead of him right now and he has come on incredibly in the last 18 months or so.

Jeff Reine-Adelaide
Signed last Summer he burst on the scene against Lyon in the Emirates Cup with a look of Vieira or Diaby in the way he carried the ball through midfield in to attack. He got his rare first-team appearances playing wide and impressed in doing so - not expected to feature all that much he was an unused Premier League substitute in a number of matches early on in the season. Having watched him play some under-21 and FA Youth Cup games towards the end of the season he was less impressive and I hope he hasn't started to go backwards already. Next season is a big one for the young French player where he must kick on to bang down the door of the first-team squad, and maybe secure a loan deal.

Three of the young strikers in the squad went out on loan for the season. Serge Gnabry went to West Brom and was back at Arsenal by Christmas - Pulis was not the right person to be overseeing the development of anyone from Arsenal. He was back in the under-21 team for the last couple of months without getting another chance in the first-team. I'm not sure what the future is for Serge. Yaya Sanogo went to Ajax where they very quickly worked out he was awful. He, too, returned to Arsenal at Christmas but was then sent to Charlton for the remainder of the season. He scored the luckiest hat-trick I've ever seen while he was there, as well as being sent-off for a heinous elbow (though he was being fouled at the time) resulting in a suspension. He has no future at Arsenal, surely?! Finally Chuba Akpom is at Hull and will be hoping to be in the squad for their play-off final at Wembley tomorrow. Having enjoyed a highly successful pre-season tour with the first-team he has failed to impress enough in the Championship, with questions raised on more than one occasion over his attitude. He was ahead of Alex Iwobi at Arsenal a year ago, but is now firmly behind him. This pre-season, if he is still at Arsenal, will be make of break for Akpom.


In other news Aaron Ramsey has been awarded Mikel Arteta's number 8 shirt at Arsenal. This means he is definitely staying, I would say. However, there is still no number awarded to new £30m+ signing Granit Xhaka - the Arsenal commercial team give with one hand and take away with the other! After all, why try and make loads of money out of a new major signing, eh? 
Pictures have also emerged of Laurent Koscielny wearing the armband at the photo-shoot for the new kit. I've only seen these linked on Facebook so I can't speak for the veracity of them. I can't tell whether they've been doctored to look that way, but he certainly seems favourite to be the new skipper - as I wrote the other day, the Villa game should have given us a big clue.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Squad Review Part Three - Midfielders

How we missed these two


The third part of the annual end of season odyssey sees my take on the midfield players in the Arsenal squad this season. There are a lot of them so let's get on with it.

Tomas Rosicky
TR7 was kept on for another year as Wenger exercised the option to extend his contract. Unfortunately he was once again absent for almost the entire campaign due to injury. That has been a consistent theme during his ten years with Arsenal which is such a shame when you consider the ability of the man. I was upset that he wasn't given a place on the bench for the Villa game so that he could get his much warranted crowd ovation. He did get a silver cannon for his contribution to Arsenal and the esteem he is held in by the other players was clear when they formed a guard of honour for him wearing his shirt. Thanks Tom and good luck. Hopefully we'll see him back in September for the game against AC Milan legends.

Mikel Arteta
The Arsenal Captain was largely restricted to writing his programme notes for most of the season. His only starts were in the Champions League and League Cup while a seemingly chronic calf problem kept him out for most of the time. It looked for a while that his swansong would be a less than convincing contribution to the defeat at West Brom. Thankfully he was granted the chance that Rosicky didn't get and he came on to a hero's welcome with a few minutes remaining against Villa. That his final touch as a professional footballer (Arteta has retired as a player) should be to score a goal was a great way to finish - I refuse to acknowledge it as an own-goal by the Villa goalkeeper. It was incredible to see the normally unflappable Arteta in floods of tears at the end of the game. He has served us brilliantly since joining from Everton, adapting his game unselfishly to suit the needs of the team. I don't begin to understand why Wenger can't find a place for him on a coaching staff that includes the likes of Banfield and Primorac, so he leaves with all our good wishes. Thanks Mikel, you've been a fine Arsenal Captain - class in every way.

Jack Wilshere
Another season wrecked by injury and tarnished by unwanted headlines for his behaviour when out and about. I can only hope he isn't going to waste his brilliant talent simply because he can't get through his head that he has a responsibility as a professional footballer. I love Jack and he was a stick-on for the England squad as long as he could get fit before the season ended. Any idiot doubting why he is there has never seen him play - Jack is THAT good. His presence at Euro 2016, assuming he doesn't get injured again, could actually benefit us going in to the new season as he will be fit and ready to hit the ground running. For me he should be the new Arsenal Captain, but it isn't going to happen.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
The Ox had a great start to the season with the winning goal at Wembley against Chelsea. It was all set up for him to run through this season and be the star player we all know he should be. Instead he has seemingly gone backwards. Joel Campbell correctly took his place in the side for a while and Alex has looked a forlorn figure when he has played. At the same time it is a cruel blow that injury has seen him miss another international tournament, though I'm not sure his form would have got him in anyway as it's turned out. He has been linked with a move to Leicester but I would be annoyed if he was allowed to leave - there is still time for The Ox to make it big at Arsenal but he has to stay fit and fight for his place.

