Monday, 29 June 2015

Petr Cech can be as good for Arsenal as Pat Jennings

Who ever really thought we'd see this?


Back in the 1970's Tottenham Hotspur decided that Pat Jennings had had his day. Terry Neill schmoozed his way in and brought Pat to Highbury. For the next eight years he remained the best until age caught up with him. I wouldn't say that Chelsea think Petr Cech has had his day, but clearly Courtois is considered to be better and you can't expect one of the best players in the World to sit on the bench for most of the season (unless you're Mourinho). For Arsene Wenger and Arsenal to pull off the signing of Petr Cech from Chelsea is quite unbelievable. It is apparent that Mourinho didn't want to sell to us (and this may yet be the beginning of the end of his relationship with Chelsea's owner) but Roman Abramovich felt he owed it to Cech to let him go to a club of his choosing. Chelsea's loss is most certainly Arsenal's gain. Meanwhile, Cech's open letter to Chelsea fans (which is full of class it must be said) is telling in the absence of any mention of Mourinho - that speaks volumes to me about Jose and his ways of doing things.
I didn't think it would happen. Something was always nagging in the back of my mind that Mourinho would find a way to scupper the deal to spite Wenger and Arsenal. Since the day he signed for Chelsea Cech is a player that has been coveted by every team in the Premier League, and many teams beyond these shores. I don't know if he's been quite the same since the head injury and I remain uncertain about him feeling the need to wear the helmet, but he is so much of an improvement on what we've got, and on what we've had since Jens Lehmann, that this is a truly magnificent signing for Arsenal. I've got the same kind of feeling that I had when we bought David Platt or Sol Campbell in that I can't quite believe Petr Cech is now an Arsenal player. Until I see him in the Arsenal team it won't seem real to me. Petr Cech is a World Class goalkeeper and he now belongs to Arsenal.
Many outside of Arsenal will question the fact that he is the wrong side of 30. I used the example of Pat Jennings above to illustrate that it shouldn't be too much of a problem to us as long as he's still as motivated as he says he is. You can also look at how Manchester United benefited from signing Edwin Van Der Sar when he was supposed to have been finished. Frankly Cech has a god three or four years left at the very top of his game if he wants it. We can achieve great things with a top goalkeeper like him. In my lifetime we've had Pat Jennings, John Lukic, David Seaman and Jens Lehmann as top class goalkeepers - they all had success. Now we've got Petr Cech to join that list of top class players.
So what does it mean for the other Arsenal goalkeepers? Well silence is golden and David Ospina has remained silent. Wojciech Szczesny and Emi Martinez have taken to their Facebook and Twitter accounts to welcome Cech to Arsenal and both mentioned their desire to "learn from the best". Martinez was said to be wanting to leave to get a game, but this might indicate otherwise. As for Szczesny it's quite a statement from him. Maybe the young Pole has realised he has plenty to learn before he is as good as he maybe believed himself to be. At the same time it is a mark of great maturity and a tremendous attitude. Far from being put out at the arrival of a top player in his position he is ready to take everything on board and develop further. At the same time, with two of the three senior goalkeepers having their say, and the rumours of Fenerbahce having a deal in place for the quiet Ospina, I think we will be waving goodbye to the Colombian. He's done well for us since Christmas, but he is at an age where he has done his learning and developing and wants to play. When all is said and done I'm not sure he's better than Szczesny really in any case. For me it's "thanks and goodbye" to Ospina.
Quite apart from the improvement to the squad that comes with the signing of Cech there is the statement of intent that this further reinforces from Arsenal Football Club. In the last four Summer's we have signed World stars in Lukas Podolski, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Petr Cech. Gone are the days of Gervinho's and Chamakh's. The times have changed for us Gooners and it's beginning to look more positive all the time. A couple more top signings and we have a squad capable to beating Chelsea and Manchester City to the Premier League Title next season.

I still prefer Jack's hat

Monday, 22 June 2015

Not everything Arsenal do is wrong

Isn't this what we want to see?



