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Sunday 28 September 2014

You Sold Bale We Signed Mezut Özil

Although in recent seasons our derby encounters with Chelsea have become a far more significant litmus test of the Arsenal’s aspirations (or lack thereof!), for me personally this match is strictly business, compared to the more sentimental connotations of our dates with the whipping boys from White Hart Lane.

Living as I do on the manor and with the vast majority of my kith and kin worshiping on one side or t’other of the North London divide, the hype surrounding Derby Day and the implications of the subsequent result impinge on every aspect of my daily life. 

We might not have lost at home to Spurs since 2010 (and that was the first defeat in seventeen years!), but after beating them three times last season, our neighbours were due some good fortune. So as eagerly as I was looking forward to Saturday’s game, with all the stress involved, much like a trip to the dentist for an extraction, I invariably end up much relieved to have got it over and done with.

Considering our historic domination and our control of possession on the day, doubtless Spurs fans will feel far happier to have come away from our place with a hard-earned draw. But after all the pre-match banter this “honours even” result failed to settle any of the arguments and left most Gooners feeling an anti-climactic sense of dissatisfaction. 

Mind you, this was far better than the horror of going a goal behind, facing the prospect of having to go home, turn my phone off and hide under the covers for the next couple of weeks. Nevertheless, in view of the cost, in terms of the further loss to injury of Arteta, Ramsey and possibly Wilshere, after the palpable explosion of roof-raising relief following the Ox’s equalizer, it was most disappointing that we lacked the firepower to kick on and secure the much needed three points over the course of the last fifteen minutes.

Truth be told, with a wage bill that’s allegedly higher than Chelsea’s and around double that of Spurs’, on paper the Gunners should have more than enough in the tank to overcome our local rivals. But derby games rarely respect circumstances and although we exercised our authority with our control of the game, between Pochettino’s tactically astute approach and Arsène’s seemingly stubborn refusal to maximize our assets, we struggled to impose our supremacy in the only place that really matters, in front of goal.

With Chelsea and Man City in such prolific goal-scoring form, if the Gunners continue to fail to convert draws into victories, it won’t be long before the league leaders disappear out of sight. Yet I remain optimistic that our cogs will fall into place and that this team will begin to click. Nevertheless, it’s hard to disagree at present, with all those who contend that Welbeck can’t spearhead our campaign with a 25-goal contribution. 

Danny ‘s energetic efforts could make a difference, if we get sufficient bodies in the box to feed off his industry. Yet all too often on Saturday he was a lone target, which also left Özil floundering, struggling to have some impact, with our somewhat static midfield failing to make the sort of advanced runs that enable our German star to shine. 

Hopefully Walcott’s imminent return will improve matters, but after witnessing Diaby’s first-half appearance in our Cup defeat to Southampton in midweek, this rare sighting of our lanky French midfielder only highlighted quite how short of stature the Gunners are compared to the majority of our opponents. The “men v boys” analogy is bad enough when it regularly raises it’s head against the likes of Chelsea, but it’s downright embarrassing to be cast as the proverbial six-stone weakling in a contest with Koeman’s impressively powerful South coast outfit.

Although the Ox and young Callum Chambers came away with the most credit on Saturday (along with Kabul’s resolute efforts for the opposition), amidst all our injury woes, I’m sure I’m not alone in casting covetous glances in the direction of East London, angered by our negligent failure to include a call-back option in Carl Jenkinson’s loan deal. And having failed to sign Carvalho to bolster the blatant deficiencies of Arteta’s aging limbs, I can’t help think that Wenger could’ve done worse than to sanction the return of Alex Song.

But any further debate on this particular subject is futile, until the transfer junket begins all over again in January. Meanwhile, here’s hoping we can make do and mend to get our Champions League campaign off the ground in midweek and to ensure our esteemed manager doesn’t again end up with egg on his face at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, courtesy of his former favourite disciple, Cesc Fabregas?

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Monday 22 September 2014

£200m And They Still Don't Win

As it turned out, Saturday’s outing to Villa Park couldn’t have possibly proved a more timely antidote to our abysmal midweek performance in Dortmund. This was just what the doctor ordered, both to erase the utterly indefensible memory of the referee tracking back faster than our emasculated midfield, as Immobile set the tone for a somewhat humiliating victory for the German side and to serve as a much needed confidence boost, inspiring a far more optimistic mood in advance of difficult derbies against Spurs and Chelsea.

My mates were intent on arriving in the Midlands in plenty of time to sink a pre-match pint or two. But at a poignant moment to be spouting bon mots from Scotland’s favourite son, best laid schemes “aft gang agley” and Saturday’s fairly typical stramash on the roads turned a relatively short trip, into a tortuous four-hour schlep. Motorway gridlock soon silenced my complaints about being forced to forsake the comforts of my pit prematurely and our early start proved fortuitous, as doubtless if left to my own devices I’d have struggled to reach Birmingham before the second-half.

