Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Wenger locks the fans out

The seats remained empty this morning


As I told you yesterday I have family out at the pre-season training camp in Austria for the week. Last night they went off to the airport to meet the players off the plane, hence the post from late last evening with the names of those that were seen. Having got a few shirts and pictures signed it made for a fine start to the week. However, what has happened since is leaving the travelling Arsenal supporters (from across Europe) more than a little annoyed.
One of the features of the pre-season training camps at Bad Waltersdorf has been that the fans have been able to watch the training from the stand which runs the length of one side of the ground. It was a shock to those present to find out that the session this morning was to be held behind closed doors. Plenty of them still turned up and waited for the players after training in the hope of getting some photos and signatures, but that's as close as they were allowed (the players entrance is caged off all the way to the door of the waiting coach). 
What annoys most is that the people that have always travelled to Austria have watched tours to the far east, and now America, promoted with "fan events" that have allowed people access to the Arsenal team. So what's the difference now Arsenal are back in Europe? It seems that Arsenal know there is one group of supporters that they can treat badly and that's the ones that actually go and watch them play. They know that we will still be there, still be buying shirts, still taking our kids etc whatever they do to upset us. The business of the foreign tours has been to ingratiate themselves with people who, quite frankly, would be just as happy wearing a Manchester United shirt as an Arsenal one. Contrast the nature of the fan events on the pre-season tours with the utter rubbish that is "Members Day" at the stadium. Arsenal are happy to think that they need only pay lip service to the match-going supporter.
Plenty of people have travelled a long way to see the players, and spent a lot of money in the process (some of them have gone from New York to Austria to follow the team) and, despite all the protestations of the fans being important, it seems that Arsene Wenger has no respect for the supporters whatsoever. We are the great unwashed and he wants his players cocooned away from all of us. Arsenal should be ashamed that they locked out the supporters this morning. It remains to be seen what will happen for the rest of the week.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Austria Training Squad

The Corporal: On his way out of Arsenal


Listed below are the players identified arriving on Arsenal's flight this evening in Austria. Notably there was no Carl Jenkinson and it looks as though his Arsenal career is coming to an end. Joel Campbell is in the travelling party along with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. There are a few youngsters, and it may be that my spies didn't get everyone! The BBC are reporting that David Ospina is with the group, but I will wait until tomorrow before seeing if they're right - he needs a visa to live and work in Britain and will need to sort it in the same way Alexis Sanchez is doing.

Wojciech Szczesny
Damian Martinez

Laurent Koscielny
Nacho Monreal
Calum Chambers
Mathieu Debuchy
Kieran Gibbs
Isaac Hayden
Hector Bellerin
Ignasi Miquel

Tomas Rosicky
Mikel Arteta
Jack Wilshere
Aaron Ramsey
Santi Cazorla
Mathieu Flamini
Gedion Zelalem
Abou Diaby
Francis Coquelin?
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Olivier Giroud
Yaya Sanogo?
Joel Campbell

Red Bulls defeat, Ospina joins, Arsene taking an expensive gamble, Austria 2014 - new players there?

£16 million?!


The defeat to New York Red Bulls is disappointing when you see what the other Premier League sides are doing out in America. It's fair to say that the team Arsenal put out was lacking a lot of first-choice players, but Man City aren't up to speed either, yet they dismantled AC Milan last night. What should be a concern is that we went to America with only one striker, that being Chuba Akpom who has made only one appearance in the first-team (and he missed a real chance to stake his claim on Saturday night). Wenger said afterwards that we didn't have Giroud, Walcott, Sanchez or Podolski (he missed Sanogo off the list at that point). I hope I wasn't the only one who saw the irony of Wenger's list in that only one of those players is a genuine centre-forward. We are still chronically short of a top quality goal scorer in this squad and it is that which is most likely to prevent us winning the Premier League this season. 
In terms of the game in New York there really is very little to be read from it. We lost to a second rate side, but we had a team that was made up of youngsters and people playing out of position - Nacho Monreal will not have enjoyed playing at centre-back, you can be sure, especially with a fairly rampant Thierry Henry running off his shoulder. The fact is that Arsenal were there merely for commercial purposes and the real work starts now. We'll get a few more clues at the Emirates Cup as to how we're getting along, rather than an advert for the Arsenal and PUMA brand in New York City.