This post might seem a bit hypocritical given the way I go after certain things at Arsenal. But the fact is I am fed-up with people who refuse to acknowledge what is good about our Club. Most of all I am not just fed-up, but utterly amazed at people who would choose to criticise us for winning "only" the FA Cup. If you can't enjoy your team going to Wembley and winning back to back FA Cup's then I suggest you're in to the wrong sport.
This post stems from the overt criticism I saw on Twitter late on Friday night regarding Arsenal's end of season Q&A for fans with Ivan Gazidis and Ian Wright. Among the criticisms were the idea that it was nothing other than a PR stunt (yes, so what?) and that it was ridiculous that grown-ups should want to take up the invitation to meet Wrighty for a photograph, or to have their pictures taken with the FA Cup. Unlike the invite-only kit launch last Monday the event on Friday was actually for the genuine fans rather than those with a big social media profile. Those that didn't get invited to either of them had their axes out on Friday night and were grinding them  with merry abandon. Most of them say they "wouldn't be seen dead" at such an event, but my God did they moan about it regardless! For my money, giving the fans the chance to meet a hero or two (Paul Davis and Martin Hayes were among the others in attendance) and to get up close and personal with the FA Cup for free is praiseworthy from Arsenal. You see, not everything Arsenal do is wrong. Not everything Ivan Gazidis does is wrong. Not even everything Arsene Wenger does is wrong for God's sake!
Off the back of the griping described above I got in to a Twitter conversation with another fan trying to put his point across. Of course I am long nailed to the "Wenger-out" lobby so I share some views with the person I was talking to. We also agree that leaving Highbury "to compete" was a lie we were spun. However, I support Arsenal Football Club. I can do that without worrying that The Emirates isn't Highbury. I can do that without wanting Arsene Wenger in charge (more on that below). I can do that without liking Stan Kroenke being the largest shareholder, and putting his son on the Board. I can do that without liking the fact that my season ticket is bloody expensive. I can even do that when the team is rubbish, let alone when they are winning trophies. You see Arsenal is bigger than any of the rest of it. And it seems that this is what some people forget.
The most bizarre aspect of this conversation came when I pointed out that people wanted to celebrate winning the FA Cup as it means we are being successful, and that you might as well as enjoy it while you can as you never know how long we'll be without success in the future. I was told that the Club are trying to re-create "1979" levels of euphoria over a trophy that doesn't mean so much anymore. This is, of course, utter nonsense. Silverware is silverware. Having spent nine years going mental at Arsenal and Arsene Wenger for not winning trophies it now seems that we are winning the wrong ones! Because it isn't the Premier League we should not be enjoying the win, apparently. I was staring at my iPad screen in disbelief as I read this stuff. And let me make it clear - the FA Cup means as much to me as it ever did. Anyone who was at Wembley on 30th May would say exactly the same thing.
So what is the cause of this negativity? Ultimately it comes down to wanting Arsene Wenger and/or Stan Kroenke and Ivan Gazidis out. The same people that accuse "Arsene knows" types of fan of believing him to be bigger than the Club now use his presence as an excuse to not enjoy winning things, on the grounds that it isn't the Premier League. In short they are now setting up Arsene as being bigger than The Arsenal themselves by their own illogical negativity. It is beyond crazy that you wouldn't choose to enjoy winning the FA Cup, and then to actually have a go at people who absolutely loved it. It's quite scary that such a pathological mind set can exist among our support.
As I said above I have long been in the "Wenger out" camp. But I have also always said I want him to prove me wrong because, in doing so, he would be bringing success back to Arsenal. Can I forgive the move from Highbury? No. Can I forgive throwing away two or three Premier League Title's by refusing to spend the money that was available to strengthen obvious weaknesses when it mattered? No. At the same time I am able to appreciate Arsenal, under Arsene Wenger, suddenly winning two trophies in two seasons. I am able to appreciate the breaking of the shackles to bring in stars like Ozil and Alexis two years running. Do I want Arsene to go now? That's where the change is for me. I daresay a couple of defeats, or another failed transfer window, and I'll back on the campaign to have him removed. But for now I am willing to give him the chance to go out and win more trophies next season and keep proving me wrong. This is because I am an Arsenal supporter and, as I said above, Arsenal is bigger than any of us. I'm not ashamed to say I love watching Arsenal win trophies. And if loving winning trophies is wrong, then I don't ever want to be right.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Squad review part four - Strikers

Sign that contract Theo
 
 
So we reach the final part of the squad review for another year. This time it's the strikers on the Arsenal staff who take centre stage.
 
 
Lukas Podolski
I imagine this will be a season to forget for everyone's favourite social media Arsenal player. He was ridiculously frozen out by Arsene Wenger despite our inability to get results in the early part of the season, and then loaned to Inter in January where he failed to make an impact. The game against Southampton in the League Cup probably did him no favours when he was totally disinterested in performing. Having said that, when finally thrown on at Anderlecht to rescue something he popped up with the winner, and then scored twice in the win at Galatassaray. His Arsenal career is surely all but over and that will save us massive money on his wages which can be used for a new player. However, I can't help thinking that Wenger never did his best by Podolski and certainly never utilised his magnificent goal scoring record to our advantage. His career at Arsenal will be an opportunity missed in my eyes.
 
 
Mesut Ozil
As regulars will know I am not a huge fan of Ozil. He is a player blessed with the most wonderful ability but who rarely seems to want to display it. I don't care what anyone says to the contrary, he is lazy, scared and disinterested 90% of the time. Apparently he's a Rolls Royce of a footballer who the proles simply can't appreciate for his majesty - Rollers are expensive to run and totally impractical 90% of the time too. And yet Ozil will occasionally perform to a totally different standard. In the FA Cup Final he was totally imperious and played like the World Class superstar he really is. The frustration he provided for most of the rest of the season was virtually forgotten as a result. I just hope that the way he played at Wembley will be the performance that sets him free in the Premier League and teaches him that he is better than everyone else so he damn well better start showing them all. He showed that can beat people, put in a tackle occasionally and move with pace. His passing has never been in question, but I want to see him shoot a bit more often too - he can do that as well when he can be bothered.
 
