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Monday, 31 August 2015

Our lack of goals is scary after Newcastle win

They might be alright if they played at the same time
The game at Newcastle on Saturday was a difficult watch. In fairness Arsenal started brightly and I was not upset with the selections of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott - if nothing else it added much needed speed across the ground to Arsenal's team. In the absence of Ozil (is he really injured?) I would have preferred a change to formation with Giroud and Walcott allowed to play as a front pairing. Of course Arsene Wenger doesn't do tactical changes so we had the pedestrian show-pony that is Aaron Ramey slowing everything down whenever the ball went forward. Despite that we made a bright start and were causing Newcastle a few problems in the opening 15 minutes. We should have been given the clearest of clear penalties but, for some reason, the officials were the only people watching the game who missed the foul on Bellerin.
When the red card came for Mitrovic it probably didn't do Arsenal's attacking options much good. Using the pace of Walcott in behind became something that was never going to happen as Newcastle understandably got everyone deep and behind the ball. The sending off itself was a clear red card, unless you're a bitter Geordie who can't see that their player went over the top of the ball and raked Coquelin's shin. Steve McLaren claiming that he had simply stood on the foot of Coquelin marked him out as a man looking desperate for excuses already. What followed was a continuous assault on Arsenal's players with some pretty nasty fouls being made. At least the referee was getting most of his bookings right and it even provided some atmosphere from the home fans (is there a bigger myth than the "great" fans at Newcastle United?) as they decided that booing loudly should be the order of the day.
With Newcastle sitting back we saw an Arsenal team totally devoid of ideas and intent to score a goal. The Ox had a terrible game, as did Cazorla, Ramsey, Alexis and Theo Walcott - probably the miss of the season by Theo from about two yards out. There were hardly any shots, no incisive passing, not one player trying to take people on and create something. It was surely crying out for a change to the way we were set up. Instead, after 69 minutes, we saw Giroud come on in place of Walcott and we carried on in the same vein. Why not do something different? Why not put two men up front and cause Newcastle a few problems - they were never coming forward to attack us so we should have been pushing on. Having got a lucky deflection to go 1-0 up it was painful to watch us just passing the ball around with no idea of how to actually get through the defence. Wenger then decided to bring on Arteta and protect the 1-0 lead against a side who hadn't had possession in our penalty area since the start of the game. And, just for good measure, Giroud finished the game by proving everyone right about the need for a new striker by missing the only proper chance created in the second-half.
Arsenal have scored three goals in the first four games of the season. Only one of them has actually been scored by an Arsenal player. Wenger has failed to address this and now has about 24 hours to do so. It is as clear as day that we lack the sort of centre-forward that could play in this formation and drag us to the Premier League trophy next May. We are also an injury or suspension away from losing Francis Coquelin and the only protection our back-four receives. All the optimism that swept through Arsenal fans following the outstanding FA Cup win has been eroded away to nothing. Wenger spoke the other day of "working day and night" to secure transfers, yet he spent his Sunday evening moonlighting on French TV coverage of PSG v Monaco. The man is continuing to take us all for fools, but we've never worked even one day in football so he can treat us with utter contempt.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Panic signing or nobody then for Arsenal