Aaron Ramsey
This bloke frustrates me more than any other Arsenal player right now. We know he can do it but he insists on trying to be too clever at every turn. I'm sick of the back-heels and fancy flicks which consistently see us lose the ball. Of course one of them came off in great style at Tottenham with his magnificent goal there but that was the exception to the rule. Wenger seems determined to shoe-horn him in to the side in any way he can, regardless of the detrimental effect on the way the team plays. He slows us down going forward and doesn't work hard enough in defence. His lack of pace also shows him up in the Arsenal midfield and he often looks like he's wading through treacle when in a straight race for the ball. Of all the players in the Arsenal squad Ramsey is the one I wouldn't be upset to see leave. Controversial? Only among those who don't go regularly.

Santi Cazorla
How we missed the little Spanish wizard. I have to say that, up to the point of his injury, I felt he wasn't playing as well as the previous season. The 3-0 home win over Man Utd was an exception in that run where he was outstanding. However, once he was out of the team you began to realise how good he is. For someone so small he never shies away from a tackle and his quick feet get us going forward. He can beat a man which immediately creates space for himself and others. When he was finally back for the last game of the season we saw what we've been missing. It's a shame for him that he has been overlooked by Spain thanks to his injury. Maybe that will serve as motivation for him to show his best again next season.

Mathieu Flamini
Wenger said at the start of the season that he wouldn't play. Flamini stayed nevertheless. Within a month he had scored two goals, one a fantastic volley, to beat Tottenham at White Hart Lane and his song was sung long and loud by the travelling Gooners. He ended up playing fairly regularly, or at least being in the match day squad, for most of the rest of the season. You can never fault Flamini's desire and effort. He was unfairly pilloried for the penalty at home to Barcelona. If all the players put in the work that Flamini does then maybe we might still have won the Title. He's done really well in both his spells at Arsenal as far as I'm concerned and I wish him all the best. And if he does become a billionaire through his business interests I hope he comes back and buys Arsenal off the disinterested American.

Francis Coquelin
The other man we missed badly once he was injured. We all knew it was a gamble to go in to the season without signing a genuine back-up or competition for Coquelin. Wenger didn't do it and it cost us. When he did come back he missed Cazorla alongside him at times, but why he was dropped for a number of games I just can't work out - my suspicion is that he probably had a word or two to say to the slackers in the squad and we all know Arsene doesn't like that sort of thing. The signing of Xhaka will seemingly give that competition to Coquelin (who should have been another contender for the armband) and he might just have a battle on his hands to start next season. I love Coquelin and I hope he rises to the challenge - it is a joke that he is yet to get a call-up to the France team given his contributions over the last 18 months.

Mohamed Elneny
The only January signing didn't make a league appearance for weeks after his arrival. When he did play he seemed to like a shot or two on his debut in the FA Cup against Burnley. This was quickly banned by Wenger and he settled in to the more controlling areas of our midfield play - by that I mean he became the master of the sideways pass. He doesn't give away the ball when he passes it and this endears him to large sections of the crowd and to Arsene Wenger. As I've said here before, however, it's all a bit Ray Wilkins for me. There is little creativity from him as he rarely plays the ball forward. At the moment he lacks the physicality for a Premier League midfield player - a pre-season spent bulking up might make the difference there. His superb goal at Barcelona points to the fact that he can do the spectacular when he puts his mind to it. Hopefully we will see a different player now he has had the time to settle in properly.

Ismael Bennacer
He came on as a sub in the loss at Sheffield Wednesday when Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott both limped off early. Bennacer has the diminutive stature of Santi Cazorla but not yet the physical strength. As a result he was overwhelmed on the night by experienced Wednesday players but was one of Arsenal's better performers. I can't see him making it here, however, as he hasn't set the pulse racing in his under-21's appearances since then.

Glen Kamara
The young Finn started the game at Hillsborough and, although he very much tried his best, he was a long way out of his depth on the night. Wenger should have given him some respite long before he finally took him off late in to the match. He spent the second half of the season on loan at Southend but made only 3 appearances (according to Wikipedia) which doesn't smack of a big future - I don't know if maybe he got an injury there. He is 21 later this year and, with the plethora of midfield options ahead of him at Arsenal, seems unlikely to break through.

Ben Sheaff
The young Englishman was an unused sub at Sheffield. He's a bit of a free-kick specialist who has also been used at right-back late in the season for the under-21 team. Next season will be a big one for him if he is to make an impression on Arsene Wenger.

Chris Willock
He has come to the fore in the junior sides in the second half of this season and made the bench in the FA Cup. Willock is quick and skillful, maybe a little one-footed (though that never stopped Van Persie early in his career) but with a good eye for goal. He is an exciting prospect and I am certain he will be involved with the first-team in pre-season. If he can lay a marker there then promotion to the squad list at the start of next season is not out of his reach. A loan spell no doubt beckons at some time after the early rounds of the League Cup.

