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Wednesday, 23 August 2017

And another thing...

Okay, here comes a long winded rant about a number of things. Expect to disagree with plenty of what you might be about to read, and marvel at the massive contradictions I make with my own opinions throughout this piece.
The opening day win over Leicester should have done nothing to paper over some serious cracks. Lacazette got us, and himself, off to the most perfect start with his early goal. What followed almost immediately was everything that might have been expected by the close observer of Arsenal in recent years. The defending was non-existent and Leicester ripped through us time and again. Rob Holding looked all at sea without Mertesacker alongside him but the presence of two left-backs in the central defence was a joke. We got out of jail thanks to Giroud and Ramsey (who has been outstanding in the first two games) so to see Wenger do exactly the same thing again at Stoke was bizarre. He questioned the centre of the defence after the game, completely overlooking the fact that  HE was the one who took the decision to play a winger at right-back, a right-back at left-back (Bellerin actually had a very decent game at Stoke to be fair to him), two left-backs at centre-half and Mustafi - I'm really not sure what Mustafi is apart from woefully out of his depth. Meanwhile Per Mertesacker was sat on the bench, Rob Holding and Calum Chambers were left out completely, and Gabriel was sold the day before to Valencia. What does it say to the central defenders at the club that Wenger would rather play Monreal and Kolasinac in their position instead of their own? Kieran Gibbs is still an Arsenal player yet he is frozen out to the point that Wenger would rather start Bellerin on the wrong side of the pitch than allow Gibbs to earn the wages he's still being paid. This is crazy management even by Wenger's standards of the last 10 years.
I have to say that, in hindsight, we were unlucky to lose at Stoke. The decisions of the officials were worse than bizarre, but maybe it could be argued we were lucky to get the win the week before when Mike Dean missed Ozil's handball. Whatever hindsight might show us it doesn't erase the fact that Xhaka has been awful so far, Welbeck is great until he actually sees the goal in front of him, and Mesut Ozil might as well go and sit in the stand. 
I've seen people defending Ozil this week and, perhaps, it was unfair for him to be singled out against Stoke. The counter to that is that Arsenal paid £40m+ for Ozil and he fails to ever dominate a game of football. To see him consistently picking the ball up in deep areas on Saturday, only to lay a five yard pass off to Mustafi, and then wave his international colleague past him with the ball, is stupefying to say the very least. Genuinely World Class players would take a game like Saturday and dominate it, take players on, make things happen, create space and opportunities for the forwards ahead of them. Ozil does none of this. I don't care what anyone has to say that is positive about Ozil as the fact of the matter is that he is scared of being tackled, refuses to take responsibility, and his end product is not that of a superstar signing. I would shed no tears if he was sold but nobody wants to buy him! There is a reason for that and the Ozil fan-boys refuse to acknowledge it.
If Alexis Sanchez had played Saturday then I am sure we would have won the game or, at least, not been beaten. He would have created similar chances to those missed by Welbeck (and Lacazette) and would have stuck away at least one of them. But what do we do with Alexis given his contract situation? Arsene has made a bit of a rod for his own back by insisting he won't sell him. I understand precisely why Wenger is going down that road. At the same time I can't help thinking we'd be better off selling him, even to Man City, if the money involved was over £50m - this is a change in my opinion from a few weeks back.. You have to weigh it against bringing in a new player who does want to play for Arsenal against losing Sanchez for nothing next year. The only way to get close to making that situation have little impact is to win the Premier League and, let's be honest, that isn't going to happen all the time we can't defend or are relying on a geriatric goalkeeper whose best days are long behind him. If the only way Wenger can get Thomas Lemar is by selling Alexis then maybe it needs to be done. And get Jack Butland as well while you're at it.
I managed to watch a good bit of the under-23 game on Monday night and three things struck me. Firstly Reiss Nelson should be a proper part of the first-team squad now. Theo Walcott was very good  up to Christmas last season and benefited greatly from the space created by Cazorla for those in front of him. After Christmas he regressed and seems to have no obvious role in the new formation - maybe he is another who should be cashed in so that Nelson can take his place on the bench. Secondly Eddie Nketiah could easily be making first-team appearances this season in the League Cup and UEFA Cup - he is a stunning goalscorer at youth levels so maybe he needs his chance. Thirdly, and most importantly, Jack Wilshere must NOT be sold or loaned out, and should immediately be restored to the match-day squad at Anfield this weekend. His red card apparently doesn't mean a first-team suspension. I loved his reaction to getting kicked (for a third or fourth time in ten minutes) by taking no more s**t from some talentless Man City oiks who should have been doing their summer holidays homework. I keep reading that he will have his work cut out to displace Xhaka and Ramsey, while Elneny and Coquelin are also ahead of him. One word for that - b******s. Have these people ever actually seen Xhaka? Can they not see that Ramsey ought to actually play in Ozil's position where he can be most influential at the top end of the pitch? Our central midfield, from current resources, should be Jack playing alongside Coquelin every time. People keep telling me Xhaka has "potential" while completely overlooking the fact he has been here a year and cost over £30m! Potential? You don't pay that for potential. He isn't a top player, simple as that. Jack Wilshere most certainly is a top player and should be back in the Arsenal team at the earliest opportunity. Put Coquelin alongside him and you have a pair of terriers who will make tackles and, in Jack, a player who will beat a man to get us on the front foot and bringing the next opposition defender towards the play, creating space as Cazorla does. 
Some final thoughts on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. There is a new narrative being played out on social media, influenced by a prominent Arsenal blog and those who write for it, that Arsene Wenger is upsetting the balance of the team by finding a place for Ox. In the system we are playing Ox is better than Bellerin. It's the Spaniard who is being accommodated in the side by finding a place for him. I touched on this above with the fact that we have three international left-backs in the squad but Ox and Bellerin have played in that position in the first two games. The sticking point with Chamberlain is his contract situation. My view on him, in contrast to Sanchez, is that we should keep him for the season as we don't stand to make huge money on his transfer. Chamberlain has to understand he won't play centrally, at any top club, and should carve out a niche for himself at wing-back - his abilities are so suited to the role. 