 
Olivier Giroud
A fine late header at Everton was followed within two minutes by a bizarrely broken leg inflicted by a football. We didn't see him again until well in to Autumn and he was eased back in by the Manager. In the middle part of the season Giroud went on a fabulous run and was more prolific than at any other time in his Arsenal career. Arsenal were winning and Giroud was scoring plenty of goals. He had one particularly awful night in front of goal against Monaco that ultimately cost us a place in the quarter-final of the European Cup but that seemed the exception. Shortly after that Thierry Henry slagged him off and Giroud stopped scoring. Instead of going out and proving Henry wrong he simply seemed to agree and the goals stopped. As a result he lost his place for the Cup Final and had to make do with a place on the bench. It was nice for him to come on and finally end his goal drought at Wembley itself and, in doing so, he achieved something Thierry never did - he scored in a Cup Final for Arsenal.
 
 
Theo Walcott
It's unusual these days for a cruciate injury to keep someone out quite so long as it did Theo. He missed exactly a year of football before his comeback appearance, but even then he didn't feature too often. When he did get a rare start he invariably scored a goal, but his performances weren't great until the last couple of weeks of the season - though in his defence he was playing so rarely that getting any kind of rhythm must have been tough. When he came on at Old Trafford he looked to be at his best. He was as quick as before and, unlike in the past, seemed more willing to take on his defender properly. He caused the own-goal that equalised up there and then was in for the West Brom game where he secured his Cup Final place. The goal he scored at Wembley will go down in my memory bank as one of the best moments I've experienced as an Arsenal fan as the whole of our end went absolutely mental when it hit the back of the net. To a certain extent he has now proved his credentials as a man who can play at centre-forward against particular opposition. Now we just need him to extend that contract.
 
 
Alexis Sanchez
What more can I write about the remarkable little Chilean? He was, quite simply, the signing of the season in English football. He gives a lie to the nonsense about needing six months to settle in to the Premier League. He works harder on the pitch than just about any footballer I've ever seen and, considering he rarely plays at centre-forward, he can score all types of goals - his header against Burnley was one of my favourites of this season. The quality he has is undeniable, though he sometimes doesn't release the pass as quickly as he should. That's a minor gripe, however. When he does get the ball you feel that something might be about to happen for Arsenal and it certainly did at Wembley with one of the best goals ever seen in an FA Cup Final. That came after a period where he had started to look tired in games, not quite hitting the same heights towards the back end of a long season. But £35m ought to guarantee quality and, in the case of Alexis, that quality is the kind that scores 30 yard thunderbolts at Wembley.
 
 
Yaya Sanogo
I saw Yaya Sanogo score four goals in the same game last August against Benfica. I also saw him score his only competitive goal for Arsenal. I might get a t-shirt made. Somehow he was seen by Wenger as a genuine contender to play in the Arsenal first-team before Christmas, but he is simply not good enough to play for Arsenal - the fact he couldn't get a game for Crystal Palace tells you all need to know. In his defence he tries his hardest at all times, but it can't be any wonder that quality like Podolski got annoyed at a lack of playing time when they were watching such a donkey on the pitch in front of them. Yaya fits in to the "dead wood" category and needs to be sold this Summer - a gamble that didn't pay off.
 
 
Danny Welbeck
If only he could finish. I like Welbeck a lot. He is a far better footballer than I ever gave him credit for when he was at Manchester United. Sadly he isn't really a much better goal scorer than I gave him credit for. He scored a great hat-trick in the European Cup and weighed in with some important goals at times, not least his winner in the FA Cup at Old Trafford. But he really does miss too many chances. He scored just one goal after Christmas. Hopefully a year or two working under Wenger might reap dividends for him as it did for Thierry Henry. He has everything to be a great striker if he can only learn to finish - perhaps a session or two being spoken to by Ian Wright might help him. There was some nonsense about a fall out between Welbeck and Wenger after he "refused" to be a sub at Hull. I said at the time I thought it was rubbish, and I stick by that until someone proves otherwise. Next season is a huge one for Welbeck at Arsenal, though, as he has to prove himself worthy of a place at centre-forward.
 
 
Joel Campbell
In that same game as Sanogo got four goals we saw a superb display by Campbell, including a superb goal. I really wanted to see him getting a proper go at Arsenal after his mightily impressive World Cup. When Giroud got injured I wanted to see him playing as the lone striker, as he did for Costa Rica, instead of which we got Sanogo until Welbeck arrived. As a result he was very much on the fringes with his rare appearances being on the wing, often in forlorn circumstances - though his impact from the bench in the comeback to 2-2 at Everton, and at home to Hull, was totally overlooked for some reason. Having been loaned out again, but failing to score more than one goal, at Villareal he now looks like a player that will be heading away from Arsenal. Maybe he isn't quite the top quality we need but I would have liked the chance to see if he could have cut it with good players around him.
 
