Will Arsene make key signings part of his New Year resolution?

So Arsenal start the New Year in 1st place, a hard fought victory over a stubborn Cardiff team ensured they stayed there. The proud record of being the best performing team of 2013 can be seen as the perfect springboard to continue the improvement into 2014 and hopefully reap the benefits come the end of the football season.

The fans are happy (well most of them) and will no doubt be settling back into their normal routines following all the festive fun. As the majority of us tend to do in the New Year goals are set, a chance to put right the wrongs of the previous year with new gym routines or money saving tactics. We all enter into these with the best of intentions unfortunately the motivation dies before March is with us.

It would be nice to think that Arsene has incorporated some resolutions to help Arsenal for the second half of the season. The ideal resolution would be to make some key January signings.
As we all know Arsene isn’t a big fan of January buys, the Frenchman has a lot of faith in his squads and doesn’t tend to put his hand in his pocket at this time of year unless his hand is forced or a super bargain is available. One of the main requirements this season is a top quality striker to share the burden with Olivier Giroud. Will Arsene buy or will he see the recent change in Bendtner worth waiting for him to recover from his recent injury rather than purchase a player? Although whilst still an Arsenal player I’d back Bendtner 100% every time he goes out on the pitch I don’t see Bendtner part of any long term plans and for that reason it may suit both parties that he finds new employers during the transfer window.

bendtner

Arsene is also a big fan of adaptability in his players and he has said it in the past that Walcott and Podolski are very much able deputies to the central striking role. The recent return of Podolski has already prefilled the possible quotation of “like a new signing” though the German hasn’t quite grasped the opportunity in that role with both hands. His goal in the West Ham game reminded us of his valuable contribution to the team though his starting role in the Cardiff game in the central striking position was slightly underwhelming.

Podolski is one of the best finishers at the club and certainly offers a goal threat but at the times he has played in the central striking role it hasn’t quite clicked. This is taking into account times he played there before his injury also. One game does not condemn a player and you never know he could well grow into the role; he also didn’t have the luxury of the creative talents of Ozil and Ramsey at his disposal. Flamini has been a great acquisition to the Arsenal team this season but his performance in an advanced role on New Year’s Day was rather limited in the attacking third whilst Arteta covered.

Walcott also offers a goal threat though question marks will always remain over his effectiveness with his back to goal as opposed to the outlet of pace he offers on the wing. What we gain in Walcott playing central we lose from him not playing wide.

Taking all this into account a striking addition to the squad would be the best option, a loan or permanent transfer? If a top quality player can be brought in on loan I don’t see why not. A permanent arrangement can be readdressed in the summer. If it’s the difference between playing over the odds fees for a player and assessing a potential signing up close in the short term for peanuts then we all know which option our manager would rather take.

In addition to that a central defensive signing would be reassuring, beyond the excellence of the Koscielny/Mertesacker and the cover from Vermaelen there aren’t much options at all. Given Arsenal’s injury history it would be foolish to rely on the current partnership not receiving another injury for the rest of the season. Vermaelen is an able deputy but in recent times the Belgian has hardly been injury free himself.

per and kos

Arsene has never been one to recall players from on loan during injury crisis’s and so if the worst was to happen the next step would be to rejig the whole defence by slotting Sagna into the middle or calling upon the services of Isaac Hayden. Not ideal given the massive chance the club has of winning the title this year, the last thing Arsenal fans would want to do is feel regret at the missed opportunity of strengthening to enhance the clubs chances for silverware.

Well, Arsenal has a month to hopefully make the right signings and give the rest of the season a good go. Signings for the future are not required at present, focus really needs to be on the now, it’s the clubs best chance in years to bring in a trophy.

Enjoy your day people.

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Football is the winner as Arsenal defeat Stoke

The Arsenal managed to obtain victory against Stoke City to keep them within touching distance of fourth place. Although on paper a home victory seemed the most likely outcome Stoke turned up at the emirates with a game plan to frustrate the Gunners and hopefully nick a draw.

We had new signing Nacho Monreal in the starting line up as Arsene gave him an instant initiation to the Arsenal team.  He did alright on his debut and certainly played his part in contributing to the victory. With Gibbs likely to be out for longer than the first estimated three weeks and Andre Santos losing the faith of the fans and it seems the manager, it was encouraging that Monreal slotted in so seamlessly.

monreal v stoke

His performance wasn’t flawless as it was quite clear he should avoid use of his right foot and also late in the game a couple lapses in concentration crept into his game. Nothing bad enough to ring alarm bells; it is evident from one appearance alone his acquisition is one that does add quality and strengthen the squad.