Friday, 11 August 2017

Not quite a Premier League preview 2017-18

Unfortunately I don't have the time to get a proper Premier League preview piece written in the traditional way today. I'm off to the game tonight so tempus fugit and all that. Instead of a proper preview I've listed below where I roughly think everyone might finish this season:

1. Manchester City - after all that money anything else would be a failure
2. Arsenal - I live in hope...
3. Manchester United - need Lukaku to miss fewer sitters
4. Chelsea - Conte won't be there in May unless something changes, but Costa might be
5. Scouse "This is our year" XI - Klopp to go at end of season
6. Everton - big money spent
7. London "This is our year" XI - things are not good in the Wembley Wanderers camp
8. West Ham - must be better than last season at home
9. Southampton - I keep backing them to go down so a different one this year
10. Newcastle - under Benitez I'd be shocked if they went down again
11. Watford - safe again
12. Leicester - might also see a new manager again
13. Burnley - if they can do as well at home again, need to pick up away points this year
14. West Brom - Pulis just signed a new contract so expert a sleepy time watching them
15. Crystal Palace - a battle but safe, could do with a couple of signings to stay up
16. Bournemouth - might need to survive by the skin of their teeth
17. Swansea City - could easily swap places with any of the bottom three
18. Stoke Rugby Football Club - bye bye, not missed
19. Brighton - can't see them staying up
20. Huddersfield Town - would be a welcome miracle for Herbert's old boys to stay up