The ONLY players money can't buy

I'm sad to admit that I was drawn in this year. I really, honestly,  believed that things were now different. The stadium is no longer a financial albatross (the lies about it never having been so were exactly that, and that is just one of the many things Wenger cannot be forgiven over), we'd won two trophies in two seasons, everyone knows we are just a signing or two away from being a genuine competitor to win the Premier League. With all that money and the obvious areas of deficiency ready to be addressed it was clear that things were on the up. The likes of Lukas Podolski and Abou Diaby, and a very large amount of wages, were shipped out of the club making plenty of room for the new players. We addressed the goalkeeping issue, at last, so just a friend for Coquelin and a top striker was required. Now, here we are, five days from the end of the transfer window, and sod all else has happened. I should have realised that this would be the case. Why did I fall in to the trap? All the time Arsene Wenger remains all powerful at Arsenal it will surely ever be thus. And before anyone pulls the big money signing of Mesut Ozil out of their backsides to demonstrate I'm wrong I'll point out that Ozil was a signing of the Boards making to appease an increasingly vocal unease among the match going supporters. The signing of Ozil was not part of any grand plan from Arsene Wenger. He fell in to our laps because Real Madrid needed money to pay Spurs off for the chimp. His signing was a massive boost for six months but he has largely been a flop.
Today Wenger has spoken about signings and the usual rubbish has spewed forth. We've had the perennial favourite of "we work day and night" uttered this morning. I'm just waiting for "big transfer fees only guarantee big wages" and I'll be able to claim for the full-house on Wenger Transfer Bull***t Bingo. The most worrying quote today is the one where he has said (and this is a new one to be fair) "I am always confident there might be a last minute situation or solution". What the Hell is that all about? Last minute solution? If it's last minute then, like Ozil, it almost certainly won't be the solution. Do you remember those wonderful last minute deals of a few years ago that saw us bring in Arteta, Mertesacker, Andre Santos, Park Chu Young and Yossi Benayoun? That all worked out well, didn't it? Whatever happens now it won't be a deal that has been being worked on and negotiated over any period of time. Panic buying is rarely any good and this will almost certainly be no exception.
So why are we here again? It is clear to me that the problem lies in the power that is held by Arsene Wenger. It's been said here before but, once targets are identified by him, he should have no further input in to the transfer dealings aside from meeting the player to discuss how they will fit in to the team. Anything, and I mean anything, to do with the financial side of a transfer should have nothing to do with Wenger. It seems obvious that this is not the case and that he is the problem. Arsene has his valuation of a player and that is that. He often talks about people not wanting to sell. It's rarely the case that anyone would actually want to sell a top player, but you're job as the buying club is to force their hand by making them an offer they can't possibly refuse. Ultimately Arsene's valuation of a player is totally irrelevant. Yes there are ridiculous transfer fees being paid for some players, but that is sadly the going rate and that is the way football business now works. If you can't beat them (and we can't) you have to at least try to join them. I don't particularly have any desire to see Arsenal wasting money, but we are currently not doing what we can to remain competitive. That is the crime here. Arsenal simply must make use of the (considerable) resources at their disposal otherwise we will simply drop further and further behind.
In terms of Arsene being too involved this is a fairly modern phenomenon, something that has happened since David Dein was kicked out of Arsenal. I'm no fan of Dein but it can't be argued that, when he was doing the transfers, we had a man who understood how to sign players. I can't know for sure that he would "ignore" Arsene's valuation of a player but it seems pretty obvious to me that when Dein was schmoozing the selling clubs we might have paid a bit more than we wanted to, but ultimately got the player. Take 1995 as an example, when the financial shackles were released by Arsenal for the first time in many years, Dein went out and got Dennis Bergkamp and David Platt. Both players commanded big fees for their time, maybe even a bit over the odds, but the players were who the Manager wanted and Dein went and got them. He paid £3.5m for a totally unknown (in England) French youngster called Patrick Vieira when that kind of money seemed ridiculous - but it meant we beat others to the signing. Arsene wanted Thierry Henry who had seemingly failed at Juventus, but Dein went and paid them more than they'd spent to sign Henry just a few months earlier. And the deal that really stands out to me is Marc Overmars. There is no way Wenger would have valued the injury-prone (apparently injury-wrecked) Overmars at £5m+, but Dein went and got the business done without Wenger being able to interfere. The rest is history as Marc combined with Dennis and co to win us the Double.
To say I am frustrated right now would be an understatement. I may yet be made to eat these words by Tuesday but, as I said the other day, the dawdling might have already cost us the Premier League this season with cheap points dropped at home. I just feel so annoyed that the optimism and promise that followed the FA Cup win in May has been allowed by Wenger to be destroyed yet again and we find ourselves in a malaise once more. It really is like a never-ending groundhog day where Arsenal signings are concerned and it's gone way beyond being funny.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Cech is now an Arsenal player, Chambers isn't, Welbeck might not be