Back to the game and from the off we played on the front foot for the majority of the game, Stoke were happy to contain the pressure as we spent the game camped in their half with the lion’s share of possession. It’s been a long time since I’ve witnessed a home game where the team camped in their half against us inviting pressure; maybe it was to counter the threat of Theo Walcott’s pace as his strength is running off the shoulder of the last defender.

We were rarely threatened in defence and it was important that we stayed focused and avoided a goal against the run of play. As the game wore on it was looking like Stoke may have pulled it off but our German number 9 had different plans. With the clock running down we were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box after Theo Walcott was brought down by Wilkinson. Lukasz Podolski took on the free kick taking responsibility and found the back of the net via a deflection off a Stoke player. Absolutely nothing wrong with the goal although the referee’s assistant took it upon himself to find fault with it. After discussion with the referee and some heated opinions voiced from players of both sides the referee ruled the goal would stand. Absolute common sense and I would be interested to know what exactly the referee’s assistant’s reasoning was.

podolski celebrates

With the goal we craved finally scored; Stoke actually ventured from their goal line to try to sneak an equalizer. They ended the game with three strikers up front but it wasn’t enough as we held on and secured the three points. There is still clearly some bad blood between the two sides and tensions certainly weren’t helped by a crude tackle from Ryan Shawcross that left Laurent Koscielny writhing in pain. Even Michael Owen got involved as he planted a sly punch at Mikel Arteta which wasn’t seen by the referee. The good thing is we didn’t sink to their level and in the end let the football do all the talking.

It was extremely encouraging that we came away with a clean sheet, the silly goals have been slipping by in recent games and it was nice we managed a shut out. It was also nice that we didn’t have to go one nil down to respond to anything, although 0-0 at half time wasn’t great it’s a lot better than being a goal down.

Thomas Vermaelen was missing through injury but it’s not to say he has been the cause of the recent soft goals conceded. The blame can be attributed across the back four and each player would have to hold their hand up for some of the goals we let in. The thing is once everyone is focused then goals like that don’t get conceded. 100% concentration is needed for the duration of the match and the defence needs to play for each other as much as themselves.

Next up is an away trip to Sunderland; that will not be an easy game despite their position in the table. We will  need to put in another focused, disciplined performance much like yesterday and with the luxury of a full squad to choose from a win is a must to continue the chase for fourth place.

Enjoy your day people.

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Walcott and Podolski out of game. Can Coquelin help Arteta?

Can a bad week get even worse on Saturday? That is the question we would all like to know, we don’t want it to come to fruition, not at all but these days we don’t know which Arsenal will turn up against West Brom. The loss to Olympiacos was shrugged off by the manager, he played a weakened team against the Greeks and in all reality a defeat was far from a shock. On one side of the coin the first team were afforded a rest and a chance to recharge their batteries ready for the battle at the weekend on the other side of the coin the players that underperformed against Swansea were given a chance to pamper their egos rather than prove themselves at the earliest opportunity in the next game.

The stats men will be rubbing their hands throwing out all sorts of statistics highlighting how long it has been since we last won and how many games in a row we have lost etc. They don’t care about the relevance of the games just what looks good in their tables and pie charts. Now we receive the news that 1st team players Theo Walcott and Lukasz Podolski are out of the game at the weekend. Surely more ammo to back up crisis talk; all they need to do now is claim Aaron Ramsey will take up the role on the right side of the front three and there will be riots in the streets of North London.

The loss of Walcott and Podolski are massive losses to the team, they do bring goals to the team and goals are required until we purchase a striker to share the goal burden with Olivier Giroud. One thing Arsenal has always been good at over the years is pulling off results when we are at our lowest. It doesn’t have to be against a title rival for us to raise our game; we have received the wakeup call last Saturday, the slap in the face to bring us to our senses, refocus and overcome the pain.

I wasn’t happy with Arsene rushing back Rosicky into the team on Saturday after he only just returned to training within the past couple weeks. He will be vital to our fortunes for the rest of the season and his cameo on Tuesday gave a reminder to those who may have forgotten his importance to the Arsenal midfield. It was good that the manager saw sense and only played him for one half of the game. I want him back, badly but I don’t want him broken within 2 weeks like what has happened to Abou Diaby. Just ease him back a bit Arsene, not too much too soon.

coquelin

One thing I would like to see is for Francis Coquelin to step it up to the next level. He has settled in and established himself in the first team squad, he has been called upon when required but to me he needs a breakout performance in his preferred position to show us Arsenal fans we can rely on him as the holding midfielder.

