Saturday, 1 August 2015

More than a friendly? Community Shield preview 2015

Same again please boys
I can't go to Wembley tomorrow. As with last year I am missing out because of work, such is the life of the shift worker. I also don't have BT Sport so I can't even record it. By the time the game is loaded up to Arsenal Player I'll be fast asleep ahead of another early shift on Monday. Whichever way I look at it I seem destined to not watch the game. That said, BT Sport are showing the game again at 10pm tomorrow night so maybe I'll watch that on my dodgy app and be a zombie on Monday morning. If we win I know that I'll do just that. If we lose, then sod it I won't bother. In my absence my eldest is making his tenth trip to the new Wembley Stadium at the age of only nine - I can't imagine he knows how lucky he is to support Arsenal (he's also been to see an England game and two Olympic football matches there which makes up the ten).
The thing with the Charity Shield (I can't get used to calling it anything else) is that it actually means nothing apart from a nice Wembley day out for the winners. When all is said and done it is a pre-season friendly and you can make a large number of substitutions etc, putting it some way below a genuine competitive fixture. Until Sky got hold of it in 1993 you didn't even have to have a winner as the prize was shared in the event of a draw. In an effort to beef up the apparent trophy cabinets of certain clubs Sky have started recording it as a "major trophy" which is utter nonsense. Until recently it wasn't even counted as a first-team "appearance" in Arsenal's official records. But tomorrow is a little bit different...
There is a lot riding on tomorrow for Arsenal. Psychologically it could be absolutely massive for the Manager and the players alike. It is well documented that Arsene Wenger has yet to win a game against the classless Portugese chav from Stamford Bridge. Win tomorrow and, pre-season prestige friendly or not, we will know we can beat them. Lose and it simply widens the gaping wound of Mourinho laughing at us and getting all his media mates to rub it in on his behalf. By the same token, his friends in the press will be only too keen to point out our failings should we lose, regardless of any prodding from that idiot Jose (mind you, if we win they will be directed by Mourinho in the "it's only a friendly" type commentary). In that regard Arsenal can't "win" as such.
With all this at stake we have to see Arsenal taking things more than semi-seriously on the day. Chelsea will be fired up to do the business by the cretin in charge and he will be desperate to get one over on Petr Cech. The transfer of Cech to Arsenal has seriously undermined his authority at Chelsea. He didn't want Cech coming to us but Abramovich basically seems to have told him who is in charge over there. If Cech can be instrumental in an Arsenal win it would really grate on the odious little clown. Losing Cech, a hammering to Arsenal at Wembley, and a slightly slow start to the Premier League season might even see him taking his "special one" crap and naffing off back to somewhere in Europe. Wouldn't that be nice?
The training pictures from today show Alex Iwobi and Jeff Reine-Adelaide still training with the first-team. Tomorrow could be a great day for them if they are involved with the squad for a Wembley occasion. It looks like Chuba Akpom is heading away to Hull (never believe a word Arsene Wenger says) so he is less likely to be part of things tomorrow. I expect Cech to play, though Wenger might be tempted to give David Ospina a game ahead of the season, especially as he didn't play any of the games at Wembley last season. Having said that, Cech surely needs some game time with his new defenders. In midfield I'd like to see our strongest line-up with Ozil turning it on like he did against Villa in May. I'd also start with Giroud and give him specific instructions to match Terry physically. If we can start the season on the front foot then we could be in business early doors. A nice win at Wembley against the (no) history boys would be a great way to start.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Theo and Santi going nowhere

