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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Norwich City: Some Monday reflections

Another week and Arsenal are still sitting on top of the league table; I’m starting to get used to saying that phrase. With each week those who predict the downfall of the Gunners are slowly coming round to the idea that Arsenal are a team to be taken seriously. The performances are being churned out, the results are coming through and the points are adding to the table. The high and good feeling amongst those concerned with the Arsenal is becoming sustainable, the belief is growing and whisper it quietly but this could be the year it all comes together and Arsenal can reap the benefits from years of penny pinching all in the name of a long term goal of silverware to complement the beautiful stadium.

Now the weekend is over I am sure everybody has had the chance to digest ‘that’ goal, I will just share with you some of my thoughts from Arsenal’s victory over Norwich City.

Goal of season contender

Oh yes, the goal, and what a fantastic goal it was. It was a privilege to be lucky enough to witness the goal right in front of me. My personal choice of position within the Emirates is amongst my brethren in the North Bank but on Saturday I was positioned neatly in the Clock End. Luckily for me that is where the amazing goal occurred. The move itself was so neat and tidy, the precision of the flicks were ones of such beauty that the goal was so swiftly executed it left the Arsenal fans (and the poor Norwich folk, Not!) still computing what they had witnessed. It really required a second look at the replay on the giant screens to actual confirm that really did happen. The stadium was united in applauding the ‘take a bow son’ moment. It really was a technically perfect team goal, the type of opportunity you associate with Arsenal apart from the bit when the ball hits the back of the net. It’s nice when it all comes off especially being there to witness it.

goal of season celebration

Atmosphere/Norwich banter

Despite the wonderful score line and quality goals experienced on Saturday the initial atmosphere in the stadium was quite flat at times. I know Arsenal fans unfairly get the tag of being home to the library but the Emirates does know how to raise the roof when the fans are up for it. I guess the level of excitement is parallel to the quality and/or history of the opponents. Norwich games don’t really carry any bad blood but their fans are one of my favourites to visit the Emirates. The banter is always top notch and I have fond memories of their visits last season and the season before. Grant Holt is gone so they can’t chant his name; we are over Robin Van Persie so they couldn’t rib us about missing him anymore. Instead all they could focus on was the library chants. All be it they were stunned into silence from Wilshere’s goal but soon found their voices when they pulled a goal back in the second half. Thankfully Aaron Ramsey had enough of their voices and shut them up for good with his goal and assist late in the half. The Arsenal fans did find their voices more in the second half but I could put the pin drop moments down to my next observation…

Lack of the Walcott/Ox factor

The problem if you can call it a problem is the efficiency in Arsenal’s play without the outlet of the pace of Theo Walcott is the reduction of bums of seats moments.  The play is neat and tidy, even our goal of the season contender was so efficient I don’t think the fans got off their seats until the ball was already in the back of the net. The sight of Walcott tearing down the wing latching onto a through ball has been missed since his absence. Even with Cazorla back in the team only Walcott and to an extend Oxlade-Chamberlain offer the chance to stretch teams down the right hand side. Those moments get the fans jumping up in anticipation of a chance to score a goal; it adds something to the Arsenal performance. Not that the team had suffered without it. In previous seasons the loss of Walcott would be a heavy loss that harmed the team’s performances now there is so much quality and options in the Arsenal midfield that Arsene can try different combinations and still produce desired results. Arsenal may have to contend with more patient build up play in games but no one is complaining.

Dortmund are up next on Tuesday and the only hanging point is the potential loss of Mathieu Flamini from that game due to his concussion suffered against Norwich. His absence will be a big loss such is his impact made this season but we have able cover in midfield to cope.

Last point to mention is the fact I was lucky enough to get hold of Szczney’s goalie gloves after the game on Saturday when he threw them into the crowd; certainly a nice memento as the game will always be remembered for that goal which was scored in it and I now have a part of that game with me.

Szczesny glove

Enjoy your day people.

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Newcastle victory helps to highlight Gunner’s issues

Last game of 2012 is signed off with a win, a bit of a crazy victory but three much-needed points to continue the slow recovery back to the level we know we should be at. 7-3 is a flattering score-line and I suppose did its best to sugar-coat the evident frailties within the team. On three occasions we were pegged back by a Newcastle team low on confidence with the kind of goals that are becoming our trademark. The individual errors and soft goals keep on coming to the point where seven goals may be needed every game to ensure victory. That’s never going to happen so the next best thing is to address the defending and tighten it up at the back.

To be honest I’m not sure how that can be addressed with the current personnel, our defending has been highlighted all season and I am sure the backroom staff are doing something about it; problem is it is not transpiring through to the first team on match days.

I am not trying to put a dampener on a victory where we scored seven goals but the defeats to Bradford and Swansea are still pretty fresh and despite stretching our winning run to four games all it will take is for another defeat for all the gloom and negativity to return amongst Gooners.

This game served as the perfect evidence to present to Arsene Wenger and put forward the case for signings.

Defensively we need third wheel to shake things up.

At the back we are leaking too many goals to mount a serious challenge up the table; without a solid base all the good work upfront is for nothing. When you have a reputation for soft goals then the opposition are always confident they can get something against you. Mertesacker was missing yesterday through illness but on paper Koscielny is able cover at the back.

ba v verm

The problem we have is individually our defence are popular with the fans. When on fire Vermaelen is the darling of the Arsenal fans, Koscielny has proven himself now, Mertesacker has won plaudits this season, Sagna will always be regarded one of the finest right backs in the country and Gibbs has grown to the point where we feel we have replaced Clichy. So why the poor goals conceded every other game? Collectively it doesn’t seem to be working, we never seem solid enough and there are always clear-cut chances against us. We ride our luck a few times but eventually we pay for it.

