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:

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)

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).

Monday, 7 July 2014

Arsenal Media blow it again

Don't bother buying this tosh

My copy of the Arsenal Season Review DVD arrived in the post on Saturday morning and I got around to watching it today. Having done so I am absolutely fuming at the rubbish that has filled what should have been a great watch. The film goes on for two and a half hours, but if you can get through the first fifteen minutes without getting dizzy you've done well. If you do survive that then you'll simply get more and more annoyed at the content of the DVD.
Last year Arsenal produced the usual end of season DVD using their own in-house media department. What they ended up with was a bizarre review of the season incorporating bad camera angles, worse operation of said cameras, a bad script delivered by a poor narrator and an oppressive musical soundtrack that either played over the top of, or not too far in the background of, almost all the football. Having bought it last year and been amazed at how bad it was (and I wasn't the only one) I felt sure they wouldn't make the same errors this year. As you will have guessed from the tone of this piece that is exactly what they've done. Put together with the amateurish commentary from the bloke on Arsenal Player you really do end up with a headache from watching it.
The film of the Arsenal goals is quite unbelievable. Do you remember that brilliant volley by Aaron Ramsey at Sunderland? I hope you do, because the film used on the DVD means you don't actually see Ramsey hitting the ball. Then there is Jack Wilshere's goal against Norwich, the BBC Goal Of The Season winner. On the Arsenal DVD we get to see the last four passes in the build-up, rather than the ball being won on the edge of our own penalty area and worked up the pitch in the move of the decade. How about the pass from Ozil for Flamini's goal at Cardiff? No, that's not there. Nor is the reaction of the Cardiff fans to Aaron Ramsey's goals in that game (both of which are shown from angles that don't let you appreciate their quality) which was surely one of the stories of Arsenal's season. As a viewer you find yourself rushed through the good wins mentioned so far, only to then get hit with full highlights of the 6-3 defeat at Manchester City and the 5-1 hammering at Liverpool. We even get the full works from the 2-0 home defeat to Bayern Munich, but not Fabianski's penalty save in the return leg.
As you move towards the business end of things you get the distinct impression that the DVD has not been made by anybody with the remotest idea about football or Arsenal. The FA Cup semi-final is again rushed through, with the dodgy camera angles and hideous music, and we see Wigan's two penalty misses and Cazorla's winning spot-kick. I had been looking forward to viewing that whole penalty shootout, and hearing the Arsenal fans (all 50,000+ of us at Wembley that day) reaction to the win. I was left wondering if we had won the semi-final after all such was the way it was glossed over.

You won't see this on the DVD

Worst of all is the FA Cup Final coverage. We get all the goals, but only one of the penalties that wasn't given. We actually see less of the Cup Final than we do of the defeats I've detailed above. And then we have the coup de grace as the presentation of the FA Cup to Thomas Vermaelen, and his lifting it to the supporters, is not shown at all. The most important moment at Arsenal in nearly 10 years and it isn't recorded for posterity in the official Club archive. I rewound the disc to check that I hadn't missed it. The most iconic part of any FA Cup win is the trophy been lifted, and yet whichever cretin has produced, edited and signed-off on this film has allowed it to be published without showing it to us!
The whole DVD gives me the impression that it's been designed by some arty student type who thinks they're being incredibly clever. It looks like a bad FIFA official World Cup film. When I've written to Arsenal in the past to complain about their publications I have been told that they have a "stringent" quality control process. Given the errors that are prevalent in written publications, and the utter dross that has been produced on official DVD's these past two years, it is clear that Arsenal Media needs a massive overhaul. Maybe they should start by actually employing people who know football and who love Arsenal.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Ozil still looks more like a problem than the solution, PUMA and Boreham Wood

What is wrong with him?

I think most Arsenal fans would have watched the World Cup matches yesterday with increased interest. We had Giroud and Koscielny involved for France, and Mertesacker and Ozil for Germany. It would be fair to say the two central defenders were the more impressive performers, despite what Andy Townsend would have the ITV viewers believe.
The worrying thing for me is that Mesut Ozil looks as uncomfortable in the German side as he has at Arsenal since November. What we are watching is not the player who arrived in September. His debut at Sunderland, and the home games with Norwich and Napoli seem a lifetime ago. Something is wrong with Mesut Ozil and Arsene Wenger needs to work out how to put him right. It was noticeable throughout the last hour of the game last night that Germany's players had no intention of giving him the ball if they could possibly help it. If you thought Arshavin had some lazy touches then Ozil last night was comatose at times. 
It's an inconvenient truth to many Arsenal supporters, but he looks like a £40m pup at the moment. Some, who clearly consider themselves some kind of football intellectuals, still claim that people like me simply can't see what he brings to the side. They're right, I suppose, because I can't see what he brings. The occasional pass that makes you gasp (there was one last night early in the second-half that sent Schurrle clear) is really not enough. When he gives it away he simply shrugs his shoulders and doesn't react. On one occasion last night he was sent clear and looked set to score, with the ball on his left foot, only to try and turn inside (lazily) and run in to the nearest defender. It's so disappointing, yet he looks totally disinterested.
I read one of the more popular blogs this morning where Arsenal fans were mocked for being angry about Ozil's performance for a side we care nothing for. The point is that his display (and his performances throughout this tournament) are simply redolent of what we've seen all through the last six months. I hate to keep bringing up Cesc Fabregas, but if he starts doing the business for Chelsea while Ozil plays in this fashion at Arsenal then he will not only be a £40m pup, but the most expensive boo-boy in World football. 
I said yesterday that Arsenal need to bring in forwards that play to Ozil's strengths. It's noticeable that he is not trusted enough by Joachim Low to play through the centre (you can be sure that a fit Reus would see him on the bench). But what he has got is players who play the way he likes. Yet still he seems incapable of producing the goods. That's a worrying development for Arsenal.