 
Chuba Akpom
He had a couple of substitute appearances in the middle part of the season and had one or two chances to score his first goal. As a youngster scoring in just about every game in the under-21's he must have looked at Sanogo and wondered what he had to do to get a chance in the first team. I like Akpom a lot and I think a season loan to another Premier League club is what he needs if he's to prove how good he can be. He might yet be the real deal for Arsenal.
 
 
Alex Iwobi
An unused sub at Galatassaray he scored a nice few goals towards the end of the season in the under-21's. He's a decent prospect who might get a small shout in a couple of pre-season matches this Summer.
 
 
 
 
That's it for a few days now as I am tied up with work for most of the rest of the week. The new home kit is launched at some time this afternoon/evening so look out for that - if you haven't already seen it then there are plenty of photos on the internet to see via Google. Fixtures are also out this week but they mean virtually nothing until Sky and BT have decided how to mess people about. Hopefully we can have a signing or two to celebrate soon.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Squad review part three - Midfielders

Spanish connection
 
 
Part three of the annual squad review focuses on the midfield players that have made the first team (and a couple who didn't) this season. There are a lot of them...
 
 
Tomas Rosicky
I couldn't work out why TR7 was seemingly frozen out when we were so poor before Christmas. The same applied in certain games later in the season when his particular brand of running at defenders might have been just what we needed on the pitch. In between times he was very much part of the set-up and was instrumental in some decent performances. He also got his share of goals from his fleeting appearances, with his volley at Brighton a real highlight. Arsenal have taken up their option to extend his contract for a further year, but I don't know if it's fair to keep a player of his age when you don't intend to use him as much as you should. I'm a big fan of the Little Mozart so I'll be gutted if he does leave. Whatever happens, he's been an asset to the Club, albeit one who has missed far too much football.
 
 
Mikel Arteta
The Captain didn't really get in to things this season. He has suffered with what seems to be the same injury since the last game of the season at Newcastle a few years ago. As ever he didn't let anybody down when he did play, but we've not seen him since before Christmas. Arsene described him as "available" for the FA Cup Final but there was never a chance of him being involved. Having given up his right to pick up the trophy last year it was great to see Mertesacker insist on Arteta getting his share this time around. As a player who has changed his game entirely for Arsenal he is more than deserving of another year at a Club he has come to love.
 
 
Jack Wilshere
If only Jack could stay fit. This time it wasn't so much down to his glass ankles as a terrible (and unpunished) foul by Paddy McNair as he was tearing Man Utd a new one from the middle of the Arsenal midfield. Jack is still a fantastic prospect and, when he can get a spell without injury, he is the man to partner Coquelin at the base of the midfield. I want to see him shooting more often - as he proved against West Brom he can score stunning goals. The business at the victory parade was of interest only to the media and the idiots at the FA. There is more talk of him being sold to Man  City than I would like and that would potentially be business on a par with selling David Rocastle. Jack should be our next Captain and that's that.
 
 
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Another player who seems to find it hard to remain uninjured. When he is fit he is getting close to unstoppable. That run he went on that ended with the Monreal goal at Old Trafford was absolutely incredible. He has pace, power, skill and can score goals. I still believe he would be more effective from the centre of the pitch, but we have so many players competing for those positions. Out wide he is still outstanding. It was great that he was able to recover sufficiently to take his place on the bench at Wembley after missing out so cruelly last season. To come on and set up the fourth goal showed you just how much quality he has. He deserves a full season of fitness next time out and, if he has it, he could be the best English player in the Premier League.
 
 
Aaron Ramsey
He started with goals in the first two games and looked like he was going to pick up where he had left off the previous season. As it was he struggled a bit and, at times, went back to his old ways of trying to be far too clever with the ball instead of sticking with the simplicity that had been the hallmark of his success in 2013-14. I feel he is too concentrated at times on scoring himself a goal when it would be far better for the team if he just did the easy things. In the latter part of the season he spent a lot of time out on the right and, for me, that didn't do him or the team any favours. In the Cup Final, however, he had a very decent game and was instrumental in the pressure on the Villa defence that saw us retain the trophy. He should have another Cup Final goal himself, but I reckon the medal will be enough consolation. He is linked with Barcelona but surely only an idiot would go there knowing they have to replace Xavi.
 
 
Santi Cazorla
The little Spanish magician wasn't at his best when he played in the first half of the season. He didn't impose himself on matches and was often on the fringes. The we went to Man City and he ran the game, playing his best ever game in an Arsenal shirt. From then on he was pretty much superb for most of the rest of the season. His work rate became a joy to behold and he has learned to tackle players, often breaking up attacks around the edge of our penalty area. His quick feet are often mesmeric and he did chip in with the odd goal from open play in spite of playing a deeper role. He was named man of the match at the Cup Final and I suspect even he was a little surprised by that. Another man linked with a move back to Spain, it would be a blow to us if he chose to go home.
 
