Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Embarrassing and humiliating - Wenger presides over another capitulation

One of the few to put it in last night


I hope Arsene Wenger went round to the Borussia Dortmund changing room last night and thanked them for their charity. Had it not been for their own Welbeck-ian finishing then Arsenal would have been on the end of the sort of hammering we've had at Old Trafford, Anfield and Stamford Bridge in recent times. Make no mistake, this should have been the most humiliating thrashing in Arsenal's European history. It would have made the 4-0 in Milan, and the early 80's dismantling by Spartak at Highbury, look like close games. Yes, we missed chances at the other end but it would not have flattered Dortmund to have got close to double figures. The most worrying aspect for me is that, insert Debuchy for Bellerin (and possibly Theo Walcott for Ozil or Wilshere) and you had Arsenal's first-choice team on the pitch. Dortmund were missing about five of their usual selection through injury. 
We shouldn't really be surprised as we've seen this so often in the past. Klopp is certainly no mug and he had identified, as every other decent Manager has, that you need to get at Arsenal early on and pressure the ball (you don't even need to kick our players anymore). We were like rabbits in the headlights playing a game of hot potato with a football. More than anything else it proved yet again that Arsene Wenger has no idea about tactics and how to make his team difficult to beat. We won a European trophy in 1994 with a midfield nowhere near as talented as the one on the pitch last night (with the exception of Paul Davis) and yet they knew how to hold the ground in the middle of the pitch because they were drilled by a Manager who was tactically aware. They were organised. Selley and Morrow wouldn't be anywhere near Arsene Wenger's squad, but I know who I'd rather have had out there last night. You can sum up Wenger's lack of tactical nous in the decision to play Ozil on the same side of the pitch as a young full-back making his debut. Bellerin was never going to be provided with any help by that lazy so and so. Any Manager worth their wages would have put the non-stop running of Alexis out there to help him. But what do I know? After all I've never worked even one day in football.
It's not the defeat that makes me angry - I don't expect Arsenal to beat every opponent. What upsets me is the nature of the defeat and the fact that we keep seeing the same thing whenever we play a top opponent away from home. Alexis Sanchez struggled in the first-half when on the ball, but he never hid - unlike plenty of the others. He always wanted the ball. He was always running to fight for the ball. At one point he was tackled forty yards from our goal but he raced back to make the challenge that put off the player taking a shot and allowed Szczesny to push it behind for a corner. Contrast that with Ozil and Ramsey. I actually thought Ozil made one or two runs off the ball last night that deserved better service, but when he did get the ball to feet it bounced off him like he was a Sunday League footballer or something. And having lost it he stood there with his hands on his hips. The man is a £42.5m waste of space. Ramsey was equally disinterested and walked straight down the tunnel at the final whistle, failing to acknowledge that 3000 Arsenal fans had spent their money to support the over paid prima donnas. He than had the gall to Tweet, shortly thereafter, that the performance "wasn't good enough". You don't say! Empty words that mean nothing when you've shown a complete lack of interest since the start of the season.
The first goal summed us up really. We have a throw-in deep in their half and end up getting caught too high up the pitch in large numbers when the clock is ticking down to half-time. From there we see Mertesacker too slow to get to the loose ball and do anything to stop the break, while Mikel Arteta (who seems to be the target of the abuse for some reason) is expected to be the defensive lynch pin in midfield. And then there's Koscielny running alongside the goalscorer for forty yards and neither forcing him wide, nor making a tackle. I would scream at my 8 year-old for defending like that in his matches, never mind an international centre-back in the Champions League. He then did it again late in the second-half and Mkhitaryan blazed another over the bar. Amateurish doesn't cover it.
You hoped that half-time would lead to something of a change. But again it seems to have been a showcase for Wenger's failure to do anything other than the same old thing. Within a minute of the second-half starting Koscielny was scrambling to clean up a mess of his own making, and Jack Wilshere (who at least tried last night, like Sanchez and Welbeck) had smashed a simple pass over Gibbs' head and in to touch. Within 30 seconds of that it was 2-0 as Dortmund drove a double-decker bus between the centre-backs and Szczesny came flying out to no effect on the edge of the box. I'm not going to pan Szczesny too much though as without him we'd have been 5 down at half-time.
When we finally made changes Wenger at last got around to taking off Ozil and Ramsey - a substitution that should have happened at half-time on Saturday, yet took until nearly the hour mark last night. Within ten seconds Oxlade-Chamberlain had done more than Ozil has since we played Everton in the FA Cup quarter-final. A combination of Chamberlain's direct running and strength, the determination of Alexis, and Dortmund maybe easing off just slightly, saw us actually get a couple of chances. Sadly Welbeck showed the full range of his problems last night. He is very good at getting in to the right positions, but very bad at sticking the ball in the net. He had FOUR clear-cut chances last night, something you rarely get at this level (especially in a game where you've been played off the pitch) and he completely mis-kicked two of them, scuffed one wide, and hammered the other over the bar (after a great turn on the edge of the box). Just imagine the stick Giroud would be getting for missing those chances.
After the game Mikel Arteta told Sky we were unlucky because we could have drawn 3-3 on chances. Sadly this sums up the problems. It seems that nobody at Arsenal actually believes there are any. 3-3 Mikel? Regular readers will know I have no time for Paul Merson on TV, but he was right when he said (after Arteta's interview) that nobody in the Arsenal dressing room will give anyone a rocket. He said that Tony Adams would have been going crazy at people for not doing their jobs last night. Instead of that we had the Arsenal Captain on TV bemoaning a lack of luck in a game where he and his team were completely outclassed in every facet of football. Wenger, meanwhile, described us as "average". Understatement of the year there Arsene.
Last night was totally unacceptable, but then so have been many defeats in recent times. We have another three years of this as Arsenal will never sack Arsene Wenger. We certainly won't be challenging any time soon in the Premier League or the Champions League because we have neither the personnel, the system, the tactics, nor the Manager to do so. But we have a lovely bank balance.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Same old frustrations - Arsenal 2 - 2 Manchester City