It has been quite evident lately that the strain of keeping the Arsenal midfield ticking over is taking its toll on Mikel Arteta. He has done an admiral job stepping into the void vacated by Alex Song however it seems he is in need of a break, the problem is who comes in to replace him? Coquelin is young and has potential but for a player whose main position is as a defensive midfielder he has only really been played in that role in cup games. His appearances in the league has been more to close out games in the dying minutes, his defensive mentality is called upon to add protection to the defence/midfield. Yet Wenger has never taken the decision to rest Arteta and replace him with the young Frenchman.

arteta

Coquelin did impress last season when played in emergency positions like at fullback when we had terrible luck with injuries in that position. His versatility was essential and a welcome assistance to the team however in his preferred role we are yet to witness that standout performance, the kind of performance that makes you sit back and think he could make that spot his own within time. Even Emmanuel Frimpong last season at that terrible point at the start of last season managed to pull off an encouraging performance against Liverpool which had many neutral observers predicting big things. Yes he got sent off in the game but he did enough while on the pitch against top opposition to show he has a big game performance in him. The injury has set Frimpong back but if he works hard and gets over the injuries he could get back to that level. Coquelin needs to take advantage of any chance he gets and puts in the kind of performance that makes the neutrals take notice. At the moment he is caught in that void where he is just a squad player, he needs to step up to the level where he is talked about as the future successor to the defensive midfield role.

I’m not attacking Coquelin, I believe in him as a player and as a fan I want him to grow and improve to the level that the fans feel the team is weakened when he is not around. He is still young as I said but given the current state of the team patience is in short supply with the fans. We need cover in all positions in the team; like for like cover that leaves each position in good hands.

Arteta needs a break; Coquelin needs to give Arsene a reminder that he has someone to share the load.

Enjoy your day people.

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Some points to address. Part 1 – AFC

It’s a new week, can we put the events from Saturday behind us? oh, well it was worth a try. The dust has settled only partially and many questions have been raised. The fans are still pissed (pardon my French) and want answers. How do we move on from this? We went into the game with a point to prove, that the team that turned up last year were a team in turmoil but now we have our house in order. In all honesty if Man United weren’t so wasteful they could have scored a similar amount of goals as last year.

I have a few points that I would like addressed. Of course I don’t have direct contact with Mr Wenger and so I don’t expect my point to go any further than you the reader but feel free to agree/disagree.

Where was Gnabry?

Now given the injuries we currently have to our more pacy options in the wide role such as the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gervinho. One of the glaringly obvious points from the game was the distinct lack of pace in attack to really stretch the man united back line. Walcott virtually ruled himself out of that role due to his campaign to be played in a central striking position. So that left us with no real options of pace on the flank. Serge Gnabry has been included in the previous few premier league squads, he is young and raw but those qualities were probably exactly what would have been required from the bench to get at Evra or Rafael. I don’t know the full details of his non inclusion and he may well be nursing an injury from the midweek game against Reading but if not maybe he should have been considered.

You only need to look over at Liverpool and Raheem Sterling as proof that a 17 year old can make things happen. Gnabry would have been a good option.

Aaron Ramsey has been criticized for his contribution on the right hand side but in fairness that’s not his natural position. Wenger had asked him to play a role there mainly because his options were limited. He tried but in reality Ramsey was easily contained out on the right and rarely threatened from that position. I mentioned Walcott earlier and his inclusion in the team could also been determined by his 120 min involvement in midweek along with Arshavin. Gnabry played around 60 mins and would not have been suffering from the same level of fatigue if any. Some of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s real standout games last season when he was coming to prominence were in the high profile matches against both Manchester clubs. Could Gnabry have introduced himself to the watching public with a virtuoso display against united? That’s a question we will never know the answer to but some food for thought.

Time for Podolski to play as a striker.