The Club finally got around to officially announcing David Ospina's arrival yesterday, some two days after Arsene Wenger had done so at a media event in New York. I've said before how I don't understand why Arsenal delay their "official" announcements when the whole World is already fully availed of the facts. Given Arsene's comments on how Ospina will challenge Szczesny for the number one spot you know that the deal was concluded before the weekend. 
Ospina is an interesting signing. He is only one year older than Szczesny and an established international footballer. He was extremely impressive for Colombia at the World Cup, but that's all I've seen of him personally. You would think that he hasn't come here to be content with a place on the bench. It seems that the days of having a "proper" goalkeeper with a Vince Bartram quality back-up are gone and each of the top clubs is looking to have two top players in that area of the squad. If Ospina shows that his World Cup form was not a fluke then Szczesny is going to have to be really on top of his game. I've said many times that I am not convinced by Szczesny, especially in the big games, and I can see the Colombian being the man by the time we reach next May. Good luck to him at Arsenal.

I am amazed at the signing of Calum Chambers (again Arsene has trumped the official website by talking about what the lad is going to offer before the formal announcement). It disappoints me that this signing is going to force Carl Jenkinson out of the Club he loves. Jenko is living the dream we all have, and I had high hopes for him if only he'd been given a decent opportunity. Is Chambers a better player? Arsene Wenger certainly seems to be sure he is, and he knows far more about him than any Arsenal supporter does (though the number of "experts" on Twitter when the news broke the other night was amusing), but I can't understand a fee of up to £16m on a teenage defender with only 20 games for Southampton. For a man who has been so parsimonious for so long, I just can't see why Wenger is taking such a gamble on potential. 
Southampton fans (who must feel like their football club is imploding in front of their eyes) seem sure that Chambers could easily end up as a centre-half, and Arsene has talked along those lines himself. Of course we are short in that area and likely to become even shorter if and when Thomas Vermaelen leaves us. Hopefully Chambers will develop in to a top class performer (and he boosts the homegrown contingent in the squad for quota purposes) but I just think £16m is excessive and could have been spent better elsewhere. Having said all of that, perhaps I shouldn't be complaining about the cash being splashed at last after so many years of nothing.

The team will train at London Colney this morning before flying out to Austria and the village of Bad Waltersdorf for the first time in a few years. The tours to the far-east have prevented Arsene Wenger from undertaking his preferred pre-season preparations in recent times, but this year he's getting his own way for a few days. For the players that will be in Austria this is where the hard work will take place. There is no game being played, so the training will be intense and the fitness levels will be put to the test. 
There will be some notable absentees from the Austria training camp. The three German players have been given an extended break following the World Cup but I am not happy that they appear to be likely to miss the start of the season. We went down this road four years ago when Van Persie and Fabregas were given extra time off. Given our defensive weakness the thought of entering the first game or two without Mertesacker in the back four scares me a little. I can see why the Germans are not needed this weekend, or for the Charity Shield, but I see no reason for them to be absent from the Crystal Palace game. Let's not forget how much they get paid to play football.
Alexis Sanchez will also not be in Austria and the newspapers are being a little mischievous today in reporting the reason as to why. Sanchez is going to Paris, according to Arsene Wenger, to obtain his visa to live and work in the UK. He will then begin his pre-season work at the training ground - being a week or two behind he is not in a position to be doing the really hard yards the lads will be doing in Austria. The visa system is not entirely straightforward, and Sanchez has to go through the process like anyone else. I've seen people today criticising the Club for poor administration, but that is nonsense on this occasion. Sanchez has been on holiday and Arsenal have done all the paperwork and sponsorship to support his visa application. Now he has to get that visa and will start his training. There's no drama to be had here and there is certainly no "problem" with him obtaining his visa. I just hope he gets on the pitch on Saturday when I'm at the Emirates Cup.
I expect the full training squad for Austria to be announced at some point today. If it isn't then I will try to furnish you with it via Twitter either late tonight or early tomorrow morning (@ARSENALDvbrisG). My Dad and brothers are out in Bad Waltersdorf for the training camp and will be at every session to see the players being put through their paces. Any information fed back will also be on my Twitter account, and on the Facebook page that accompanies this website. Hopefully there will be a new face or two (expect a Chambers announcement on the official website very shortly, I would say).


