Monday, 10 December 2012

Should we field a strong side in the cup?

2005. A sunny day in Wales. Cardiff. The Millennium Stadium. Vieira steps up and wins is the cup.

It was a shame that that kick was our great captains last wee touch at the club. But it's a dying shame that that game was our last ever trophy.

It's been too long, and although we've come close along the way, and extremely close on some occasions too. And right now we are in a great position to combat that.

The eight teams left in the Capital One Cup don't fill me with fear. We might be shit, but we're not as bad as the majority of them. Even European Champions Chelsea have a hard tie away at Leeds following their congested fixture list in the World Club Championship.

But as we enter the week of our encounter with League Two Bradford, it doesn't seem like there's much desire to win the cup at the club. Sure it's not as important as forth place, but we're capable of getting this eight year old monkey off our backs.

I do accept that we wouldn't need our first team out to guarantee a victory on Tuesday, but I'm worried that we'll end up seeing a very, very weak team.

Saturday's win over West Brom did highlight what an impact a good weeks rest can do to our tired players, but other than our midfield three, I'd have all of our squad down to play at Valley Parade.

Last year we suffered a very disappointing defeat to Man City at the Emirates in the League Cup. We were probably unlucky to lose against a very strong City side given the circumstances, but frankly we should have given more of an interest in the game.

A cup win would do wonders for our squad. It would go some way to improving the relationships between the supporters and management, and would show that this squad is going somewhere. It might even create something of a winning mentality at the club.

We simply must win at Bradford, and is anyone certain that the likes of Chamakh and Squillaci have the desire anymore to do so. They certainly should have the ability, but Bradford will be up for this game, whilst the lacklustre, lazy  performances form those two plus their general disinclination at the club does make me worry.

Our squad certainly lacks depth right now, so I wouldn't blame Wenger from resting a few star players, but I'd field a team that looks like this:

Mannone Meade Vermaelen Mertesacker Jenkinson Coquelin Ramsey Rosicky Chamberlain Podolski Arshavin

I wouldn't mind other first team players like Djourou and Gervinho on the bench either, with the central defender possibly stepping into the side if someone needs a rest. The rest of the bench can be made up of youngsters such as Gnabry, Eisfeld and Akpom, who could also feature at some point.

A team like that would truly show we mean business and would definitely give us the best chance of progressing in the competition. It has great experience and talent, and would still keep our key players rested for the weekend.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Sunday News Round Up - Huntelaar, Walcott & Diame

It's great to get back to winning ways. No matter how fortuitous we may have been in regards to the two penalties we received yesterday, all that matters is that we won.

The win could have been more convincing had Wilshere, and the disappointing Gervinho and Podolski managed to not miss from seemingly easy positions in the 6 yard box. But we won, and the 3 points on the board were exactly what was needed.

Perhaps the main positive from yesterday's game was the return of fluency in our attacking movement. The midweek break for Arteta, Cazorla and Wilshere in particular seemed to work wonders and they dominated the game against a West Brom side that have been excellent so far this season.

Jack was definitely back to his effervescent best, and combined well with the other attacking players throughout, really taking the game by the scruff of the neck at times. Some of my favourite aspects of Wilshere's game are his weight of pass, which never seems to desert him, as well as his drive from midfield which helps propel the side up the pitch.

The more he improves and gets his full fitness the better our season can be. Already at 20 he is a leader on the pitch, and you can see the other players turn to him when the heads drop. Whilst it is great to see him edging back to full fitness, hopefully Wenger realises that he needs more support in the centre. Him, Santi and Arteta have almost been wrecked by the recent run of matches, and the their rest this in midweek only served to highlight how great they can perform when given an adequate rest. Whilst there are a lot of problems with the squad right now, an extra midfielder to join those three in midfield should be high up on the priorities this January.

In regards to the ever-approaching January transfer window, there has been a lot of news in terms of transfer targets in the Sunday papers today.

French paper L'Equipe has reported that Arsenal are set to sign Klass Jan Huntelaar. The article appeared in the Sunday edition, and it yet to be posted online, but L'Equipe are reliable in terms of Arsenal transfer dealings and predicted the summer swoops for Giroud and Cazorla.

Whilst there is no concrete evidence, the overwhelming attention being given to this proposed transfer, the sheer amount of attention being given to this story certainly makes it seem plausible. Huntelaar would definitely fit into our strict wage structure, and the mooted price of 4-8 million pounds certainly makes him affordable.

The Dutch forward has an amazing goalscoring record for Schalke, with 58 goals in 68 games and has already highlighted his striking talents against Arsenal this season, scoring two goals against us in the Champions League. Whilst some people lambaste Huntelaar for not having enough facets to his game, since his move to Germany he has certainly improved his play in and around the box, and has still retained his lethal finishing ability.

Signing him would certainly highlight our ambition to sort out the problems that have plagued us so far this year, and would equally sort out our striking problems, which have meant that Chamakh has actually played this year.

We have also been linked with some added steel in the midfield. The Mirror are reporting that Brazilian midfielder Luiz Gustavo is set to be up for sale this January, as he is unhappy with his rotation role in the Bayern Munich squad. The 25 year old cost Bayern £10 million and is likely to leave for a similar price, but is a Brazilian international and has impressed for Bayern in recent years.

Much closer to home is the Senegalese Diame, who currently plays for West Ham. His wholehearted style has lit up the season so far with impressive displays for West Ham since he was signed on a free transfer in the summer. The ex-Wigan player apparently has a buy-out clause which is believed to be £3.5 million which Arsenal may be looking to exploit in January. This news was reported after the West Ham chairman, David Gold, tweeted "Diame does have a release clause in his three-year contract. He joined us from Wigan on a free transfer." If we did sign Diame, he would certainly add depth to the depleted midfield, whilst he also has Premier League experience which is vital as he would not need a "settling in period" that other might need. Whilst some may argue that he is not a "star" signing that is needed, he will certainly help our squad and, for me, is one of the best options that is available right now. At that price he would be a great bargain signing.

Lastly for today, there has been more news regarding Theo Walcott's contract situation. Walcott's recent injuries have postponed the transfer discussions until the New Year, which has angered Wenger, who had wished the matter to be resolved at the start of December.

As the time goes by and Theo seems no closer to signing a new contract we are met with the very probable possibility that he may be leaving the club, and the only real remaining question is whether he will leave in January or the Summer. For me, losing Theo would be a massive blow to the club, not necessarily because of the talent of the player, but because we have already lost so many key players in recent years, and if Walcott does head for the exit door it will definitely be a big blow to the squad, as well as the clubs reputation.

There is still hope for Theo, but with every passing day it gets less likely.

Thats all for now, but there will be more news to follow, as we start to look forward to Bradford on Tuesday.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Arsene confirms January additions

Following last nights (slightly) disappointing result against Everton, which meant that we picked up just two points this week out of a possible six, there was some more positive news to be found surrounds Arsenal.

The main story is Arsene Wenger conforming that he will delve into the transfer market this January, as he looks to strengthen the squad with "two players". The boss said: "This winter we will work very hard because we have some funds available. It could happen that we buy two players, but I cannot reveal the names."

It is great to see Arsene truly trying the address the problems that this Arsenal side have right now. The main weakness shown in the last two games has been the lack of strength throughout the squad. Cazorla, Podolski and Arteta especially have been somewhat overused this season, and already seem to be tiring during games. This is not great to see since we are about to enter December and January, the two most congested months in the footballing calendar, where games come thick and fast and squads are stretched to their limits.