At present the waiting list at Arsenal to play in the central striking position seems as heavily congested as our very own season ticket waiting list. We have players who don’t look the part scoring goals there, players who look the part not scoring quite enough; players who want to play there using their contract as ransom and then players who may get a chance due to capital one cup form. The funny thing is even when you account for the plentiful options for the position we still seem to be lacking a predatory striker that would scare the opposition and the fans would gamble all their earnings on scoring for the club at times of need. In my opinion no one striker has fully convinced in that position so far for us this season. The issue was slightly overlooked due to the number of goals being shared around the team earlier in the season. We almost believed that having a more all round team would help banish the ghost of Robin van Persie once and for all. What it all boils down to at the end of the day is defenders fear prolific strikers, the opposing manager has the conundrum of whether to pay more attention to the prolific striker or not. When more attention is made to that striker it can open up opportunities for other members of the team to exploit, if the opposing team chooses to ignore his threat then they end up punished when he finds the space to score goals. We need a striker like that, we may have that striker on our books in Giroud but he is still adapting to the premiership and right now is not that player yet. The question is do we wait until he becomes that player or explore more options in the meantime. I say there is no harm in trying the option of Podolski in that position. Can he play there? There’s only one way to find out.

If my memory serves me right Podolski was tried there in our season opener against Sunderland which finished 0-0 but never graced the central role again. I feel he is an excellent finisher who would take chances if presented with them. No harm in trying him there. All the plaudits for Podolski so far this season have been about how well he protected the left hand side in combination with Gibbs (not so much with Santos). Providing good defensive cover is a nice to have but on the offensive side if he isn’t on the score sheet the German’s contribution comes into question. signed as a replacement for Robin van Persie or not playing as a striker is not an alien position to him. on assessment of his season so far he has enjoyed a good start to his arsenal career but there is so much potential for more. we have players that can play in that left hand side role so Podolski should be given another chance to prove he can play there or not.

I didn’t plan for this to be a long post so I am going to cut this feature into two. I will post part 2 with more of my points tomorrow.

Feel free to let me know what you think of my suggestions, good or bad

Enjoy your day people

Greeks make Arsenal work for victory

A win is a win I guess, in what was quite a cagey game Arsenal managed to do just enough of what was required to win the match. The game was riddled with mistakes all over the field, the fluency and quality that we have become accustomed to this season deserted the team last night. It could just be down to nerves as the team try to bury the demons from the defeat to Chelsea at the weekend.

From the team selection Per Mertesacker was probably expected to start in light of the frailties at the back exposed by Chelsea, but due to illness the big German was not involved in the squad. I thought Olivier Giroud would start the game but Wenger decided to utilize the Frenchman as a substitute. Mikel Arteta passed a late test to start at the heart of the midfield and Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced Aaron Ramsey.

Gervinho continued his fine goal scoring form with the opener, although the goal was quite lucky in the way the ball broke to him but he still had to work the space and drill the shot home. He may still frustrate fans with his play at time but when a player puts the ball into the back of the net when played up front he answers back to his critics.

The goal we conceded was another where you question the centre backs as the Olympiacos striker drifted in between the two to glance a simple header past Vito Mannone. The goal itself came within minutes of us taking the lead and was on the stroke of half time. Steve Bould who was in charge yesterday due to the touchline ban enforced on Wenger probably gave a right rollicking to the defence for the goal.

Olympiacos did threaten throughout the first half and never let arsenal settle into their flowing passing game. The halftime score line was probably a fair reflection as we really needed to get out of second gear.

In the second half the game carried on in the same vein however we managed to score to take the lead. The goal was quite fortunate and a lucky ricochet from a cross allowed Gervinho a second chance to work the ball into the box and from the by-line he pulled the ball back to Podolski who shifted the ball forward and drilled into the back of the net through the keeper’s legs.

This time we managed to hold on for longer than five minutes as the Olympiacos team continued to threaten and keep us on our toes. One worrying thing I noticed and picked up by Niall Quinn in the commentary box was Thomas Vermaelen’s tendency to storm forward to join the attack on a number of occasions. It’s great when he scores goals for us but much like in the Chelsea game his ventures forward can leave us in trouble. He was caught forward on Saturday and it was from trying to get back that he conceded the free kick that lead to the goal. Yesterday he was storming forward with the game at 2-1. Even if a player covers for you when you move forward there are times when you should go and times when you stay. It was slightly worrying to see him nearly getting on the end of chances when a breakdown in attack would leave us vulnerable.

The game was evenly poised for the majority of the second half and required our defence to stay solid and focus on shutting out the Greeks. I feel Wenger and Bould should have a quiet word about when to stay and when to go to the Belgian.

As I was saying the game was still quite nervy and needed another goal from the gunners to make it safe, The Greeks committed forward looking for the equaliser and it wasn’t until deep into injury time that we managed a third when Aaron Ramsey burned away from his defender and dinked the ball over the keeper to make the game safe. This was far from an impressive victory but it was a victory; 6 points on the board so we just need to look forward and focus on the next game against Shalke.

Enjoy your day people

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