Monday, 21 July 2014

A signing, a win, a new Captain? Decent start to 2014-15

Captain Rambo


I spent all of last week in Liverpool for a training course. There were three highlights that I'd like to share. Firstly, the two blokes I went up there with had never been to Anfield so I took them to see the Hillsborough Memorial and the Shankly Gates and The Kop. What awaited us at the back of The Kop was pure comedy gold as a 40-feet high picture of Luis Suarez smiled down on us (those teeth are genuinely threatening when that over sized) in an advertisement for Liverpool's new kit. Secondly, having driven round the corner to Goodison Park we were confronted with the sight of a local taking the wheels off a car - we didn't ask if it was his own car. Finally, next door to the official Liverpool shop in the Liverpool One shopping complex is another official football retailer called Everton Two. Genius.
Having been away all week I wasn't in a position to comment on the reflected happiness of Arsenal having three players in their squad who will be waving World Cup winners medals at the press next season. That Per Mertesacker, eh Alan Hansen? I bet him coming on to play in a World Cup Final had old Hansen picking feverishly at his scarred forehead - nobody is going to miss that particular dinosaur of punditry as Rio Ferdinand and Thierry Henry delivered a master class in the art during the tournament.
The other thing I missed, of course, was the signing of Mathieu Debuchy. It may have been a bit mundane after bringing in Alexis Sanchez the previous week, but I welcome Debuchy nonetheless. However, he is going to have to do a lot to impress me. I was a huge fan of Sagna and I am a huge fan of Carl Jenkinson. I actually would have rather we saved the £10m or so (a little over the top for my liking) and used it more wisely elsewhere on the squad and given The Corporal his opportunity at right-back with Bellerin as his understudy. Debuchy looked an awful player when we played Newcastle late last season with Lukas Podoslki ripping him apart that night. Debuchy appeared slow, lacking in commitment and constantly out of position. As auditions for Arsenal go that wasn't a great one. He did little in the World Cup to get me to understand why he gets in ahead of Sagna for France. I am concerned by Mathieu Debuchy, but any new signing starts with a clean slate and we'll see how it pans out. I sincerely hope that talk of Jenkinson being sent away is merely just that - I can see him in the side by Christmas on his own merits.
I didn't go to Boreham Wood on Saturday as I was never going to pay £18 to stand and watch what was always going to be mostly a reserve side. I watched the game on Arsenal Player and there were one or two who stood out. Yaya Sanogo was not among them and still looks as far away from a Premier League player as Kaba Diawara. Yes, it was the first game of pre-season and it means absolutely nothing, but compare his first-touch with what we saw from Joel Campbell out in Brazil. Even better, compare him with Chuba Akpom who came on and once again looked the business, albeit against part-time opponents on a hot day. Akpom was the stand out youngster last Summer, alongside Zelalem (who also got another chance on Saturday and will in New York along with Akpom this weekend), and he surely should be ahead of Sanogo in the pecking order. Arsenal's first goal was a joy, of course, with Tomas Rosicky playing a top class ball through to Kris Olsson who applied the finish. It was nice to see TR7 getting in to the groove nice and early in the piece. We'll know a little more about the progress of the players in New York on Saturday night, and I wouldn't be surprised if a certain Mr T Henry was to pull on a number 14 Arsenal shirt at some point, assuming the referee isn't a jobsworth killjoy like Martin Atkinson was a couple of years back.
There was one other important thing that happened on Saturday and that was the naming of Aaron Ramsey as Arsenal Captain for the day. The Club has made a big thing of it since, and so has Rambo himself. We know Vermaelen is going (and shouldn't be Captain even if he was to stay) and the whispers are not dying down regarding Mikel Arteta (I would be utterly shocked if he left Arsenal this year). That all being the case I think most of us would expect (and not be disappointed if it happened) Per Mertesacker to be the new skipper. However, I would not be averse to Aaron Ramsey being made Arsenal Captain from now on. Would it not be a good thing to make him feel as important as we possibly could by building the team around a midfield general of real class? Make no mistake, Real Madrid and Barcelona will be all over him this time next year if he has another top season, so let's strike early Arsene and show the Boyo that his future is Arsenal Football Club.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Arsenal players dominate World Cup Dream Team 2014

Brazil 2014 has been amazing


It's been the best World Cup I've ever watched. Italia 90 (I'm too young to really remember Mexico 86 properly) was great for England, but that allows us to view the tournament through rose tinted spectacles at times. USA 94 was awful. France 98 was enjoyable from an Arsenal perspective (sixteen years ago tonight Manu Petit scored his goal to seal the win for France). Japan/Korea was a good one because a few unexpected teams did well. Germany 2006 was just like the current tournament until it reached the knockout rounds when it became all about not losing, while South Africa 2010 was a bit rubbish all round. The number of goals and the brilliantly entertaining football matches played in Brazil (there really have been very few stinkers) has made it a great four weeks of TV. With all that in mind I am pleased to announce the FIFA Dream Team* for Brazil 2014 below:

Goalkeeper
To be confirmed, but it looks likely that David Ospina (Colombia) could win this by the end of the week.