The depressing fact that we haven't had even one striker on the bench in the last two matches is just woeful. It is certainly different from the days when Arsene regularly threw on multiple strikers, switching to 4-2-4, to try and get the result. We haven't been able to call on anyone recently. And whilst we can bemoan the midfield injuries of Rosicky and Diaby, who ever really expected them to last a whole season without a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Truth be told, Arsene made a mistake in trying to rely on Diaby's fitness following the sale of Song. Hopefully he can rectify that in January.

Whilst he was keen to not discuss the names of long term targets, Wenger did reiterate his desire to re-sign Henry for a third stint at the club, saying:

"A loan [for Henry] is still a possibility, but we will still try to strengthen for the long term. [he] is the talent that you dream to have. He has fantastic physique, fantastic technique, a fantastic brain, all built together in one man. At the start he was not confident enough but he has gone on to show what a great player he is."

The signing of Henry would be a great boost to the squad, but as I've previously stated, it has to be backed up by the arrival of more attacking options too. Our squad is already looking depleted, and the loss of the versatile Gervinho during the African Cup of Nations will further decrease our options in the squad.

With a lot of possible Capital One Cup and FA Cup ties to be played during those first two months of the new year, it would certainly be great to have the experienced figure of Henry among some younger players. His experience in and around the dressing could also be paramount to boosting morale amongst the squad.

One of the possible additions to the squad could be Wilifried Zaha, who has been watched closely by Arsenal this season, most recently through chief scout Steve Rowley and Wenger's ex-assistant Pat Rice.

The young starlet has been very impressive this season, and looks to have established himself as one of the best players in the Championship, as well as one of the brightest prospects in Europe. His pace and technique have always been present, but this season he has added more goals and assists to his game.

Today the attacker found himself in the middle of a feud between current manager Ian Holloway and Arsene Wenger. Holloway is said to have misunderstood Wenger's words which were greatly misreported in the press, and he responded to accusations that Arsene had been talking about his admiration of the Palace players. The quirky ex-Blackpool manager said: “Why is he talking about my players? I don’t think that’s right and proper, with the greatest respect.

“I don’t think anybody who manages any other club should actually admit who he likes and what he should be doing. I think that’s totally bad etiquette. He can say what he likes but about his players, not mine.”

A lot of news has been made of the apparent "rift" between the managers, but I'm sure it's been greatly exaggerated just as Arsene quotes were in the first place.

Moving on now, and in other news Koscielny is set to be out for three weeks following his injury in the 3rd minute of the match yesterday. After a shaky start to the season, the Frenchman has been starting to shaw why he was out best defender last season, and his partnership alongside Mertesacker is possibly our best option. Centre back is not an area where we are particularly light in terms of cover, but its not the best time to lose him as we enter December. It would be horrific I we were to suffer another injury or suspension and had to bring Squillaci into the first team set up. Nobody wants to see that again.

After yesterday's game, or goalscorer Theo Walcott discussed his recent form in front of goal.
“Those are the sort of positions that this season and in the last few seasons I have been quite deadly in, When given a little sniff I am able to take it now. The goals show that."

“I think I scored 11 last season and 13 the year before. Not just that, but my general play as well. The assists are coming now, which is fantastic, and I am enjoying my football. I am very happy with the way I have started and it has got to continue. Hopefully I will take it into Saturday’s game.”

Last night was his 10th goal in his last 11 appearances which is excellent, and frankly his performances have really stepped up this season. He has always had talent, but has struggled to gain consistency but it is clear he has made a great effort on that front this year.

My only worry is that he may continue to develop into the great player we knew he could be at another club. After all he is available on a free transfer from January, and previously Arsene has expressed his desire to have things wrapped up around the start if December. There is still no movement on his contract, and as the clock carries on ticking it seems less and less likely that he'll sign.

More tomorrow as we'll have the build up to the Swansea game on Saturday where hopefully we can get back to winning ways.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Everton scouting report

Following their tremendous, convincing win over United on the opening day of the season, Everton preceded to take the Premier League by storm for the opening few months of the season. Normally slow starters in the league, the bucked the trend and have been one of the surprise packages in the league so far, with Baines and Fellaini standing out as key performers so far.

The swift attacking movements down the left hand side, with Pienaar and Baines in tandem, plus the added twist when Fellaini drifts into an almost inside left role can be very hard to deal with. Fellaini has progressed into one of the top midfielders in the league, after being deployed in an advanced role so far and is becoming one of the hottest properties in Europe right now. The attacking flair shown by these three also adds an extra element to the usual fierce determination and grit that you get with any Moyes side. Everton have been a lot more attacking this year, with the additions of Naismith and Mirallas adding a blend of pace and technique which have changed the whole dynamic of the side, with Everton possessing a genuine threat down both the right and left hand side.

Moyes bases is side on a solid defence, with Jagielka and Distin forming a formidable partnership at the heart of defence. Jagielka has for a long time been rated as one of the best defenders in the league, and has been rewarded with some appearances for England lately, whilst Distin's strength makes him very hard to get the better of.

Another key performers for the Toffees has been Osman in the centre of midfield. His stunning form earned him his first England cap in the recent friendly against Sweden. Osman epitomises what Moyes wants form his side, by possessing good technical ability and quickly moving the ball out to the flanks as well as being strong in the tackle. The recent addition of free transfer Thomas Hitzlsberger will only helped that, as the experienced German knows all about the rigours of the Premier League and playing at the highest level.

Moyes, who defended Wenger following the criticism he has received recently, like to play a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Baines and Coleman as attacking fullbacks, and Fellaini playing just behind a strong striker in Jelavic.

Yet despite their great start, things have not been as rosy in the last few weeks for David Moyes. His side have struggled recently with injuries and suspensions taking their toll on the small squad. 1 win in 7, against a very poor Sunderland side is not the greatest form, especially for a side with aims of finishing in the top four.

A draw with QPR, defeat at Reading and most recently a draw with Norwich at home have been the most disappointing results in the last few games, and Moyes will be looking to rekindle some of the great form that they started the season with, with a win tonight.

He is set to welcome Fellaini back into the side following his suspension. The Everton boss is also known for being able to get his players up for these big encounters, and any trip to Goodison Park is also ways going to be a difficult match for any side. The blues have already defeated Manchester United and, it will take a big performance to take three points from tonight's fixture.

The 3 key players that we have to watch tonight are:

Nikica Jelavic - The Croatian has been very impressive ever since he joined from Rangers last January, and was exactly what Everton needed. He settled straight into the side, and managed to score 11 goals in 16 appearances before the end of the season. His Strength and Power from his 6ft 2in frame,  make him a match for any defenders and he always causes problems for different defences. But the Croatian international also has superb technique to add to his power. He may only have 5 goals in 12 appearances this year, but with Arsenal's defence regularly being questioned over performances, he will certainly have some influence on the match.

