Highbury Library Logo

Highbury Library Logo

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Squad Review Part 4 - Strikers

Not Van Persie, but not bad either

The annual end of season squad review odyssey reaches its end today with the strikers taking centre stage. I hope that some of you find the lack of transfer gossip (or bull****) on this site a welcome distraction from the nonsense that dominates NewsNow at this time of year. Quite why people read it I will never know. Anyway, on with the show.
Lukas Podolski
Sixteen goals and numerous assists from forty two appearances, mostly out wide and rarely for ninety minutes. What a disastrous signing Poldi has turned out to be, eh? If you believe the press and the way they've made out Podolski has had a poor time in England then you are an absolute moron. Either that or you frequent the Gooner 2 Gooner online forum, which is basically the same thing reading some of the drivel that gets posted on there.
I was more excited about the signing of Lukas Podolski than I had been about anybody we'd brought in since Sol Campbell. A World star was joining Arsenal and I was very happy about it. He announced himself with two goals on debut in pre-season against his former team, Cologne (incidentally Robin Van Persie made his final Arsenal appearance the same day). He would go on to score at Anfield and in Montpellier to help secure crucial away wins, before bundling one in against Spurs for good measure. In the after half-time demolition of West Ham he was the pivotal figure in Arsenal's scintillating attacking play - it was the first time I'd seen Arsenal play such devastating football on the break since Henry, Pires and Ljungberg were in their pomp.
There are times when Podolski can look pedestrian and is seemingly not in the game for very long periods. At Bradford he was a waste of space, though he was not alone that night. It seemed convenient to scapegoat him for certain media types, simply because Arsenal were struggling and he was a genuinely big name. Ultimately Podolski is the arch-finisher in this Arsenal squad. Give him the ball in front of goal and he will usually score. I'd like to see him use that rocket of a left foot from distance a bit more often, but I really enjoy having Podolski at Arsenal. We need to use his talents better, but that is down to the Manager. A Summer resting and recovering from whatever niggle it was that hampered him for most of the season will be most welcome. I reckon the best is yet to come from the number nine.
Olivier Giroud
Another man who has had a lot of stick. I have to say that I have regularly referred to him as "Lee Chapman" because his quality is just that little bit below the top level. Giroud misses opportunities that a top striker shouldn't (though Van Stapleton and Henry missed their share at times). Given that he has had one season as the lone striker in a team that rarely plays to his aerial strength in the box I think Giroud can be quietly pleased with his contribution. He has scored a nice few goals and, as the man in reserve (with the formation we play), would be a very good squad player. Is he able to be the centre-forward at a Club that wants to win Title's? I suspect not, but that doesn't mean he isn't a very good player.
In open play I think Giroud has been quite outstanding. The man wins almost everything in the air and the other players in the team have to do much more to support him. If the likes of Walcott, Cazorla, Gervinho et al would get closer to Giroud when the ball is played forward we might find Arsenal would be more successful. I hope a top striker comes in this year, but that doesn't mean I hope Giroud is squeezed out. Play him up front with another striker and we could be on the verge of something.
Theo Walcott
This has been undoubtedly Theo's best season as an Arsenal player. His absence from the starting line-up in a side that didn't score in the early games was baffling. Unfortunately his contract situation was a seriously unwelcome distraction. Up until he finally signed his deal he was the most important player of our season, for me. After he signed it he became a bit more the old Theo - frustrating and ineffective, at least until the final few games when his goals came back to win us matches. To underline his importance to the side in the run up to Christmas I can only point to our disastrous results in his injury absence in early December. Theo will continue to divide opinion and will continue to annoy the hell out of all of us. He has so much he could improve on, but credit where it's due - without him this season we wouldn't be in the European Cup come August.
Andrey Arshavin
What a terrible waste. What a terrible shame. For me Arshavin has more ability than almost anyone we've had at Arsenal. He should have been up there with the legends, such is his quality. Sadly there is something missing in the total package. The little Russian has wasted his talent after such a spectacular beginning at Arsenal.
In fairness to Arshavin I thought he was very good in the League Cup games against Coventry and Reading, but that was as good as it got this season. You could argue that he has a right to be annoyed and disheartened at seeing the likes of Gervinho playing ahead of him but, had he applied himself and made the most of his exceptional ability, Gervinho would be nowhere. It wasn't meant to end like this for Arsenal and Arshavin, but we'll always have his first goal against Blackburn, his performance at Anfield, and the greatest night we've yet had in the new stadium against Barcelona. I feel privileged to have been there that night to see Arshavin score to beat the best side I've ever seen. He may have been a waste of space at times, but so was Charlie Nicholas. Thanks Andrey, I'll remember you fondly at Arsenal.
What can you say? He started the season like a player who'd settled in the English game. Suddenly he was able to create and score goals. The one he stuck away against Chelsea was sheer class. Sadly, he didn't get close to that again. The nadir for Gerv came in the Bradford humiliation where he missed the ball completely from a couple of yards out. If I could praise him for a moment I would say that Gervinho does not hide. More's the pity, some would say. The African Cup of Nations came at the right time as it prevented Arsene Wenger from selecting him and, in fairness, he made one or two crucial contributions during the unbeaten end to the season. It looks like it's not working out for Gervinho at Arsenal and I don't think too many would be upset if he moved on this Summer.
Marouane Chamakh
Another man who has wasted his talent while at Arsenal. Chamakh was excellent in the first half of his first season. He's never come close to that since. I was delighted for him when he got the two goals at Reading, and he really should have been given an opportunity to challenge Olivier Giroud straight after that. As it was he was back in to obscurity again and then loaned out to West Ham where he couldn't get a game either. Surely it's now reached the end of the road for Chamakh and he can return to Bordeaux and resurrect his career.
Chuba Akpom
Akpom was an unused sub at Olympiacos. He was a very regular goalscorer in the U21s and youth games but whether he has a genuine future at Arsenal I would doubt. There's a difference between scoring regularly and being prolific. The fact that Giroud was the only genuine centre-forward at Arsenal other than Akpom after January, and that Arsene still never was tempted to call him up to the bench, tells me a lot.
Zak Ansah
Another unused sub at Olympiacos I don't see much of a future for the reserve striker from the youth set-up.
So there it is, another season over and another squad review completed. I'm off to Wembley tomorrow to watch England v Ireland. I don't have any interest in international football, but a trip to Wembley is always exciting if you're a real football fan. I'll report back at some point on Thursday.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Squad Review Part 3 - Midfielders