Great display from Jack


It's difficult to assess feelings after yesterday. We might have (maybe should have) won the game, but came extremely close to losing it late on. In the context of the opening 85 minutes it's two points dropped, but based on the last ten minutes it's a point earned. What is sure is that we saw Arsenal playing their best football of the season so far. To do so with what was effectively a nine man team was even more impressive. 
Mesut Ozil and Aaron  Ramsey were awful yesterday from start to finish. Ozil is not going to make it in the Premier League. People keep making the excuse that he's being played out of position, but what was the reason last season? And having watched Cazorla and Wilshere in the centre in recent weeks who would really play Ozil in there ahead of them? There is no defence for the lack of effort that permeates his game. Arsenal can not carry any player, not least one who is so lightweight and so afraid. Ozil looks so scared that I reckon he sleeps with the bedroom light turned on. Ramsey, meanwhile, is firmly in big-time Charlie mode. He needs someone to take him in hand and give him a serious dressing down. At the moment he is doing all the stupid flicks and fancy rubbish that got him in to so much trouble two years ago. Ramsey needs to be reminded that last year he kept it simple and was the shining beacon in the Arsenal team. I was dismayed to see him doing some photo-shoot in a magazine last week. Ramsey should be concentrating on playing football. Six months of quality doesn't make you a top player. It's a shame there's no Keown around to boot him in training, but there is a Steve Bould knocking about (more on him and his lack of influence below).
We started the game magnificently yesterday. For twenty minutes we battered City and should have had the lead. Danny Welbeck deserved a goal yesterday and he should have had it. It was one of those where he was really unlucky, but at the same time he should have buried the chance. What a debut that would have been, and how it would have set him up in the immediate future we will now never know. Overall he was what you expect from him - quick, hard working, good at linking play, but found wanting when in front of goal. I said a couple of weeks ago that he's the English Giroud and yesterday gives me no cause to change my mind. I think he'll get more slack from the fans than Giroud does and hopefully that will work firmly in his favour. Whatever happens he is an improvement on Sanogo.
Jack Wilshere was outstanding yesterday. It was the first time in a long while that Jack has shown the form we know he is capable of. He was running past people as he did when he first came on the scene, he was making tackles and knocking people out of the way - watch this on Nasri. Encouragingly he wasn't rolling around whenever anyone went near him which is a sure sign that he is fit and ready to play. His goal was taken brilliantly and was a throwback to his days in the youths and reserves. When he ran through with the ball on his right foot I thought the chance was gone but Jack had other ideas. The way he and Welbeck both lifted the ball over Joe Hart would indicate that England's players know Hart drops to the ground far too early when one-on-one. Can Jack play like this on a regular basis? We have to hope so as it will mean he is fulfilling his potential and will go on to dominate Arsenal's midfield.
The second Arsenal goal was a showcase of the ability of Alexis Sanchez. Alexis looks the real deal. For someone so small he is incredibly strong and powerful and I've never seen a player so short win so many headers. He never stops running, constantly chasing down opponents and working for the team. He made a wrong decision with the ball at one point in the second-half when he should have played in Ramsey but tried a more difficult pass to a heavily marked Welbeck. Aside from that Alexis was brilliant. He was everything that Ozil wasn't. The finish for his goal was genuinely World Class and he now has three goals in three games. I was excited when we signed Alexis, and I'm even more excited by him now. He looks to have hit the ground running (metaphorically and literally) and he should only get better from here.