Of the players that were involved last season, and in pre-season, there have been three notable loans. Gedion Zelalem played a full part in Glasgow Rangers successful campaign and started the Scottish Cup Final last week. Ultimately, however, he hasn't kicked on to the expected level and I'd be surprised if his Arsenal career lasted beyond next season. Ainsley Maitland-Niles spent the season at Ipswich and was a regular in the squad up until a reportedly bizarre incident involving his mother, who is also his agent apparently. This was not the first time she is alleged to have "had words" with his bosses after being reportedly ejected from the Arsenal training ground during an under-21 game last year. He was the furthest advanced of the youngsters in the previous season, with an ability to play in a number of positions. I hope this hasn't damaged his career beyond repair at Arsenal. Finally Jon Toral was a late call-up to the pre-season tour last year having been surprisingly left out initially. He went on loan to Birmingham for the season and has had an outstanding time there, winning the player of the season awards at St Andrews. He could have done no more to try and impress Arsene Wenger, but I doubt his future will be at Emirates. He can console himself with the knowledge that very good Football League career is his if he wants it.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Squad Review Part Two - Defenders, Welcome Granit Xhaka

They actually look organised here


Part two of the squad review focuses on the defenders. It's ended up being another year in which the defence has, at times, looked totally woeful. At the same time some of the individuals who play in the Arsenal back four have done pretty well. Overall, however, the number of goals shipped speaks volumes to the lack of improvement. The whole team actually has a role to play in that, but we still don't dominate our own penalty area due to the fact that not one of our players has the determination to attack the ball properly.

Mathieu Debuchy
There has to be an element of sympathy towards Debuchy due to the fact that he had settled in really well at Arsenal only to suffer two serious injuries. His loss was Bellerin's gain. However, before this season had even started Debuchy was mouthing off about his future instead of getting his head down to reclaim his place. When he did play he was beyond poor as far as I was concerned. In the game at Sheffield Wednesday he was a total disgrace and looked finished. Wenger generously let him go on loan in January to try and get him a chance to play at Euro 2016 but he hasn't made the squad. His Arsenal future looks non-existent.

Kieran Gibbs
In contrast to Debuchy, Gibbo has just got on with trying to displace Nacho Monreal. When he has been called upon he has been as good as ever for the most part and even got a crucial equaliser at home to Tottenham. I am a huge fan of Gibbs and I would love to see him succeed. Right now his position is a difficult one as he needs to play. For me he is still the best English left-back in the country and is certainly better than the two cretins Hodgson has picked there for Euro 2016. I can't see him being allowed to leave Arsenal as we not only need his quality, but we also need his British passport to fill the necessary squad quotas. Next season could easily see him find his way back in to the side.

Per Mertesacker
The senior defender in the squad has seen his automatic place in the starting XI under increasing threat. Clearly he is a very important man in terms of his leadership within the squad but his shortcomings are being accentuated with age. We know he's not quick but his lack of aerial dominance is what most irks me with Per. At the same time he still was able to roll back the years on occasion, most notably at home to both Man Utd and (especially) Bayern Munich. He reads the game as well as anyone most of the time, but even that lets him down occasionally these days as it did with the Costa incident at home to Chelsea. I'm sure he'll be here next season, but he won't replace Arteta as Captain and will be third or fourth choice from now on.

Gabriel
I had high hopes for the Brazilian this season. He looked like just the sort of defender we'd been looking for when he came in during the previous campaign. In the early season he got a chance alongside Koscielny and it was impressive for a little while. He was totally done by Costa and Mike Dean at Stamford Bridge, but that only really endeared him to the fans. The one thing that should have served as a warning to us all, but didn't really, was that everything was done on the edge, or last ditch in some way. You can only get away with that for so long and there have been times when he has failed badly - the goal away at Norwich springs to mind immediately and that wasn't an isolated error. Sadly there is a touch of the Stepanovs about Gabriel at times and he was awful at Old Trafford in a hauntingly Igors kind of way.

Laurent Koscielny
The best of our centre-backs and probably just about the first name on the team sheet. To be fair he's been mostly very good again this season but has lacked the dominant aerial partner he needs to bring out the best in him. Towards the end of the season he wasn't at his usual high standards for me and this seemed to coincide, as my brother pointed out, with him taking on the armband. The fact that he was skipper for the last game of the season, despite the presence of both Wilshere and Cazorla in the side, tells me he is the man who will be the Arsenal Captain from next season and this concerns me. Koscielny is a brilliant player but he isn't, by any stretch of the imagination, a captain. He should be allowed to get on with playing his own game and leave all that other stuff to people who are far more vocal and argumentative.

Nacho Monreal
I made him my player of the season last week because he has retained great consistency across the campaign. Monreal is not a flashy player but he has got better and better in his few years at Arsenal. The fact that he has managed to keep Kieran Gibbs out is a measure of his quality as a left-back. He gets forward and is often part of the attacks, albeit that his final ball sometimes lacks the necessary deftness. When he does get a cross right he is the best source of ammunition for Giroud's main strength as seen against Villa. Defensively you rarely see a winger get past him these days, his positioning is so much better, and he is very good aerially for a guy lacking in height. The problem for Monreal and Gibbs is that both of them can't play at the same time. Next season he has a battle on his hands again, but he can also play very competently in the centre of defence in an emergency.

Calum Chambers
Chambers is on a similar level to Mertesacker when it comes to pace but he is a very good ball player. He seems now to have been settled on by Wenger as a centre-half, though he has also come on as sub to play in midfield and, once Debuchy went, he was the only real reserve for Bellerin - this saw him score a magnificent goal in the FA Cup against Burnley. His chances since Christmas have been suspiciously limited given some of our defensive calamities. For me he should have been thrown in alongside Koscielny in the final month of the season. In the games he did play in the second half of the season I thought he was by far the best of our central defenders. The game against Leicester, where he came on at half-time, was his best performance in an Arsenal shirt - he was aerially dominant against the best team in the country and deserved to be given a proper opportunity at some point thereafter.