Leighton Baines - Baines has developed significantly over the last few years, and is arguably one of the best left backs in the world right now. As previously stated, he has a great connection down the left with Steven Pienaar, who drifts inside to let Baines drive on and use his excellent crossing ability. The way he gets up and down the left is a joy to behold at times, whilst his defending is certainly underestimated. Not many right wingers tend to get the better of him. Moreover, Baines is always a threat from set plays and has 2 goals and 2 assists already this season. Not bad for a left back. Considering we have always had problems defending set pieces and crosses, we will definitely have to watch out for Baines, and try and limit the amount of fouls we give away. *Vermaelen are you listening?*

Marouane Fellaini - Marouane is definitely the main man for Everton though, and is set to return to their starting line up following a one match suspension. The Belgian international has used his height and power to drive them forward from midfield. His powerful surging runs are second only to Yaya Toure in that sense, and cause all sorts of problems for any defence. Arsenal's midfield is likely to feature Cazorla - Arteta - Wilshere as its central three, and it will be significant that Fellaini has at least 6 inches on all of them in terms of height. He is regularly used in the air and likes to take the ball down and spread play out wide, which we cannot let happen on a regular basis, whoever is in midfield will have to close him down quickly and try and stop him from influencing the match. We will also have to be weary of his late runs into the box which have helped him to 6 goals in his 12 starts this year. His finishing has definitely improved, as shown by his goals ratio, and we cant afford to give him any opportunities tonight or he will punish us.

Arsenal can definitely have some success against Everton though, if we deal with their key players well, we can lets our star men try and dominate. The midfield trio of Cazorla - Wilshere - Arteta have the technical ability to dominate the games. If we try and limit the space in midfield, we can let them run the show. The return of Walcott to the squad will certainly help us. As his pace can exploit the gaps left behind by Leighton Baines. Giroud can also attempt to continue his form against an Everton defence that has conceded in every one of their last 6 games.

Arsenal tend to have a good record against Everton, who have not beaten us in the last 10 games. We also have a better record against Everton than any other Premier League side. It will take a big performance to beat the Toffees tonight, but we are certainly capable, and following the disappointment of Saturday's dismal performance, it will certainly improve the feeling across the squad.

Here's to three points, Come On Arsenal!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Tuesday round up: Arsenal prepare to tricky trip to Everton

The pre-match expectancy certainly picked up today as we are ready to head into tomorrow evening fixture at Everton. Wenger was out in front of the press again today, as he prepared the squad for the tricky trip, but he still had to defend himself over the decisions of Saturday's game.

For me, he didn't do an awful lot wrong against Villa - who incidentally were quite impressive, especially Benteke - and it was more the lack of depth in the squad which contributed to the disappointing performance. Sure it was not great to see Giroud hauled off with 5 minutes to go, replaced by a holding midfielder in Coquelin, but we really don't have anyone else right now. That is just the fundamental problems with the squad right now, and is an issue that definitely need to be addressed in January.

Anyway, on to tomorrow's game. Arsene was quick to stress the difficulty of any trip to Goodison Park, but also picked up on how impressive they had started the season. 

“They are always serious, Everton, because they can give anybody a game, I don't think any big team in the league goes to Everton and thinks it will be a walk out there. For us it’s a vital game every year. They fight at the top of the league every year. They are one of the contenders for a Champions League spot as well."

Everton certainly did start the season with a bang, as the convincing win against United acted as a benchmark for performances. Fellaini and Baines have particularly stood out as some of the most talented players in the league, but the whole team has contributed to their success. IT is also important to note that they have, for the first time in many years, got a very strong squad and without the distraction of European football they are definitely going to be there or there abouts at the end of the season in regards to the top four.

But despite their strong start, they have struggled for form recently, and Arsene is confident that if we perform we can grab the three points, which will be a massive boost for our squad following the disappointment of Saturday's performance. He said: “They have gone through a more difficult spell as well recently. It is just down to us and the quality of our performance.”

In regards to team news, it is clear that Walcott will return to the squad, and most likely the starting eleven. He is the only return to the matchday squad right now though, although Wilshere and Vermaelen "are alright" and will probably come back into the first team as well. It will be a difficult decision whether to include our captain though. Gibbs is certainly a better left back than the Belgian, who has struggled there at times, whilst Koscielny and Mertesacker have kept two clean sheets in a row. Given the fact that the last time Arsene broke up a successful central defensive unit like that we gave a very disappointing performance against Chelsea, it will be interesting to see whether he will play the Belgian. Since Gibbs is just coming back form injury it's probably more likely that he will start at full back.

I'm guessing the team will look something like this: Szczesny Vermaelen Koscielny Mertesacker Sagna Wilshere Arteta Walcott Cazorla Podolski Giroud

One player was able to return from injury to full training today though, as Rosicky finally resumed full training following his surgery this summer. Arsene was keen to praise the Czech international, who performed so well in the second half of last season, and whose vitality and energy in midfield we have definitely missed this season. Arsene also underlined the impact his addition can have on the squad, especially as we approach a busy schedule over the Christmas/New Year period. Wenger highlighted the 'little mozart's' versatility, saying: “He can play in the position of Santi Cazorla, he can play with Santi Cazorla as well. I love Tomas Rosicky’s game because he’s a guy who speeds up the game. When the ball gets to him, he has good acceleration power. He has quick short passes, quick combinations with other players. Personally I am an admirer of his game and I want to keep him with us.”

Moving on though, and Arsene's opposite number in tomorrow's fixture was quick to praise the Frenchman. David Moyes defended Arsene over the criticism he has received, saying"I think Arsene Wenger's done a great job at Arsenal, What he's done can't be done in a year or two years by any manager. We'd all like to reconstruct a club quickly but it just can't be done."

He also warned the Arsenal fans that their chants of "you don't know what you're doing" could be detrimental to the club, stressing that Arsene is still a massive name in football and can virtually walk into any job in the world. The Everton boss said, “Arsene can go as long as he wants. Arsene Wenger will be the one who decides what he does at Arsenal. I don't think it will be the board or the supporters.”

In other news, Speaking to Arsenal player this afternoon Lukas Podolski expressed his desire to continue his goalscoring from, but also to produce even more in terms of goals and assists as he settles into life in England. The German has 7 goals in his first 18 goals, but said that "For now I think it is good but I think I can be better, I think I can score more goals, to help the team and take some assists. But I think for now it is good and I keep trying to get more. I feel good in the team and the club. We need some more points to get up in the Premier League but I think when we play like we did against Tottenham we will get the points."

He went on to say that "I have settled very well, it is not a problem," he added. "I like the people here in England, they are very easy [to get on with]. I like the city where I live and the atmosphere is great. It's not a problem for me." It great to see such professional players like Podolski and Mertesacker at the club, who have experienced so much in the game. They undoubtedly have a great impact in the dressing room, and have demonstrated recently the quality they can bring to the side on the pitch. It would be great too see Podolski contributing even more in terms of goals and assists, but he should also concentrate on getting good performances and maybe even getting 90 minutes under his belt too.

Today's paper's bring more news too, as The Sun reveal that Schalke's general has taunted Arsenal over their lack of funds, saying that Arsenal could afford Huntelaar. He is quoted as saying “There have been no offers or any sign of Klaas-Jan leaving.
“If someone comes to us six months before the expiry date, and has a lot of money, we will deal with it. But from Arsenal circles we hear there is no money anyway.”

It is peculiar news to hear that we have no money, considering that we have just brought out a new £150million sponsorship deal, which is meant to guarantee us some funds in the transfer market. That is set to go on top of a reported £70million of surplus cash that we have currently, which was seen in the clubs books during the AGM a few months ago. It is worrying if that is true because we'd have to ask' where has that money gone?' but I don't think it's right by any means to be honest.

The press have also had a field day over the news that Walcott and Sagna have been left out of the Arsenal calendar for next year. Given that they are established international stars, it is somewhat peculiar that they have been left out of the 2013 edition, considering they are some of the most marketable players we have at the club, and have previously been used vigorously in the new kit advertising. Hopefully its just a coincidence, but with the lack of movement on either contract right now its beginning to get quite worrying.