Arteta - crucial role this season

I really enjoyed the European Cup Final last night. The two German sides played football that looked like it was from a different, more exciting, planet than we've seen in the Premier League this season. The success of the Bayern Munich team has given me an idea for  an article that I will try to write at some point later this week, work hours depending. In the meantime here's the third instalment of the squad review, concentrating on our plethora of midfield players. This is quite a lengthy piece, but I hope you can stick with it and enjoy. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook.
Abou Diaby
How do you talk about Abou Diaby without constantly repeating yourself? How long do Arsenal kick the can down the road with him? We've been told twice in recent years that Abou was having a "make or break" operation to save his Arsenal career. I strongly suspect Arsene Wenger had finally concluded on the "break" option at the end of Abou's latest niggles, only for him to suffer a cruciate ligament injury. Arsenal do things the right way, of course, and that means Diaby will remain an Arsenal employee next season.
The game at Liverpool early on showed how good Diaby is. He put in a display so dominant that the comparisons to Patrick Vieira had never been more accurate. His performance was one of such pace, power and football ability that Liverpool couldn't get close. He tackled, he passed and he carried the ball with such quality that you knew just how good he could have been. This attracted opponents to him and allowed Cazorla the yard or two of space he needs to dictate the play in the attacking third. A similar performance followed for half-an-hour at home to Chelsea. Then it happened. Abou Diaby seriously injured himself in the act of kicking the football at goal from distance. It's such a shame because Diaby really is that good. The fact is, however, that he will only ever be genuinely "fit" to play maybe three or four games per season. When you're being paid what he is that is clearly unacceptable. I hope Dan Smith struggles to sleep at night.
Tomas Rosicky
Tommy came back in to the side, as with last year, for the final push and was seen as fairly instrumental in the run-in. He got both goals in the crucial win at West Brom and worked hard in a number of other matches - Man Utd and Newcastle being the two that stick out for me. I don't quite agree that he had the same impact as last season, and his presence pushed Cazorla out of the middle and stunted the Spaniard's impact on the side. I think Rosicky has one year left on his contract and he will be a very valuable squad member if he completes his spell at the Club next season. His willingness to run at defenders often provides us with something different in tight games, though I think Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would be a better bet for that sort of thing from now on.
Mikel Arteta
This will surprise regular readers but Arteta is my player of the season at Arsenal. I usually moan about the way he crabs the play across the pitch rather than playing the ball forward more often. However, Arteta has made such a sacrifice in his game this year in order to benefit the team that he is worthy of significant praise.
When Alex Song was sold we had no player who you would consider anything like a defensive midfield player. Indeed, we are all still of the opinion that Arsene must spend money to sign one (or, in my view, convert Thomas Vermaelen for the role). Arteta was asked to curb his attacking instincts for the season in order to fill Song's shoes. For me we have missed Song's ability, but Arteta has done the job pretty capably. He has done it without any semblance of a complaint about having to play out of position. He has also led the team in the absence of Vermaelen with great distinction.
If you want an illustration of Arteta's new "contribution" to the side it can be seen in the fact that he hasn't scored a single goal from open play this season. In fairness he's barely crossed the halfway line. In terms of how he's gone about his defensive duties he has made more than his share of tackles. He has become increasingly adept at getting a foot in around the edge of our penalty area, and has learned more and more to sit in should somebody else from the back launch an attack. He has also made a lot of fouls, often getting away with them. Arteta is one of these people with a reputation for not fouling. The fact is that he is more than prepared to mix it, and Arsenal have benefited from referees failure to brandish yellow cards for him.
Next season we have to see Arteta not playing in the defensive midfield position, if we are to be successful in terms of winning things and beating the top sides. That may mean he finds himself on the margins of the first-team a little more. If that's the case, then such is the way football goes, but this season he has been an outstanding and consistent performer.
Jack Wilshere
It's something of a riddle with Jack. Early in the season, without him, we were okay(ish). At the end of the season, without him, we were pretty good, in terms of results at least. In the middle of the season, with him, we played game after game after game where Wilshere was the shining beacon in a sea of mediocrity. Yet we couldn't win matches. With Jack playing his heart out we were a team that lacked something. Could it be that Jack's presence intimidated his own team? Were they immediately over-reliant on the only World Class player in the squad? Or is it that this formation needs to change to make the most of Wilshere's skills? These are all questions to which Arsene Wenger must find an answer.
When he was in the side Jack was kicked all over the pitch by just about every opponent. Those opponents largely went unpunished, and yet we watched it week after week. Perhaps Roy Hodgson should make himself vocal about the physical stuff meted out to his star player - his fitness ahead of a World Cup (and the need for England to qualify for it in the first place) are crucial to Hodgson's future, I would say.
If I can criticise Jack it is to say that his goals and assists (and even shots at goal) are woefully lacking. Considering the way he dominates matches his statistics are pretty woeful. I know he can shoot. I know he can create. I know he can score goals. I just wish he would start doing it as he did when he was a youngster. I see people saying he's not as good as Lampard because of his lack of goals. When I've finished laughing and foaming at the mouth at the sheer ludicrous nature of such statements I start to wish he would just score goals and shut these cretins up. First of all, he needs to get fit. That may be easier said than done, and I have a real fear that Jack Wilshere may never get to fulfil his potential.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
The Ox would probably be the first to admit he struggled this season. His upward trajectory had been so steep that it had to level out at some point. He scored one of the goals of Arsenal's season in the League Cup tie against Coventry, but I thought he really let himself down that night. There was far too much "Billy Big B******s" stuff from him in the game. His season didn't much recover from that until the last few matches. Having said that he turned the game round at Bradford and was just about the only reason we put any pressure on at all that night - his pace and willingness to take on inferior players had been sorely lacking from the side to that point.
When he did finally make an impact on the season it came at home to Norwich in a game we were struggling badly in. The introduction of Ox and Podolski from the bench provided the bit of power and class required to keep the challenge for fourth place on track. On the final day he replaced Arteta early on and brought good energy and no small bit of guile to a tight midfield. It was a mark of the faith that Arsene has in him that he was trusted to take on that role in such a game, reprising his performance against AC Milan last year. There is better to come from Chamberlain, but in which position?
Aaron Ramsey
The Boyo has had something of a renaissance across this season. He was very much the new "Eboue" figure with the crowd early in the season (before being usurped by Gervinho in the game at Bradford) and came back strongly to be in the team as of right for the last couple of months. I still think he's often too slow, and his decision making in the final third makes Theo Walcott's look consistently good, but the work ethic Ramsey has is fantastic. Considering his injury problems he has an amazing stamina and desire to get involved. I don't know what's happened to a once impressive ability to shoot from range, but he made a crucial contribution alongside Arteta once Diaby and Wilshere were ruled out. I don't know that he's genuinely good enough to play regularly in a side that wants to challenge, but every team needs a reliable squad player.
Santi Cazorla
The man who is player of the season for most Gooners had an impressive impact on the Arsenal team. Cazorla was certainly the most successful of the signings from last year, announcing himself with a virtuoso display against Sunderland on the opening day. Given space he can destroy teams. One criticism is that he doesn't seem to have the ability to create that space for himself. In short, if the opposition tie him down he is completely ineffective.
For me Cazorla is terribly inconsistent. I have regularly compared him to Andrey Arshavin, though I don't think he's got as much ability as the Russian. Having said that he did provide many of the highlights of the season. From his pass to Giroud in that Sunderland game, to the win at Liverpool, the destruction of Spurs and his hat-trick at Reading, Cazorla often lit up Arsenal. He also scored a cracking goal to seal the win at Upton Park.
Considering it was his first season you'd have to say Cazorla was largely impressive. I still remain unconvinced that he is out of the top drawer but I'll be more than happily proved wrong. One note of caution, however - Manuel Pellegrini has twice signed Cazorla in Spain, and now he will have bottomless pockets at Man City. Don't be surprised if we've seen the last of Cazorla in an Arsenal shirt.
Francis Coquelin
It looks like Coquelin is on his way out of Arsenal this Summer. I don't blame him. For some reason Coquelin has seen little action across the season despite regularly being our best player when he did appear. If the team was selected, and allowed to play each game, based on performance then Coquelin would have been very much a part of things. Quite why he was taken off at Bradford remains a mystery that probably cost us the chance to win the game, and his absence from the matchday squad became a major bug bear of mine late on in the season. Coquelin is versatile and is by far the most capable utility player in the Arsenal squad. I am annoyed that he has not had his chance. Good luck to him.
Emmanuel Frimpong
I think Frimpong was heading for the exit door at Arsenal until last week when he had to have another knee operation. He couldn't get a regular game at Fulham when he joined them on loan, having not had a look-in at Arsenal. In his one start this season in the League Cup tie at Reading he had to be taken off as the weak link. You can't deny Frimpong puts in more effort than anyone else whenever he plays, but he just lacks a bit of quality.
Thomas Eisfeld
The young German burst on the scene in pre-season with a couple of goals and made a real impact. When he got his chance as a substitute at Reading he turned the game on its head with a fabulous display. Put together with his goalscoring exploits in the U21 side it seemed ridiculous that he couldn't get a chance to play in the first-team that was struggling so badly. However, when I saw some of the youth games towards the end of the season he seemed a shadow of the player from pre-season and was not really in the game at all. Next season will be make or break for Eisfeld.
Serge Gnabry
Gnabry made his Premier League bow as a sub in the awful defeat at Norwich. His willingness to have a go made a good impression on the watching Gooners and he was perhaps a little unfortunate not to get more chances as the season wore on. Serge is definitely the star of the youth and U21 teams and seems the most likely of them to have a shot at making it at Arsenal.
Nico Yennaris
Yennaris made his sole first-team appearance for the season at home to Coventry. He anchored the midfield very well that night, but I think his days are now numbered. Like Coquelin he is outstandingly versatile, as he showed against a rampant Man Utd in the Premier League last year. The fact that he had no other involvement with the first-team, other than as an unused sub at Reading, shows that Arsene Wenger doesn't really rate him that highly. Nico is not that young anymore and should really be banging on the door if he is going to make it. A born Gooner it would have been nice to see him come through, but perhaps it's time to move on and make a good career elsewhere.
That's the midfield covered for another year. Strikers to come over the next day or two.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Squad Review Part 2 - Defenders