Right Back
Again, still to be decided, though Mathieu Debuchy (France) looks nailed on for the position.

Left Back
Thomas Vermaelen (Belgium)

Centre Backs
Per Mertesacker (Germany) and Laurent Koscielny (France)

Right Wing
Mesut Ozil (Germany)

Left Wing
Lukas Podolski (Germany)

Central Midfield
Santiago Cazorla (Spain) and Jack Wilshere (England)

Centre Forwards
Joel Campbell (Costa Rica) and Olivier Giroud (France)

Substitutes
A surprise choice here as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (England) gets on the bench despite being injured throughout the tournament - that's how good he is. The other sub, following a late selection, is Alexis Sanchez (Chile). Sami Khedira (Germany) may yet be added at a later date.

That is a fine team, I'm sure you'd agree.



There won't be another post until at least next Friday as I'm tied up with work throughout this week. Next Saturday sees Arsenal taking to the pitch for the first time in 2014-15 so the close season will last less than six days, something we can all be pleased about.


*not really

Friday, 11 July 2014

Alexis Sanchez underlines Arsenal's ambition, Not all positive (or negative) at kit launch

Now we can go forward


I was one of many who felt the signing of Mesut Ozil was a massive money signing virtually forced on Arsene Wenger after the Aston Villa debacle last August. The signing of Alexis Sanchez shows that we were probably (and thankfully) wrong. To go out and splash around £35m so soon after the signing of Ozil shows that Arsenal are now back in the big time. With a large chunk of the transfer fee actually paid for by selling rights to Carlos Vela, and Chelsea's signing of Cesc Fabregas, this looks like exceptional business by Ivan Gazidis and his team. Alexis Sanchez is a World Class player. There isn't a side anywhere in the World game that can have too many of those.
I am actually even more excited by signing Sanchez than I was by Ozil. He was superb for Barcelona in the last two years (particularly last season) and he lit up the World Cup in an entertaining Chile side. Off the back of any World Cup (or European Championship) there are always a few players who everyone takes notice of and would like to see in their team. Andrey Arshavin was one such player and Alexis Sanchez is most definitely another. This is a statement from Arsenal that they intend to be in the mix from now on. We will be bringing in the big names. We will be fighting off competition from other big football clubs like Liverpool and Juventus. I can only congratulate Arsene Wenger and co on giving us a player like Alexis. Wow is all I can say.
The reaction of the other Arsenal players via Twitter showed that they are as excited as us fans. I still think that at least one of them will be heading out of the door as a result of his arrival, though I'm now somewhat reassured that it won't be Santi Cazorla (more on him below). I fear that Lukas Podolski will be the fall-guy and that upsets me as I'm a fully paid member of the Poldi fan club. Sanchez is the sort of player who can bring the best from Podolski and, as with World Class players, you can never have enough goal scorers. 
If you look at Arsenal's list of attacking players we now have Ozil, Sanchez, Podolski, Giroud, Walcott, Chamberlain, Gnabry, Cazorla, Ramsey, Campbell, Sanogo and Ryo. The last three of them will find their opportunities ranging from limited to non-existent, so I expect at least two of them to either leave or go on loan. But when you look at the others, with Wilshere, Arteta, Flamini, Diaby (hopefully) and maybe at least one more signing backing them up from midfield you can see that there are reasons now to be genuinely excited going in to the new season. New signings should give you a buzz. Alexis Sanchez has done exactly that. I can't wait to see him play.