We can now say we have a goalkeeper

I was on holiday for the whole of last week, hence no writing before or after the Crystal Palace game. Given that we still haven't signed anyone I doubt there'd have been much other than space filling in any case.
I went to the game last night, my first competitive match of the season in the flesh, and I'm still stuck on one home win in the whole of 2015. Having seen Liverpool rattle the bar in the first couple of minutes I thought we then hit our stride for a short while. There was some decent football from the Arsenal players and we had a perfectly good goal ruled out for offside - Liverpool are enjoying something of a rub of the green in that regard in the first few games of this season. It was a pretty awful decision. When you're at a game you get a feel for whether certain decisions are correct or not and, even from the other end, you just sensed that Ramsey wasn't in an offside position. You could see his run had been made well. When the lad who sits next to me showed me a picture of the incident on his phone shortly after it just confirmed pretty much what we already knew.
After that we were all over the place for a long time. The defence (and by that I mean Bellerin and Chambers) and Cazorla seemed intent on giving Liverpool possession of the football within 35 yards of our goal on a regular basis. I thought Gabriel tried manfully in the absence of a fellow centre-back while Francis Coquelin was totally imperious as he bailed Chambers out of the mire time and again. I've said it before on here but Calum Chambers simply isn't good enough for this level. With Mertesacker and Koscielny both missing I would far rather have seen Monreal or Debuchy playing next to Gabriel. It is a shame for Chambers that he came to Arsenal with an £18m transfer fee as, at the moment, he isn't proving to be worth even half of that. If ever a player was selected for England by virtue of playing for one of the big clubs then it is Calum Chambers. He is slow, he can't turn, he is generally out of position, and he is incapable to making a challenge without fouling his man. Quite simply he isn't Arsenal quality and he should have been loaned out instead of Carl Jenkinson. If nothing else it would have given him a chance to prove himself, or otherwise, without the potential to damage Arsenal's points tally.
With Benteke dominating the woefully out of place Chambers, and Coutinho tearing apart Hector Bellerin, we needed Petr Cech to perform heroics. That was exactly what he did. He made two of the saves of the season in that first-half to keep it at 0-0. The save from Benteke at close-range was incredible, while the finger-tips he got to the shot from Coutinho on half-time was almost from another planet. I have concerns over the way he is glued to his line most of the time (he never needed to come and dominate his area with John Terry playing in front of him) but last night Cech proved that he is a cut above anyone we've had in goal since Jens Lehmann was dropped by Wenger. His handling at times was superb as well, with one stinging shot from Milner brilliantly held in the second-half.
Thanks to Cech and Coquelin and Monreal (for me the two best players at Arsenal since Christmas) we got to half-time at 0-0. After that we played quite a bit better. Gabriel took on the task of challenging Benteke and pretty much put him in his pocket. Bellerin was still being totally outclassed by Coutinho and it was a relief (as well as an indication that Rodgers is totally clueless) when Liverpool took him off near the end of the game. I would happily see Debuchy back in the side at right-back on Saturday. I thought Ozil improved a fair bit after the break (not difficult when you've been so totally anonymous) but still refused to take on responsibility all the time there was a stat boosting five yard backwards pass available. He went on one run late on where he beat three defenders, ultimately giving the ball away, but that kind of thing is what I want to see from him, especially when one-on-one with a full-back around the penalty-area.
Olivier Giroud has had plenty of stick today and his performance last night totally merited it. He was in one of the moods he usually reserves for Chelsea or Stoke where he doesn't seem to fancy the physical battle. He didn't seem to win a single header all night, but he would have actually had to try and challenge for one in order to do so. He was static for the majority of the game making service to him next to impossible, while giving Lovren and Skrtel an easy time of it. When he did finally get in with his chance to score he fluffed it - it may have been a foul but nobody, least of all Giroud, seemed to claim anything from the referee.
As usual Arsenal's attacks were mostly up to the edge of the penalty-area and not much further. There weren't enough shots worthy of the name and we really didn't test the dodgy Mignolet anything like enough. The less said about our corners the better. It was crying out for something different but, for me, that didn't mean Theo up front on his own. For all that I've had a pop at Giroud here I'd have kept him on and taken off Ozil or Alexis to allow Theo to play up front with Giroud. At the same time we should have seen either Cazorla or Ramsey taken off to get Oxlade-Chamberlain on with at least 30 minutes to go. The first thing Ox did on his introduction was to beat his man and put a cross in that Skrtel nearly turned in to his own net. Having spoken of the need to play with pace we saw our Manager only introduce any of it to the pitch with less than twenty minutes left! It's bizarre.
We have now worryingly dropped five points in the first two home matches of the season and not scored a goal. Dropping cheap home points is not the stuff of Title challengers. I read Ozil and Mertesacker talking yet again in the media at the weekend about what we "need to do" against Liverpool. I'm sick of reading stuff from our players and then not seeing them produce it. Do your talking where it matters and keep your mouths shut the rest of the time.
The lack of points and lack of goals only makes the clamour for a new striker ever louder. This is totally understandable. Olivier Giroud is a very good striker, but he isn't a top class striker. Giroud is the bloke I want to see on the bench who comes on and finishes teams off (he actually has a great record from the bench). I'm not necessarily upset that Benzema seems to be staying at Real Madrid as I don't think he's really any better than Giroud, but we need someone. Surely Wenger must see that? If he doesn't then we're doomed. If he does then why has he not done the business yet? He says the transfer window should close before the season starts, yet he fails to get deals done before now. As I said, we've dropped five home points already. If we sign a player or two now and miss out on the Title by two or three points then we've simply wasted the opportunity to win the Premier League before we've even got started. It's the madness of King Arsene.
Amid all this we still haven't seen Danny Welbeck in months and months. He was supposed to have been "available" for the FA Cup Final but is still out injured now. There was a rumour that he'd refused to be a sub for a game near the back end of last season and I said at the time it was nonsense. Now I'm not so certain. I see today that Wenger says he might be back after the international break, but will that be at Arsenal? I do wonder if there has been a falling out with Danny Welbeck and Arsene Wenger and his prolonged absence is simply a ruse. It would come as no surprise to me that, if we were to finally bring in a centre-forward worthy of the number nine shirt, then Welbeck would be on his way out of the door straight away. At the very least his "injury" must be regarded as suspicious as far as I'm concerned. Time will tell, and I hope I'm wrong.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