As for the goals we conceded we were caught out for our lack of discipline on both of them. How many times are we going to get caught out because both of our full-backs are high up the pitch? Surely it is common sense that if we're going down the left then our right-back needs to hold his position and tuck in, and vice versa on the other side. Flamini was also caught ahead of the ball when City broke and, as he did far too often yesterday, dived in and failed to make a proper tackle. Flamini then switched off and let the magical Sergio Aguero get in for a nice finish. You can't give that sort of space to a side that has the attacking quality of Man City. Nigel Winterburn once explained how George Graham balanced his defence in the event of a full-back going forward. Given that Steve Bould was part of that defence how can Arsenal be caught out this way time and time again? What exactly does Bould do? 
The second goal was equally criminal. We'd switched off after Debuchy's injury (which was typical of the freak injuries that seem to keep happening at Arsenal) and City were allowed to give us trouble. When the corner came in Calum Chambers simply stood and watched as Demichelis jumped and headed towards goal. Even then Szczesny should have kept it out having got a big hand to the ball, but the defending was unacceptably bad again. We let in goal after goal from set-pieces. That was the fourth headed goal against us this season. Do you remember the FA Cup Final and how Hull City scored from set-pieces? Let's get back to Steve Bould, former Arsenal centre-back and part of the famous George Graham back-four. We all know that Wenger doesn't work on the opponents, but what is stopping Bould from insisting on doing some work on set-pieces? Why can't he keep the players after training to do a bit extra? This is a recurring problem that is constantly costing us goals and points and Bould is equally as culpable as Arsene Wenger as far as I'm concerned.
There's been plenty of moaning from Pellegrini about Mark Clattenburg's display but he really needs to wind his neck in. Lampard and Zabaletta should have gone before half-time for persistent fouling, and Fernandinho should have walked thirty seconds before Alexis scored after kicking the ball away (to then book Alexis for removing his shirt summed up the way Clattenburg goes about his business). James Milner somehow got through the entire game without a booking, while Vincent Kompany spends more time in the ref ear hole than he does at centre-back. So Pellegrini can look for non-existent fouls all he wants, or for blatant handballs that should have been given, but he needs to put his own house in order first - Manchester City had more than a vague whiff of a Mourinho side about them yesterday and that is wholly unattractive to anyone watching a game of football.
One final word from yesterday about the City fans. Seeing a lot of them milling about before the game I thought to myself that these are not the City supporters I recognise. They looked like glory hunting newbies, the sort that you see with Chelsea. That was reflected in the lack of noise from them (save for a few songs when they scored the opening goal). They were the quietest set of away fans I've heard at Arsenal since Wigan were coming on a regular basis, and that's not what I'm used to from Manchester City. At the same time I have to say that the Arsenal fans atmosphere is getting better at the new place all the time and that's a very welcome thing.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Wenger not inspiring Welbeck, Man City (h) preview

The main man tomorrow?


