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Wednesday, 28 August 2013

A very good week

Ramsey: Outstanding start

Much to my annoyance I’ve not been in a position to write anything since last week. Given the change in fortunes and performances of the team in that time it’s been a shame to not be able to give credit where it is due for a change.
Let’s start with last weeks win at Fenerbahce where I thought we were first class, particularly after half-time. When the draw was made many expected Arsenal to have a tough time against the Turks, and even more so with out lack of transfer action. To go out there and win 3-0 was outstanding. For me it ranks up there as one of our very best away performances in Europe, particularly off the back of what had happened against Villa just a few days before. Before the game Paul Merson (who these days delights in telling everyone he’s a Chelsea fan) said that he expected Arsenal to struggle. After our comprehensive 3-0 dismantling of the opposition he told us “they’re not a Fulham or a Spurs” as he identified our next two Premier League games. That sort of thing just about sums Merson up, though it leads me nicely on to Saturday at Fulham.
As with the game in Istanbul we were expected to have a really difficult afternoon at Craven Cottage. As it was, the Arsenal players put in a first class display and came away with a superb 3-1 win that could, in truth, have been five or six. I really enjoyed our speed on the break that led to a couple of the goals. It’s something that has been missing for a long time, and Podolski’s finishing was once again to the fore. I was not surprised to hear Merson tell us that “Fulham were poor” and that things won’t be so easy against Tottenham. Believe it or not Paul Merson scored 99 goals for Arsenal and won five major honours at the Club. What is his problem? Is he still bitter that Wenger kicked him out less than a year after arriving and replaced him with Marc Overmars?
And so we come to the game last night. I thought the players were utterly professional on the night. It was very much a case of job done. They could have pressed the accelerator a bit more at times but a 5-0 aggregate win was more than adequate. Lee Dixon took on the Merson role on TV as he told us that Fenerbahce are “a very poor side”. Really Lee? Is that the same Fernerbahce who lost in the semi-final of the UEFA Cup last season? As it was I thought there were one or two Arsenal players who weren’t great on the night. I am very worried that Nacho Monreal really isn’t a good enough full-back to be at Arsenal. Better than Santos, yes, but he is so often caught under the ball when it’s played to the corner, while rarely being within 15 yards of the man he’s marking. His lack of pace is a huge worry, as we saw when Andros Townsend destroyed him at QPR last season. If Kieran Gibbs was out for a long time I think we’d have a real problem. The other man I wasn’t impressed by was Yaya Sanogo. I know it was his first decent run out in the first team but his first touch and mobility looked poor. He has plenty of time, of course, but is he really any better than Chuba Akpom at the moment? I would suggest probably not. On the positive side the players worked very hard when we weren’t in possession, and that has been a feature of these last three games. Long may it continue to be so.
Obviously we are short of numbers. I think we’re all tired of talking about it. We know we lack both quantity and a depth of quality in important areas. We need a top goalkeeper, we need a holding midfielder, we need a striker. You might notice I stopped short of saying we need a centre-back. I say this because Bacary Sagna has been exceptional filling in there. In fact he’s been brilliant since pre-season began (as have Ramsey and Giroud). I regularly doubted Sagna last season, but he has shown he is more than worthy of keeping Carl Jenkinson out of the side at right-back at the moment. As a fourth choice centre-back I think he can save us at least £10m that could be spent elsewhere. If and when Mathieu Flamini is put on a contract we will have extended emergency cover for both full-back positions, freeing up Sagna as necessary.
The lack of signings remains unacceptable by any standards. The idea that lessons were learnt in 2011 has been shown to be nonsense. We are set (hopefully) for some kind of supermarket sweep in the last few days of the transfer window. To have not already done our business is bordering on the criminal. People say that Man Utd and Chelsea have signed nobody either, but I don’t care about them – I am only concerned about Arsenal and our needs were rather more pressing than either of those Clubs – they won trophies last season, remember.
Amid all this lack of numbers and depth I was amazed at the team that lined up last night. I couldn’t understand why Szczesny played. There was no need for Wilshere, Podolski or Giroud to take to the pitch either. Three or four changes could have been made to the starting line-up, and then a further three with proper substitutions. Instead of that we saw Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla playing 90 minutes again. We saw Kieran Gibbs inexplicably brought on from the bench early in the second half to play on the wing (in the previous two games it had been Monreal coming on when Serge Gnabry could have been given a run out and some very decent experience). Gibbs is injury prone, as we all know, so why take such an unnecessary risk ahead of the Tottenham game?
Wenger has already stated that he wants Roy Hodgson to consider Jack Wilshere’s welfare when the England team play two games next week. Why should Hodgson take any notice whatsoever when Jack is brought on for 30 minutes at Fulham, with Arsenal 3-0 up, and then plays the full 90 minutes when we’re 5-0 up against Fenerbahce? If Wenger wants Jack protected then he should start to practise what he preaches. Frimpong could have come on in both of those matches, or Gedion Zelalem could have had a run out at Fulham. It’s just crazy, even before you consider what he’s asked Hodgson to do.
It seems wrong to still be criticising after the good week we’ve had, so I’ll leave it at that and hope for some massive signings in the few days ahead. I will just point out that we must have won, and disappointed the news outlets, as BBC News Channel considered Liverpool beating Notts County in extra-time to be bigger sports news than us qualifying. Do you think they’d have done that had we lost?

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