Good news all round
In a week where Abou Diaby has signed for Marseilles (all the best to him) and Wojciech Szczesny has been sent on loan to Roma (I suspect this isn't a developmental thing) it was becoming a bit of a frustrating week ahead of a Wembley occasion. Where was the signing we've been looking out for? Well it seems we're not getting one of those just yet. In its absence we have been given the next best thing this afternoon with the news of contract extensions for both Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla. That's a massive boost as far as I'm concerned just before facing Chelsea on Sunday.
The whole Theo business looked like it was set to drag on yet again. It was so important to get it all tied up before the start of the season. The closer things got to January the more the chances of him leaving for nothing in 2016. Clearly the Manager has been able to persuade him that he will get enough time on the pitch despite the presence of Alexis, Giroud, Oxlade-Chamberlain and everyone else that might play wide or through the centre. There is no doubt that, despite being far from the most gifted footballer you'll ever see, Theo's pace scares the living daylights out of even the very best defenders (his record against Chelsea and John Terry/Ashley Cole is superb really). From the bench he can be absolutely deadly and the runs he sometimes makes (and should be making all the time) are just the sort of thing that Ozil has been crying out to play with. In my view Theo is also a decent finisher and he has certainly scored his share of goals. To have him tied up to a deal is massive. Now all we need is for him to finally stay fit enough to play for a prolonged period. The lad probably deserves a bit of luck to go his way. Here's hoping his time has arrived.
The extension for Santi has come as a bit more of a surprise. There wasn't really any talk of contract deals with him so this has come out of the blue. As with Theo it is a massive shot in the arm. At the end of last season that cretin Balague on Sky was telling everyone that Santi was off to play for Atletico Madrid, done deal, everything agreed. He was even "quoting" entire conversations as he always does - he must have better infiltration surveillance technology than MI6 such is the detail he can provide from conversations at which he wasn't present. Of course, as with most things that come out of Balague's mouth, it has turned out to be utter bull***t. After Christmas, with his move to a deeper role next to Coquelin, I thought Santi played his best football since coming to Arsenal. His Man Of The Match award in the FA Cup Final was a bit over the top, but he certainly was a key player in our improved form in the second half of the season. His performance at Manchester City should live long in the memory. He is currently favourite for the name on my shirt this season, just ahead of Koscielny (I'm not buying the away shirt which looks almost brown when you get close to it in the flesh). I couldn't be happier that Santi is staying.
As I said at the top this double announcement is a massive boost before Sunday. I'll be previewing the game tomorrow night (assuming I get home from work at something close to the time I'm supposed to). In the meantime just think about how much you dislike Jose Mourinho and realise that Sunday might be a little more important than it really should be.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Ozil setting the standard early - Arsenal 6 - 0 Lyon

Mesut makes it five

I thoroughly enjoyed my day at the football yesterday. I took my wife and two children to the game and we sat in Club Level for the afternoon, giving us a perfect view of the four first-half goals Arsenal served up. I said after the Everton game last week that it was only pre-season so we shouldn't get too excited just yet. The same thing applies after yesterday. But that shouldn't detract from the Arsenal performance against Lyon. Friendly or not they played with the sort of intensity and work ethic that was evident at Wembley back in May, and which must be carried in to the Charity Shield and Premier League season that lies ahead.
There was a scare or two early on but Emi Martinez had a fine game in goal for Arsenal, with Szczesny on his way out and Ospina not yet back in training (Petr Cech will play today against Wolfsburg). Once Arsenal got going it was a matter of time before we started to create properly. The impressive (again) Alex Iwobi passed up shooting opportunities, choosing to pass square, on a couple of occasions where a little more confidence might have seen us open the scoring. Mesut Ozil, meanwhile, wasn't so much pulling the strings as recording one of Mozart's symphonies from the number 10 position.
When we finally got a goal it was Ozil who provided the perfect free-kick for Olivier Giroud to find the corner of the net. Okay, it eventually went in off his shoulder, but the strength he showed to get away from defenders trying to rip his shirt off his back was impressive (Iwobi later had a goal disallowed for offside, but the referee had totally ignored the clear shirt-pulling on Giroud again as he set the youngster up). Ramsey then broke forward to put Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in for a superb finish to make it two-nil. When the third arrived a few minutes later it was a classic Arsenal move of one-touch football, expertly rounded off by Alex Iwobi's first goal in a senior Arsenal side. My youngest was getting quite the thrill from the quickfire goals and the noise that surrounded him (his previous visit was the 5-1 win over Benfica in this tournament last season so he's a bit of a lucky charm).
I want to make particular comment on the fourth goal as, if you've only seen it on TV, then you didn't get the full effect of Mesut Ozil's involvement. With the ball deep in the Arsenal midfield, to the left of centre, Ozil sprinted at least fifty yards from right to left, and in to the space for the through-ball, and took it beautifully. Honestly it was a truly sensational piece of play from the German who put in more effort yesterday than he did in 90% of his appearances last season. He then played the perfect pass for the flying Aaron Ramsey who provided one of his special finishes for four-nil. Lyon simply couldn't lay a glove on Ozil as he tore them apart. He was taking people on and closing people down and doing everything he did in the FA Cup Final. That he then topped it off with a goal of his own was just reward for his performance and it was a smashing finish too as he volleyed in to the far corner.
To their credit Arsenal didn't really stop playing and kept looking for goals. Chuba Akpom hit the post, and Theo Walcott missed a sitter just after Santi Cazorla took a lovely free-kick by sliding his shot under the wall which had jumped in anticipation of a chip in to the top corner. The six goals didn't flatter Arsenal at all and it all made for a glorious start to the home season. There was also a very interesting cameo from new signing Jeff Reine-Adelaide. Leaving aside the French pizza toppings in his surname, he looked a little out of place on the right-wing. However, when he came inside to get on the ball he looked a real talent. There was something of Vieira or Diaby in the way he moved with the ball at his feet and he certainly looks like he might be one to watch very soon indeed. What goes against him is that he has the entire Arsenal midfield ahead of him in the ranks just now!
So later today Arsenal take on Wolfsburg in the final game of the competition. They lost 2-1 to Villareal before the Arsenal match yesterday so need to recover some pride at least. They have some decent names in their side, including Schuurle and De Bruyne. Of course their most famous player , to Arsenal fans, is a certain Nicklas Bendtner. I was really pleased to see him get on the pitch yesterday and the ovation he got from the Arsenal supporters was an absolute joy for me, as someone who always sought to defend the misunderstood and badly used Dane. Super Nick also seemed a bit taken aback but he took the time to applaud the Arsenal support for their welcoming gesture and he will have won a few friends as a result. I suspect he might start against us today, and he will certainly be keen to get on the scoresheet. Arsenal will be much changed from yesterday, but if the attitude is similar then we should win our own trophy for the first time in a while.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Careless talk costs money for Arsenal