Arsene Wenger has caused a storm with his comments on Danny Welbeck's signing yesterday. I've read plenty of people explaining what Wenger is supposed to have meant with what he said, but one part of the statement made is utterly unequivocal:

"If I'd stayed at home he wouldn't be here now"

You can "interpret" most of what Wenger came out with yesterday any way you want, but there is no interpretation to be had over that quote. I've read plenty today from certain bloggers and commentators who may be considered as "friendly" or "sympathetic" to Arsenal's media department. Frankly I've rarely seen quite so much drivel. The fact is that Wenger admitted Arsenal would not have signed Welbeck had he been here to stop it. That means Arsenal would have done no business had Wenger been around. This merely proves once and for all that Wenger is the biggest obstacle in the way of Arsenal signing players. Each of the five players that have arrived this transfer window have done so while Wenger has not been in England. 
What exactly does such a quote do for Welbeck's confidence? We should be thankful that Louis Van Gaal slagged the boy off as he now has something to prove in an Arsenal shirt, regardless of anything Arsene Wenger comes out with.
At the same time we should be congratulating Ivan Gazidis and his team for getting Welbeck in as an Arsenal player. They clearly went the extra mile to persuade Manchester United to sell him when a loan deal was taken out of the equation, and rightly so - I don't like us loaning players in as it's not the way the top clubs should be going about their business (you might make an exception for someone with the quality of Falcao, but not many others). The more Gazidis and co can keep Arsene Wenger away from transfer negotiations the better from now on. Wenger should identify the players, of course, and he should talk to the players about the team, but he should no longer have any role whatsoever in the nuts and bolts of the deal.


Cheer up Alexis - we've got a big game this weekend


So it's Manchester City at home tomorrow afternoon in the early kick-off. This is the first real test of the season against one of the sides with an aim to actually win the Premier League. The injuries to Fernando and Jovetic are a boost for Arsenal, but we could do with Aguero pulling up lame early on as well. City have an abundance of attackers as we all know. We also know that defending is our weak area, regardless of the quality of Mertesacker and Koscielny as a pairing. We certainly can't be caught out early like we were too often last season in the big games.
For Arsenal just about everyone of note is available tomorrow. My preference would be for a midfield of Arteta, Flamini and Wilshere (there's no point in playing a half-fit Ramsey, though if he's 100% he will obviously get the nod) with Alexis and Cazorla out wide, supporting Welbeck. One of our biggest problems against City is the lack of physicality in our midfield against City's strong men, and that's why I think not playing Flamini would be an error - he was excellent in the corresponding game last season and was rewarded with our equaliser. We certainly can't afford to play Mesut Ozil on the left tomorrow as Zabaleta will not only put him in his pocket but he'll also keep running past him to make an extra attacker up against either Gibbs or Monreal.
The big hope has to be that Arsenal can hit the ground running after the international break. There is no excuse for fatigue with the games all being played early in the week, leaving plenty of time for recovery. There will be a lot of focus on Danny Welbeck's debut and you can be sure he won't be any worse than Yaya Sanogo was at Leicester. I really hope the fact that he has been brought up through the ranks at Man Utd gives him the necessary desire to put one over on City. He will have his work cut out against Kompany, but if we can get proper support around him then City can be got at. I was impressed by Joe Hart for England on Monday so I hope he's back to making mistakes tomorrow - Arsenal must apply pressure and keep shooting low to his left as Hart has a serious, seemingly unseen, weakness there.
I'm looking forward to tomorrow. The Charity Shield thrashing meant nothing really, but tomorrow will show if we have a chance to go for it this season. Lose at home and the Premier League challenge is really all over before it's even begun. Win at home and it's game on. It's fair to say Arsenal haven't yet played well in the Premier League this season. They will have to play well tomorrow if they want to be contenders.
I'll be posting stuff to the new Instagram account tomorrow, hopefully before the match (internet and 4G connection permitting), but certainly at some point during the day. Hopefully there will then be a match review here tomorrow night.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The real Arsenal player of the month