What the hell is that s***?

PUMA made a reasonable start to their Arsenal contract last season. The red might have been slightly too bright for many traditionalists, but the yellow and blue was most welcome and all seemed well. I didn't mind the cup kit, albeit it was hardly ever worn. They then managed to bring out another decent home shirt earlier this year and, leaving aside that they and Arsenal are now trying to milk supporters with three new kits every season, I was quite happy with what they are producing. Since then it's all gone seriously wrong.
I mentioned in a post the other week how the away shirt, once seen in the flesh, looks more brown than gold. It's even more pronounced once a player starts sweating in it. As badly coloured kits go it's up there with Coventry City's chocolate coloured monstrosity of the late 1970's. Add to this the lies written in the promotional guff about the "story behind the shirt design" (identical to the Newcastle United away shirt for this season) and PUMA have started to go backwards very quickly.
Now they have gone and torn it completely and I have to wonder who the cretin is at Arsenal that signs off on this rubbish. The "cup kit" for this season is, without a shadow of a doubt, the single worst Arsenal shirt I have ever seen. The players even look depressed in the launch photographs - check out Jack Wilshere's face in the gallery on the official website. It makes the purple and black hoops of a few seasons back look like a classic design. Maybe it seems wrong for a 36 year-old bloke to getting out of his pram about a football shirt but it is just nothing more than an utter monstrosity.
I pray to God that, should we be lucky enough to win another trophy this season, it's done in the red shirt with white sleeves. Could you imagine living with the memories and photographs of Arsenal celebrating in a brown shirt or, even worse, a badly designed deckchair? It's that bad a shirt that I can't even upload a photo of it to accompany this post as the website won't let me!

This will be the last blog until shortly before the Liverpool game, unless I can find some pretty good and reliable wi-fi over the next ten days or so. We need to win at Palace on Sunday to avoid the need to be playing catch up before we've even got going this season. I'll be trying to find a nice pub somewhere in Cornwall for the game this Sunday so fingers crossed I get lucky. Oh, and do not adjust your set this Sunday - Arsenal are actually playing in a brown shirt.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Wenger must return to what worked well last season