My suggestion is that the timing is right for a top quality centre half to be purchased in the January window to keep the current personnel on their toes. Johan Djourou is clearly not regarded reliable enough, this is evident from his sparse appearances this season. In the summer I claimed he would be a good quality 4th choice centre back going into the season but in reality we need a player signed not as fourth choice but immediate competition for the starting role.

I can only put down the poor goals to complacency and with no competition for the starting role beyond the three core centre halves there is a little less pressure to maintain the highest standard. I know players don’t make individual errors on purpose but at the same time another (top quality) defender in the mix should let everyone know they need to their job and do it very well.

It may be deemed better to have a good balance of competition in certain positions and three top centre halves should normally be enough but a bit of unhealthy competition may do us some good.

Up front we need recruits

The game threw up many points regarding our options up front. We have Theo Walcott who is doing his best to prove he could fill that central striking role; his three goals yesterday again highlighted his promise and gave Arsene food for thought over his use in that position. The problem with Theo’s goal scoring form is until he signs a contract with the club he cannot be considered as the answer to anything. We are none the wiser if he will be signing a new contract and until he does we have to contend with the possibility of him moving on.

theo newc

That leaves us with Olivier Giroud as the only option as specialist centre forward at the club; indeed he has won over the fans after an initial slow start to his Arsenal career but we need an alternative to just playing to his strengths. Marouane Chamakh is as good as gone in the next transfer window after failing to prove himself at the club and Gervinho has shown no consistency in any position of late that he cannot be considered in any capacity.

Not forgetting the ACN in January when we lose the services of Gervinho; Chamakh was not called up for the Moroccan squad but that is not enough to suggest we have options now.

The player touted as a possible acquisition in January is Demba Ba; he still has that clause in his contract making him available at £7.5m. He has been touted as talking up a move to Arsenal recently and he did his chances of being snapped up no harm by exhibiting his attacking threat with two goals against us right in front of Arsene in the flesh.

Arsene was quite coy on the potential signing of the striker in his pre match press conference but that would be expected given the fact the two teams were meeting.

The question is whether the delay on Theo’s contract is in relation to Arsene signing such a player? Would that end his chances of playing up front or will Demba only be signed as a replacement for Theo if he decides to definitely leave.

It’s a tough one to call, ideally I want Theo to stay and Ba to come in; much like I mentioned with the defence that competition is required to keep players on their toes. Theo would need to be prepared to fight for a chance up front and take his chances when they come in the midst of the competition from players like Ba. It’s all very well playing up front knowing you only have Chamakh and Gervinho to compete with but to improve and be the best you need to take on the best (or at least a better standard of competition).

January will be an interesting month and we will need a lot of open books closed. Players need to be signed, I’m not talking signings for the sake of signings but we need quality to improve the squad and increase competition for places. We have too much dead wood making it easier for the starting players to let their standards slip. I hope yesterdays win despite the high score-line doesn’t help deflect from what is really required.

Enjoy your day people.

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Arsenal show good and bad in victory

After the debacle last week against Bradford an immediate response was required. The wait until Monday has seemed a long one, the memory of Bradford has lingered and Arsenal fans have been in direct need of something else to talk about.

Last night Arsenal decided to remind the fans that they can play the beautiful stuff, in recent weeks the performances have been flat and uninspiring. They managed to put in a performance of quality passing and almost completely ruthless finishing. In the first half the chances came on a regular basis and if not for the keeper the score line at half time would have been greater than the three we managed.

I’m not going to get this twisted, this was a meeting of two teams in poor form and a win was far from guaranteed for us. It required the Arsenal players to show the gulf in quality available and they clearly showed that. This is only Reading though and there is still a long long way before Arsenal fans will be convinced that we have turned a corner. Inconsistency is rife for Arsenal this season and the important thing is that the same level of focus and performance are there against Wigan.

I still believe signings are required in the January window but for now players are playing for their places and taking the opportunity to give Arsene food for thought. Arsenal fans will not accept any more failings in this team and Arsene’s future is in the hands of his players. They need to play for him and put in more performances like last night.

It really has seemed a long time since we have played like that, even longer since we have played like that consistently in a run of games. I certainly hope this is the turning point, this Reading team at this current point in time were the best possible team to play to build confidence.

Even against a poor Reading team the defensive frailties were still evident, it would have been a good game to keep a clean sheet but that wasn’t to be. Mr individual error showed his ugly head again and it is still something we need to work on. Not trying to put a dampener on our performance but at 4-0 up complacency crept into our game and before you knew it two goals were conceded. It almost sparked memories of our Capital One Cup game against the royals. We wobbled for a while but thanks to a fifth goal from Theo who got his chance to play in his preferred central role; any chances of a complete meltdown were squashed.

santi celebrates

Special mention of course goes to Santi Cazorla who was behind everything good about Arsenal last night. It was great to see him put aside all the negative press he received recently and put on a masterclass. He walked away with the match ball last night after scoring a hat trick in the match and proved how vital he is in our quest to turning around our fortunes.

I’m much happier after yesterday’s game compared to last week and I hope we can carry this on now. It’s just Reading so no running to pop any Champagne but we can only play who is put in front of us. Next up in front of us is Wigan and hopefully we can continue the consistency; the remaining December games are winnable in theory and so ending the year on a high will put us in good stead for 2013. Plenty of focus still required from the players, more of the same please at the weekend.

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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