Hector Bellerin
A second stellar season in a row from the young Spaniard. He hasn't taken his foot off the gas at all, despite the fact that he's had no genuine competition for his place. I'm glad he's not in the Spain squad as he will get a proper rest but I have to wonder how he isn't - a Spanish defender who can actually defend is a rarity. His pace is astonishing, of course, but he also has incredible stamina - the injury-time run to set up Ozil's goal at home to Bayern Munich was unbelievable. If I was in charge I'd have him working on his crossing for hours on end as there are few things more frustrating to me than Bellerin continually hitting the ball against the legs of the nearest defender. At the same time he can produce passes of the highest quality and his assists stats are right up there, culminating in a fabulous pass through to Giroud on the final day. The only thing that scares me with Hector is the fact that Barcelona will be sniffing around very soon.

Krystian Bielik
I've put Bielik in with the defenders as that is where he has played for the junior teams all season. His only first-team appearance actually came in midfield as a substitute at Sheffield Wednesday where he was one of the few to stand up and be counted. He has grown physically across the course of the season and it will be interesting to see if he gets on the pre-season tour to America. If he does it will be equally interesting to see where he plays - the signing of Xhaka today closes down the midfield avenue so maybe he needs to look at forcing his way ahead of the centre-halves.

Carl Jenkinson spent his season on loan at West Ham and largely did well again up until a serious knee injury ended his campaign early. He was back at Arsenal from that moment and took part in the end of season lap of honour with the rest of the squad. With Debuchy seemingly on his way out I hope Corporal Jenkinson is restored as the understudy to Bellerin just as soon as he is fit enough to play.


As I mentioned above Granit Xhaka has had his signing confirmed by Arsenal today. I'd never heard of him until he was linked with us but it appears he is a combative midfield player with an eye for a pass. I read that he had more fouls against his name than any other player in the Bundesliga this season and that makes him just the sort of nasty b*****d (I hope) that Arsenal need in their midfield. I'll be looking forward to seeing him in the European Championships - I had to pass my tickets for Switzerland v Albania on to my Dad, brothers and nephew as I now have to go to a family wedding on the wife's side that day - they can report what he looks like in the flesh in a couple of weeks time.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Squad Review Part One - Goalkeepers

Ospina, Cech, Macey


Four blog posts coming up this week reviewing the Arsenal squad and how their individual seasons went. As usual it will be done by position, starting with the goalkeepers and moving through the team to the strikers. Each player who has been involved in a match day 18 across the course of 2015-16 will get a write-up of some sort.

Petr Cech
The only major signing of the summer was obviously installed immediately as first-choice. There was no doubt in the minds of anyone that Cech would be an improvement on the goalkeepers we already had at Arsenal. He kept a clean sheet at Wembley on his official debut against his former team as Arsenal won the Charity Shield. What happened at home to West Ham a week later was as shocking and annoying as it was unexpected, with Cech at fault for both Hammers goals in an opening day defeat. It wasn't long, however, before Cech was showing the best of his form with a stunning save to keep out Benteke in the early season visit of Liverpool. 
Cech impressed me almost all season. He brought an element of control and experience to the back-line and could clearly be heard at times in the stadium organising those in front of him. In the first half of the season there was more confidence in the defence as they seemed assured of the quality of the man behind them. However, there was no doubt that Cech was being kept far busier than he had been for a long time, if ever, in his Chelsea career. Cech won us points throughout the season with some outstanding displays. There was another crucial save just before half-time at home to Man Utd that springs to mind - Arsenal were 3-0 up at the time, but his stop meant there was no chance of a comeback in the second-half. At home to Bayern Munich he was excellent in a famous 2-0 win following his restoration to the Champions League starting XI.
As I said in the season review piece yesterday I feel that, without Cech, we would have been struggling to finish in the top six in the Premier League. However, towards the end of the season there were concerns. I don't know if he was still feeling the injury that kept him out for a few weeks in March but there were noticeable signs of the body starting to creak a little. He was less commanding in general and, of most concern, was the way he was beaten by two identical daisy-cutters down low to his right at home to Palace and away to Man City. A close-season spent at Euro 2016 won't help if he is still carrying a knock, but time waits for no man - I hope we haven't already had the best we can hope for from Cech. Winning the Golden Glove will have served as justification for him in moving on from Chelsea.


David Ospina
If I was Ospina I'd have been feeling a bit aggrieved at the arrival of Cech. He had taken the gloves from Szczesny last season and, to be fair to him, had done very little wrong. Concerns over his size have always been present in my mind - in a team who don't defend well in the air it doesn't often help to have a goalkeeper who is so short. This, of course, was probably well illustrated in the draw at West Ham a few weeks ago - Ospina was far from at fault for any of the goals we conceded, but there is a feeling in my mind that a more physically dominant goalkeeper might have commanded things a little better.
Ospina has suffered a tough season at times. For me he is a fantastic second-choice goalkeeper to have. Frankly he is too good to be a second-choice at a Premier League club and I have no doubt he is likely to move on in this transfer window. He made his season debut at Dinamo Zagreb in the first European Cup game of the season. Like most supporters I couldn't understand signing Cech and then leaving him out of Champions League games. Ospina didn't do much wrong in that game, but was already under pressure. He played a week later at Spurs in the League Cup win and did just fine. However, things were to fall apart for him in the home loss to Olympiacos. He was at fault, woefully so, for the second goal we conceded but took a totally disproportionate amount of blame for the defeat that night. The fact is that his mistake shouldn't much have mattered against such a dismal opposition if only the team had played properly. The other thing, of course, is that Cech should have been playing instead of him. He then was "injured" for a time thereafter and missed the League Cup loss at Sheffield Wednesday which was probably no bad thing for him.
The Colombian was back in the side for the FA Cup and immediately set about restoring his reputation. Cech's injury gave him an unexpected Premier League recall for another game at Tottenham and he made at least one brilliant save to keep us in the match, albeit again lacking the aerial dominance that might have prevented their first goal. 
I like Ospina and I would very much like him to stay at Arsenal. However, we have to respect the fact that a player of his quality wants to play football more regularly. If he does leave then I wish him all the very best.