The dark years of Nike are over. Arsenal officially announced the commencement of their deal with PUMA at midnight last night. Nike produced some very good Arsenal shirts in their 19 year association with Arsenal, but also just about all of the biggest stinkers we've ever had. PUMA are starting on the right foot with a lovely looking red shirt with white sleeves, and a traditional yellow and blue away kit. The third shirt isn't to my taste, but I don't see the team wearing it more than once or twice (and that will only be in order to satisfy the terms of the sponsorship). I'm not going to post any of the leaked pictures of the shirts as their available on hundreds of websites with a simple Google search. I will, however, complain about the fact that Arsenal didn't go through with officially unveiling them last night and making them available to pre-order for delivery on the launch date. But what do I know about business, eh?

While we're talking business, Boreham Wood FC are making the most of the visit of the Arsenal first-team (those that aren't/haven't been in Brazil) that was announced yesterday. The ticket prices are nothing short of a joke. How can they possibly justify £18 to stand, £14 concessions and £24 to sit? Given that you can get Charity Shield tickets to watch Arsenal play Manchester City at Wembley for just £20 you'd have to wonder how they're getting away with that. I might still go to the game, if only to get some Arsenal action and a proper look at the new kit, but it'll cost me £32 for me and my boy. That's an outrageous cost to see a game like this one.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Time to come back, Joel Campbell - better than Sanogo BUT...

It's been three weeks since I wrote anything. When I last put fingertip to keyboard I was looking forward to the World Cup and how I would pass comment on the events there. I had a busy couple of days with work after that post, and then went to Lord's to watch England play cricket. On the Sunday, the day after England lost to Italy I went out to play cricket myself, with the full intention of writing about the impact Joel Campbell had made for Costa Rica in the game that was on before England the previous evening. However, just as my cricket was about to start I was called to the edge of the pitch to be told that a colleague and close friend of mine had died. I spent the rest of that day in something of a daze, making and taking phone-calls to pass on the awful news I'd been given about Steve.
In the intervening fortnight I have not been motivated in the slightest to write about the World Cup, or anything else. I've been surprised at the effect Steve's death had on me, not realising quite how good a mate he was. Working with the same people every day develops a bond that you maybe don't recognise until it's torn away by this kind of tragedy. Together with my team at work we've had some hard days in these two weeks, culminating with his funeral last Thursday. Steve, a bloke in his early 40's and with no outward signs of ill-health, leaves behind a wife and two young children. To say he is missed, and will continue to be missed, is an understatement. I tell you all of this simply to explain why there has been nothing on this website since 9th June. Somehow, writing about teams and players I have no more than passing interests in really didn't seem worth it.

So now I am back I am going to talk about Joel Campbell, just as I had intended to two weeks ago. The tone of the piece might not be quite as excitable as it would have been after Costa Rica beat Uruguay, however. I have to say that following that match I was genuinely thrilled at what I'd seen from Campbell. He dominated the Uruguayan's that evening and deservedly scored one goal and made another. He looked quick, strong, skillful and apparently wasn't afraid to go for goal. All of a sudden Arsenal might have a talent on their hands. Having watched all of Costa Rica's matches I will now temper that a little bit, not because Campbell hasn't been pretty impressive throughout, but because the style of his game is perhaps different from the impression gleaned in their opening game.
Last night when I was watching Costa Rica it became more and more obvious to me that Campbell is a "back to goal" sort of striker, much like Olivier Giroud. What I mean by that is that most of his best work comes when facing the ball and his own defence. He's a very effective player when it comes to winning the ball and holding it (apart from when he's absolutely knackered like in extra-time yesterday) and his superb first-touch allows him to bring his midfield in to the game. If I had a criticism of him against England it was that he was coming far too deep to get on the ball, lessening his obvious impact high up the pitch.
When he gets on the ball Campbell is always looking for the available runner. I could see him linking well with Theo Walcott or Aaron Ramsey, for example, but he then doesn't much seem to have the desire to attack the penalty area for the return (again, a bit like Giroud at times). I think I'm yet to see him make a run off the shoulder of the last defender which limits him as a goal scoring option. His absolute best qualities I've seen so far is his weight of pass and ability to find the angle to make that pass - two or three times last night he played super balls in behind the full-backs for the likes of Ruiz to run on to.
So he's like Giroud, with a better touch but possibly without the goals (at this stage). But he's also a massive improvement on what we saw of Yaya Sanogo last season. There isn't the awkwardness on the ball or the flailing of arms and legs that you get when Sanogo is on the run. I'd be far more confident that Campbell will produce some end product than I would the young Frenchman at this stage. He is certainly worth a punt this season as a proper member of the Arsenal squad. The problem for me is that he is not the sort of forward that will play to the strengths of Mesut Ozil. Having passed on Fabregas the side needs to be built with players that can bring the best out of Ozil. Centre-forwards who play facing him are not what Ozil wants or needs. He requires a centre-forward and wingers that will run on to exquisitely delivered through-balls or crosses from wide. As it stands we have only Theo Walcott who plays like that, and he is almost always injured.
In short I'd be happy with Joel Campbell as genuine competition to Olivier Giroud, but a genuine goal scorer is required if Arsenal are to challenge for the Premier League next season. Put that type of player on the field with Ozil (or with Giroud/Campbell for that matter) and Arsenal will create enough to be very dangerous indeed.

France and Germany are both in action this evening so there is potential for plenty of Arsenal interest. I'm still waiting for Ozil to be the World Cup player he was four years ago - if he sparks then Germany will walk this tournament. More tomorrow if the Arsenal players have been involved.