The delays left us with more time in the motor than any of us wanted, to mull over our anti-climactic Champions League opener. You didn’t need to be Einstein to know that le Gaffer should’ve set out a more conservative stall in midweek. The four of us were all fuming over the apparent arrogance of Arsène’s blatant failure to pay heed to the opposition’s customary high-octane approach.

Based on the famous German physicist’s definition of lunacy as someone who repeats the same thing over and over again and expects a different outcome, Arsène should've substituted a straightjacket for his default duvet coat by now. But aside from fearing that a changing of the Gunners’ guard might result in the same sort of period of instability that’s been evident elsewhere, my habitual retort to the AMG (Arsène Must Go) mob has always been who would I want in Wenger’s stead

On Tuesday night, perhaps for the first time, I found myself casting covetous glances in the direction of Jurgen Klopp, upon witnessing the stark contrast in the two sides respective motivation. This was epitomized by the hearty hug given to the Dortmund manager by his half-time sub, as compared with Podolski’s apparent urgency to impact upon the game, when he wasted the best part of ten minutes, phaffing around on the bench searching for some shin-pads.

Oh for the building of some of the “unbelievable belief” articulated so eloquently in Paul Merson’s eulogies of yesteryear. If David Dein was still on the scene, I wonder whether the Arsenal’s former Machievallian fixer would’ve long since recognized the writing on this particular wall and already engineered the accession of the likes of an energized Klopp to the N5 throne?

Yet such is the fickle nature of the beautiful game that all such negative deliberations disappeared, during a scintillating three-minute spell of football against Villa. It was perhaps fortunate that Mezut found himself up against the hapless Senderos, as even I would appear quick compared to the oil-tanker like pace of the well travelled Swiss defender.

With Welbeck setting up Özil for the first and then Mezut returning the compliment for the second, it was marvelous to see a rare smile spread across the face of our midfield playmaker, as his boots concocted the perfect response to all those non-believers complaining about his failure to produce an away goal to date. While in contrast to disparaging Mancunian mocking, as the travelling Gooner faithful exhorted our new striker, Welbeck seemed to grow in stature right before our eyes.

One had to feel some sympathy for the home fans, as the confidence borne of early season success ensured that our hosts were on top for the opening twenty minutes and if Shez hadn’t stuck out a goal saving paw, moments before our brief onslaught, it might’ve been an entirely different story.

Yet it was Cissokho’s own goal for our third, which seemed to knock any remaining stuffing out of Lambert’s side, leaving the Villa fans dumbstruck, wondering what had just hit them. While we were in seventh-heaven, savouring a stress-free, thoroughly dominant second half, where those in Claret and Blue couldn’t even muster a response.

Despite our criminal defensive negligence, in repeatedly leaving the opposition unmarked at the far post, Villa proved sufficiently impotent for us to come away with our first clean sheet. Hopefully we can build on this, so that we don’t look quite so fragile at the back by the time we head to the Bridge,

Before our date with the Blues and next weekend’s North London derby, we've Tuesday's Carling Cup encounter against Koeman’s in-form outfit. I'm eagerly looking forward to an opportunity to gauge the progress of the likes of Akpom and the impressive talents of Dan Crowley, the latest prodigy from the Gunners’ teenage production line.

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Sunday 14 September 2014

It Was Christmas Day In The Workhouse

After an interminably tedious International break, where two years worth of tortuous European qualifiers appear designed merely to eliminate the mighty footballing powers such as Gibraltar, Andorra, Luxembourg and the like, it was marvelous to find myself strolling around to the Man City game on Saturday, positively bristling with anticipation, at the prospect of witnessing the potential of this season’s Arsenal squad.

With Danny Welbeck’s arrival on deadline day in such debatable circumstances, while le Prof was playing peacemaker for the pontiff in Rome, when the majority of Wenger’s peers were seemingly pulling what remains of their hair out, in their efforts to squeeze a signing or two through the door before the transfer window slams shut, this weekend’s game was akin to Christmas morning.

Thousands of eager kiddies rushing down to the glamorous environs of the Arsenal to unwrap our new pressie and discover whether we’ve been gifted the footballing equivalent of a lush new gaming console, praying that le Gaffer wasn’t instead left picking up the last battered striker toy box on the shelves of Woolies (if Woolworths was still in existence!).

While at the same time hoping not to have to endure the Xmas Day equivalent of being told “you’ll have to wait until after lunch to open your gifts”. Most excitingly, we found that an unusually generous Father Arsène had left all our Gooner goodies under the tree, in Saturday’s swank starting XI.

Welbeck’s brace against the Swiss gave us plenty of cause for optimism and he was only the width of the post away from producing the perfect start to his Arsenal career against City. His similar price-tag to Balotelli (albeit perhaps with widely different wage demands?) resulted in much deliberation. While I previously suspected that opposition defenders might find the Italian striker more psychologically and physically intimidating, their contrasting work-ethic was evident from this weekend’s displays and Balotelli’s apparently limited overall contribution brooks no comparison with Welbeck’s selfless graft.