Matt Macey
The youngster was installed as the third choice goalkeeper once Szczesny and Martinez left on loan. He was part of the first-team squad photo which must have been a great boost to him. It was maybe a surprise to see him ahead of Ryan Huddart who had been on the bench for the first-team at times in the previous season.
Macey has the build you would expect of a goalkeeper and he towers above both Ospina and Cech. His actual on-field opportunities have been restricted to the junior teams despite his inclusion in the first-team squad. He made the bench whenever Cech or Ospina were unavailable but a sign that Arsene Wenger doesn't rate him quite highly enough at the moment was that he didn't get the nod to play at Sheffield Wednesday. In previous years the third choice goalkeeper has played in such circumstances, notably with Mannone and Martinez getting their chance. For Macey it was another watching brief at Hillsborough and that might have served as a small frustration for him. However, training regularly with Cech, Ospina and everyone else in that first-team squad can only have helped him improve. Maybe a loan move is the next step for Macey.


Both Wojciech Szczesny and Emi Martinez went on loan for the season. Szczesny played the whole season at Roma and it is hard to see him being willing to come back as the stand-in for Cech next term. However, the lad is clearly still an Arsenal man as his expert mickey-taking of Tottenham the other week was exceptional. Martinez went to Wolves where he competed with Karl Ikeme for the starting spot. Injury did not help the Argentinian at times but, when he played, he was mostly exceptional for the Molineux team. I would say that he is more likely than Szczesny to be willing to sit on the bench if Ospina goes, but he also might feel the need to move on and make a career as Fabianski and Mannone have at Premier League clubs. Time will tell.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Season Review 2015-2016 - a chance badly missed

All down hill from here


It all started rather well, I suppose. It was fairly universally agreed that we required a top quality goalkeeper and Arsene and Ivan went out and got Petr Cech for just £10m from an unusually charitable Roman Abramovich. And then we waited for the inevitable arrivals of a really good centre-half, a beast to play in midfield and the much needed top class centre-forward. And we waited. And we waited. 
The pre-season action wasn't overly inspiring, apart from a good 3-1 win over Everton to secure the Asia Trophy, until we reached the Saturday of the Emirates Cup. I took the family to the Lyon game, where potential signing Alexandre Lacazette got a nice reception from the crowd - we didn't sign him and his transfer value has gone up after a stellar season - and we were introduced to Alex Iwobi and Jeff Reine-Adelaide. Lyon were spanked 6-0 in a great display of attacking football. Giroud, Ramsey, Cazorla, Ozil and Oxlade-Chamberlain all joined Iwobi on the score sheet and we looked damn good. The following day gave more of a clue as to the season ahead with a narrow and uninspiring 1-0 win over Nicklas Bendtner's Wolfsburg. Jack Wilshere played 75 minutes of that game, but we wouldn't see him again until he came on as a sub at Man City in May!
There was more silverware on the sideboard before the season started properly when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's excellent strike won the Charity Shield at Wembley against Mourinho's Chelsea. Arsenal looked fairly solid, but should have won by more. That fact, and the injuries that kept out Wilshere and Welbeck for the vast majority of the season, were more indicative of what was to come as the failure to put away proper chances, or even shoot when we should have, would become an increasing frustration. Winning at Wembley in the glorified pre-season friendly ended up being one of the few high-points of a largely depressing nine months.
Having gone in to the season with some optimism, despite the lack of outfield signings and the injuries to the aforementioned players, it was a given really that we would lose at home to West Ham on the first day of the Premier League. That it was two errors by Petr Cech that handed them the win was totally unexpected. Cech went on to win us points single-handed for most of the season, starting with an incredible save from Benteke at home to Liverpool, but he has shown signs of creaking badly with anything low to his right side in the last month of the season - age catches up with everyone. Nevertheless, as far as I'm concerned, Cech has worked out as a fine signing and without his performances in the middle part of the season we would not have been in the top six in the Premier League.
It was the events leading up to the beginning of September, off the field, that ultimately cost us. It also cost the Club itself a lot of sympathy from a number of Wenger loyalists, finally fed-up with the lies that come out of his mouth. We failed to sign the defender, the midfield player, or the centre-forward we were crying out for. We had been sold a myth that Welbeck (far from being the answer to our problems, incidentally) was on his way back. Less than 24 hours after the transfer window closed it was finally revealed that Danny was out for at least another 4-5 months. There was no way that Wenger did not know Welbeck's problem was that serious. He simply chose not to sign a replacement, or an upgrade on both Welbeck and Giroud. This was almost criminal negligence from Arsene and Arsenal, as well as the outrageous deliberate misleading of the supporters. The announcement of Welbeck's long-term problem was a disgrace.
Despite all that Arsenal started to get results. We were doing okay and smashed Manchester United in the first 20 minutes at home on our way to a comfortable win. The stadium was bouncing that day, and so were Alexis, Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil - United simply had no answer to our pace and movement up front. We wouldn't see that football again all season. Mike Dean handed a desperately poor Chelsea the win over us at Stamford Bridge, but we went and beat Leicester in good style away from home, knocking five goals past them to put an end to their early season "challenge" at the top - they would surely fall apart now the bubble was burst. For all that Alexis destroyed Leicester that day we actually were all over the place defensively. For me the alarm bells were ringing at this point despite the fact we were the only team likely to offer any resistance to Manchester City. The League Cup campaign was sacrificed in a scandalously disgraceful October hammering at Sheffield Wednesday.
As we approached Christmas Arsenal were top. On the Monday before the big day we beat City 2-1 with fine goals from Theo and Giroud putting us five points clear at the top. The Premier League was already ours to throw away. Having got away with not signing the players we clearly needed in the first half of the season, January would definitely see the cheque book come out in order to maintain our position at the top. We had even, over the six weeks leading to Christmas, managed to weather the long-term losses of Alexis, Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin. And then we went to Southampton on Boxing Day. I don't need to go over what happened. We got to New Year still ahead of the pack, but something was wrong. Still, make those signings in January and we could still take advantage of our position at the top. Of course it never happened, aside from the signing of Elneny - a player who seems to be popular with many fans because of his passing stats, but doesn't stand scrutiny when you look at how many of those passes mean anything and the fact that he is, at the moment, far too easily pushed off the ball.