Celebrating the goal he created at Everton


I was dismayed, though not surprised, to see Arsenal's official website announce Calum Chambers as the "fans" player of the month for August. Given Arsenal's own media output advocating the qualities of Chambers since his arrival it was no surprise that plenty of these "fans" were motivated to vote for the new boy. Personally I am yet to be convinced by him. He is certainly very promising, and looks excellent on the ball. The counter to that is the way he dives in to the tackle, often leaving himself hopelessly beaten. Chambers has plenty to learn and I really can't accept that he has been Arsenal's best performer since the season began.
For me there has been one player that has stood out at the start of this campaign, and it is somebody who goes about his business very quietly. Last season Nacho Monreal looked a poor player when standing in for Gibbs. His only impressive performances came as a late substitute in a number of matches where he sat in front of Gibbo on the wing. When playing at left-back he was slow and almost always out of position. Since Gibbs got injured against Palace Monreal has had his chance again and he is taking it with both hands. The Spaniard has been superb at both ends of the pitch, and was even impressive as an emergency centre-back against Man City at Wembley.
Nacho looks a yard quicker all of a sudden, and is physically stronger. He is picking his moments when going forward, leading to him being able to defend far better. When he has gone forward he has done so to fine effect. His cross for Giroud's late equaliser at Everton was a peach, and he also set up Oxlade-Chamberlain with an open goal at home to Besiktas with a perfectly weighted pass behind their defence. As improvement goes Monreal's is right up there with the most impressive at the moment.
Kieran Gibbs now has a problem. His inability to stay fit for more than five minutes has meant that an adequate deputy was always required. Monreal had rarely looked anything more than that. To me Kieran is the best left-back in England and should walk in to the national team. However, he is far too fragile and spends too long out injured on a regular basis. If Monreal can keep up his form of these last four weeks then he could very well keep his place in the Arsenal side, and a player of the month award would have been fully merited.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Arsenal don't have what they need

Not quite what we were hoping for


This might sound like stating the obvious, but Arsenal are at least two players short of a squad capable of winning the Premier League. What looked like it was going to be Arsenal's best year for transfer business since 2001 petered out in to the usual frustrating waste of time and energy. For Arsene Wenger to state on Sunday that he would be "active" in the market throughout deadline day, only to then actually be in Rome for a charity football match, is unforgivable. What makes him think he should have a day off on what should have been the most important non match day of the season? Unless, of course, Gazidis wanted him out of the way so that he might actually have a chance to get a deal or two over the line without interference.
I flew out to Northern Ireland early on Monday morning for a couple of days visiting family. The added bonus to that was not being in front of Sky Sports News all day. I did catch the last hour or so before midnight and there was a certain amusement to be had in that idiot Jim White's desperation for Arsenal and Man Utd to announce their signings as it was pretty obvious that nothing had really happened all day (aside from 'Arry's usual attempts to get his mug on TV by re-signing a load of familiar faces). Being away, and without the opportunity to write anything here, I was prevented from really going in to one on Tuesday morning about what Arsenal had done, or not done, in the transfer market.