One or the other, but not both
I've been saying for the last few weeks that, while nice to be winning, pre-season games mean nothing when we start the real football. Back in 1996 Arsenal didn't win a single game in pre-season, but the Premier League began with a 2-0 home win over West Ham. To follow a "perfect" pre-season campaign this year with a reversal of that result is one of those odd quirks you sometimes encounter.
I've only seen highlights from the game yesterday as I was working while it was being played and, having seen the result, I had zero interest in watching the whole game back. That being the case I can't comment too much on the performance of the team on the day, or any apparent lack of application or bad attitude. To be fair, the result probably tells me all I need to know in that regard. The goals were both very poor concessions. Koscielny and/or Monreal failed to go with their man at a set-piece for the first goal, with Cech haring out Almunia-style towards the edge of the area but not getting within about five-feet of the ball. The second goal wasn't dissimilar to a pre-season goal we let in against Everton in Singapore. Oxlade-Chamberlain, as he did in that game, got too casual on the ball near his own penalty area, while Zarate was allowed to turn unchallenged to fire a shot past a static Koscielny (who hadn't moved to close down the strike, nor made any attempt to block the shot) and Cech who was bizarrely wrong-footed by the shot. It was ironic that our only signing, lauded by fans and media alike, should make such an awful home debut.
A win yesterday would have made a draw perfectly acceptable at Palace this weekend. Now we have to win to get things going on a ground where we've had very fortunate victories in each of the last couple of seasons. Suffice to say that losing at home to West Ham was not in the script and was totally unacceptable from a side with ambitions of winning the Premier League.
One thing I have picked up on is the fact that Santi Cazorla has been used wide on the left in the last two matches. I don't understand this. Of course Santi can play there, but he is far more effective when played in the middle of the pitch. We have all enjoyed the impact made by Francis Coquelin since Christmas, but most people have easily overlooked what Cazorla has done alongside him. As a pair they were so good that Aaron Ramsey was shunted to the right-wing for the final part of last season. Ramsey is not a winger at all and it stunted his game, though to his credit he put in some decent displays from there, albeit coming inside and closing things down - that created space for the pacy Bellerin to exploit so we got away with it to a certain extent.
With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain fit and in the side on merit Wenger has decided to shoe-horn Ramsey in to the team at the expense of the Cazorla/Coquelin axis. This leaves us more vulnerable defensively as Ramsey doesn't work as hard as Santi, and less effective going forward as Ramsey wants to be the man on the end of things, rather than the one pulling the strings as Cazorla does. This all makes no sense to me. We were exceptional at times with a midfield of Cazorla and Coquelin playing behind Ozil (who also remains a weak link far too often when things are not going our way - as the star player he should be the one taking the game over). Obviously we have no Alexis to play on the left at the moment, and we probably won't see him start on Sunday either. That doesn't mean that Santi should be shifted from the centre though. We would have been far better yesterday (and at Wembley) to have Theo and Oxlade-Chamberlain playing on either wing with Giroud up front. This would have allowed Cazorla to play next to Coquelin as he did last season, and provide a proper screen in front of Mertesacker and Koscielny. At the same time it would give us exceptional pace out wide for Cazorla and Ozil to find and utilise. I'm not saying Ramsey doesn't fit in to this side, but he certainly shouldn't be playing in order to simply accommodate him. If anything he has a claim to be playing in Ozil's position and supporting Giroud, but that isn't going to happen.
I just hope that Wenger goes back to Santi and Coquelin when we travel to Selhurst Park this weekend. We've made a disappointing and unexpected start. If it underlines to the Manager that there are elements of weakness then it could prove a blessing in disguise, but he's never bothered to notice them in the past, has he?

Friday, 7 August 2015

Premier League Preview 2015-16 - who will it be?