We simply can't afford to lose two more first team stars this summer, even if we did replace them with similar or even better standard players. Firstly that would be very difficult in Sagna's case since he is one of the best fullback's in the world, but also it would be the third year in a row that we had lost some of our best players at the club. It would diminish our reputation even further, and could result in another one step forward, two steps back kind of summer where the joy of new signing is significantly undermined by yet more exits. There is certainly more to follow on that story.

Lastly, in more transfer news, Arsene hinted that the club are interested in bringing Crystal Palace starlet Wilifried Zaha to the club. But simultaneously he also played down the speculation, saying “He’s not more on the list than anybody else.”

Here's to a much needed three points in tomorrow's match, Come On Arsenal.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Monday Round Up - Wilshere, Chamberlain and Szczesny

The main news tonight is that the Mirror and the Mail are reporting that Arsenal are set of offer Jack Wilshere a new "bumper" contract.

Coming back from his 17 month stint on the sidelines, Jack has readily reasserted his position in the starting eleven, and why is is rated so highly as on of Arsenal and England's great hopes. The Mirror article says that:

"The new deal is likely to make Wilshere one of the club's top earners, is likely to have staggered increases and also be more than five years."

Frankly this is great news, as it shows that the board have learnt something from the whole Walcott saga - that is still developing as we speak - and, with 2 and half years left on his 50k/week contract, we are taking action quickly to tie down one of Europe's brightest prospects, and one of the leagues best players too. The deal will undoubtedly put him on a level with current high earners such as Podolski and Cazorla, and there is also talk that the deal may include a clause that will make Jack captain in the next few years.

The article also mentions that deals are being discussed currently with Gibbs and Chamberlain, who both aim to be tied down to the club in long term deals.

The one negative is that this swift contract negotiations out the spotlight back onto the Walcott saga, and we begin to question why he wasn't secured on a long term deal a few years ago, and why we have to go through the situation where we have one of our key players possibly leaving on a bosman deal yet again. It also worries me over Sagna, whose current deal expires in 18 months. The Frenchman is clearly one of our best, more experienced and professional players and we simply have to get him to stay at the club, or we will simply be seen as a selling club that regularly sells its best players season after season. Sagna has already previously spoke out about his dissatisfaction with the club's transfer business, and he may already have his eyes on a move away from the club, which could be another massive blow for us.

There was more news on Jack, as Wenger attempted to defend himself from criticism he was met with over team selection on Saturday. The boss highlight that Jack had had a slight scare over an issue with his ankle.

“He had a little bit of inflammation of scar tissue but it’s nothing. It’s very minor. The rest will help him get rid of it. Apart from that, he has done very well. He has not played for 17 months. People forget what that mean. Seventeen months in a career is massive, but I’m very happy with the way he is progressing.”

Despite the injury, Jack is expected to continue his recovery against Everton on Wednesday evening. Today Jenkinson and Szczesny discussed the importance of getting 3 points in that game at Goodison Park. Szczesny even referred to it as a "six pointer" during his interview with

He continued, saying: “It will be a very good game for us to win. We managed to get three points last year and it was a really tough match. We are outside the top four so our first target is to reach that top four. But our ambitions are much higher than that. We have managed to get a couple of good results recently. It would have been good if we had won on Saturday but we shall take it game by game and hope for the best. We need to climb the table and hopefully do well in the other competitions as well."

With Szczesny back between the sticks recently we have looked a lot more solid defensively, and we have undoubtedly missed his whole-hearted commitment and confidence at time this season. Hopefully we can register three points from Wednesday's game but it will certainly be hard. We have been quite lucky to have a decent record at Goodison Park in recent years, but we have also put in some quality performances, and we will certainly need one of them tomorrow.

Wenger also had to defend Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who performances have been somewhat criticised this season for lacking the cutting edge of goals and assists. The French manager highlighted that he is still very young, and without a clear spell in the team it's been hard for him to gain consistency.

He also highlighted that some recent injuries meant that it would take some patience from Gunners fans until we saw Chamberlain back to his best.

“Alex has not played a lot recently,” he said. “He lacks a bit of physical fitness. He tried at Villa and in patches he looked dangerous. He’s learning his trade and he’s a very talented young boy. I believe he will be a great player but at the moment he is learning his job. Basically, he’s 19 years old and there will be ups and downs, of course, but I believe he will be a great player. You need patience with every young player or you don’t bring them out."

That's about it for today, more news and hopefully team news tomorrow.

Wilshere to be offered new contract but how soon until he's too big for Arsenal?

The main news tonight is that the Mirror and the Mail are reporting that Arsenal are set of offer Jack Wilshere a new "bumper" contract.

Coming back from his 17 month stint on the sidelines, Jack has readily reasserted his position in the starting eleven, and why is is rated so highly as on of Arsenal and England's great hopes. The Mirror article says that:

"The new deal is likely to make Wilshere one of the club's top earners, is likely to have staggered increases and also be more than five years."

Frankly this is great news, as it shows that the board have learnt something from the whole Walcott saga - that is still developing as we speak - and, with 2 and half years left on his 50k/week contract, we are taking action quickly to tie down one of Europe's brightest prospects, and one of the leagues best players too. The deal will undoubtedly put him on a level with current high earners such as Podolski and Cazorla, and there is also talk that the deal may include a clause that will make Jack captain in the next few years.

I'm not so sure about that clause necessarily, but just looking at Jack when he's out on the pitch, completely in his element, you can sense that one day (probably when Vermaelen's stint at the club is over) he will certainly follow in the line of great leaders who have captained Arsenal football club.

Or will he.

Despite all the satisfaction I'm getting from this news, I can't help but become somewhat overcome with a sense of apprehension too. For a long time, it's been clear that the wage structure has limited us in terms of challenging for success with the true "elite" of Europe.

Our inability to offer wages over 100k/week are unheard of in today's game, and put us in the perilous position of not being able to attract established world class players to the club, and having to sell first team players each summer, as soon as they become established world class players. Similar problems are incurred from the structure rewarding players to soon, who have not necessarily "earnt" high wages, with massively inflated earnings to create an equal squad where a player like Van Persie takes home little more than Squillaci every week.

Now with Jack, this is set to be his second deal since he broke into the first team two years ago, and whilst we probably do need to tie him down now to save him from being preyed on by our rivals, there are problems with rewarding him so soon. The very fact that he is getting yet another deal highlights that his "advisers" are clever businessmen, and we all know about football agents these days. Afterall, Jack has had one full season at the club, and is already going to be one of our highest earners. What happens when he inevitably develops and gets better and is deserving of a new deal. Arsene has made it clear that his wage structure is here to stay, and we will have to wait and see what happens when Jack reaches the level that he requires a 200k/week salary. His reluctance to offer our ex captain more than 130 probably serves as an indication as to what will happen though.

We cant escape from the fact that two tears ago when Wilshere first broke into the side, we have certainly got worse. what to say that that slide won't continue as Jack goes in the other direction. i know we have the new deals to help us, but other sides are always improving as well. At the end of the day, Jack is still very young, and whilst his promises to sign a contract "for life" are great to hear as a fan, what's to say that in three years time he might have changed his mind. I know that he does love Arsenal, and is definitely desperate to repay the faith shown to him by the club during his spell on the sidelines, but then again I thought our ex captain would be like that too. At just 20 years old Jack is already, for me, our second best player, and I just pray that he doesn't outgrow the club and become too hard to hold onto. Arsene likened the midfielder to Cesc Fabregas just under a week ago following the Montpellier game, and it would be incredibly depressing to see yet another "complete midfielder" developed at the club have to leave.