The best moment of the season


The period between the beginning of January and the last game of the season was often purgatory. As regular readers will know I felt the football being played simply stunk the place out most of the time. It was insipid, boring, lacking in imagination, and with no desire to go forward properly. A rare good attacking display at Anfield was undone by a characteristically woeful defensive effort in a 3-3 draw. The ability of the team to implode so spectacularly in defence became a regular and uncomfortable feature. Shipping three goals and more is not an irregular event with Arsenal these days and it happened again at Old Trafford. Before that particular cock-up we had somehow managed to lose at home to Chelsea - again ably assisted by questionable refereeing (Clattenburg on this occasion - on such performances are FA Cup Final's and European Cup Final's awarded and totally messed up). 
I have moved on past the one moment that brightened things after Christmas and, at the time, had us all believing we were going to do it after all. Danny Welbeck fought his way back to something approaching fitness - the ice-packs applied to his previously injured knee after every appearance reveal, to me, an ongoing serious problem aside from his latest injury to the other leg - and was thrown on in desperation as Wenger finally went with two men up front! What followed was an incredible moment as Welbeck flicked home the injury-time winning goal that once again would ultimately put an end to Leicester's extended period of fun at the top. Of course the Old Trafford game I've mentioned and Swansea at home were still to come and scupper us totally.
We threw away what should have been a third straight FA Cup win with another scandalous display, this time at home to Watford. That meant the genuine hope of a proper trophy in 2015-16 was finally gone. We did spoil Tottenham's hopes a bit with an excellent ten-men fighting draw (we should actually have won the game really) at White Hart Lane, and put in a superb display at Everton just three days after a battling defeat at Barcelona had put us out of the Champions League. Alex Iwobi was now in the side and combining well with Welbeck and has laid down a good marker for himself for next season.
For a short time in the closing weeks we suddenly looked under pressure for even a top four finish. However, a couple of wins and the failure of our challengers saw that secured before the final day after all. What happened on the last day against Villa was the stuff of pure comedy gold and meant that things ended with us having a smile on our faces. 
It should be said that, for all we have failed this season, Arsenal are not the only ones. The fans have been criticised by the media for being upset that Arsenal have not won the Premier League and the more prevalent feeling for "Wenger Out" etc. However, this same media have berated Arsenal at every turn for our "failure" this season. Yet somehow the other clubs have been spared such vitriol. Let's not forget that Arsenal finished above Chelsea, Man Utd, Man City, Liverpool and Tottenham this season, finishing behind only Leicester. An opportunity not taken? Of course. But the same should be levelled at all those other teams. If someone had told you in August that you would be finishing above those sides you would have been certain you'd be Champions. We should have been, but we were as bad as Leicester were exceptional for most of the season. They deserve to be Champions, but Arsenal perhaps don't deserve to be taking all the flak for "allowing" them to be so. 
With three months to the new season we have the chance to relax, watch the European Championships, and prepare for a new assault on the Premier League crown. Now all we need to do is sign a centre-back, a beast of a midfield player (Xhaka is in the bag it seems) and a top class striker. We've been here before I feel...

A personal season highlight with some old friends of mine

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

End of season awards

Didn't expect that, did you?


Here are the end of season awards for 2015-16. There's good and there's bad in here. They're just my view, of course. 


Player Of The Season
I'm sure the majority would be giving this award to Mesut Ozil. His stats for goal and chance creation are outstanding, of course. However, aside from a two month period from November to mid-January he was his usual frustrating self for me. Yes, he was sublime and incredible for those two months, but I like to reward consistency. That being the case I have to go for Nacho Monreal as my Arsenal player of the season. Having improved brilliantly during the previous campaign Nacho has been consistently excellent this year. He tired a bit in the closing weeks and, had Kieran Gibbs been available (no idea where he was for four weeks until Sunday) he might have been left out. However, he was back at his best against Villa and showing why Gibbs' Arsenal future is now in doubt. He must be very unlucky to have missed out on the Spain squad for the Euros, but it looks like Del Bosque is not keen on English based players at all. Well played Nacho, you've been superb.