 
Mathieu Flamini
The man who should have benefited from the injury to Mikel Arteta didn't quite get the success he might have hoped. He got injured himself which let in Coquelin and, to be fair, at times he looked like a player who had regressed to the one who was at Arsenal years ago. I like Flamini as he never stops trying. I'd like to see him concentrate on his own game at times - he often spends too long directing everyone else and forgets his own task. At the same time he is an excellent squad man and the kind of communicator every team needs.
 
 
Abou Diaby
Yes, Abou did play a game for the first-team this season. His only appearance was for the League Cup tie with Southampton. He went off after about an hour and was then injured yet again. I saw him play in a Reserves game at Emirates late in the season and he was simply a class above. He is now out of contract and officially released, though talk remains of a pay-as-you-play deal. I've written about it at length before but it is a tragedy that his career was wrecked by that thug from Sunderland. Abou would have replaced Patrick Vieira, I have no doubt about that, and he would have gone on to be a World star - one of the Spanish clubs would have snapped him up years ago. I wish him well wherever he ends up.
 
 
Serge Gnabry
Serge didn't actually make it back to the first-team this season after a long-term injury. He played a lot of under-21 games in the last few months of the season and was around the squad on Cup Final day. He is now at a crossroads in his career and it will be interesting to see if he is at Arsenal or loaned elsewhere come September.
 
 
Francis Coquelin
What a season for this young man. Heading in to Christmas week he was playing for Charlton Athletic and clearly surplus to requirements at Arsenal. Then a plethora of injuries saw him coming off the bench for Arsenal at Anfield and he's never looked back since. Regular readers will know I've long been a fan of Coquelin but even I was surprised by the level of the impact he made. He really did turn out to be the missing piece of the jigsaw in our midfield, displaying a discipline and toughness in the tackle that provided the missing cover for our defence. Next season is the real test for him - can he go on from here and repeat his performances again? Can he get better? It could just be that Arsene Wenger, purely by chance, has found the replacement for Gilberto at last. And how he enjoyed Wembley!
 
 
Gedion Zelalem
When he was left out of the squad for the League Cup game I thought the writing was on the wall for him. He then came on and played in the Champions League at Galatassaray and played a few nice passes. In the under-21 games I saw him play I thought he looked weak and slow - not unlike Ozil does quite often. I'm still not sure he will make it at Arsenal and next season a loan spell will be crucial to his development. Jurgen Klinsmann rates him highly for USA but whether or not he can fulfil that potential we all saw two years ago is now a very moot point.
 
 
Krystian Bielik
He was signed in January and given a squad number despite Arsene saying he wouldn't be in the first-team. I saw him play at centre-back for the under-21's and I think he'll be more involved with the senior set-up from the start of next season.
 
 
Glen Kamara
Made the bench as an unused substitute at Galatassaray. Unlikely to succeed as an Arsenal player.
 
 
Ainsley Maitland-Niles
Young Ainsley ended up playing Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League football this season. He can play in midfield or defence and looks a physically imposing prospect. He is certainly one of the more promising youngsters at Arsenal right now, but he has sadly become known more for an apparent fracas involving his mother at the Arsenal training ground. A loan at some point next season will probably be in the offing.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Squad review part two - Defenders

Mertesacker and Koscielny


This is the second part of the squad review, focusing solely on the defenders. There have been a number of defenders who have made at least the bench this season, and some have had better campaigns than others...
 
 
Mathieu Debuchy
Signed to replace Bacary Sagna he fitted in superbly at the start of the season. Despite lacking a little in height he was almost as good as Sagna in the air, and his better crossing meant that nobody noticed the join. Having got off to such a good start it was no surprise to see him get a bad injury (a total freak) against Man City. He was out until shortly before Christmas, and was then pressed in to action at centre-back. He wasn't unsuccessful in the role and scored his first goal for us at Anfield. Shortly in to January came the arrival of Stoke City and Debuchy was crocked again - nothing freak about this one as yet another Stoke thug banjaxed an Arsenal player with a totally needless act of violence. The FA did nothing about it and our only other sighting of Debuchy came as he was forced in to two hours of his worst display in an Arsenal shirt (understandable after three months injured) in the FA Cup semi-final. This saw him injured again and out for the season.
I like Debuchy a lot. He is much better than I thought he was when I watched him playing for Newcastle. It will be interesting to see how he goes if he can get a decent run without injury, but Bellerin is very much in the frame to play in his stead from now on. For my money Debuchy is still our best right-back, but his Arsenal stay might not make it beyond this time next year.
 
Kieran Gibbs
Gibbo will be disappointed with his season. Again he was to suffer his usual list of injuries - he is simply too fragile at times. When he did play he played pretty well (though he was also poor in the semi-final) and in the last two Premier League games it looked like he might have played himself in to the side for Wembley again. As it was he missed out on the big occasion this time and this needs to be a real warning to him.
Kieran got back in the England squad - regardless of not being in the Arsenal side he is still the best English left-back there is at the moment - and his defending continues to impress. He has got better and better in his positioning, is very good in the air, and tenacious in the tackle. I wish he would learn to cross the football as it really isn't that difficult and lets him down so often. He did contribute a superb equaliser at Anderlecht with an excellent volley on the run. A big season beckons for him next time around.
 