The performance at Leicester on Sunday was abject. I saw a stat saying that Arsenal had 24 attempts at goal. There were precious few of them in the last 30 minutes when Leicester looked the more likely winners. In fact the whole game was a showcase for the deficiencies and the lies that have become a mark of Arsene Wenger's modern Arsenal side.
Let's start with Laurent Koscielny's head injury. The official website ran an interview with Dr Gary O'Driscoll a few weeks ago regarding concussions and the need to take players out of the fray immediately in such circumstances. O' Driscoll had apparently been a prime mover in improved safety guidelines for head injuries. So how the hell was Koscielny allowed to get back on that pitch on Sunday? I don't blame Arsene Wenger for that one. If there is one thing Wenger does not do then it is to put an injured man on the pitch, however minor the knock might be (the only real exception I can think of was when Vieira was risked against Man Utd in 2003 and it backfired spectacularly). Arsene was clearly told by his medics that Koscielny was okay to carry on. So thank you to Mssrs Lewin and O'Driscoll for costing Arsenal an equaliser on Sunday. 
I may have mentioned before that I'm fed up with people defending Mesut Ozil. So it was again on Sunday. I saw a diagram showing his passes during the game and how it demonstrated his ability to move the ball and keep possession for Arsenal. What it showed to me was a bloke happy to keep up his passing stats by going square across a well organised back-four and not creating anything of note. Yes, Arsenal didn't have too much with regards running beyond the defence, but Mesut Ozil cost Arsenal £42.5m. Is it really too much to expect a player of his calibre to make something happen himself? Should he not be taking men on occasionally, creating some space for others, bringing defenders out of position etc? He is a lightweight luxury that Arsenal (nor any other Premier League club) can afford to carry.
Yaya Sanogo was inexplicably reinstated on Sunday and it certainly didn't work out. I was dismayed at the stick he was getting, however, as he did not select himself. I imagine Sanogo is as aware as anyone that he is out of his depth in the Premier League. The fact that he is not good enough is not his fault. He clearly isn't as good as Chuba Akpom who Wenger will not add to his squad, so you have to feel a little sorry for Sanogo. Sixteen appearances and no goals (and rarely looking like getting one) tells its own story. But if you blame anyone other than the Manager for that situation then you should take a long, hard look at yourself. To compound the decision of select Sanogo he then put on Podolski at centre-forward, and kept Alexis out wide, just two days after claiming neither of them were really suited to those positions. Meanwhile Joel Campbell was left sitting on the bench once again wondering when someone would release him from his nightmare.

With Giroud injured, and Sanogo not up to it, there was a clear need to add a centre-forward to the squad. I can't help lamenting the fact that the one we have brought in is Danny Welbeck. The positives with Welbeck are that he is tall, he's quick, and he works really hard. The negative is that his major weakness is finishing. Call me old fashioned but I prefer a centre-forward who can put the ball in the net. In Welbeck we have effectively signed the English Giroud. Now he is here I will get behind him when hes' on the pitch, but Arsenal should have been doing so much better. We knew we needed a top striker when Van Persie left. Two years on we are still waiting. We now have to hope that, given his chance in the centre (do you honestly see Wenger not putting him on the wing more often than not?) that Welbeck can develop that finishing ability in the same way that Thierry Henry did - and I am in no way comparing him to Thierry Henry. When I heard Falcao was going to Man Utd for as little as £5m I was furious with Arsenal, but a weekly wage in excess of £350k is ridiculous (though it just goes to show that playing in the Champions League is completely unimportant to professional footballers).
The most frustrating aspect of the transfer window for me has not actually been the failure to bring in a top striker (at least Welbeck is better than signing nobody). When Thomas Vermaelen was leaving we were promised by Wenger that a new centre-back would be coming in. So where is he Arsene? Yet another lie from the Manager. We needed a centre-half even before Vermaelen went, though I was happy to accept Chambers as the fourth-choice in that position, as Sagna was last season. We are now one injury away from disaster. Without either Mertesacker or Koscielny for a prolonged period we will be in all sorts of trouble. I know people are lauding Chambers as something special because he puts everything in to it, but I've seen him make the same mistake in every game he's played so far and it has cost us at least two goals - he constantly dives in off his feet and is left watching as his opponent strides towards goal. The decision to force Carl Jenkinson to go to West Ham looks even more stupid now than it did at the time. 
We also knew we needed another central midfield player (I hesitate to say defensive midfielder). We wanted a beast, a big marauding tough guy to replace Arteta and/or Flamini on a regular basis. Of course Khedira would have fitted the bill perfectly, and so would William Carvallho. I really don't see how we get through the season, hoping to challenge, with the options we have in that part of the pitch. We were found wanting there last season more than any other area. What might Manchester City's physical midfield specimens do next week?
At the end of last season we knew we needed a goalkeeper, a right-back, at least one centre-back, a central (or defensive) midfield player and a top centre-forward. We've brought in the goalkeeper and the right-back, a new attacking midfieler/striker (who is an improvement on those already in the squad) and an average centre-forward. We have also gambled £16m on a teenager who is filling in at centre-half, can play at right-back, or maybe in midfield. I don't really see how we are any stronger than last season. In some areas we are weaker. This should not have been allowed to happen. Sadly we look to be in a position of same old, same old. It could be a long nine months ahead again and that is ridiculous with all the money Arsenal had available to bring in the right players. Wenger can't even claim they "weren't available" this time as they most definitely were.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Santi and Alexis lead the way to a reasonable European tour