Vermaelen - I hope he's not on his way out

Continuing with the four part squad review we move on today to the defenders at Arsenal this season. Despite the fact that most of us accepted we were defensively woeful until the final two months of this season the boys actually had a fine record. It just shows, I suppose, that statistics can be used to prove anything. The fact is that there was some pretty awful defending on show from various (if not all) members of the Arsenal defence at some point this campaign. I don't know what caused the up turn in performance from the beginning of March onwards. There is speculation that Steve Bould was finally allowed to recommence his work from the start of the season, and that seems to be a rumour with some merit. Ultimately we won't really know until Bouldie writes his memoirs, I suppose. So let's get on with the individuals and the way they performed.
Bacary Sagna
It looks like this was the end for Bac at Arsenal. Sagna had been Mr Consistency in his time at Arsenal. Throughout many years of defensive mediocrity Sagna was the shining beacon of quality at the back. Okay, he couldn't cross a ball going forward for toffee, but at the back he was really very good. Following two broken legs he has been nothing better than a poor imitation of his former self. Sagna seems to have lost a yard of pace. He is always so far away from his winger that anyone who can cross a ball from the left has our team in trouble. Going forward my heart sinks whenever I see one of our players pass the ball to Bac in an attacking area. You know that it is either going to slow the play down or be crossed as far as the closest opposition defender. With news that Sagna has not heard from Arsenal with regards to a new contract it looks that he is on his way out. Arsene might let him see out one final year, but Sagna himself will be looking for regular football ahead of the World Cup next season. With Jenkinson breathing down his neck he might not get that at Arsenal.
Sagna's best display of a tough season came as an emergency centre-back at Sunderland. It's fair to say that his performance in that game was largely what earned us the 1-0 win. I have to say that I think that could be the future for Bac. He has always been excellent in the air, and his now lack of pace would be less exposed in the middle. Whatever the future does hold for Bacary Sagna I wish him a lot of success before his career is over. He has been an outstanding servant at Arsenal.
Kieran Gibbs
One of the most improved Arsenal players over the last 18 months I believe Kieran is very much first-choice at left-back now. The fact that Gibbo has been recalled for the last couple of games after returning quickly from injury (for a change) shows that Arsene Wenger has faith in the boy. I know I'm biased but I would say he is second only to Leighton Baines in terms of English left-backs right now. His play in attacking areas is improving, but it's his defending that has been truly outstanding. If you just take the final two games where he was too quick, too strong, and simply too good for McManaman and Ben Arfa you can see that the future looks bright for Kieran. If we can have ourselves another Cashley, minus the personality defects, that would be really rather nice indeed.
Per Mertesacker
The jury is no longer out on the BFG, unless you work on Match Of The Day. Yes, Mertesacker is slower than a battleship on a narrow river, but his reading of the game is excellent. He organises the players around him and is constantly talking. With Koscielny alongside him his lack of pace is less relevant, though it can still cause us problems at times. If I have a criticism of Mertesacker other than his slowness it is that he doesn't jump his height enough. Here is a giant of a man who doesn't get off the ground. When Per does attack the ball he dominates, as you might expect. I remember the game at Upton Park where Andy Carroll beasted our centre-halves for 30 minutes, until Mertesacker realised he had to attack the ball and jump. Once that happened we didn't see any more threat from Carroll. In the final minute on Sunday he leapt high in the air to clear under pressure from Cisse and we got the ball to the other end of the pitch in time for the final whistle. Hopefully a bit more teaching form Steve Bould will improve him further in this regard. Overall I would put Mertesacker up there with Kieran Gibbs in terms of improvement this season.
Thomas Vermaelen
It's been a tough 18 months for TV5. I don't know whether he felt weighed down by the Captain's armband at Arsenal but he certainly played badly. It shouldn't really have taken until March and a defeat at Tottenham for Thomas to be left out. I realise Arsene Wenger was loathe to drop a man who he had made skipper back in August, but needs must at times.
What does the future hold for Thomas? I don't like the rumours in the papers today that Arsenal are willing to sell him. Right now we have three very good centre-backs. Bring in one more and we have a strong squad depth in that area, do we not? It would also be very poor form to sell a man who doesn't want to go having moaned so loudly about players who wanted out. I really like the way Vermaelen puts it all on the line when he plays. Personally, as I wrote in March, I would move him in to the defensive midfield position in place of Mikel Arteta, allowing Arteta to move further forward. If we've seen the last of yet another Arsenal Captain I will be very disappointed.
Laurent Koscielny
King Koscielny must have been seriously frustrated with the way his season was going until the last ten games. I wince whenever he is paired with Vermaelen but Koscielny has been the outstanding defender at Arsenal for the last two years now. He should not have been left out for as long as he was. When he did come back he was a commanding presence. Yes, he is still given to some stupid moments such as his rugby tackle at home to Manchester City, but give me King Koscielny over the others any day. He has also developed a Tony Adams style knack of coming up with important goals. Two years in a row he has scored the winner that has secured Champions League football. That makes him pretty priceless, I suppose. It would be a massive disappointment to me if he ended up going to Bayern Munich, as has been muted recently. Arsenal need quality, and King Koscielny is definitely quality.