Per Mertesacker
Before Christmas he was simply dreadful. The BFG looked a busted flush and was consistently having to be carried by whoever lined up alongside him. By his own admission he struggled for motivation following the World Cup. After Christmas he got back to his best and, in the FA Cup Final, was truly outstanding - he actually jumped to win headers against Benteke! Necessity meant that, despite his poor form early on, he had to remain in the team. When Arteta got injured he took over as skipper and thoroughly deserved to share the lifting of the Cup at Wembley. The signing of Gabriel certainly seemed to have an effect on Per as there was no longer a comfort zone to sit in. I'm not sure how much longer he has at this top level, but few players read the game better than him and that makes up for his lack of speed so often. Oh, and he got his third Wembley goal to make it 3-0 against Villa.
 
Gabriel
We haven't actually seen that much of Gabriel since he arrived in January. His biggest impact has been that his sheer presence in the squad has seen Mertesacker step up his game. When he has appeared he has looked a no-nonsense kind of centre-half. He is very tough in the tackle and looks decent in the air. He is also quick across the pitch and the early signs are encouraging. Having been eased in this season he will be looking to kick on come August.
 
Laurent Koscielny
Our best defender by far. To me he is World Class and getting better and better. I was so relieved when he signed a contract extension. Arsenal look twice the team when Koscielny is available and he works so well alongside Mertesacker.
He came in to the season with an Achilles injury but Arsene couldn't give him the rest he needed as he hadn't signed another centre-back before the window closed. There were times when Koscielny was visibly limping heavily late on in games, even well in to the second half of the season, but he never stops working. By and large he has cut out his tendency to make a silly foul in and around his own penalty area and he concentrates much better now. It's a shame he's not a bit more of a vocal kind of player as he would surely be an ideal Arsenal Captain if he were.
 
Nacho Monreal
Few players in the World can have improved as much as Nacho did this season. Having missed out on the World Cup last year I thought he would leave Arsenal to try and get a regular game back in Spain. He lacked pace and was so often done for positioning that he didn't look a good Premier League defender. That has all changed.
Nacho was forced to fill in for Koscielny quite a lot in the early part of the season and he took to that role brilliantly. Yes, he got caught out once or twice as he naturally moved towards the left, leaving a small gap that could be exploited by decent players, but it wasn't his fault he was playing out of position like that. When he got to play at left-back he made the position his own. There was an extra yard of pace, a greater appreciation of where he needed to be at the right times, and his goal at Old Trafford was special indeed. We now have two quality left-backs at Arsenal and it will be a great battle between them next season.
 
Calum Chambers
Young Calum burst on the scene at centre-back for Arsenal and the media quickly had him in the England squad. One or two Arsenal fans got carried away and started comparing him to Bobby Moore. Some of us, though, were extremely cautious about a young man who kept making late fouls and getting booked. Something wasn't quite right. I think plenty were willing to offer the benefit of the doubt as he had never played at centre-half before he arrived at Arsenal and, if nothing else, with the ball at his feet he looks a fine footballer.
The answer to what was wrong came at Swansea. The sad fact is that Chambers is slow. Very slow. Pacy wingers beat him far too easily and you can only scythe them down once without getting sent-off. After Christmas he appeared only sporadically and he is certainly a work in progress. For me he should be loaned out next season to see if he can cut it in the Premier League. Arsene Wenger certainly can't seem to work out what his best position is and I fear he might have spent £16m of our money on a bit of a pup.
 
Semi Ajayi
Who? Semi can actually consider himself a bit unlucky not to have made an appearance for Arsenal having been on the bench on four occasions before Christmas. Again his presence was due to the fact that we had no centre-backs to replace Koscielny. For a youngster to constantly see Monreal or whoever being played out of position, in your place on the pitch, must make you realise the Manager doesn't really fancy your chances. Loaned out later on it came as no surprise to see him released yesterday on a free transfer.
 
Hector Bellerin
Following the game at Dortmund, when he was thrown in quite unfairly, I had the impression that Hector might not make it at Arsenal. Certainly he looked more likely to go out on loan in January than to become the regular Arsenal right-back. I believe the intention had been to loan him out last August but it didn't happen.
The injury to Debuchy, and the roasting Chambers got at Swansea, meant that Bellerin got another opportunity and he took it in a big way. His positioning isn't great, but he has the kind of electric pace that cures a lot of ills. Going forward he can be excellent and his goals against Villa and Liverpool were of the highest quality. My big fear with Hector is whether or not Barcelona start to view him in a  Fabregas type way, and that he views Barcelona in a similar fashion. Only time will tell, but if someone had said after Dortmund that he would start, and star, in an FA Cup Final victory you'd have laughed them out of town.
 