Lord Harris of Peckham
It would appear that Lord Harris of Peckham is morphing in to Peter Hill-Wood. The only explanation that can be given for his big reveal of Arsenal's financial position is that he had himself a few too many glasses of a good scotch and got a bit loose-tongued in close proximity to a journalist. I can see no other reason for an Arsenal director to go giving interviews that tell everyone we're stinking rich to the tune of £200m in loose change available for new players. He also made it clear that Arsene Wenger is interested in signing a top centre-forward. Lord Harris, though, is not stupid and didn't reveal who the mystery man is. Shrewd man.
The problem Arsenal now have is that all of Europe knows we have a lot of money to spend. That being the case you can probably add about £10m to the asking price for any top talent we might be trying to bring in. I imagine Ivan Gazidis and Dick Law might not be too impressed with Lord Harris right now as he has just made their jobs a whole lot more difficult. We all know that Arsenal have plenty of money available, but I'm not sure many would have known there was as much as £200m in the bank. Imagine having to now negotiate with a selling club who will know they can maximise their profit by sitting tight on their player.
With two weeks to go until the season starts I am disappointed at the lack of transfer action within the Club. A few have gone out, and a few more will join them. However, the only incoming player has been Petr Cech. Obviously Cech is a first-rate addition to a position that we needed to add more quality to. It seems that, if we are going to add more players, the lessons of previous years have not been learned. I don't understand why the necessary business is not done early, giving new players the chance to settle in and gel with their new team. If we get to the start of the season without any more new signings then we are actually shorter than we were last season. The price of dropping cheap points in the first few games could come back to haunt us come May. I wouldn't say I'm in to panic mode about our lack of transfer business just yet, but I'm certainly worried by it.
Of course it's Emirates Cup time this weekend and I am very much looking forward to going to Arsenal tomorrow afternoon for the Lyon game. I'm taking the whole family so my youngest will be seeing his second Arsenal match, though he's more interested in meeting Gunnersaurus again. Hopefully Cazorla will be in the side tomorrow as that will grab his interest. I'll be writing something on the Lyon game very late tomorrow night so you'll probably catch it Sunday morning via the site here, my Twitter feed (@ARSENALDvbrisG) or on the Facebook page (It's MY Arsenal Opinion).

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Silverware from a good start - Arsenal 3 - 1 Everton