Andre Santos
Nobody was moaning about Santos at the end of last season when he was scoring at West Brom. But the fact is that his signing was money wasted by Arsene Wenger. The man is simply not Premier League quality as a defender. He is seriously unfit and has no idea of positioning or defensive discipline whatsoever. I don't agree with the stick he received before being moved on, but it suited everyone for him to leave. The only concern is that Santos is only on loan at the moment - we could do without him and his wages coming back next season.
Nacho Monreal
Monreal was signed simply because Kieran Gibbs picked up one of his many knocks at the wrong/right time (depending how you look at things). Arsene knew he couldn't rely on Santos and brought in the Spanish international. Rumour has it that he would have been here this Summer, but Wenger had his hand forced on 31st January and had to do a deal.
I've yet to make up my mind on Nacho. I think he made a very decent start in the Premier League, and scored a hugely important goal at Swansea. He is a no frills defender, which is something we've been missing badly at Arsenal. He undoubtedly made us stronger than we were with Santos as the back-up at left-back (and Wenger clearly didn't fancy Jernade Meade at all). Having said that, he was destroyed by the woefully average Andros Townsend at QPR. Townsend's pace, and he's no Theo Walcott, seriously troubled Monreal that day. Hopefully it was a blip, and he will settle more in to the English game next season. He is certainly a decent squad member, and I remember Ruel Fox always used to destroy Nigel Winterburn. I'm not unhappy that Nacho is at Arsenal.
Sebastien Squillaci
One appearance for the Squid this season at Olympiacos in the final Champions League group game. He is now out of contract and the best we can say is that he never gave less than his best. At least we now have his considerable wages off the books.
Johan Djourou
I like Djourou. It's a shame that his undoubted potential never was met at Arsenal. He was superb for six months a few seasons back, but he knew the game was up this year. He's had a decent loan spell and I hope he can move on and be a success elsewhere. It's a shame it didn't work out. All the best Johan.
Carl Jenkinson
The Corporal has had an outstanding season. I think most observers would agree that Bacary Sagna has been extremely fortunate not to have been ousted by the youngster. The improvement in a player who was so far out of his depth when he first arrived is nothing short of astounding. The one aberration on a fine season was his stupid red card at Sunderland that could have cost us dear. Other than that he was superb alongside the guiding presence of Per Mertesacker. Jenkinson has searing pace and a fine engine. He is probably the best crosser of a ball in the squad and provides a fine outlet when the team goes forward. Jenks was rewarded with an England debut part way through the season, though I suspect that had more to do with trying to tie him down for the future. He has since been ridiculously left out of the England U21 squad for the Summer tournament. While that marks out Stuart Pearce as an even bigger cretin than he already appeared, it means Carl will come back refreshed to potentially take his chance as first-choice at right-back for Arsenal. The fact that he is a true boyhood Gooner, unlike certain ex-skippers, marks him out as a clear crowd favourite - just watch his reaction on the bench to a goal being scored and it will show you what he feels for The Arsenal.
Martin Angha
The young Swiss made his debut at full-back against Coventry City in the League Cup, but was sadly way out of his depth. He has already moved on to pastures new.
Jernade Meade
For a lad who had seemingly been released by Arsenal two years ago you would have to say Meade has done outstandingly well to make two first-team appearances. He was impressive at Reading in the League Cup, but was the absolute stand out Arsenal player in the defeat at Olympiacos. The combination of Monreal's arrival and a bad injury finally put paid to any further first-team ambitions, though he should have been way ahead of Santos by that time if only Arsene didn't do most squad things based on seniority. It remains to be seen whether he'll still be an Arsenal player next season but, let's be honest, the lad is not going to make it here. At least he can always tell everyone "I played for Arsenal" and he played very well too.
Ignasi Miquel
Does anyone know where he's gone? I can only assume that Miquel is injured as he has hardly featured in the U21 side since Christmas. Versatile, and physically stronger than before, I would have liked to see more of Miquel this season. Again, he would have been a better bet at left-back than Andre Santos, but there you go. I suspect he may not be here next season, whether transferred or loaned to a Spanish second division side.
Hector Bellerin
Made the bench for two League Cup ties, but didn't get on the pitch. Bellerin is a highly fancied ex-Barcelona youth player. He looks a very fine footballer but whether he can actually defend is another matter. Nominally a right-back he is one of the few from the current youth crop who looks like he has half a chance.
Elton Monteiro
Monteiro was an unused sub at Olympiacos. I suspect that will be as far as he goes at Arsenal.
Sead Hajrovic
Another unused sub, another Swiss. Hajrovic is big and fairly mobile, but he doesn't stand out as being exceptional. Again, not likely to be an Arsenal player for the future.
So that's that for the defenders. I'll leave you today with a video of my Dad being interviewed (or at least the bloke is trying to interview him) outside St James' Park after the win on Sunday. Mind the gap.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Squad Review Part One - Goalkeepers

Fabianski - crucial contribution

It's that time of the year when I have to get in to rampant space-filling. We're two months away from the next Arsenal fixture which means I have to come up with some ideas for what to write about. I actually have a few things that are going to appear on the site throughout June and leading up to pre-season. As is traditional I will kick off this period of inactivity with a review of each player to have represented the first-team this season. We'll start with the goalkeepers.