This is what we want to see in May

It seems hard to believe that the time has arrived already for the new season. At the same time May feels like it was ages ago. Considering that the FA Cup Final was actually played at the end of May this must be one of the shortest gaps between seasons in history. Throw in the international games and tournaments that have happened since then and you can see why Arsene Wenger is protesting about the lack of rest time afforded to the top players these days.
I have missed out this week on reflecting upon the win over Chelsea (thoroughly deserved), the nonsense of Mourinho, and then the injury to Jack Wilshere. Time has simply slipped away from me in that regard, even though there was plenty of material for blog posts this week. Such is the way with work and school holidays putting my time to indulge such frivolities in short supply.
This post will be the traditional season preview, with every Premier League club "assessed" by me as to their season ahead - as I'm about as qualified in the "expert" stakes as any of the journalists you read in the national papers it means nothing. The difference is that I'm not claiming to be an "expert" as most of those idiots do.
Aston Villa
Tiny Tim Sherwood has made NINE signings so far this Summer. He has also got rid of ten players, surprisingly (to me) including Shay Given on a free transfer to Stoke. He has made good money from selling Benteke but I doubt Gestede and Jordan Ayew are good enough replacements for the Belgian, regardless of whether or not he was in the mood to play. A deal for Adebayor has fallen through (for the time being at least) but it's a mark of Sherwood's arrogance that he thinks he can succeed with Adebayor's attitude where far more experienced and capable bosses have failed.
The signing of Micah Richards on a free is huge if he stays fit enough to play on a regular basis and he has been made the new Captain in place of the abysmally disloyal Fabian Delph. I spoke to some Villa fans at the FA Cup Final who were seriously unimpressed by Sherwood and I think it will be a matter of time before he is again found out. There is enough rubbish in the league, surely, for Villa to stay up but I'm not sure where the goals are coming from really. Bottom half, maybe a (successful) battle against the drop.
Their first season ever in the top division and their boss, Eddie Howe, has been impressive in his short career to date. However, they seem to have fallen in to the trap of spending their hard-earned money on second-rate rubbish. The signing this week of Max Gradel would have me apoplectic if I was a Cherries supporter. They've looked for experience in Sylvain Distin but what they've actually got is a player who needs someone to do his running for him these days (see Rio Ferdinand at QPR last season for a perfect example). Tyrone Mings arrived from Ipswich, totally untested, for a ridiculous £8m fee (we paid £10m for Petr Cech!) They've secured Artur Boruc on a permanent deal from Southampton following his loan last season, while Adam Federici will be good competition for the experienced Pole. Meanwhile nine players have gone out from the squad that got them promotion and I just don't understand that. Why waste money, when relegation is more than a probability, when you could keep faith with what you know and use the money to build the future of the club? If Bournemouth stay up it will be one of THE great achievements in English football. I just can't see it happening. Relegated come May.
A surprisingly quiet close-season on the signings front, but there is still time for them to splash the usual cash. Asmir Begovic has replaced Cech on the bench and he was probably as good as they could have got for second-choice. A long lay-off for Courtois could see them have problems though. Mourinho's pursuit of John Stones tells us that he doesn't fancy another season of an ageing John Terry carrying Cahill and Zouma. Faclao is an interesting signing after his failure at Manchester United but he will surely only be cover for Costa's dodgy hamstrings. They will be reliant on Hazard buying enough fouls high up the pitch to take the pressure off their back four.
Clearly Chelsea are the team to beat again. But I can sense cracks in the Empire with the sale of Cech against Mourinho's wishes being, perhaps, the beginning of the end of his second reign there (as I write this post they've just announced a new contract with Mourinho!). If they were to get off to a dodgy start, and then lose at home to Arsenal in September, I could actually see Mourinho walking away yet again - he's done his couple of years that seem to be his standard stay anywhere. Having said all of that, if you finish above Chelsea in May you shouldn't be far off winning the whole thing. Top three at least.
Crystal Palace
The thing that would be worrying me if I was a Palace fan is where the money is coming from all of a sudden. Big cash has gone out on Cabaye and Wickham, as well as Alex McCarthy, adding up to something approaching £25m. Bamford's loan will also have come at a price. Not a penny has been brought in through transfers. I like Palace and I hope they're not on the verge of a Leeds United kind of financial implosion. It would seem odd given their past adherence to living within their means.
Palace had a fine season last year once Pardew had joined them, but he has a habit of flattering to deceive once his feet are under the table. Can he keep the Eagles well away from the battles at the bottom of the table? I'm not sure, to be honest, and they'll be reliant on their home form and that noisy Selhurst support. As with Villa I think they might be okay due to the dross that's in there as well, but it might be a tight one for Palace. Safe, but well inside the bottom half.
