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Monday, 31 July 2017

Don't think we've got a problem?

I went to the game yesterday and got my first look at this new Arsenal squad in the flesh. I had enjoyed the game on the Saturday with some very decent attacking play on show against Benfica, but the defending had been largely woeful. Having seen some good football, however, I was really excited and looking forward to the Sevilla game. I took the family and we sat in Club Level as has become our tradition for the Emirates Cup.
What followed on the pitch was a familiarly frustrating sight of pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, give the ball away. I counted up two genuine shots on target in the whole game from Arsenal. There were a couple of efforts wide, or over the bar, but mostly it was the usual boring passing the ball to death while going nowhere. At the other end Sevilla passed the ball with a purpose, by which I mean their passing was intended to result in an effort at goal rather than making pretty patterns across the pitch. At the same time as this they showed that the "defence" employed by Arsenal yesterday was also totally inept with the notable exception of our most consistent player, Nacho Monreal.
It's time to lay out some facts here regarding our defence. We have three international footballers currently being forced out of the club in the shape of Debuchy, Jenkinson and Gibbs. Two of these lads are Arsenal through and through. Meanwhile we have had a pre-season of Wenger using Elneny and Maitland-Niles out of position at centre-back and, quite frankly, being damaged as a result. Neither of these two players are defenders and it has done them no favours to be ripped apart by Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Benfica and Sevilla in the last couple of weeks. We had Hector Bellerin back yesterday but all we saw proven down the right was that we look a whole lot better at both ends of the pitch when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain plays in his position - if Barcelona offered serious cash I'd be more than tempted to cash in on Bellerin, while keeping Debuchy and Jenkinson. On the other side I was impressed by Kolasinac, especially going forward, on Saturday. However, we showed that there is nothing there to cover him in the event of an injury unless Monreal is moved away from his highly effective role in the back three. Cohen Brammall is surely living the dream at Arsenal, and good luck to him for that, but the lad was so far out of his depth it was quite frightening yesterday. It's not his fault, he just isn't a top level footballer. What I've seen from him reminded me a lot of Glen Kamara and Ismael Benaccer when they played in the League Cup at Sheffield Wednesday. You have to wonder why Kieran Gibbs is being shown the door.
Of course the defence has largely been bereft of Holding, Chambers and Mustafi for the pre-season schedule. At the same time should we really be reliant on the promising, but mostly untested, Holding? Or Chambers and Mustafi who have failed to look the part during their Arsenal careers to date? There is also the worrying sign that Laurent Koscielny might have lost half a yard of pace - King Koscielny has always made the odd error at times when his concentration has slipped, but take away his speed and you have a Mertesacker without the ability to read the play. Worrying times for a defence that was already sub-standard.
At the top end of the pitch I was very pleased to see Lacazette get a goal yesterday. He grew in to the game but was having to move in to areas of the pitch he might not like to be just to get some service. As a result we saw some useful link play from him when coming wide, but this was at the expense of having anyone in the centre when the ball was moved on. Aaron Ramsey had a fine game, while Welbeck looked good in the first-half and non-existent in the second. Of course we are missing Alexis Sanchez at this point, but maybe that's something we ought to get used to - who knows how bad his flu might get?! And then we come to my favourite person, Mesut Ozil. That feeling of frustration I mentioned above is almost exclusively a result of him getting the ball. So many times he has possession of the football and you feel yourself thinking "right, now go at them!" What you get instead is a three yard pass to the nearest Arsenal player, usually one of the full-backs, while he trots off to find space to do it all over again when he gets the ball next time. Something that summed him, and the way Wenger has this Arsena team playing, came in injury-time. There we are, 2-1 behind, and Petr Cech comes charging forward to joint he players in the penalty-area for a corner. Ozil, having just passed up the opportunity to score down in front of us, is standing over the ball. He chooses to play it short and the ball never does get crossed in to the penalty area. Frustrated? Is it any wonder?
It's wrong, of course, to judge too much on pre-season games. Until recent years very few people even saw these games as they weren't televised - there wasn't much call for Southend v Arsenal, for example, to be on the box. As a result, if you weren't at the games then you only had a brief newspaper report to find out what went on. Following the pioneering Makita Tournament's, Amsterdam Tournament, and now the far-east and American "tour" matches there is a market to see these glamour friendlies so we all have a chance to see what's going on. Most of it remains irrelevant until the league starts, but that doesn't mean I can't be worried and annoyed already! Roll on Members Day this Thursday...will Alexis be there?

Monday, 10 July 2017

Wenger gives us a clue for the season

Well it seems like only yesterday that I wrote the final piece from last season. I didn't do the usual squad review pieces, end of season awards etc because time caught up with me and there seemed little point once I was finally able to find the time. So, that being the case, this is the first post in nearly two months since Arsene Wenger signed his new contract. The weather has been proper summer stuff and Arsenal have made two new signings in Sead Kolasinac and Alexander Lacazette. Exciting stuff, and now the squad have flown off to Australia ahead of the first pre-season game later this week in Sydney.
With the list of those travelling down under posted on the official Arsenal website it is clearer now what Arsene Wenger's plans are for 2017-18 with some notable absentees from the touring party. Forget Alexis, Mustafi, Bellerin, Holding and Chambers as they were all involved in tournaments so are not back from holiday until at least Emirates Cup weekend, I would think. However, some players have surely seen their Arsenal careers ended by the departure of the chartered plane with them still back in England. Wilshere, Cazorla and Zelalem are all injured, but Lucas Perez, Joel Campbell, Mathieu Debuchy, Kieran Gibbs, Wojciech Szczesny and Carl Jenkinson are surely at the end of the road with Arsenal. Given the extra games, and tighter schedule, that being in the Europa League brings I am really surprised at some of this. I really expected Szczesny might get a chance this season to regain his number one position, with Ospina leaving, but the Colombian is still here and the Pole isn't. Kieran Gibbs is obviously the one who Kolasinac has come to replace but, with Monreal highly effective on the left side of a back three I find that disappointing - Gibbs is Arsenal through and through. Similarly, Carl Jenkinson (as I've written before) has been badly done to both by the boss and the fans who seem to have forgotten he is really not as bad as the internet trolls would have them believe. With Debuchy finally taking the long walk there was surely room for the versatile Corporal to retain his place in the squad - another "homegrown" player towards the quota as well. The most disappointing, for me, is the fact that Lucas Perez now seems certain to leave the club. He was nothing short of brilliant in the few games he played, scored and created goals, yet somehow Wenger never wanted to give him his chance - why did he bother signing the lad?
There are the usual good few youngsters on the trip to Australia and China, with Maitland-Niles and Nelson already announced by Arsene Wenger as moving up to join the first-team squad this season. The likes of Joe Willock are maybe more of a surprise, but perhaps it's a small "could have been you" jab at his older brothers who both moved away from Arsenal. Eddie Nketiah is a prolific young centre-forward and looks the absolute business in front of goal when you get to see him play. The presence of Lacazette, Giroud, Welbeck, Walcott and Alexis makes it quite the traffic jam ahead of him, but this might just be a chance for him to show Arsene Wenger he has something special about him.
So the new season is already virtually upon us with the first friendly just a couple of days away. I'm going to the Seville game in the Emirates Cup, and to Wembley for the Charity Shield. I don't have Premier Sports, who I believe have live coverage of the pre-season games, so for anything I'm not at I will be relying on Arsenal Player for highlights or whole match re-runs etc. As ever, we are a couple of decent signings away from looking good, but the players on their way out concern me with the need for huge squad this season.