Wojciech Szczesny
Szczesny began this season as the undisputed first-choice. Unfortunately that was probably the beginning of our problems. Since February last year Szczesny had actually been awful. Mistake had followed mistake with the confident Pole and it was costing us goals in many games. He picked up an injury early in the season but, with nobody to come in who was capable of replacing him, Szczesny immediately came back in when considered fit. That lasted for all of one game until it was realised he was unfit yet again. When Szczesny did play he was generally poor, mixing the odd fine save with far too many errors.
It would be fair to say that, until the last ten to twelve games, Szczesny wasn't assisted by great defending from those in front of him. You could argue that most goalkeepers would struggle behind that kind of standard of play. However, his own goalkeeping mistakes were awful. Szczesny has a serious weakness when facing direct free-kicks - he constantly gives the opponent too much of the goal to aim at. There is a strong argument that the Arsenal approach to coaching here is an issue as all of our goalkeepers seem to make the same mistakes all the time. But all in all Szczesny has had a poor fifteen months. Accusations from his father that Arsene Wenger has mis-treated Wojciech this season are wide of the mark in my view.
Having said all of that, his performances against Man Utd and QPR were very good and showed promise in his game for the first time in a long time. Is he good enough to be Arsenal's goalkeeper in the future? I think not, but if he proves me wrong I'd be delighted.

Vito Mannone
Having been loaned out last season it seemed certain that Vito's Arsenal career was over. He looked likely to join Hull before the campaign started only for Steve Bruce to look elsewhere in the end. What is certain is that Arsene Wenger was prepared to let him go. What a shock it was, then, that Vito ended up playing a number of first-team games in the Autumn as Szczesny struggled with injury.
Vito was inconsistent, at best, in the Arsenal goal. Ultimately he's just not good enough to play for a Premier League side that has ambitions to be successful. He mixes some fine saves, and decent performances, with the sort of mistakes in his handling that you'd associate with a Sunday League player. He's done well to play so many games at the top level for Arsenal and he will surely have a decent future at a half-decent side. I suspect that he's finally played his last game for us and I wish him well.

Damien Martinez
With Szczesny and Fabianski injured, and Mannone donning the gloves in the Premier League, the young Argentine got the League Cup nod. He did well in the game against Coventry City and looked like a goalkeeper who could command his penalty area. I was seriously impressed by him that night and thought he would be a much better bet than Mannone in the first-team. There was one save he made that night where he showed such assured handling that he simply looked the business.
When it came to the game at Reading Martinez was once again between the sticks. Sadly he didn't cover himself in glory that night, but he certainly wasn't alone. He made one fairly serious error when his acrobatic attempt to push a shot round the post saw the ball simply loop off his hand in to the net. Unfortunately for Martinez that was the last we saw of him this term. He didn't play too many U21 games towards the end of the season either, with Fabianski involved in some of them as he returned to fitness. For me, Martinez showed enough promise to be worth promotion to the first-team squad for next season in place of Mannone. However, he is also going to come under pressure from another youngster in the shape of Dejan Iliev, who seems to be highly fancied by the Academy coaches.

James Shea
Once again James Shea made the bench for a number of "minor" first-team games. Sadly for the youngster his career highlight remains being asked to train with the England squad at London Colney a couple of years back. Shea will be released this Summer.

Lukasz Fabianski
What a renaissance for Fabianski. He may have only played a handful of games before Grant Holt seemingly ended his Arsenal career with an elbow to the ribs, but his contribution to Arsenal's successful run-in should not be under-estimated. Yes, Arsene Wenger took a gamble in bringing him back to the side against Bayern Munich, but he was in top form straight away. The saves he made, and the confidence he seemed to inspire in those in front of him, was in stark contrast to what had gone before with Szczesny.
If you look at the last couple of years of Fabianski's career he must surely be the most unfortunate player around. He had just secured himself the first-choice position with a string of fine displays when he suffered a shoulder injury that allowed Szczesny to cement his own position. Last Summer he got injured in the days before Euro 2012 and was robbed of the chance to replace the same goalkeeper in front of a home crowd in a major tournament. Then this season, having fought back to fitness and got to the front of the queue once more, he was again struck down by injury. You just wonder if, having got a decent run, could Fabianski have fulfilled the potential he showed when he first arrived at Arsenal? I suspect he is on his way out now, so we will never know. What I will remember is his celebration after our third goal against Norwich when he ran all the way up the pitch punching the air, and his reaction to the final whistle at Newcastle last Sunday. He is clearly a team man and a Gooner. If this is where it ends then I want to say thanks.

As with the last five or six years Arsenal fans can see the need for some quality in this area. With Fabianski and Mannone seemingly on the way out, and Szczesny indifferent, at least one top signing is needed. Links with Pepe Reina and Victor Valdes are not inspiring. I'd far prefer to see Begovic arrive from Stoke or Mignolet from Sunderland. They would, at the very least, put Szczesny on his toes.