Mathieu, Mikel and Santi playing the dummies


If you read yesterday's post you will know that I went to Carnaby Street last night for the kit launch. It's fair to say it wasn't quite what we were all hoping for or expecting. What none of us knew was that there was a VIP event before ours where there was a Q&A with Flamini, Arteta and Cazorla. Among those invited to that event were some of the journalists who spend all their time slagging Arsenal, "celebrity" hangers-on like Jim Rosenthal's son (who claims to be a comedian) and people from, shall we call them "friendly"?, Arsenal blogs - i.e. the ones that are featured on the Arsenal website and never dare to criticise in any way. Now I have no desire to have my writing censored by Arsenal, but it annoys me that these people are given access in such a way as they actually attend very few games. Those of us that do go and watch Arsenal were all left outside the PUMA store waiting for the launch to happen.
When the clock ticked over to the appointed time we were treated to a very good video featuring Arsene Wenger and the new kits (this was projected on to a water screen at the London Eye for the VIP guests) before the tarpaulin covering the shop window fell to reveal three very familiar looking "mannequins". I had been told before hand that they were the real thing, but some were utterly convinced that we were looking at waxworks of Flamini, Arteta and Cazorla (the first two were very convincing as it happens). Santi couldn't help himself when I started singing his song (and everyone joined in) and he started to giggle. This set off the other two and the fans applauded the three players. What happened next was annoying.
Before any of us great unwashed types were allowed in to the shop the three players were ushered out the back door. Would it really have done any harm for Arsenal to have them sign a few autographs or pose for some photos? To say it was an anti-climax is a bit of an understatement. We then had to wait to be allowed in as very few people were being let in to the shop at any time - Keith made it clear to the steward that we were next after about ten minutes of this and our barrier was removed to let us in.
Having got in to the store I have to say that I love the kit. The red shirt with white sleeves looks great, while the yellow and blue away shirt is a triumph. The blue third kit, however, is not yet on sale and I find that odd - it also looks better in the flesh than it did on the leaked photos. 
I also don't understand why the Arsenal crest is not embroidered on the shirt as the PUMA logo is. Maybe that's a small concern. A lot of the PUMA stuff looks very good, but doesn't necessarily feel the highest quality - the waterproof jackets are a prime example of what I'm saying here. 
The absolute worst thing about last night, however, was that anyone buying the shirt was being ripped off by PUMA. The cost of the shirt (which wasn't available in all sizes) was £55. I declined to buy mine as I knew Arsenal were selling it at £50. Sports Direct are knocking them out at £45. It disturbs me that Arsenal have allowed the launch event to be done in their name, while their invited fans were being over charged to buy the kit. It all left a bit of a sour taste.
Having said all that I have to say that Arsenal got their marketing spot on last night. The announcement of the new signing was quickly followed by the news of the squad number he will wear (a bit of a harsh one on Nacho Monreal) meaning that they can immediately reap the revenues of shirt printing. This is something that they've failed to do in recent years by not allocating a squad number straight away. Hopefully the penny (or the thousands of pounds) is beginning to drop. Some people have accused the Club of being cynical with the Sanchez announcement just hours before the kit launch. I call it smart.


Fat bloke with the FA Cup


All was not lost on the night, despite not yet buying the new shirt. At the back of the store was the most beautiful trophy in football and you could line up to have your picture taken with it. I can never have enough photos of me with the FA Cup and I couldn't miss out last night. I'll ignore being told "don't touch the trophy" - what exactly do they think we're going to do to it after the players chucked it all round Wembley two months ago? - and just let you know that I never tire of seeing it decked out in its Arsenal ribbons. I hope to see it a few more times in the flesh before Arsenal hand it back next year.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

New kit launch tonight - will we see anybody new? - I'll be doing updates

Great opener for PUMA


Thanks to a stroke of good fortune I've secured a late invite to the Arsenal kit launch in the PUMA store on Carnaby Street tonight. We all know what the kit looks like but there's still a buzz of excitement when the new shirts go on sale. I expect PUMA and Arsenal to unveil all three new strips, though I'm not sure if they're all available to buy straight away. 
Earlier in the week there was much speculation that the event might be used to unveil some new players. We all know that Debuchy and Alexis Sanchez are just about nailed on to sign on the dotted line at Arsenal. That being the case I wouldn't be overly surprised to see one, or both, of the men at the launch tonight. One of Arsenal's media men Tweeted the other day about an "audacious stunt" from the Club but there's been no more speculation as to what that might be - you will remember that last year it meant one of the stadium cores was replaced with pictures of the young British Arsenal players in the new yellow shirt. 
Arsenal have already announced that Ramsey, Walcott and Jenkinson are going to be at the re-opening of The Armoury tomorrow morning, so I don't expect any of those three to be on Carnaby Street tonight. The Manager is still in Brazil, but there is no way that the kit will be unveiled without the presence of someone from the first-team. If I had to put money on it I'd say Arteta will be one of the men donning the new apparel tonight.
The launch is apparently live on the internet (it begins at 11pm) but I don't know if it's on Arsenal Player or just via the PUMA website. PUMA have already been running some videos advertising the launch so I reckon that's your best bet if you want to watch the proceedings later on. If it is live on Arsenal Player there will no doubt be an announcement at some point this afternoon. Alternatively you can just follow me on Twitter, @ARSENALDvbrisG, as I am hoping to provide some live updates from the venue as the evening progresses. You never know, there might even be a photograph of Alexis Sanchez (or maybe not).