Stefan O'Connor
The youngster came on, out of position, at Galatassaray and looked understandably out of his depth. He is tall and rangy, but I don't know if he's got it. Needs a loan spell.
 
Carl Jenkinson
Yes, this is supposed to be about players who made the Arsenal bench this season and, yes, Carl spent the whole campaign elsewhere. But I have to mention the Corporal and say how well he did at Upton Park. He has been very unlucky not to add to his solitary England cap this season and I don't understand why everyone wants to write off his Arsenal career. There is talk of another loan to West Ham or a permanent deal. I would like to see him back at Arsenal next season replacing Chambers in the squad. With his height and his pace he can play anywhere across the Arsenal defence and we all know that's all he really wants to do.

Isaac Hayden
Just one appearance for Isaac this season, in the League Cup defeat to Southampton. In truth he played well that night but spent most of the rest of the season injured. He would have been on the bench for the games that Ajayi was without those injuries, but I don't know if he would have been selected ahead of Monreal and co to play there. And therein lies the problem - I suspect a long loan followed by a permanent parting of the ways is not far off.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Squad review part one - Goalkeepers

Don't drop it Wojciech


Time for the annual squad review. As with past years it will be in four sections, starting with the goalkeepers. The squad review includes all players that made at least the substitutes bench for the first-team this season.
 
 
Wojciech Szczesny
It's fair to say that young Wojciech didn't quite react to the increased competition in the way you might have hoped. The signing of Ospina was clearly meant to challenge the Pole and see if he might be able to step it up himself and meet the threat. In fairness there was very little to choose between Szczesny and Fabianski beforehand, and I'm not too certain there's much between Szczesny and Ospina either.
I have to say Szczesny disappointed me this season. He had all the potential in the World a few years back, but has he actually improved all that much since he came in to the first-team? He put in a number of not particularly inspiring displays before Christmas, albeit behind a defence lacking Koscielny, including a Mertesacker who didn't know what week it was, and no Coquelin in front of them. The Southampton game proved the last straw for Arsene Wenger, and then the smoking incident after the game clearly cemented that decision.
Of course the season finished on a high for Szczesny with his performance in the FA Cup Final, which was in stark contrast to his pitiful display in the semi-final against Reading. With talk of Petr Cech coming in there is a strong rumour that Szczesny might join Southampton for a year while Fraser Forster recovers from a knee injury. A year somewhere else, getting his confidence back, could be great all round and would tell us whether or not Wojciech is the real deal.
 
 
David Ospina
The Colombian arrived after impressing at the World Cup but, as is traditional, he also arrived with a serious injury. This meant he started out second-choice and didn't exactly cover himself in glory on his debut against Southampton in the League Cup. When Wojciech made one mistake too many Ospina came in and reaped the benefits of Koscielny and Coquelin being in the side, not conceding a goal in his first few games. In fairness to Ospina he seemed to give the defenders more confidence and he can make a flying save on occasion. However, I'm really not sure he's top class. His lack of height is a problem in the physical Premier League and it cost us a goal against West Brom - in hindsight it was possibly the moment that convinced Arsene Wenger to play Szczesny in the Cup Final against a certain high ball barrage.
I don't know how Ospina will react if Arsene does bring in a quality goalkeeper to take the number one shirt next season. I can see more teams putting him under aerial pressure from the off and I really don't see how he can handle that. It's all very well being a good shot-stopper, but every goalkeeper should be that. To me he's another good goalkeeper, just like Szczesny and Fabianski, but that's not enough for us to win the Title as far as I'm concerned.
 
 
Emiliano Martinez
The Argentinian had a few games in the Autumn and didn't let us down. He was eventually dropped following the debacle of a first-half at Stoke City, but he was the last person who should have been getting blamed for that. In the game at Anderlecht he kept us in it virtually single-handed with a some great saves. He is tall and powerful and looks to dominate his penalty area. He was in the Argentinian national squad as a teenager when Maradona was the boss, so has been highly rated for a long time.
Towards the end of the season he was loaned to Rotherham and was instrumental in them surviving relegation. Coming back to Arsenal he was rightly involved with the squad for the FA Cup Final. It seems he might want to move on now and that's probably fair enough. It wouldn't surprise me if he went on from Arsenal to enjoy a really good career. Sadly the timing wasn't quite right for him to come through and be the man for us.
 
 
Ryan Huddart
The youngster made the bench for a couple of Champions League games when Szczesny and Ospina were unavailable. He is one of the biggest teenagers I've ever seen but competition among the young Arsenal goalkeepers is ferocious - we have a lot of them and there's not a lot of room for them to get games. Maybe a loan spell to a decent Football League side is what he needs next season. With his size, if he has the agility to go with it, he could end up a real prospect.
 