Monday, 20 May 2013

King Koscielny

King Koscielny allows a St Totteringham's Day celebration
Thank God it's over. I haven't enjoyed this season at all really. It's been a slog through a very long and very cold winter. Arsenal were largely poor with the same old errors and same old frustrations. However, by hook or by crook (I don't want to write too lyrically about it at this stage as I'll be writing a season review at some point this week) the players and the Manager turned it around in the last ten games to mean that once again we finished above Tottenham. The added bonus of not playing on Thursday nights is more than a pleasant one. The sight of Arsenal players and fans celebrating (more on that below) and Tottenham players and fans crying (and celebrating goals that never were) is enough to make you smile wide this morning. What we did yesterday does not rank as an "achievement". The day Arsenal fans accept scraping in ahead of Spurs and finishing 17 points behind the Champions as success is the day we turn in to Tottenham ourselves. It is not a trophy, or anything like it. The glow of victory is not there that you get with a trophy, but I'd rather have won yesterday than lost.
The game yesterday was tense, of course. We don't do things the easy way so we were never likely to race in to a 3-0 lead before half-time. But the tension was also affecting the mugs at White Hart Lane. I was surprised to see Arteta playing, but not surprised when he had to be taken off. It was a silly gamble that could have backfired badly. Thankfully it didn't so it doesn't much matter now. What we did see yesterday was a group who wanted to work hard to ensure they'd done everything they could to get the win. If you watch the last couple of minutes of the match again you'll see Tomas Rosicky sprinting all the way across the pitch to close down the opposition. He was then backed up by a racing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain breaking up the Newcastle attack around the edge of our penalty area. The result of just that bit of effort was a ball up to Giroud, whose own pressure caused the mistake that saw Theo Walcott through on goal. It was a shame Theo couldn't seal it there and then as a number of people lost fingernails over the next three minutes.
The goal we did get was gloriously scrappy. Winning 1-0 with such a scrambled goal is delightful as far as I'm concerned. Yes, you'd like to win 5-0 all the time and play the most wonderful football. But when the final reckoning is done you get just as many points for scraping a 1-0. Laurent Koscielny, henceforth known as King Koscielny on this site, got the winner that put us in to the European Cup, just as he did at West Brom last year. His partnership with Per Mertesacker has been crucial in the recent run with just one goal conceded in open play since we lost to Tottenham. They've also both contributed set-piece goals in 1-0 wins at Fulham and Newcastle. King Koscielny's return to the side turned the season around, and Arsenal must hold on to him in the face of apparent interest from the World's best team, Bayern Munich. In his three seasons at Arsenal Koscielny has got better and better. He is now head and shoulders above his colleagues as the best centre-back at the Club. He dominated yesterday in the Arsenal defence and has to be challenging Mertesacker, Arteta and Cazorla in the Arsenal player of the season stakes.
I watched Match Of The Day last night with a happy smile. I soon lost that as soon as Alan Shearer opened his bitter Geordie gob. Shearer told us a few short weeks ago that Arsenal would not finish in the top four. He told us that we weren't good enough and that Tottenham had a better squad than Arsenal. Having been made to look stupid (again) he decided to criticise the Arsenal players for celebrating after the game as we had not won a trophy. The fact is that the players were celebrating finishing ahead of Tottenham with a group of fans who were happy and grateful for that. They were celebrating finishing ahead of Tottenham despite being told by cretinous, overpaid "experts" like Shearer that they were not as good as Spurs. Once again they proved that they were better. Why shouldn't they enjoy it? Lest we forget that Andre Villas-Boas described a "spiral of decline" after his side had clinched their Champions League place (because these things are always decided after 28 games) after beating us a few short months ago. Meanwhile the Tiny Totts supporters are changing tack and claiming that the one point gap (that's "gap") is merely a sign of how far we have fallen. I'd be inclined to agree to a certain extent, but we still finished above them after a terrible season for us, which was also a fantastic season for them (or for Gareth Bale, at least). Now Arsene Wenger must make good on his promises and spend good money on top players. If he does that we can build up to glory again. In the meantime, make sure to smile at every Tottenham fan you meet. Just smile. It winds them up something chronic.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Play at pace and go for goal

Kieran has to play this evening
Having watched Andros Townsend give Nacho Monreal the run around at QPR last week, and having watched Calum McManaman tear Gael Clichy a new one at Wembley on Saturday, there is no doubt in my mind that Kieran Gibbs must play tonight. Until last week I'd been reasonably impressed by Monreal. But he was utterly destroyed by a player not good enough to get near the Tottenham team. The Spaniard's complete lack of pace was frightening. In the past he has shown a good reading of the game and his positional play was such that his slowness was not exposed. Against QPR he was all over the place and we were lucky Townsend was playing with such a complete bunch of donkeys on the day. Last season Kieran Gibbs made an amazing last ditch tackle to ensure the win at West Brom on the last day. As far as I'm concerned we need Gibbo to play in both of our final games, but that will mean him actually staying fit for a whole week. His fragility worries me and it is holding him back from a very bright future. The improvement in Gibbs over the last eighteen months has been superb and I want to see him be Arsenal's main man in years to come. He might never be as good as Cashley but if he could stay fit he could give it a good go.
Elsewhere on the pitch it seems certain that Lukas Podolski will not be playing through the centre. I suspect that will mean him being back on the bench but I would far rather Poldi was on the pitch from the start. Wenger's excuses for taking him off all the time, as he gave the press yesterday, simply don't add up. The fact that Podolski is the one man that can shoot to devastating effect and is a natural finisher means he must play in games in which you have no choice other than to win. Obviously the system isn't going to change, but I would move Walcott in to the centre and Podolski to the left. I would then bring in Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right and leave out Rosicky to allow Cazorla back in to the centre. Cazorla hasn't had an influence on a game for some time. By the way the season has gone that means he is due a performance. I also think, despite a growing reputation for not working for the team, Podolski will give Gibbs more support by tracking back - Cazorla wanders off so much that our left-back is completely exposed when he plays wide.
The other big decision is who plays in goal. Lukasz Fabianski is back to fitness following the rib injury inflicted on him by Grant Holt's elbow. Fabianski was outstanding in the games he played before that injury, but Szczesny has played very well in the last two games. The decision for Wenger is whether he goes for the man in possession, or whether he makes Fabianski his number one. Both men are error prone, and neither is really good enough, so it is a massive deal for the Manager to make the right choice. Perhaps he should ask his centre-halves who they prefer to play in front of. For me, Mertesacker and Koscielny look far more confident with Fabianski between the sticks, but maybe that's a false impression.
Whatever the team selection this evening Arsenal must play better than they did at QPR. There has to be pace in the way we go forward. We have to run at the opposition and make things happen, rather than the interminable crabbing sideways across the opposition back-four. When we play at pace we destroy teams. When we run at opponents we cause them problems. Look at the previous two home games as the example. Against Norwich we did nothing for 80 minutes. When The Ox came on with Podolski they took on defenders. Ox ran at their back four and committed players to the tackle. The result was Giroud's goal that put us ahead. Then there was the Man Utd game where our midfield ran theirs off the pitch, and Rosicky went at people with the ball at his feet. The end result was a Man Utd side reduced to kicking just to stay in the game. What was missing was the actual shot at goal, which is another thing that must happen tonight. It is not acceptable to dominate games as we did in the first half-hour against Man Utd and QPR, only to get to half-time and find that our own goalkeeper is the one who has had to make the saves. If you don't shoot, you won't score - just ask Frank Lampard.
I'm not going to be there tonight as I am at work just after 3am tomorrow and flying to Lisbon. I'll be watching on Sky and feeling annoyed that I'm not at the game. I just hope that's my only reason to be annoyed. As I'll be out of the country there'll be no match review, nor will there be a preview of the Newcastle game. When I next write we will know how the season has finished. Come on Arsenal!!!