Arsenal has has a painful history of selling our favourite star players, right back to Brady's premature exit to Italy to Henry's departure to Barcelona, with many in between as well as the unforgettable exits of the last few summers. Hopefully Jack will become an exception to the rule.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Wilshere praised as "complete midfielder"

Arsene Wenger was quick to point out the talent of his young midfielder Jack Wilshere, who scored his first goal in two years as Arsenal defeated the French champions Montpellier to qualify for the last 16.

Wilshere became a key player for Arsenal in the 2010/11 season, where his combination of technique and drive highlighted that he was a real talent, one of the best in Europe. After the disappointment of injury which ruled him out for almost 18 months, Jack has finally returned for the Gunners, where his impressive performances alongside Arteta and Cazorla have helped Arsenal gain some form.

Tonight, his manager Arsene Wenger was quick to praise the 20 year old, saying: "He's getting strong physically. Tonight he got in the box - he's the complete midfielder you know, I believe he can defend well, attack well and these kinds of matches will give him confidence."

Jack truly is a compete player, combining the technique and skill of a continental player with the traditional English drive and desire. The closer he gets to being fully fit, the better, but its important he isn't rushed.

His goal came just after half time. There was some neat link up play between Podolski and Vermaelen, which led to a ball into the box. Giroud, who was eager to make an impression against his former side, leapt up and cushioned down a header to Wilshere, who finished tidily in the six yard box.

Jack demonstrated his calmness in front of goal and hopefully will be able to get many more of them as he regains full fitness. The England international was not Reston on his laurels despite his fine performance, and called for the side to show some improvement in the coming games.

"I think we have to step it up from tonight," Wilshere told Sky Sports. "It wasn't good enough, especially in the first half.

"We stepped it up in the second half and got the three points, so we have to go now, watch the game, work on our weaknesses and get into the last 16 and whoever we get, you've got to play the best teams in the competition to win it so it doesn't matter who you get.

"We're pleased. It was a tough game tonight. Montpellier came tough. We started off sloppy but we knew if we kept going we'd get the win."

This determination to continue improving highlights that he is truly a top talent, and Wenger even went in to compare his to Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas. Tonight was his first game alongside Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and the two friends surely have a long future together at club and country. Hopefully they can blossom into the most fruitful of partnerships.

Arsenal are keen to deliver some silverware this season after 8 years without a trophy now, and with players like Jack that is certainly achievable.

Arsenal qualify for last 16

After a tough encounter with the French champions, Arsenal have just about done enough to seal their slot in the last 16 of the Champions League.

The game was by no means a classic, but Arsenal did the job they were sent out to do, and the three points are all that mattered to be honest. It's easy to get bogged down into the analysis of how the team played, but at the end of the day we scored 2 and kept a clean sheet, and are in a position that every club in England (bar Manchester United) would like to be in.

After the game, Arsene was quick to focus on the lacklustre opening, but maintained that he still kept faith that the squad could come through the challenge, saying: “It was a question of being patient and waiting for our chances, which we did.”

Wenger also picked out Jack Wilshere as the key performer in the match. The Frenchman said "He's getting strong physically. Tonight he got in the box - he's the complete midfielder you know, I believe he can defend well, attack well and these kinds of matches will give him confidence."

We started the game with the same lack of urgency as Saturday, but since Montpellier are clearly not at the level that they reached last season, having had their squad ravaged by injury and suspension, we were never truly met with the threat of going behind. Dare I say it, but on the whole the defence looked quite solid, and it is by no means down to the return of Szczesny who brings about an air of calmness to the side that we were lacking.

Wilshere and Chamberlain were featuring together for the first time at Arsenal, but both players were guilty of giving the ball away cheaply, as we struggled to get a proper foothold in the game. The only real chance of the first half came from a Koscielny header which cannoned off the crossbar.

With the start of the second half though, Arsenal looked a lot more impressive. The passing was more intent and fluid, and the midfield players like Wilshere and Cazorla started to dominate proceedings. The first goal came in the 50th minute, where some neat link up play between Podolski and Vermaelen led to a ball into the box. Giroud, who was eager to make an impression against his former side, leapt up and cushioned down a header to Wilshere, who finished tidily in the six yard box. It was his first goal in 2 years, and will hopefully be the first of many this season as he starts to get further down the road of recovery.

The whole side seemed to relax into the game, and Chamberlain particularly had more confidence now, and was running his defender ragged at times. It was a Chamberlain run which led to the second goal. He robbed the defender on the half way line before driving forward to the edge of the area, there Giroud slipped in a perfectly weighted ball into the path of the on-rushing Podolski, and the German didn't disappoint, slamming the ball past the 'keeper and virtually finishing the match as a contest. 

It was a great goal, and it was good to see Giroud contribute to the team effort with 2 assists, despite not getting on the scoresheet. The Frenchman managed 9 assists with Montpellier last year as they claimed the French title, and it is clear to see that his teamwork is clearly a large part of his game. Arsene was also quick to praise the £13million signging: “Sometimes he wants to come deep, but he is best as a target man. You know he will fight for the team. His performance is many times very decisive. He works very hard for the team and has a good team spirit.”

After the second goal, the concentration seemed to turn towards keeping a clean sheet, our first since QPR at home, and the defence duly obliged with little fuss. Cazorla and Arteta helped keep the ball very well in the last 15 minutes, whilst Gervinho and Coquelin entered the fray to get some game time. Wilshere and Podolski were able to complete their first 90 minutes each of the season which is good as they are continually getting closer to being 100% fit.

With Schalke winning their game, it meant that both sides are though to the next round. Arsenal do still have a chance to top the group, but with it now being out of our hands we might not travel to Olympiakos with our strongest side. Personally I don't think that there is too much difference between finishing in either position anymore. Last season we finished top and were drawn against AC Milan, this year we could finish top and be drawn against Real Madrid. Whilst we could finish second and face Malaga.

On the matter Arsene said: "We will try to finish top of the group. You always feel a bit guilty if you don't do it. In this competition you just want to get to the next round and win the game. That's all you can do. Now of course we go into a cup competition which is a little bit different. We have some time and it's important we go into March with our best team available."

Whilst he does mention the desire to win the group, the fact that he is already looking towards March highlights that we may see some rotation in the side that travels to Greece. Hopefully by then we'll have some more players back too.

Overall, tonight was a case of getting the job done, which we did well. It was great to see Jack on the score-sheet and another fantastic Podolski goal. The victory and clean sheet is something we can build on as we start to look towards Saturday and the difficult trip to Villa Park. There we have the possibility of earning a third victory in a row which is something we are yet to do this season.

But we have a while to wait until then, lets be happy for qualification, and thankful that we don't have to keep getting a new manager every 15 minutes.

Montpellier scouting report & team news

Montpellier had an amazing season last year, where they managed to defy all expectations and win the French Championship for the first time in their history. At the heart of the side was Olivier Giroud, who finished the season with 21 goals and 9 assists, and since his departure to North London in the summer, the French Champions have struggled this season.

In fact Montpellier have recorded only 1 home victory all season, and find themselves languishing in 14th place in the league. They have also plummeted in the Champions League, and are already out of contention in Group B, picking up only one point so far in the competition.

Yet, being the French Champions, they cannot be underestimated, and following last months disappointing home defeat to Schalke, Arsenal simply have to pick up all three points tonight. Montpellier are still looking to kick-start their season, and will come to England with no fear and nothing to lose, which could cause problems for an Arsenal side that has conceded 14 goals in their last 5 matches.