 
Matt Macey
Another of the young crop of goalkeepers, he also made the bench a couple of times. In between there was a loan spell to Accrington Stanley which will have been very valuable experience. I expect more of the same will come next season before a final decision on his Arsenal future.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Season Review 2014-2015

Another successful season
 
 
There's been something of a debate in recent weeks on the Arsenal related social media accounts, questioning whether or not Arsenal have made progress. Various arguments have been put forward for both sides of the coin, those in favour largely pointing to finishing in third instead of fourth, while those against have pointed to a lower points tally. In the middle are those who are unsure but who might be more likely to point to the way we are playing, or the players in the squad. Whichever way you look at it there is an argument in every direction. It's one of those things that not all of us will agree on. What can't possibly be denied is that, with another FA Cup on the sideboard, this was another successful season for Arsenal. Any season that ends with one of those four pieces of silverware we play for in our possession has to be one associated with success. The level of that success may be open to interpretation, but I'll take any of them and look back on it with some pride.
For my money we have made progress this year. I fully accept that, on numerous occasions, we have been dire. I also fully accept that we never really challenged for the Title this year, whereas last season we threw it away after Christmas. But it's worth noting that we were 12 points behind Chelsea not long in to October, and finished that same distance from them in May. That being the case it is easy to work out where things went wrong in terms of the Premier League. Arsene Wenger might blame a hangover from the World Cup but that would be nonsense. Certainly other teams didn't seem to suffer it. It is true that Per Mertesacker wasn't himself until well in to January, but that wouldn't excuse Arsene not signing a central defender despite knowing that Laurent Koscielny had a problem with his Achilles tendon. It doesn't explain why he chose to not sign anyone to compete with Olivier Giroud until after he had broken his leg at Everton. It doesn't explain why he chose to freeze out the likes of Tomas Rosicky and Lukas Podolksi when the team was failing to perform week after week. It doesn't explain why it took injuries to Ramsey, Flamini and Arteta for him to give Francis Coquelin his chance around the Christmas period. Those first three or four months of the season saw us at our worst, and going absolutely nowhere, yet it was all totally avoidable. If it hadn't been for Alexis Sanchez, the signing of this season by any Premier League side, we would have been in the bottom half and heading into oblivion.
Given the way we played after Christmas in 2014, and then up to Christmas at the back end of the year, it was a horrible 12 months for us on the pitch, barring the FA Cup win. In many ways this might explain why there is a thought that we have progressed this season. It may be that, because we finished last season so badly, but this one so well, it seems we're a better team when we might actually be. I'm clearly not saying that is the case, but it is certainly a logical theory. Are we really better now than we were at the back end of 2013 when we were top of the table? I'd say we are because we can beat good sides in big games, and that was the one thing we weren't doing then. Okay, we haven't beaten Chelsea again this season, but the win at Manchester City was a spark that got the team to realise they could compete. Santi Cazorla put in probably the best individual performance by any Arsenal player this season at the Etihad, and Francis Coquelin came of age that day. Put that together with Giroud scoring a goal against a top side in a tight game and you can see how the players have got better.
There were other good wins in the last few months, the dismantlings of Liverpool, Stoke and Villa (twice) being the best examples. There were also the two wins in Manchester. The main reason I genuinely believe we've improved is the way we won those matches. Alexis Sanchez brought with him the Barcelona ploy of closing down high up the pitch. In the early part of the season you could see his frustration that, having done 30 yards to close down a defender or a midfielder, he turned round to find that the next Arsenal player was nowhere near, so the pressure wasn't worthwhile. In those games where we played well, and the FA Cup Final was the ultimate example of it, Alexis wasn't the only one. The ball would be played in to midfield by our opponents and immediately there would be 2, maybe 3, Arsenal players closing them down. The result would be that we got the ball within around 40 yards of the opposition goal and were already behind their midfield. Once you're in that area then the quality of Ozil, Alexis, Cazorla, Ramsey, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky will destroy people. I can't explain why we don't play like that more often than not, but when we do we are exceptional.
The squad still needs work, of course. I don't believe either of our goalkeepers is quite at the top level, and I'd be more than happy if we signed a 33 year-old Petr Cech with Szczesny loaned to Southampton for a year to prove himself in the Premier League. I'm not sure we need any more defenders. Mertesacker, Koscielny and Gabriel look a good trio of centre-backs. We have Debuchy and Bellerin at right-back, and Monreal and Gibbs at left-back. I would like to see Calum Chambers loaned out for a year while Carl Jenkinson came back to be the fourth centre-back. That way we would know if Chambers is up to it - his lack of pace means he needs to have Mertesacker's positional sense and I'm not sure of that at the moment. I'd like another defensive minded midfield player to keep Coquelin on his toes, and I'd like another top class striker. At the same time the likes of Sanogo need to be sent away as they are never going to be good enough in a million years. But it's fair to say there is far less dead wood around than there has been for a long time.
All in all I am happy with our season. Of course I am frustrated that our bad start meant we didn't get a shout for the Premier League, and we should have reached at least the quarter-final in Europe. However, we won the FA Cup again, and that is no mean feat. As I said above the players have proved to themselves that they can win the big games, and win them well. Hopefully next season will be even better.