Monday, 13 May 2013

A long week behind and a long week ahead

At least we could actually win this one
I apologise for the lack of updates over the last eight days. I've had a particularly busy week at work which has not really left me in the mood for more time in front of a computer when I've got home. The need to actually spend some time with my family ahead of this week was also important. It's a shame really as there was a fair bit to have written about last week despite the absence of any football for Arsenal. I'll try to cover the main points as best I can remember.
Let's start with Wojciech Szczesny and his comments about Tottenham last week. What an idiot this boy is. I've long lamented Szczesny's big mouth and how he really shouldn't be chucking stones about with the lack of toughened glass around his six-yard box. The fact is that Szczesny's performances have not backed up his rhetoric. In fairness to him he had really toned down the big-headed public statements in recent months. His end to last season, an horrific Euro 2012, and performances as bad as anything Manuel Almunia (more on him below) produced for Arsenal maybe had him realising he should keep quiet for a while. Last week, in my piece after the QPR game, I praised the young Pole for his last two displays. I thought he was excellent against Manchester United and again at Loftus Road. The trouble is that he obviously thought he'd done pretty well himself. I can see no other reason for him opening his mouth and claiming Tottenham aren't good enough for finish in front of us for a top four place. As soon as I read it I cringed. He got a rise out of Andre Vilas-Boas the following day which no doubt showed a mental weakness in the Spurs Manager - why respond to such nonsense from  Szczesny by getting gobby (and getting your facts wrong) yourself? However, since Szczesny's trash talking Tottenham have come back twice to draw at Chelsea and then again to win at Stoke. I'm not saying Szczesny gave them the absolute motivation to go and get those results as Spurs are more than capable of doing that anyway. But my point is, why give them extra motivation? We used to hear Robbie Keane or Clive Allen coming out with stupid statements about how they were better than Arsenal just before we'd give them another tanking in the North London Derby. They were made to look like cretins (which they both are, incidentally). Come Sunday there is every chance that Szczesny will be the inspiration for a new t-shirt down the Tottenham high-road simply because he's a big-headed little clown who has achieved nothing except a reputation for being a rent-a-gob.
On the day that Alex Ferguson announced his retirement (I hate him but can't fail to respect his incredible achievements - you have to make the best of your luck and he more than did that over the past twenty years at Manchester United) Arsenal were widely reported to have signed a mega-bucks deal with Puma. Many of us had been hoping for Adidas shirts (as much for the vintage stuff to re-appear as for any new kits) but it seems it's not to be. Arsenal haven't announced anything officially yet, presumably because of current tie-ups with the Nike contract. However, I am not disappointed with the news. If you can't have Adidas you might as well have his brother. The deal itself is the biggest in English football as Puma seeks to establish itself at the top table. It seems that our connections and support in Africa were a major factor (Puma have long made kits for Cameroon, for example) and the reasons for us trying to play in Nigeria last year are now a bit clearer, I suspect.
I heavily criticised Ivan Gazidis and his team over the renewed deal with Emirates. It is my view that the naming rights for the stadium have effectively been given over free of charge. His contention that other commercial deals will not be done (such as sponsorship of the training kit for example) "out of respect" for Emirates is a joke as far as I'm concerned. Manchester United ditched a shirt sponsor only to re-engage them as sponsors of the training ground. It may seem vulgar to chase the money like that, but this is the modern World. Man Utd have seen the need to open up new sponsorship revenue streams in light of the financial fair play rules. If you can't beat them, join them should be Arsenal's philosophy when it comes to business now. However, I have to give immense credit to Gazidis for the deal with Puma. It has come out of left-field and, if confirmed, will be a massive swelling of the coffers over the next six years or so. If it is matched with some success on the field then the next deal could be even bigger.
Before I go on to talk about Arsenal's situation on the pitch I'd like to congratulate Manuel Almunia for his part in Watford's incredible result yesterday. For those who don't know about it, Almunia saved a last minute penalty, and the point-blank rebound, which then saw Watford break down field and hit the winning goal. It was fairly rare for Almunia to be portrayed as anything approaching a hero in his Arsenal days. Perhaps the Championship (or lower reaches of the Premier League) is more his level, but I am delighted to see him doing so well. 
Manuel Almunia is a really nice guy. He gave my brother a signed pair of his gloves, simply because he asked for them, on the pre-season tour to Austria a couple of years back. He could never have been accused to giving any less than his best for Arsenal. The trouble for him was that his best was often not quite good enough for a Club like Arsenal. He was error prone a bit too much for the top level at which we were playing. Arsene Wenger showed too much faith in him at the expense of Jens Lehmann. It cost us at least one Premier League Title. With the errors came fierce criticism from the fans and a loss of confidence that betrayed a fragile mental state for Manuel. He simply wasn't nasty or thick-skinned enough to deal with the brick-bats, unlike Lehmann. Almunia's biggest "crime" at Arsenal was being "good, but not good enough" but I would still take him above any of the idiots still at the Club right now. I hope he gets promoted with Watford. I, for one, will give him a standing ovation if he gets to run towards the North Bank next season.
So the final week of the season is here. Arsenal find themselves playing catch-up after Tottenham's win at Stoke yesterday. Of course we couldn't expect any favours from Pulis and his Orc army, but we shouldn't need to be looking for them in the first place. Over 36 games we are in a position where our destiny is in our own hands, which is good. But the fact is that our own abysmal performances and results, especially before Christmas, mean that we are not already safely ensconced in the Champions League next season.
I really don't see us winning both games this week. We should do, of course, but this is football. Wigan have their Premier League future to fight for - if they beat us tomorrow I think they'll stay up via a home win over Aston Villa on Sunday. Spurs will comfortably dispatch Sunderland at home so it is still all to play for as far as Wigan are concerned. They will be confident after deservedly and spectacularly winning the FA Cup on Saturday (I'd love for Arsenal to form a guard of honour for them tomorrow night). My hope is that they are fatigued from the win over Man City and the celebrations that followed.
I'll preview the game properly tomorrow. Before then I just want to speculate on what sort of week lies ahead of us. If we win tomorrow then we go to Newcastle in front of Tottenham, as they were when going to West Ham on lasagne day in 2006. The wait for Sunday will be interminable and the need for a result annoyingly stressful. If we don't win tomorrow then the recriminations will begin. As I said, I see no way for Sunderland to get a result at Tottenham. Having seen Sunderland's defending yesterday I dread to think what Gareth Bale will do to them with that amount of space to run, create, shoot and score. That being the case Arsene Wenger can expect all manner of hell to rain down upon him if Arsenal don't win against Wigan. Even if we do, he will be in the same position if we don't beat Newcastle. The task couldn't be clearer. I just don't think our players are capable of pulling it off. If there is a silver lining from a failure to finish fourth it would be that the Europa League is a competition we could actually win, rather than just enter. Small, small consolation. Who wants to watch football on a Thursday every other week?
More tomorrow with the Wigan game at the top of a very short list of priorities.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Pet Shop Boys make a comeback