Monday, 7 August 2017

Chelsea get Arsenal's care in the Community...Shield

It's always enjoyable at Wembley when you win. Yesterday Arsenal did just that and we were able to leave with the smiles of winners, even if it is just a friendly with a slight prestige about it. Given the players Arsenal were missing, and then Mertesacker getting injured fairly early on, it was a decent result against the Champions. The game itself wasn't entirely dissimilar to the FA Cup Final some ten weeks ago. Arsenal were the better side for most of the game, albeit not creating quite as much as we did back in May. However, we had more than the balance of the play with more possession, more shots and more territory than Chelsea did. The BBC website ran a match report stating Chelsea took a deserved lead having dominated the game - I can only assume whichever cretin wrote that has been given their cards this morning.
For me there were three star performers for Arsenal on the day. Nacho Monreal was outstanding yet again at the back and this was even more impressive when you consider he had to take over from the BFG in the centre when he took Cahill's elbow just above the eye. Monreal has really developed in to one of the very best players in the Arsenal team over the last couple of seasons and his consistency has been largely outstanding. Sead Kolasinac came on for Mertesacker and was put on to the left of the back three. He went on, in my view, to produce one of the most impressive debuts for Arsenal in recent years. You can't have failed to notice he is a bit of a "unit" and he certainly makes best use of his frame. The Bosnian looks strong and powerful but also showed no small amount of pace yesterday. To cap it off by attacking the aerial ball and scoring a deserved equaliser topped off a very good day for him. In front of them I was surprised to see Xhaka get the official man of the match award, especially as he was badly at fault in the build-up to Chelsea's goal - of course he provided the excellent free-kick for Kolasinac's goal. For me the best player on the pitch yesterday, and this will surprise many reading it, was Mohamed Elneny who surely produced his finest display in an Arsenal shirt. The Egyptian was everywhere and made tackles, won the ball, used it well and nearly scored too. With Xhaka being disciplined in his positional play at the base of the midfield Elneny's marauding play ahead of him, while keeping things simple with the ball, allowed Arsenal to pretty much dominate that area of the pitch.
My notable disappointments from yesterday were Bellerin, who seems to be going backwards right now, and Rob Holding who looked out of his depth for the first time. I thought he was really poor and tried to be far too clever with the ball at times. He also won little in the air at times yesterday and, for me, wouldn't get a start on Friday if Mertesacker is fit to play against Leicester.
Our new centre-forward was also in action and he hit the post at the end of a fine move he was heavily involved in but apart from that was rarely seen. With no Ozil or Alexis it was difficult to see how Arsenal would provide him the kind of chances he looks like he will need to score goals. Worryingly I don't see a player with express pace - there was one ball played into the channel for him in the second-half where David Luiz gave him a two yard start and then ran past Lacazette to take the ball. I hope he can hit the ground running when we get the Premier League started on Friday night.
In the main talking points from the game I thought, at the time, it was a dive from Willian while the slowed down TV pictures show Bellerin accidentally brush his leg with a knee - not a penalty but probably not a dive. Then there was the elbow on Mertesacker. Did Cahill deliberately do it? No. Did he lead with a swinging elbow? Yes. Is that dangerous and a red card? Yes. He did it again when he beat Xhaka to the header that set up their goal. Something to keep a watch over as the season gets going. And then the red card. Pedro knew exactly what he'd done and laid down pretending to be hurt as a result. Credit to the referee for taking no notice and making the right decision. 
So a trophy to start the season and a good day out for my family at Wembley yet again. I never tire of going there and there is nowhere better to win. Two trophies this year at the home of Tottenham - the gift that keeps on giving. 
It's not a bad way to get the season started. I am, however, concerned at the way certain non-playing members of the squad were, in Arsene Wenger's words, invited "to be part of it" while others weren't. Arsene says he has 33 players and that is too many. I probably agree but he is forcing out the wrong 6 or 7 and retaining some youngsters who, with the apparent exception of Reiss Nelson, are nowhere near good enough to play for Arsenal, at least not yet. Jack Wilshere should not be sitting at home watching when others are taken with the squad even though they're not fit to play. Jack isn't the only one and it must be driving a wedge between members of the team. It's not healthy and I believe we will end up regretting the way Wenger is treating the likes of Jack, Gibbs, Debuchy, Jenkinson, Lucas Perez etc.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Members Day - the difference in attitudes of players