They are likely to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation that is the preferred choice for manager  René Girard. The "2" in central midfield remain slightly static, and provide a protective screen for the defence which has leaked a number of goals so far this season. This leaves the creative spark to come from further up the pitch and thus Montpellier prefer to play more a more direct style of football. In defence, the main main is defnitely Yanga M'biwa who has developed into one of the best defenders in French football over the last few years, attracting interest from a whole host of clubs, even Arsenal.

M'biwa is very adaptable and can play in a number of positions along the defensive line, but he is best in the middle. His strength and pace make him a match for many strikers and he certainly gave former teammate Giroud a physical encounter in the reverse fixture in September, and will be keen to replicate that performance this evening. In fact the captain is also keen on getting something out of the game, and is confident his team can achieve something from tonight's fixture, saying "We are the French champions, Arsenal is a big and difficult rival but we want to offer the best image we can in the Champions League. Arsenal are very strong at the Emirates, but we want to beat Arsenal on Wednesday and if they want the three points they will need to sweat for them."

The departure of Giroud has left a big gap in the Montpellier attack, and his successors have struggled to make a great impact in the starting eleven this season. In fact tonight, due to injuries, Girard may be forced to pick the very inexperienced Gaetan Charbonnier up front. With this transition in place, they are arguably less of a threat down the middle, and have to rely on other creative players this season rather than a big number 9. Therefore the two players which are most likely to create havoc among the Arsenal defence are Younes Belhanda and Remy Cabella. 

The creative threat is supplied by Remy Cabella out wide, a direct winger with pace to burn. Cabella was very impressive in the last game, tormenting Santos with his skill and speed, and there could be a repeat performance tonight against Thomas Vermaelen, who has struggled at times this season when filling in at left back. Cabella has 17 appearances for the French under 21 side, and at 22 can definitely progress into a top player. He has been one of the bright sparks for Montpellier this season, with 3 goals and 4 assists in his 9 league starts. In fact his form attracted the attention of former Arsenal wide man and French international, Robert Pires, who recently sung the praise of the exciting Cabella. The 38 year old said: “I’m enjoying the performances of Rémy Cabella at Montpellier this season, He’s carried on from where he left off last season. He has character and can go a long way, that he doesn’t let the pressure of big games get to him. I hope he can continue enjoying himself and gain more experience. 

He also stressed the importance of Belhanda to the side,  and the partnership him and Cabella could create together, saying "I think Cabella and Younès Belhanda can kick on from last season, when they helped Montpellier pip PSG for the title. Both have real quality."

Belhanda was an inspiration last year, and along with Giroud was one of the main reasons why Montpellier became French Champions. Playing just off the striker, he likes to find spaces in between the midfield and defence, but is not afraid to make runs forward from midfield either. The Moroccan international has an excellent passing range, and really comes to life in and around the penalty area, where he can demonstrate his keen eye for a pass or devastating shooting.

Belhanda, a product of their youth system, is definitely the dictator of the French side's tempo, and often comes deep to collect the ball before passing out wide or driving forward himself. Arsenal will be all to aware of his threat form set plays too, following his chipped penalty which gave Montpellier the lead in the corresponding fixture in September.

In terms of Arsenal team news, there have been two changes to the squad which demolished Tottenham at the weekend, with Walcott and Santos picking up injuries. They are set to be replaced by Gervinho and Gibbs who return to the squad and are in contention to feature. Arsenal have really missed Gibbs over the last few months, and his return can help solidify the leaky defence.

With Walcott injured, Chamberlain, who made an impressive cameo performance at the weekend, is set to start out wide, but the rest of the side is still something of a mystery. Tonight might be a bit too soon for Gibbs, whilst it remains to be seen whether Wenger can trust Jack to start three games in a week. There have also been mooted discussions surrounding whether Jenkinson might start in place of Sagna, who himself is returning from a long term injury.

Arsene is definitely keeping an eye on Saturday's tough trip to Villa Park, but he has been somewhat reluctant to drastically rotate the squad in the Champions League this season, and with qualification far from being attained it is likely we will see few changes from Saturday.

Giroud will be keen to continue his fine form against his former club, and was highly praised by Wenger in the pre match press conference, who believes that something has seriously ‘clicked’. There are still question marks as to whether Giroud will ever reach the heights of Arsenal forwards that have gone before him, and his back up in forward positions is somewhat pitiful. Personally I do doubt that he can ever be a player that can score 25+ goals a season. But Giroud has proved that he is a very competent Premier League player, and definitely has an eye for a goal too. His aerial prowess is second to none right now, and he is always improving it seems.

A win is all that matters tonight, and Arsenal will have to be on top of their game to make that happen. Taking the confidence form Saturday's victory into the next few games is a necessity as we are yet to properly kick-start our season I think. Putting together a run of wins is vital and is something we haven't done since the last time we best Tottenham. We can start that run of wins tonight, and hopefully achieve qualification in the process, making that trip to Olympiakos slightly easier.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Podolski aims for run as central striker

Tonight, the Mirror has revealed how German forward Lukas Podolski has followed Theo Walcott, in publicly declaring his wish to play as the central forward at the club.

The 27 year old said: “I’d rather play centrally up front." In a recent interview, and given the fact we are struggling in that department, he should be given a chance.

As we enter November, neither Giroud or Gervinho have really made a true claim to be first choice in that position, as Arsenal have produced some of their most lacklustre attacking performances under Arsene Wenger's management. The £12million summer signing had been expected to play upfront this season, but has only played once up front so far, in a disappointing 80 minutes against Sunderland at the start of the season.

Since then Podolski has been stuck out wide, in a role he occupies for his international side, where he has 44 goals in his 105 caps - a very impressive return from a wide player. But he recently declared his disappointment in playing that role, saying: "On the left, I have to do a lot of defensive work, constantly running up and down."

That defensive work is something that the striker has struggled with at time, and he particularly failed to forge any cohesive partnership with Andre Santos.

With Chamberlain on his way back into the first team, and Walcott making a claim for a first team place, there are options out wide to replace the German. Especially when Gervinho returns to the side in the next few weeks, combined with the up and coming Gnabry and Aaron Ramsey - who has played out wide at times this season.

There is definitely space up front available for Podolski, and after being declared the greatest finisher at the club by Steve Bould, then he should undoubtedly be given a chance. Last season he managed 18 league goals last year for a struggling Cologne side.

Perhaps our best attacking trident is Chamberlain - Podolski - Walcott which provides us with stunning pace, and a great goal threat. Cazorla and Wilshere can provide the creative talent just behind. It hasn't been tried by Wenger yet but with all three players back from injury and on good form, he may try and rejuvenate our stuttering attacking displays with this new forward line.

Arsenal battle to hard earned point

Overall it was a disappointing night in Germany, as Arsenal let slip a two goal lead to draw in a game where three points would have been very important.

But in actual fact, had we escaped with a win it would have been very undeserved. Schalke started like a train on fire, whilst Arsenal could barely put more than two passes together. But t was us who struck first; a long clearance from Mertesacker was flicked backwards by a Schakle defender and straight into the path of a seemingly offside Giroud.

The Frenchman failed to even get a proper shot away, but ably following up was an on form Walcott, who grasped his chance in only his third start this season, as finished coolly. The goal gave us some much need confidence and following some good link up play between Wilshere and Cazorla, the second goal came. Podolski easily beat his man and Giroud ran through a static defence to fire home an important header. Arsenal had only been playing for 5 minutes, but we had a two goal lead.