Mikel Arteta displaying the spoils
It's a real shame that pre-season results mean next to nothing as Arsenal were outstanding yesterday for the first 70 minutes of the game. Of course the heat and the exertion of playing at high intensity so early in the fitness programme eventually saw the performance peter out slightly, but what went before was more than encouraging.
When I saw the Everton team I was concerned for the ankles and shins of the Arsenal midfield - playing against a combination of Barry and Cleverley might often be a recipe for taking a kicking. As it turned out they simply weren't quick enough to get close to the dominant Arsenal team. If it wasn't for a combination of poor finishing, refusing to shoot, the referee totally ignoring a clear foul on Olivier Giroud in the penalty area, or Aaron Ramsey being too cocky (as usual) then Arsenal would have won by a fantastic margin.
Early on it looked like Jack Wilshere might be getting in down the left but Seamus Coleman came out of nowhere with his pace to get back at Jack. Martin Tyler raved about the pace from the Everton man (Jack was, I think, still slightly suffering from the game on Wednesday). Five minutes or so later Coleman was left for dead by Theo Walcott as he got on the end of a stunning pass  from Santi Cazorla to make it 1-0. It was a superb finish from Theo. Mr Tyler didn't mention Theo's pace being far beyond even that of Coleman.
Arsenal went on to keep Everton trapped in their own half. There was one run from Deolofeu that looked like it might lead to an Everton goal but that was all they really managed to offer until late on. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on for Jack Wilshere at half-time and added even more pace to the Arsenal attack. Two or three times he went on fantastic solo runs that Everton's defenders simply couldn't get near to. With Cazorla looking really good and Ozil growing in to the game it was only a matter of time before we got a second. Cazorla provided the goal from just outside the penalty area having wrong-footed at least two defenders and the goalkeeper.
The third goal was a lovely move between Ozil and Cazorla. Having laid it off to Santi, Ozil got on his bike and ran in behind the Everton defence. Cazorla played him in (if Ozil hadn't controlled it then Walcott would have been in on goal too) and it was placed perfectly beyond the goalkeeper and in to the net. Arsenal really had played some tremendous stuff and thoroughly merited a 3-0 lead. Inevitably the foot then came off the pedal as we started to go through the motions.
With Arsenal slowing down completely it was no surprise that Everton got a goal back. The Ox gave the ball away really badly about thirty yards from his own goal and then Barkley rocketed a shot past the impressive Petr Cech. No doubt Cech might have now realised he isn't playing behind the Chelsea bus. It was frustrating to concede like that. It's only pre-season, of course, but this Arsenal team has a nasty habit of conceding unnecessary late goals - it's an unpleasant habit that could prove costly come next May. There was still time for Chuba Akpom to snatch badly at a chance when put through on the goalkeeper and that was a real disappointment to me - a goal against a Premier League side would have been an important marker for him in front of Arsene Wenger.
So we have another trophy in the cabinet, albeit one that is of no importance whatsoever. Regardless of that, I 'd rather be in the habit of winning than of losing. The performance was great to watch and showed that our players already have a superb level of fitness heading in to the new season. They now face a few more days of re-adjusting back to our own clock, as well as working hard on the training ground. At the end of the week it's the Emirates Cup and our first look at the side at home this season. I can't wait for it. How about a new signing this week Arsene?

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Chuba makes it ta-ta for Yaya - Arsenal 4 - 0 Singapore XI

Hat-trick for Akpom

After the fun of the away kit launch yesterday (the highlight of which was Olivier Giroud being caught on camera telling his mates to "f***-off" for laughing at his hair) it was down to some small semblance of business this afternoon for Arsenal. It was always going to be a reasonably comfortable stroll for us, regardless of who was selected for the game, and so it proved. Having been at work today I've just watched the whole game back and was more than happy with what I saw.
Arsenal looked resplendent in the new gold away shirts (I actually quite like this latest PUMA effort - if it isn't yellow then it may as well be gold) and played some decent stuff on occasions. The oppressive heat obviously meant there wasn't a great deal of pace in the game but there was the odd moment from Oxlade-Chamberlain and the impressive Alex Iwobi that saw Arsenal leap in to action occasionally. That two of the goals came from the penalty spot shouldn't detract from the positives for Arsenal.
The headline grabber will be Chuba Akpom and that is only right. The young striker has an impressive goal scoring record in the youth teams these past couple of years and has been banging down the door of the first-team squad for a while. He made a couple of brief substitute appearances in the early part of this year before finishing the season out on loan. Today he very much took his chance when it came along with a good hat-trick. The first goal was an opportunistic strikers goal that he hit first time when the ball bounced his way. The second was a really well taken penalty, and the third a header from a perfect cross by Hector Bellerin (there was a fantastic drag-back by Bellerin just before he crossed the ball too). With Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud all in front of him Akpom very much needs to catch the eye whenever he can if he is to get a chance this season. In my view we need four strikers, as we had in the days of Bergkamp, Henry, Kanu and Wiltord (and Jeffers was also in the squad at that time) and Akpom is surely in pole position to be that fourth man now.
Yaya Sanogo is seemingly off to Ajax for the season to try and find out what foot each boot goes on. That being the case I would say that Chuba Akpom might just have finally started to put an end to Sanogo's faintly ridiculous time as an Arsenal player. Anyone watching Akpom and Iwobi play could not possibly begin to think that Sanogo is a better player than these two lads. They can get the ball down and lay it off, or run with it, in a way that Sanogo could only ever dream of. I'm sure many would point to Sanogo scoring four goals against Benfica last year but that doesn't change the fact that he doesn't have the football ability of Chuba Akpom. Akpom might well not make it, but he looks a far better bet than Sanogo. Indeed, if Dennis Bergkamp turns Yaya Sanogo in to a top striker over the next season then the man really is God.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Great goalkeepers - Casillas one of the greatest