It would’ve been great if we could’ve managed to put one over on Man City, in the absence of Yaya Toure. Lampard is a wily and seemingly fortuitous (!!)addition to Pellegrini’s squad. He and his colleagues were able to stifle us from gaining momentum, with all the niggling (and more blatant!) midfield fouls that broke up our flowing attacks and at the same time, saved his 36-year old legs. But Frank no longer has the energy for his trademark box-to-box efforts and City were deprived of Toure's driving runs.

However, Alexis couldn’t have returned any earlier than Thurs, from his no less arduous midweek exploits for Chile v Haiti in Miami at 1am on Weds. I sincerely hope we don’t end up paying a hefty price, with a lactic-acid levy in Dortmund tomorrow night, but instead of sitting out Saturday’s game, Sanchez impressed yet again with his tireless industry. It was ironic that it was Alexis’ mazy (one man too many!) assault on City’s goal that resulted in the counter-attack, which led to the Sky Blues taking the lead.

From where we sit on the opposite side, it felt as if the Gunners had made the unforgiveable mistake of assuming that the ball was going into touch. Between them, Navas and Aguero made us pay a hefty price for this seemingly indolent presumption. City’s goal knocked all the stuffing out of us, just as we’d begun to acquire the sort of swagger that’s been so sorely lacking in top four clashes of late.

Mercifully Wilshere soon repaired the dent in our confidence with his wonderful equalizer. The chutzpah he demonstrated in selling Clichy a dummy, along with the composure necessary to wait for Hart to commit, before clipping the ball over the keeper with his wrong foot, from such a tight-angle, suggests Jack remains entirely unaffected by all the recent criticism.

Yet where we’ve grown accustomed to the sight of Wilshere sitting on his backside, pleading for restitution, I cannot repeat too often quite how refreshing it is to witness the unflinching determination Sanchez shows, in riding the incessant efforts to thwart his unstinting passion to impose himself.

In one of Özil’s more inept performances to date, the ensuing castigation of our most expensive star wasn’t exactly surprising. Especially when the impressive work-rate of his team mates only highlights Mezut’s languid style and when we are subsequently left enviously watching Fabregas doing exactly the sort of slicing and dicing for Mourinho that’s expected from our man. I can only assume it’s some sort of personal vendetta that’s resulted in the apparent ricket of presenting the title favourites with their principal midfield string puller!

Whether or not Welbeck can do for us what Costa is doing for Chelsea, remains to be seen but with Walcott fast on the mend, I would love to see Mezut prompting all this pace from the middle of the park. Although the gossamer thin depth of the squad, as far as the Gunners’ defensive cover is concerned, remains a massive concern, should the enthralling array of attacking facets in our armoury, begin to fall into place, this holds the promise of a scintillating assault on the Premiership promised land.

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Monday 8 September 2014

Transfer Window Verdict

The Observer should know better by now that to ask me for a mere 100 word verdict on the Gunners' transfer window dealings! I struggled to limit myself to 300 words and could've easily waffled on far longer:

               When Welbeck’s transfer was being rumoured to have gone pear-shaped as the deadline day media feeding frenzy peaked, my pal texted me “Oh the humiliation! Being disappointed that we’re not signing Danny Welbeck!” As a result, the decided absence of euphoria, when this deal was finally sealed in the wee hours, was combined with an abiding sense of relief.

               With le Prof playing peacemaker for the pontiff in Rome, when most of his peers were pulling what remains of their hair out, there would’ve been an utterly deafening uproar, if Arsène had come up completely empty-handed in our hour of (striker) need. It could’ve proved a terminal blow to our squad’s moral. 

               Welbeck may not be a marquee signing, like Falcao, or Sanchez (whose refreshingly earnest industry has instantly won every Gooners’ heart) but there’s plenty of glee in gazumping Spurs and he does possess the attributes that might well compliment Arsène's ideology. Mercifully, we now go into a crucial run of games with an excited buzz of anticipation, wondering if Welbeck will surprise so many naysayers, by proving himself capable of pulling up some impressive Premiership trees.

               Besides, our parsimonious gaffer would’ve blown a gasket over a £330k wage demand. Oh to be a fly on the wall, watching the players’ agents banging down LVG’s door, demanding pay parity for Man Utd's myriad of bench-warmers.

               There’s no denying that Gunners’ campaign could come a cropper over our negligent lack of defensive strength in depth, but Debuchy might prove an upgrade on Sagna and presumptuous perhaps, but I’ve even heard it mooted that Chambers has something of the Bobby Moore about him?

               Above all, I pray Wenger didn’t forsake his customary pragmatism for some personal vendetta and the summer doesn’t end up being remembered for his greatest gaffe, in the event that gifting Fabregas to the competition should prove even more significantly calamitous than the sale of RVP! 

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