The important goal for Schalke came just on the stroke of half time as the superb Holtby gave a delightful ball to Huntelaar, who finished thunderously. After the break it seemed clear that Arsenal's lead would be short lived, and the Germans eventually got their equaliser through Farfan's shot deflecting of Vermaelen into the net.

Schalke had more chances to win, and in goal Mannone had one of his better performances for the gunners. In the end a point was probably fair, but gives us some work to do in the remaining two group games, especially a very difficult game at Olympiakos.

There are some positives to take from yesterday. We shook off some of the shackles from Saturdays dismal display, and Podolski, Cazorla and Walcott were impressive in attacking areas.

After the game Arsene said: "For us it was important first of all not to lose and if possible to win. We managed the first part, not the second one. The regret we have is that we conceded the goal just before half time and we missed the chance at the end of the game.
I believe we have shown a good response to Saturday’s game and you feel the team is getting better."

The return of the Ox, Szczesny, Diaby and Gibbs in the next few weeks will be very much welcomed, and will hopefully spark a good run of form from our side.

Arsenal are not back to their best, but last night we took a step in the right direction, against a very able Schalke side.

Mannone 7.5
Sagna 6.5
Mertesacker 6
Koscielny 6.5
Vermaelen 6
Arteta 6.5
Wilshere 6.5
Cazorla 7
Walcott 7.5
Podolski 7
Giroud 7

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Arsenal vs Schalke Preview & scouting report

Arsenal go into tonight's game in 2nd place in their Champions League group, 1 point behind Schalke following the 2-0 defeat to the German side last week. After a poor run of form, it is vital that we manage to put in a valiant performance tonight, and ideally walk away from Gelsenkirchen with some pride, and at least a point.

With two away games left in the group, and only 6 points form the opening 3 fixtures, tonight is starting to turn into a crunch game, and could determine whether Arsenal will get through the group or drop into the Europa League places. And the German side will provide a stern test after starting the season well - they are just behind league leaders Bayern Munich at the top of the table.

The Gunners have travelled to Germany with more injury woes, as Ramsey will be out of the game after picking up an injury at the weekend. Szczesny, who was expected to make a return from injury in tonight's game, is also missing despite joining in training on Monday.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gervinho, Kieran Gibbs, Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky are all still out, whilst Theo Walcott has picked up al illness and will be assessed prior to kick off. This means a similar line up to the one against United, with Walcott in for Ramsey, if he recovers in time to start. Yesterday Wenger revealed that the recently red carded midfielder, Jack Wilsere will start tonight, as his injury comeback looks to on a good course. Wenger said "I think I will play him tomorrow. Then we have a block of three games and maybe the fact that he gets a period of recovering will be just right for him. He gets better in every game."

The main question marks surround the side are at left back, with Andre Santos being castigated for his poor form, and the now infamous shirt swap with Van Persie at half time on Saturday. It is believed the Brazilian incurred the full wrath of Wenger's anger, and the Frenchman may have lost patience with the stocky Santos, despite his apology to the Gunners fans. If Santos is not going to play, Vermaelen could play at left back, with Koscielny slotting in in the heart of defence. Another alternative would be to play Jenkinson and Sagna at full back, as both players have experience on either side of the defence.

Arsenal have struggled for form recently, and Arsene is aiming for his side to put thing right tonight. The 63 year old said: "At the moment they have forgotten how good they are, What is most important is that we play again with our enthusiasm, desire to create chances and enjoy our game, more than about 'do we concede a goal or not'. Obviously it is disappointing for us when we don't have a lot of chances. Lately maybe we have been a little bit flat."

Poor performances across the side have caused a mini crisis at the club of late, with some fans citing the disappointing defeat at Old Trafford last weekend worse than the performance where we lost 8-2 a year before. The attacking intent was minimal, almost non existent, and we failed to get a shot on target before the 93rd minute, which is not acceptable for a club at the highest level. Arsenal have struggled to form a cohesive attacking unit over the last month, going on a run of 1.5 games without a shot on goal against Norwich and Schalke.

Key players like Podolski and the big new signing Giroud need to put in better, more consistent performances. And the midfield duo of Arteta and Cazorla need more support to be able to dominate games. The return form injury of Wilshere will help, but we cannot expect him to reach the highest level until a few months probably.

Unlike Arsenal, Schalke have enjoyed a marvelous start to the season, and have an excellent chance of progressing into the next stage of the Champions League. They dominated Arsenal in the last game, and are bringing that confidence they earned from the result to this fixture. Afellay, a former Arsenal target, said: "Our victory in London was a serious warning to Arsenal. Now they know that Schalke are capable of big performances and we will not be as much of a surprise to them. The fact that we won at the Emirates means we are capable of repeating that result at home. We do not fear Arsenal in any way. We are a side with goals in us and that will be key to this match." 

The Dutch midfielder did praise the Arsenal side, but his confidence highlights that tonight will not be an easy fixture. His manager, Huub Stevens, retained his focus on the game tonight, saying: "The only thing that counts is the task ahead of us. And it isn't easy. Arsenal are a good side with lots of quality. I've watched their recent games very attentively,". He remained tight- lipped over his team selection, but reiterated that "We've prepared well," in regards to how they will approach the game.

Schalke are extremely dangerous up front with Huntelaar - one of the most accomplished finishers in world football - being their figurehead in attack. The Dutch striker has 67 goals in 94 games since joining Schalke in 2010, and has 3 goals in 3 games in the Champions league this season, so is definitely the man to watch.

Out wide, the Peruvian Jefferson Fafran ran riot against Santos last time around, and is consistent, direct winger with pace to burn. He is one of the main supply lines to the Huntelaar, and will need to be addressed by Arsenal this time around. On the other side is the Dutch international, and former Barcelona player, Ibrahim Afellay who is very skillful and has a lot of experience at the highest level. Just behind this attacking triplet, is the Anglo-German Lewis Holtby who dictates the play and forges a tempo for the side. The German international is a very talented player and is a reported Arsenal transfer target, with his contract set to expire this summer.

It is fair to say that defence is not Schalke's strong point, but in Matip, they have a solid strong defender, whilst at left back Fuchs has excellent delivery going forward. Arsenal will have t attack the Schalke defence much more than they did at the Emirates and try and find cracks. Schakle may be without their bright young central defender Kyrgiakos Papadopoulos, who suffered a cut above his eyebrow last weekend. They are also without former Germany central defender Metzelder, who has groin strain.

Schalke go into tonight's game following their second defeat of the season at the weekend, going down 3-2 away at Hoffenheim. Hoffenheim managed to get their winner in the 93rd minute, and the three goals conceded by Schalke shows how their defence can be attacked. Yet the Royal Blues did control the match, and were unlucky to lose the game.

Tonight will be a very tough game and Arsenal will have to put in a much better perforamnce that at the weekend to come out of the game with anything. English clubs have have a great record against Schalke away, but this is a completely different side, and as Huub Stevens said in his pre-match press conference, "Before the game it's not about figures or statistics"

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Szczesny & Gibbs back for Schalke

Following Saturday's depressing result in Manchester, there is finally some good news emanating from the club. The Mirror are reporting that Kieran Gibbs has been back in full training and is ready to return for Tuesday's encounter with German giants Schalke.

Gibbs has been missing for Arsenal since last months fixture at West Ham, a run that has coincided with a terrible run of form for us. Gibbs had struck up a very fluid relationship with Podolski in their short time together at the club, most brilliantly discovered in the victory at Anfield earlier this season, where Arsenal played some of their best football in the last year arguably.