They signed Tom Cleverley. They got him for free, but they still signed him. Madness. If he plays alongside Gareth Barry on a regular basis then they will be "combative" in the midfield, but so lacking in pace that any top side should totally over run them. Gerard Deolofeu will look to provide some of the flair he showed on his loan spell of a couple of seasons back. They're yet to lose anyone, but Stones is being pursued in an overtly public way by Chelsea. I am, as ever, unconvinced by Roberto Martinez as a Manager as he seems totally incapable of organising a defence worthy of the name. Despite all this a trip to Goodison will largely remain a game that the top sides don't mind taking a point from and I expect the Toffee's to be top half, pushing for Europe, next May.
Leicester City
Absolutely bizarre goings on at the Foxes. Nigel Pearson always seemed a bit of an idiot, but you couldn't argue with what they achieved post-Christmas. To then see him sacked was unbelievable. To replace him with Claudio Ranieri was just plain weird. It was no surprise to see Ranieri immediately installed among the favourites as first to be sacked this season, and the press will do their best to get him the accolade if Leicester get off to a bad start. With the exception of Huth (not a Premier League defender) I don't know anything about the players they've signed. I was a little surprised to see Paul Konchesky get pushed out as he was impressive for them last season. I can't see Leicester staying up as the miracle of the January to May form will surely be impossible to replicate. Relegation beckons, I fear.
The massive spending has been mostly offset by the near on £50m they conned out of City for Raheem Sterling. I still think their biggest problem is the David Brent clone they have running the side. Nobody will be able to convince me that Rodgers didn't force out Steven Gerrard, knowing that the hero of the Kop was actually a threat to his position if the wheels came off yet again. Firmino might turn out to be an inspired signing, while Benteke will be fine as long as he feels like making a good impression - once the novelty has worn off, some time around Christmas, he'll be back to going through the motions. James Milner does not a replacement for Steven Gerrard make - consistent but far from dynamic.
If Liverpool make a slow start then Rodgers will be under serious pressure. Even the media grew tired of his "philosophy" nonsense last season and he needs his players to hit the ground running. A front two of Benteke and Sturridge could be dynamite, but Sturridge might never be fit. With the money they've spent on players over the last two years (forget what they've recouped) Liverpool should be challenging for the Premier League Title. They almost certainly won't be. That isn't good enough, and Rodgers isn't good enough. Top six again, but a change of boss fairly early doors could see them top four.
Manchester City
They've annoyed the press today by announcing a new contract for Pellegrini. That ought to kill off the speculation that was sure to mount regarding Guardiola. Of course a bad start will see it all whipped up again but, for the time-being, things are fairly settled at City. They paid ridiculous money for Sterling, but they can afford it - especially since Financial Fair Play has shown itself to be nothing more than a pipe-dream. Delph surely doesn't get a start on a regular basis in their midfield, which means Sterling is essentially the only addition to a side that fell a long way short last season. At the same time they have lost the solidity of James Milner to Liverpool, albeit they should have more pace available to them now. There's really not much else to say about City on this occasion. Of course they'll be top four, but that's not quite enough, is it?
Manchester United
If you listen to Sky Sports you'd think they were about to challenge Barelona again as the best side in World football. Huge money spent on star midfield players, but Di Maria has bottled it and left and Van Persie has been kicked out. Rooney can't carry the goal scoring duties, hence the apparent interest in Harry Kane (£40m?!) Memphis Depay and Morgan Schneiderlin are unknown at the truly top level, while Schweinsteiger (a player I have long admired and would have loved at Arsenal a couple of years back) might be declining - Guardiola seemed to think so. David De Gea is almost certainly going to leave before the month is out judging by Van Gaal's quotes this morning and they haven't got any new defenders to add to what was surely the weakest Man Utd back line in three decades. Were it not for De Gea last season they'd have been around eighth in the Premier League. Without that new defence I really don't see them improving on their fourth place, but I also don't see anyone genuinely challenging them too much - it all depends on that defence.
Newcastle United
Mike Ashley has finally put his money where his mouth is by splashing out on a few new players at last. Steve McLaren is not a bad Manager, provided the media don't get on his case. I fancy the Geordies to be the surprise package this season and I can see them maybe pulling off a really good campaign. It would be madness for McLaren to overlook the possibilities available to a club like Newcastle in the League Cup and FA Cup - a trophy up there would set him up for life. In the Premier League I can see them really pushing for the top six and, who knows, they might be the ones that come at Man Utd. Having said that, if McLaren's reputation with the press precedes him they will have a very bad time!
Norwich City
I'm pleased to see the Canaries back in the Premier League. They haven't gone spending mad, despite only coming up via the play-offs, and have to be among the favourites to go down. Clearly they are likely to be in a season-long battle to stay up and I can see them taking it all the way. Bottom four, but maybe the ones who get lucky.