Stars of the show against Besiktas


It wouldn't be accurate to say that I enjoyed the game yesterday. I definitely enjoyed the result and, in that case, I've had all the entertainment I require. It should have been a lot easier than it was in the end, regardless of the scandalous red card for Debuchy as Arsenal missed a number of chances. Jack Wilshere missed when one on one with the goalkeeper, then Santi Cazorla missed the goal with the keeper 25 yards off his line. In between times we had a huge let off when the referee failed to give a penalty to Besiktas for Jack Wilshere's foul just as their player was about to break the back of the net. When we did score it was a bit scrappy as Jack miscontrolled the ball in to the path of Alexis. What the goal means could be an important part in the entire history of Arsenal.
When Alexis got the goal he puffed out his cheeks and raised his arms in the exact same way Dennis Bergkamp did after his classic volley to get off the mark. The way he played when they came out for the second half it was as though a weight had been lifted from him, just as it was with Dennis that day against Southampton. There was a freedom in the way he went about his business after half-time. I noted there was an occasion just before he scored where he had the ball and passed it square despite having the opportunity to beat a defender and be in on goal. When he was at Barcelona he would have taken that chance to go at his man. In the second half that was exactly what he started doing and we seemed to be looking at the sort of player you pay the big money for. The way Alexis put himself about for the team last night was incredible. He is tiny and yet he was too strong for men much bigger than himself. He was winning headers towards the end of the game that he had no right to get to. It was sheer desire and will to win from a player who looked like he suddenly felt at home. The crowd reacted to him and so did the rest of the Arsenal players. If Sanchez last night gave us a sign of things to come from him then we will certainly never be faulting him for a lack of effort. As I say, it could be a big moment in our history if he can replicate even half of what Dennis achieved. I could, of course, go in to one at this point about the contrast with Mesut Ozil, but I've said it all before about him.
The other player who truly stood out for me last night (aside from the back four - Nacho Monreal had his best game in an Arsenal shirt) was Santi Cazorla. There are often times when Santi flits in and out, or is almost totally invisible. Last night he was everywhere. I've never seen him putting in tackles like he did against Besiktas. When he got the ball he looked dangerous and got us on the front foot straight away. In its own way it was probably his best performance since he joined Arsenal. I wonder if Santi has sensed an opportunity here with Ozil stuffed out on the left. Suddenly Wenger is trusting Cazorla with the important role and he certainly went to it. I can't speak highly enough of what I saw from Santi Cazorla in that game and it was crucial to us qualifying for the Champions League. I thought throughout last season that Cazorla would be gone by now - he is now looking to make himself the key player.
As with the chance to criticise Ozil I could now launch an attack on Arsene Wenger for his comments about new players after the game but you've heard it all before. And it will keep until next week when the transfer window closes and we know whether or not he has been too tight to launch a challenge for the Premier League this season.