I went to Members Day at the stadium yesterday with my wife and two boys. Overall it was an enjoyable day out for everyone, but not without faults. Given that Arsenal have been holding the event off and on at Emirates for the last 11 years (and a couple at Highbury before that if I remember right) you would think they'd have things right by now. The biggest annoyance on the day? The FA Cup was behind Block 7 in the North Bank for photos - these were being done for free, so an excellent initiative from the club. Of course the queues were long so it was a case of watch the training session or get a photo with the FA Cup for those of us who live far enough away that arriving at 1030 was out of the question. No matter, a steward told us we had until 1245. At 1225 I went to Block 7 (I was actually sitting just there in the stand) to find young children being turned away by one of Arsenal's many jobsworth employees as the queue they had was going to take them past 1245 and "I've got to get the Cup upstairs." I saw later on the official Facebook site that the FA Cup made its may to the "adults" Q&A player session in the hands of Aaron Ramsey. Now given that Members Day is essentially a family event I have to question why the FA Cup was taken away from the kids like that. Frankly it should have sat where it was until every child/family that wanted to had had their photo taken with it. Not just that, but the arrogance and attitude of the senior steward was unnecessary. 
The training session itself was, I am sure, slightly more relaxed than a normal day at Shenley. The players did a light warm-up, and a few passing drills, followed by a series of small sided games across, and then in one half, of the pitch. This meant we all got to see some action rather than just the players actually being coached. Ozil, Jenkinson, Chambers and Gabriel were working only with the fitness coach while Debuchy joined in the main group until it was time to play the "matches" at which point he appeared to be not allowed to be part of things. He cut a forlorn site standing next to one of the goals and watching on. Given Debuchy's quality as a footballer, and a man who has done well for the most part when playing for us, I found that hard to watch. Why ostracise a bloke who can genuinely do a job for us at either right-back or centre-back? Francis Coquelin was missing completely from training having got hurt on Saturday against Benfica, though I was also told later by a member of the staff that he wasn't at the training ground the day before either. Aaron Ramsey didn't train but, as I mentioned above, was actually at the stadium.
The open day, on the pitch at least, ended with the quite brilliant prize for 20+ Junior Gunners of playing against the 1st team on the Emirates pitch. The youngsters were given a day out at Highbury, arrived on the 1st team coach, used the away dressing-room, and also were given a full PUMA Arsenal away kit and trainers etc. It has to be the prize to end all prizes.
After all that we went to the Junior Gunners Q&A in one of the Club Level lounges. At that event we were joined by Theo Walcott, Shkodran Mustafi, Sead Kolasinac, Calum Chambers, Olivier Giroud, Gabriel, Jack Wilshere and Alexis Sanchez. The adults, well me at least, were as excited as the youngsters when the players came in to the room. My eldest won the chance to go on to the stage and play a small game with Calum Chambers which was great for him. There were some questions asked to the different players, none of which would be described as probing given that they came from the children. Walcott, Mustafi, Chambers and Wilshere were excellent, Kolasinac seemed a bit lost as he told us his English isn't great yet so Mustafi was translating everything in German for him, while Giroud, Sanchez and Gabriel acted like naughty schoolboys on the far end of the stage clearly not that interested in being there. Annoyingly when the event came to an end the players were rushed out of the room to stop the kids getting photos and autographs with them. This winds me up intensely for a number of reasons. Theo, Calum and Jack all seemed keen to stay and sign for everyone but they were virtually manhandled out by the Arsenal staff. Theo Walcott seemed genuinley embarrassed by the whole thing and I guess that tells you what a decent lad he really is. Quite why the young fans couldn't get the moment with their heroes I really can't fathom. When put in context with the fan events in China and Australia a couple of weeks back, and the access those fans got to the players, you have to wonder why it's only those of us who live here that seem to miss out at our fan events.

So now we move on to Sunday and the Charity Shield at Wembley. It's a strange kind of hybrid of a fixture, somewhere between a pre-season friendly and a competitive game. I read yesterday that Laurent Koscielny is free to play on Sunday but banned now from the first two Premier League games instead. I guess that means the FA are saying Sunday is a nothing game. Perhaps we can tell Sky that too and go back to not needing a penalty shootout if the game ends in a draw. Having been thrashed by Chelsea in China it will be a test for Arsenal and I think we will see something approaching a first-team at least at the start of the game. I will try and do a post following the game, depending on how time treats me on Sunday or Monday night.