His only fancy flick that worked all season


Most Disappointing Player
This was probably a two horse race between Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey (though some would probably look at including Olivier Giroud despite his 24 goals). Theo has been incredibly frustrating since Christmas and should not have had as many appearances (albeit from the bench) as he did. However, the man that really annoys me, and disappoints me, more than any other Arsenal player right now is Aaron Ramsey. I have never seen a footballer with such a misguidedly high opinion of his own ability. He has been living off his stellar season in 2013-14 for too long. Ramsey is painfully slow, though remarkably full of stamina, and his fancy flicks and attempts at impossible passes do nothing but give possession to the opposition. The only back-heel that worked was the one for his great goal at Tottenham, but I don't see how he gets a game in this team so regularly. If he's still here next season he has to improve or be shipped out.

What a strike!


Goal Of The Season
Mathieu Flamini had been almost completely ostracised by Arsene Wenger at the start of the season. The Manager seemed to make it clear that he wouldn't be playing for Arsenal if he chose to stay. Flamini did stay and was as involved as almost all the other midfield players as the injuries took hold. He marked his first start of the season by winning the North London Derby in the League Cup single-handed. Flamini's volley for the second goal at Spurs is my favourite Arsenal strike of the season and it made his presence worthwhile. I'll miss Flamini, a player whose effort can never be faulted. He deserves this award for that fantastic goal against that lot. You can enjoy it again here. Other notable contenders might have been Ramsey's goal at Tottenham, Alexis' pile-driver at home to Man Utd, or Joel Campbell's sliding half-volley versus Swansea. None of them quite beat Flamini.

Should have played far more than he did


Most Improved Player
Another player Wenger really didn't want, but had to keep for numbers, was Joel Campbell. The Costa Rican got a terrible slagging after the Sheffield Wednesday game which was totally unappreciative of the fact he was about the only Arsenal player (of the experienced ones on the pitch) who was putting in a genuine shift. When he got his first proper chance away to Swansea he took it with both hands. In the middle of the season he became a more regular member of the match-day squad and I was impressed with him just about every time he played. Campbell has an incredible desire and work-rate. Quite how Theo has been in the squad in front of him these past couple of months is beyond my comprehension. His improvement has been dramatic and I really think he can make it at Arsenal, if only he is given his chance properly. The reaction of the crowd when he was taken off in the Swansea home game shows he is also now a bit of a cult fans favourite. His partnership with Hector Bellerin on the right wing should be developed further.

Breath of fresh air when we needed it


Surprise Package
This has to be Alex Iwobi. None of us saw his contribution coming. He had a couple of starts deputising for Ozil in the FA Cup matches, but it was the game at Barcelona where he came to the fore. A shock inclusion, he combined brilliantly throughout with Danny Welbeck, then did the same thing at Everton a few days later. We all like a homegrown player coming through the ranks and I hope to see a lot more of the young Nigerian next season - he looks a real talent, and has shone in different positions on the pitch in the last two months. Well done young man.

Celebrating the winner v Bayern Munich


Best Team Performance
Not that many contenders in this category. Rarely has the team put together a top 90 minutes. The Man Utd game at home was great for the first 20 minutes or so as we won the game early on. The Man City home game was good for the way we beat a Title rival. Leicester away was good going forward, but woeful at the back. I could make a case for Barcelona away had we actually scored the goal we should have. So that leaves me with Olympiacos away and Bayern Munich at home. For me it has to be the Bayern home game simply because of the quality of the opposition. It was a rare tactically astute display that Wenger directed and the team played the majority of the game without the ball. They worked tirelessly, rode a little luck, and then hit Bayern with pace on the break. It was also a rocking atmosphere to enjoy it all in too.

Where it all started to unravel


Worst Team Performance
Similar to the previous category in many ways. Olympiacos at home and Bayern Munich away. Chelsea at home, Man Utd away. Maybe even Sheffield Wednesday. The "winner" for me, though, has to be Southampton away at Christmas. We went in to the game on Boxing Day off the back of a massive win at home to Manchester City. We were five points clear at the top of the Premier League and ready to press home the advantage and move away and win the Title. What we got was an absolute thrashing by a side that had been in abysmal form. It was the first real sign in the league season that the team wasn't going to have what it took to get the job done. They had learnt no lessons from previous defeats to inferior opponents. It was unforgivable really.

Welbeck!!!


Best Moment
No contest here. It simply has to be Danny Welbeck's winning goal at home to Leicester City. The new stadium has not seen a celebration like this one. At the time it was the goal that should have seen us go on a run that would reel in Leicester. Sadly it turned out to be the high-water mark of our "challenge" for the Premier League. We didn't put any pressure on Leicester thereafter as everything fell apart. However, in that moment when Welbeck flicked home the injury-time winner we knew none of that. All we did know was that we were back in the race and the stadium went totally and utterly nuts for it. Here is the goal again - just look at that crowd! Or, maybe, look at this one instead. It really was the best moment of an ultimately disappointing season.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Finishing with a laugh and a cry