They've been written off in each season since returning to the Premier League. Their deserved involvement in the UEFA Cup could hinder their squad in the first half of the season, but Koeman seems an eminently capable boss at St Mary's. As usual very few here know much about the signings they've made but Saints' fans will surely have faith in what has been brought to the club. Losing Schneiderlin must be a big blow, but I'd back them to survive without him - Wanyama could come to the fore in a big way if he can stay fit and not suspended. I wouldn't be overly concerned at the loss of Nathaniel Clyne - good going forward but lacking defensively as far as I'm concerned. Safely in the top half for Saints, though maybe not so good as last season.
Stoke City
I hate to say it but they have done really well under Mark Hughes. They do a play a little bit better football than the old days of Pulis, though the presence of people like Charlie Adam in midfield shows (on a regular basis) that they have nastiness in the squad still. Shawcross being out for up to three months might hurt them early on but they mustn't panic if they make a bad start to the season. Shay Given will be a good signing as experienced competition for Jack Butland and I'll be interested to see how Ibrahim Afellay goes there. Bottom half, perhaps, but safely retaining their Premier League place.
Keeping Dick Advocaat must be a good thing, right? He's certainly been able to spend a few quid and his tactics just about kept them up last season. I'm really not sure about signing the likes of Kaboul, but they made a mint out of Crystal Palace for Conor Wickham. I suspect Sunderland will struggle yet again this season, but stay up yet again as well.
Swansea City
Garry Monk has been superb as Swansea boss. If they can repeat last season it really will be something of an achievement. Lukasz Fabianski has signed a contract extension which shows how important he was to them last season. If he was to lose his form they could actually be in trouble. I'm not sure they will be top half this season, but I certainly don't expect them to be battling too hard against the drop either. Mid-table safety.
Tottenham Hotspur
I'm not even going to say it...
Given the upheaval in the Manager's office it was remarkable that they should get promoted last season. They then replaced the boss yet again. As with Bournemouth they've gone signings crazy and I fully expect them to pay the ultimate price for it. Quique Flores probably won't last long and I think the Hornets will take the wooden spoon.
West Brom
I think they've done some decent business so far, as you'd expect from Pulis. James McLean is a controversial figure and I can see him being gone not long after he's arrived, but James Chester is a decent prospect and Rickie Lambert might get plenty of goals in a Pulis team - he was never used well by Rodgers at Liverpool. The signing of Serge Gnabry on loan today will get my attention on them this season and I reckon, if he stays fit, he could be one of the best young players in this Premier League. Top half for West Brom is a real possibility.
West Ham
I'd be worried if I was a Hammers fan. They might win at Arsenal on Sunday, but their skipper today stated their aim as being simply to avoid relegation before they move home next year. That seems a crazy thing to hear from a Club who sacked their Manager amid an apparent lack of progress last season. They've got Jenkinson back from Arsenal for the year which will be a boost and they really need to get Alex Song tied down if they can. Payet is a tricky player who might be a bit of a star in the Premier League, but there's not too much else to be excited about. The failure in Europe last night should be a bit embarrassing but it underlined an apparently misguided idea of priorities - as with Newcastle they should be aiming for a good cup run rather than "protecting" their Premier League position. Bottom-half for Hammers, maybe a bit of a fight against the drop until late on.
So where do we come in? Clearly Arsenal are stronger in goal with the arrival of Petr Cech, but there has been nothing anywhere else. None of the players who have gone out (with the exception of Szczesny, who has been improved upon) were really involved last season. However, we start the season without Alexis Sanchez and we still have the fact that we are relying on Giroud to score the majority of the goals. I have said many times that I like Giroud, he is a good player, but he isn't a truly top player. Clearly those kind of centre-forwards cost money and there really aren't that many of them about these days. I would also like to see us bring in someone else to challenge the position of Coquelin. I would also have liked to see us keep Jenkinson and loan out Chambers. That said we are genuine contenders this season. I would take with a pinch of salt the fact that we have been great in pre-season but it must breed confidence. The legacy of two consecutive FA Cup wins should lend momentum to a side that wants to kick-on and win the bigger prizes. I think we have a real chance this year and, for that reason, I am tipping Arsenal to be Premier League Champions.
So there it is, the preview done for another year. We all know that the next nine months will be long and tough. There will be wins, draws and losses. We will be up one week, down the next. We will probably lose at least once against Tottenham. There might be an improvement in Europe, and we might even win another trophy. Whatever it throws up we will be there, every week and everywhere, over land and sea (and Leicester) to follow The Arsenal. Bring it on!

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.