His understudy, Andre Santos, has been struggling to fill in for the England international and has had  to bear the grunt of many unhappy supporters. In fact this evening his wife took to twitter in an attempt to defend her husband, and was abused by some Arsenal fans in the process, which is simply awful behavior, lacing any class that Arsenal Football Club is meant to represent.

Santos seem to be struggling for form and fitness, and was woeful against Schalke at the Emirates a fortnight ago. That night Jefferson Farfan ran riot against the Brazilian, orchestrating man threatening attacks that cut through the Arsenal backline with ease. With Arsene un-keen on a similar night in Germany, he is very keen on bringing in Gibbs to the starting eleven, despite the 23 year old not being fit enough to start the weekend game against United. Despite Santos' poor form, it would be silly to rush Gibbs back into the first team after the injury woe he has had during his short Arsenal career, which has limited him to only 41 league appearances for the club.

There is more good news for Arsenal with first choice goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny ready to resume his role as number 1, following almost 2 months out with an ankle problem picked up against Southampton.

Since that game, where we lost our clean sheet record, we have struggled to get anywhere near to keeping a clean sheet, with only 1 in 11 matches due to the lack of attacking intentions by QPR. Even last week Arsenal managed to concede 5 goals to Reading, with some woeful defending. Mannone - who did not feature in that Capital One Cup game - has had mixed performances in the Polish 'keepers absence, with some spectacular saves against United but simple mistakes against Norwich in particular have shown a shaky side to his game, that a top side like Arsenal shouldn't have to be content with.

Szczesny is a top class goalkeeper, despite his youth, and is a real leader of the defence. His immediate return will be much welcomed.

Arsenal sit second in their Group B Champions League group, behind the German side following their defeat last week. With our 3 games remaining, including 2 difficult away ties in Germany and Greece, it is vital we get something from Tuesday's match.

Arsenal were lackluster and simply did not turn up at Old Trafford at the weekend, and frankly need to win over some of the disgruntled fans with some top quality performances that have been all too rare recently.

Arsenal's opponents on Tuesday suffered a 3-2 defeat at Hoffenheim this weekend. The "Royal Blues" had been in great form and seemed to dominate the game, but their defensive mistakes were punished as Hoffenheim scored in second half stoppage time to win the game 3-2.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Who to start at Old Trafford - Walcott of Ramsey

As the all important fixture at Old Trafford edges ever closer, we turn our mind to the possible starting eleven that will chosen by Wenger in just  24 hours time.

The Carling Cup thriller at Reading saw 11 changes to the Arsenal side that faced QPR last weekend, and we could see a similar amount of changes tomorrow, as Wenger reverts back to his preferred starting eleven for this key fixture.

We start the game 7 points adrift of the leaders Chelsea, in 6th place, and probably can't afford to suffer defeat if we have any aims in winning the title. In fact, every time we have won the title under Wenger, we have come away with either a draw or victory from this fixture. Yet, despite Tottenham doing is earlier this season, winning in Manchester, or even getting a draw, is not an easy challenge and is still the hardest game for any team in the season. We are all too aware of this after last season's result, and Wenger needs to make a considered choice about the eleven players he puts his faith in tomorrow.

Arsenal have shown that they are capable of mixing it with the best teams in the country this season after a deserved point against Manchester City, and an impressive, dominating performance at Anfield. Yet the slip ups against Norwich and Schalke, and the dreadful first half display against Reading - possibly one of the worst ever by an Arsenal team under Wenger - this week has shown that there are still problems with this Arsenal squad.

With Szczesny, Gibbs and Diaby still out injured, there are likely to be few changes from last Saturday's victory against QPR, and the only question marks around the squad are over the left-back, striker and right win positions. Whilst there are still slight question marks as to whether Wilshere is ready for a game of this intensity.

The candidates for the right wing role are between Walcott, Ramsey and Chamberlain - who faces a late fitness test and is unlikely to start, but might be ready to take a place on the bench.

The main candidate to start out wide is Walcott. Theo has had somewhat of a stop-start season so far, as the question marks over his contract have restricted his game time, especially in the league. But when he has played, Walcott has been very impressive.

Walcott has struggled with consistency throughout his career at Arsenal, and it is truly frustrating that his form can be so bi-polar that he dominates teams with ease on some days, then looks like he should be in League Two on other occasions. Yet, as he developed a partnership with Van Persie over the last 18 months, at least he was consistent in his goals and assists, even if his performances were still highly inconsistent. Last year saw Walcott start 39 games for the club, and he ended the campaign with 9 goals and 9 assists, whilst the year before he scored 13 goals and set up 11. For a 23 year old these stats are impressive.

Despite on managing 3 starts this campaign, Walcott is currently Arsenal's top scorer with 7 goals and has 4 assists too. His performance at Reading this week saw him be almost unplayable, as he sparked the Arsenal comeback with a excellent finish just before half time.  Every time he received the ball he brought it forward and retained possession, and he also showed his predatory instinct in front of goal with his two more well-struck finishes, earning him a hattrick - despite Jenkinson's attempts to take one of the goal's off him. Walcott was a threat all night, and may well have played himself into the starting eleven for Saturday's  lunchtime clash.

Theo is experienced in these big games, and is somewhat of a big games player, with memorable performances against Chelsea and Barcelona on numerous occasions. With Evra struggling for form recently, Walcott will be able to keep him pegged back and terrorise him with his pace as he has done to many defenders over his career. It is important to note that Ferdinand and Evans have also struggled against pace this season.

Walcott provides the threat of a genuine wide man, which Ramsey does not and when played there this season the Welshman has occasionally tended to drift inside. With his connection with Sagna developed over the last few years, it would probably help defensively against United's tricky wingers too.

But the main reason to start Theo is due to his eye for goal. In these tight clashes, finishing your chances is the most important things to do, and Theo is genuinely one of the best finishers at the club. For me, despite playing 120 minutes aginst Reading on Tuesday, Theo must start.

In competition with Walcott, is Aaron Ramsey. Despite not being a classic wide player, Ramsey has been successfully deployed out on the right by Wenger this season. The Welshman offers himself as another midfield body and can help up dominate the centre of the park, which has always been so vital in Arsenal and United games, dating back to the enticing battles between Vieira and Keane.

Against Manchester City at the Etihad, in probably Arsenal's best performance of the season, Ramsey start on the right and helped weaken the threat of City's midfield, which usually brushed others sides away with the talent and power of Yaya Toure and co. Ramsey is helpful in retaining possession and is more technically gifted than Walcott. But, as his stats over the last few years show, he lacks the eye for goal that Walcott has.

Last season Aaron scored 3 and set up 5 in his 33 starts, and his form completely eluded him in the latter part of the season. Yet Ramsey has started this season well. His passing has suited the free-flowing football played by this Arsenal side, especially mastered by Arteta and Cazorla.

Arsene has chosen to start Ramsey out wide in the rest of the key games this season, against Chelsea and Man City, and leaving him out against Reading may be a hint that the 21 year old is in line to start this weekend too. Yet the form of Walcott, and the recent unimpressive display by Ramsey against Schalke, where he was non-existent as a threat down the right, may cause Wenger to change his mind.

Arsenal have a had a rotten record against United recently, with only one win at Old Trafford since 2003, and only 4 wins at Old Trafford in Wenger's time here. We need to put things right with a proper performance tomorrow, and leave Manchester with something. Come on Arsenal.