Thanks fellas


I think any sane Arsenal fan would agree that this has been a long and, ultimately, very disappointing season. We have played some pretty poor stuff since Christmas and have blown a big chance to win the Premier League. This Arsenal team has let us down. It's been depressing for the most part. But yesterday we finished with a flourish in the last fifteen minutes and laughed (and I mean proper laughed) at what was happening to Tottenham at Newcastle. As much as Arsenal have been berated for their shortcomings, so Tottenham have been lauded for being so brilliant. Apparently they've had a magnificent and wonderful season. Yet after the 38th game has been played Arsenal have once again finished above Tottenham. I believe the youth say "lol".
There is some kind of misconception that the Arsenal supporters were celebrating finishing second yesterday. Similarly that we were enjoying finishing above Tottenham a bit too much. However, if you were in the ground then you would know that what was really going on was people laughing at what was happening to that lot. Somehow they had still found a way of being inferior to Arsenal. Their fans had been giving it large for the last month as everyone accepted that, this year, St Totteringham's Day was cancelled. Maybe we should have learned that we are dealing here with Tottenham Hotspur. This is a Club, a set of players, and a group of fans whose sheer hatred of Arsenal clouds everything they do. Ultimately it is that hatred that sees them continue to fail in their aim of being a better side than us over the course of a full season. One day, of course, it is going to happen for them. Yesterday, it turned out, was not that day. And it was kilt-p***ingly hilarious to experience.
I was lucky enough to be down at the players entrance yesterday to see the Arsenal team arrive. I was disappointed to see that Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini were not in the squad. At the same time I was delighted to see the immaculate Mikel Arteta lead the players from the coach, bedecked in his Arsenal suit, for the final time. I also had the rare opportunity to witness Stan Kroenke turn up at a football match! There was no sign of his cheque-book. 
Arsenal started the game really well and I thought the players looked really up for it in the first 15 minutes or so. We got a nice goal as we finally managed to put a decent cross in the box to play to Olivier Giroud's undoubtedly main strength. After that flying start we went back to the interminable passing and not shooting that has been a blight on the entire season. What was a joy to watch, however, was the return of the Coquelin and Cazorla double-act in the middle of midfield. It is so apparent that their injuries, more than anything else, has cost us the Title this season. We were at the top when they both got hurt and were missing for months. Without them we couldn't halt the slide. It really is what might have been and, maybe, we only genuinely realised what we had once they weren't playing together. They dominated the game yesterday, albeit against a weak Villa side, and it also brought out the best in Alexis Sanchez as more space was opened up for him to play in. It was behind them that the concerns were all too apparent with Gabriel patently not up to it in the Premier League right now.
For a good part of the second-half we didn't play. Villa were on top for a long time but, Ayew aside, carried no real threat - a half-decent side would have damaged Arsenal as they have since Christmas. Ironically it was Newcastle's third goal that seemed to get the Arsenal players going again. The crowd was up and, suddenly, so were Arsenal. We started to create, and miss, opportunities. Again there were times when players refused the chance to try and score, but there were also some wasteful finishes - notably from Elneny. Finally there was a lovely move down our left with Alexis and Ozil combining in great style to set up a nice Giroud finish at the near-post. The players rushed to Rosicky, Flamini and Arteta in the Arsenal dugout. A couple of minutes later and the ground was rocking as Giroud got his hat-trick from a stunning through-ball by Hector Bellerin - the young Spaniard can't cross the ball for toffee, but his passing on the angle is exceptional.
With the party now in full flow, and the win secure, we got the chance to rise in appreciation of the Arsenal Captain as Mikel Arteta came off the bench for his final game in an Arsenal shirt - as it turns out it is the final appearance of his playing career. The (almost) perfect finish was then served up with Arteta hitting the shot that ended up in our fourth goal. He was announced in the stadium as the goalscorer despite the ball going in off the goalkeeper. In the circumstances it would take an absolute a***hole to take the goal off him. That is exactly what seems to have happened but I would urge Arsenal to deliberately ignore the so-called "panel". It was Arteta's final ever kick of the ball as a professional footballer. What a way to finish - a goal on his debut at Blackburn and a goal in his final game at home. 
When the final whistle went we got an indication of what Arsenal has come to mean to Arteta. He is a man who has sacrificed his natural game to the benefit of the team since he came to our Club. He has totally understood what it means to be at The Arsenal. For me he was the man of the match in the FA Cup Final win over Hull - his finest performance for Arsenal and one of the finest individual Arsenal Cup Final performances ever. He stood yesterday in the centre of the pitch and was totally overcome with the emotion of the occasion. The Arsenal Captain reduced to tears by his own emotions and the love from the supporters. It was a moment when I reckon most of us might just have been filling up slightly.
What followed in the players lap of the pitch was their own appreciation of the talent of Tomas Rosicky, and the chance to see Santi Cazorla's son showing off the most unbelievable skills. Most of the squad were wearing "Rosicky 7" Arsenal shirts as they gave Little Mozart a guard of honour. Again the fans rose in appreciation of a fine player. Flamini, Rosicky and Arteta have become proper Arsenal men in their time at the Club and I am sorry to see all three of them leave. I just want to say "thanks" to three good players who could never stand accused of not giving it their all in the Arsenal shirt. "Super Tom Rosicky" was sung loudly yesterday and it was fitting that he was awarded a silver cannon for his service.

One last wave


Before the month finishes I will be writing the usual season review and "presenting" the end of season awards. There will also be the squad review pieces and some of the players are in for some real stick from me. I've not written that often over the last two months as it's not been worth writing about. Yesterday most certainly was. It's been a long season but, with a laugh and a cry, we've finished it nicely. Next season we must do better and that means spending some money. I did that earlier today by renewing my season ticket - time for Arsene Wenger to do likewise.