The draw, as I'm sure you've seen, has been made already for the Champions League. I would say I'm not too upset with it, though it could obviously have been a bit easier. Borussia Dortmund are drawn with us for the third year in succession and this is probably the weakest side they've had in that time. Losing Lewandowski was huge for them (though you can be fairly certain that Reus won't be joining us before Monday now that we've drawn Dortmund again). That's not to say it's going to be easy - they are clearly the main threat to Arsenal in the group once again. Starting our campaign at the Westfalenstadion is not good at all, but nor is the prospect of going to Galatasaray for game six and needing to get a result to qualify. That being the case you would have to think the four games in between must garner maximum points if we are to make it through this time.
The draw against Galatasaray had to happen at some point I suppose. Having been in Copenhagen fourteen years ago their supporters are people I had hoped never to encounter again. Sadly we now have them to face in a competitive fixture. I suspect a lot of "veterans" will be in and around North London when we play them, and probably a few from Leeds will join them. In truth, it is the violence of their support that makes them even remotely a worry on the pitch. This is a team for whom Emmanuel Eboue is a key player. Say no more about their quality. It beggars belief that their fans are still allowed to get away with the "welcome to hell" nonsense, but that's UEFA and their failings all over. Hopefully the players are able to concentrate simply on doing the business on the pitch, and nothing would give me more pleasure in this group than to destroy Galatasaray - anyone who was at that UEFA Cup Final in 2000 would no doubt agree.
The tie I'm most looking forward to is Anderlecht. They are a famous adversary from Arsenal's past after what became the Double team beat them in the Fairs Cup Final 2nd leg at Highbury in 1970. People who were there that night tell you that Highbury was never better than for that game. Us youngsters probably go for 1998 as our best memory (certainly it's mine) but for the previous generation Anderlecht is a name synonymous with their favourite time at the old place. With the fixtures announced there is only one game that I am working for in the group stage, and that is Anderlecht away. However, it's been a while since I went away in Europe, and Belgium is no distance from here so I am booking a day off and going to that one. It's the third group game so there will be plenty riding on it. I'm looking forward to it already.
The best thing about the European draw for Arsenal is the relative lack of travelling. Dennis Bergkamp would have played in two of the three away games, for God's sake. That's good for the players and it's good for the fans who will once again follow over land and sea (and Leicester on Sunday) in their thousands - though maybe not quite so many will go to Istanbul. The important bit from last night is that we're in a position to even think about these matches, and we can thank Alexis for that.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Besiktas (h) preview - going out would mean disaster

Can we make it again?


In all the years that we've had to go through the qualifying stages I can only think of one occasion where we've come under any real pressure, and that was against Udinese as few seasons back. Apart from that tie it's always been fairly plain sailing thanks to excellent away results in the first leg (against Udinese we played at home in the first game). A 0-0 draw in Turkey last week leaves Arsenal in a very precarious position going in to the match this evening. If Besiktas get a goal then we need to find two to go through, such is the importance of scoring away goals in a two leg European encounter.
On paper, regardless of who is injured and suspended, Arsenal should walk all over a team like Besiktas. With players like Wilshere, Ozil, Alexis, Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain we should have no trouble. I expect that neutrals see it that way. But when it's your team you don't see that. All I see is a team that will have neither of the players it usually relies on to provide the goals. Aaron Ramsey getting sent off last Tuesday could be the moment at which our long run of Champions League appearances was dealt a mortal blow. It really is time for Jack Wilshere to step up tonight and replace Ramsey, and shut the press up once and for all. I hope to be proved wrong, but I can't really see Yaya Sanogo being the man tonight - it would be the most pleasant surprise if he was the hero. Certainly Sanogo is due a goal, isn't he?
What I'd love to see is for Arsenal to start the game the way they did against Napoli and Bayern Munich at home last season. Such a blistering opening would blow the Turkish side away in the first twenty minutes. It would mean playing with pace, and getting people running in behind to provide Ozil with the targets he needs for his particular brand of through ball. A performance akin to the first-half at Wembley the other week would be just what the doctor ordered as well. What I expect, on the other hand, is a tight game with the tension of the occasion gripping the players. That will certainly suit Besiktas more than Arsenal - all the pressure is on us tonight and the players have to show us that they can respond.
I'm worried about tonight. I'm worried about what not going through will mean. The hole it would put in the confidence of the players would be huge. It would almost certainly mean not signing the new players we need to challenge in the Premier League (assuming there is any intention to do so in the first place). It would also mean having to play a knackering schedule of Thursday night matches (which would likely be included as season ticket fixtures) against teams from some of the darkest outposts of Europe, and then seeing all the league games played on Sunday's as a result. Nobody wants Channel 5 or ITV 4. Nobody wants to play the Latvian Cup winners, away, in December. Arsenal have to win tonight, if nothing else than to stop us from having a horrible season ahead in the UEFA Cup. It's time to go out and be The Arsenal.