33 is the new 1 apparently

So Arsenal have finally got around to announcing Petr Cech's squad number. It seems that he has personally chosen to wear 33 on the back of his Arsenal shirt. Among a plethora of reasons he gave was that he intends to be part of Arsenal's spine, and there are 33 vertebrae in the human spine apparently. Who knew Petr Cech was a keen biologist? I had fully expected that he would simply inherit the number of whichever of the other goalkeepers left Arsenal following his arrival. I suspect that Arsenal's commercial arm has taken a hand to hasten the announcement of a number ahead of the Singapore trip this week during which Cech is likely to play his first game in an Arsenal team.
Arsenal have been filling space on the official website this week with lots of pictures from the early pre-season training. Something has struck me from the pictures of our new goalkeeper, and not only the fact that he wears his silly hat on the training pitch. In the past, whenever I've seen photos of the Arsenal goalkeepers in training, they have always been  pictured together. I found it noticeable that Cech appears to be training as an individual. I hope that this is simply a situation created by the camera, but given that Emi Martinez has certainly been in training this week, and that Szczesny was due back the same day as Cech, I find it a concern that the new man might be a bit less about the team and a bit more about himself. Certainly it is something to keep an eye on.
As I'm on the subject of goalkeeping it seems timely that Iker Casillas' long career at Real Madrid came to an end yesterday. I never thought I would see Casillas play for any other club in his career. I started to think of the game against Real Madrid at Highbury in 2006 when he produced one of the finest displays of goalkeeping I have ever seen. It's often the case that a goalkeeper gets made to look good in a game by poor finishing (no better examples of this last season than De Gea and Fabianski at our place). That night in the Champions League it was nothing like that. Casillas was simply incredible and totally unbeatable. Thankfully, at the other end, we had Jens Lehmann putting in a similarly outstanding performance including a save from Raul that is up there with the greatest ever. There can have been few better 0-0 draws ever played (the only other 0-0 I remember being quite such a good game was the initial FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park in 1999 against Manchester United). I had long admired Casillas from his first appearances for Real Madrid. That night he was simply the best in the World as far as I was concerned. I wish we could have signed him when Arsene incorrectly decided Jens wasn't the man.
Reminiscing on Casillas got me thinking that I've been lucky enough to see some incredible goalkeepers in the flesh in the last 30-odd years. Many of them would be on any list of all time greats. My very first game saw Pat Jennings and Peter Shilton against each other at Highbury. In the years that have followed I've had the privilege (and frustration) to see the likes of Seaman, Schmeichel, Buffon, Casillas, Van Der Sar, Oliver Khan, Lehmann (who displaced Khan for a home World Cup and nearly won it for Germany), Cech, Manuel Neuer and Vince Bartram. I'd also throw in a mention for Francesco Toldo who must be the most under rated goalkeeper I've ever seen. It's quite the list of greats.
The eagle-eyed will notice that only one of these men is under 30 years-old. Indeed Cech is the second youngest at 33. Take out Courtois and De Gea from the modern crop and I don't see any goalkeeper with the potential to join this list any time soon. That being the case it would seem that it's not just England that is struggling to develop top goalkeeping talent (Joe Hart is way below the standard of these blokes as far as I'm concerned). It pleases me that we have Petr Cech at Arsenal now as, besides a centre-forward who can score tons of goals, most top teams include a top goalkeeper. It has certainly been the case in Arsenal's history.
As the week goes on there will be plenty of Arsenal news doing the rounds and we'll get to see some youngsters on Wednesday in Singapore. It would be a surprise to see any signings over the next week as Arsenal's hierarchy are all out there for the Asia Trophy. That being the case we'll just have to hope for a couple of early wins instead.