Early celebrations for Theo

I don't mind winning 1-0. It doesn't do wonders for the heart rate but you get the same amount of points for it as you do if you win 6-1. If we win our two final games by the same margin, yet fail to finish in the Champions League places, then Chelsea and Spurs will deserve their positions ahead of us.
Winning 1-0 always puts a certain song in your head, and makes you think whimsically back to the European success under George Graham. Those games were won on hard work and tactical genius, of course. Yesterday's performance, however, was a little bit frightening. Having scored inside thirty seconds we never again carried a genuine threat in the match. We should have been swatting aside 'Arry's boys, especially with such an early lead, but I thought we were awful. Still, 1-0 is all that matters once that final whistle is blown.
For me QPR were the better side for most of the game. Once they realised Arsenal weren't going to put any pressure on them by actually trying to score another goal Rangers got on top and had a few shots. On the rare occasions, largely late in the second half, where an Arsenal player did deign to shoot Robert Green looked predictably uncomfortable as a the ball came towards him. Why won't they do it more often? I could almost re-write the piece I posted on here last Monday after the Man Utd game. I'm genuinely fed up of watching the sideways passing across an opponent who realises they only need to string a few defenders along their eighteen yard line to stop us. You could look at almost any of the various Arsenal websites and forums and you will see the same discussion being had. Does Arsene Wenger see the same things we see? Surely he realises that the football currently being played is as far removed from the golden days of his reign as it's possible to be. It's slow and turgid and we go nowhere. We are unlikely to beat Wigan and Newcastle 1-0 so something has to change over the next ten days.
In the game yesterday I thought Rosicky and Podolski really let themselves down. Last week Rosicky was going at defenders and making things happen in between the lines, but yesterday he did nothing whatsoever. Podolski, meanwhile, offered nothing to the team. On the rare occasion that Theo Walcott wasn't mis-controlling the ball when beyond the last defender Podolski was making no runs to assist him. A couple of times in the first twenty minutes Theo shaped to play a ball across goal only to see Podolski standing still on the edge of the area. I've stopped short of criticising Podolski all season but yesterday I thought he was awful. I would have replaced both of them at half-time and got Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wilshere on the pitch. When they did come on we had our best spell of the game, for me.
In midfield I thought Mikel Arteta was superb yesterday. Aaron Ramsey ran around plenty but gave the ball to the bloke in the front row of the stand more often than not. Arteta was everywhere though. He made more than his share of tackles and basically played them on his own in there, with Cazorla fairly anonymous out wide and Theo busy being Theo. By and large I think Arteta has had a fine season, playing in a role to which he is far from suited. For someone so small he is not afraid to put his foot in, even after getting nailed by a certain red-card challenge from M'Bia early on in the game (another storming referee appointment is Mr Moss). Without Arteta yesterday we simply wouldn't have won the game.
My man of the match was Wojciech Szczesny. In the last two games he has done extremely well. Quite how Theo Walcott got the official award I suppose only an idiot like Chris Waddle could tell you. Aside from the outstanding late save to deny the impressive Loic Remy I felt the Pole's handling was assured for the first time in a long while. He also dealt decisively with some well delivered corners, and one huge paw of the ball to take it off Remy's head was as important as the later save. I suspect Szczesny will be busy in each of the remaining fixtures against sides who will be desperate for the points. It seems unlikely that Fabianski will be back to take his place so he will have to stay focused and keep up his current form.
By the way, have you seen that idiot chimp Bale being interviewed after the Spurs game yesterday? I think the praise has been going to his head. Either that or he lost a bet and had to wear that stupid hat. Frankly, he looked more like he should be advertising tea-bags than playing Premier League football. Unfortunately he keeps scoring winning goals.

Friday, 3 May 2013

The task is clear

Some of this tomorrow would be nice

With three games to go Arsenal's target has to be nine points. Anything less than three victories and even the coveted fourth place trophy will slip away. There was a time when winning three games against bottom of the table dross might have been considered as a given. However, this current side is without a centre-forward and has shown it is able to lose to opponents even worse than QPR, Wigan and Newcastle. Of course three wins might still not be enough, but if Chelsea and Tottenham were to get the results they require to make that happen they would deserve their places, regardless of our end to the season.
Lukas Podolski looks set to continue as the lone striker tomorrow. In the absence of Olivier Giroud I think he represents our best option there, regardless of the fact that he's not a natural for the role. Given that the alternatives are Gervinho and Walcott I see no other choice. Naturally the whole team would be helped, whether Giroud is available or not, by a change to two men up front but that's not going to happen any time soon. I have to say I thought Podolski didn't do too badly against Manchester United last week and should, in theory, find things a little easier against Rangers tomorrow. Giroud will be more missed tomorrow in defensive areas - who in our side is going to challenge Chris Samba at a set-piece? Another thing to note is that Podolski actually has a pretty good record this season. Last Sunday was his first Premier League start since January, which puts his goals and assists tally in perspective. You also know that, by and large, if he gets a decent chance in front of goal the ball will end up in the net more often than not. If our players provide Podolski with the service to score goals tomorrow then he will deliver, I am sure.
The first half-hour last Sunday was outstanding from Arsenal. The players must produce the same tomorrow. Having dominated the best side in the country by closing down in packs and then springing forward from midfield at pace, just imagine what we can do to rubbish like QPR by playing like that. For me that's the key to our end of season. If we play with that intensity we will blow the opposition away. If we don't then we could have a repeat of a number of early season displays like Norwich away, for example. I see no reason to recall Jack Wilshere to the starting line-up. The midfield from last week did really well. The only change I would be interested in from an attacking point of view would be for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to come in for Theo Walcott.
With QPR down they have nothing to play for other than a bit of pride. I suspect Redknapp will have them seriously fired up to play Arsenal. It's his last chance for at least a year to take on the big boys and he will be keen to give the Spurs fans something to cheer tomorrow. They have a number of big, powerful, individuals as well as one or two skilful mavericks like Taarabt. I fear Loic Remy who has clearly seen his spell at Loftus Road as a Premier League shop window. Koscielny and Mertesacker must be right on top of him from the off. Above all I fear our record at Loftus Road. Interspersed by a great win in 1990 and a big FA Cup thrashing in 2001 we have struggled badly at QPR over the years. These things play at you in the back of your mind, no matter how bad their current league campaign has been. Tomorrow we have to win. There is no other result that will suffice.