Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Arsenal vs Besiktas: Match Preview

Preview | Pre-match conference | Team news

One of the annoying things of being a blogger is filling up space when the matter is in desperate dearth.

Match previews for rather uninteresting matches are a fine example of this. At such times, using cliches like "don't underestimate the opposition" and "a win should be the order of the day" are enforced, however much it may bore the author and his readers.

But make no mistake - today is not that day.

Today is not a given. Today should not be taken lightly. And considering our performances and depleted team, today is not a day to feel confident.

I am not fancying our chances tonight. I don't trust the team to come out focused and determined, and to blow the opposition out of the water. I'm not saying that Besiktas are favourites, but that I'd be mighty relieved rather than expectantly happy if Arsenal get past Besiktas.

The team are on the verge of crisis. Giroud's injury has added to the requirements of a fair amount of players. Even with him our performances were unconvincing. We've gotten away with it three times so far. For obvious reasons, I hope today marks a fourth.

Losing tonight would be disaster. Without the lure of Champions League football and the monetary rewards of it, we wouldn't be in the best position to buy players Lord knows we need. We have the best squad assembled since more than half a decade, but it could quickly disassemble without the carrot of CL.

My worry lines have seldom been higher. I can only hope the manager shares the same sentiment.

Fucking come on Arsenal already.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Monday, 25 August 2014

Everton 2-2 Arsenal: Late drama masks team's disorganization

Match Report | Match highlights | Wenger's thoughts

The lineup...
Was well, a mirage. I was excited that Chamberlain and Alexis were chosen to start - especially Sanchez up front. My joy of seeing both of them was fuelled by Ozil in the starting XI as well. Perhaps foolishly, I assumed Wenger would play Chamberlain on the left, Wilshere on the right and Ozil in the hole. I would never understand Ozil's gross mispositioning. I believe it was a huge factor in us going 2-0 down.

Martinez must love facing Wenger...
It was well-documented that when Arsenal lost 3-0 to Everton in April, Martinez pulled off some tactical wizardry in playing Lukaku against Monreal and Podolski. The effects were highly fruitful. Two of Everton's three goals came from our left hand side, with the third being an own goal.

Wenger made it even easier this time around. By playing Ozil instead of Podolski he made a worse mistake, if not the same. Martinez promptly repeated the same procedure by playing Lukaku on the right again, and the effects were predictably effective. Both of Everton's goals came from that channel, with Monreal and Ozil culpable. I doubt Wenger has still realized the flaw on the left side of his defence. Maybe we'll see Monreal and Ozil on the left on 28th Feb again.

Insanity is trying the same thing over and over, expecting different results. Albert Einstein said that.

It wasn't Mesut Ozil's fault...
From what I saw, Ozil did what he could. His passes were somewhat accurate after a shaky start, and he didn't play too shabbily for a person so badly mispositioned it's criminal. It's not his fault Wenger played him on the left - Mesut was always caught in a losing battle.

Substituting Alexis for Giroud was a change as bad as they come. Instead, Wenger should have taken Wilshere off for Olivier, played Sanchez on the wings and played Ozil in Jack's place. It's called playing the right players in their right positions, something Wenger is oblivious to.

Wilshere and co need a wake-up call...
It's amazing how quick the decline of Jack has been. There were some opinions scattered here and there that Wilshere was losing it, back in February. However, now practically all of Arsenal's fanbase has come to realize it. In a make-or-break season, one where he is also going to get limited opportunities, Jack made a right mess of his rare chance. I'd want him at the club, but only as a squad player.

Ramsey was suspect, again. His three-goals-in-four-games has shielded him till now, but unless he's more focused it'll be only a matter of time until he's found out. We need his goals, but we also need his tackling and passing. Yesterday was not the answer.

Chamberlain was a bit scrappy skewing shots wide, but I'd be lying if I wasn't encouraging him to have a crack. He's still rough around the edges. but I'd definitely start him against Besiktas. Aside from Sanchez, right now he's our only player who's capable of sprinting and having a go from distance. God knows we need that now.

Flamini, well. The only thing I can say is that after Saturday if Wenger isn't convinced that we need a new defensive midfielder, it'd take as far as an 8-2 trashing against Besiktas for him to change his mind.

The silver lining...
... was amazingly, Giroud. To me, his performance merely confirmed what I've been saying for this whole year - Olivier is a good plan B. I firmly believe that Alexis would be a good plan A, he had a better game than people give him credit for. Giroud was impressive and crucial to our draw, but let's not pretend that's proof he's good enough to be our first choice talisman. We deserve better.

I hope we hold on to Podolski...
If Saturday was a day of lessons, let it be learned that Joel Campbell is not ready yet. He was enthusiastic and lively when he came on, but he's still too raw to be even second choice winger. Podolski may have his drawbacks, but he guarantees goals and assists. Joel needs a year to adapt to the demands of the league. Podolski should be available to oversee that transition.

Is this a repeat of summer 2012?
We're entering into the last week of the transfer window, and we're still 2-3 players short. In my opinion we need at least one defender and a defensive midfielder, but it doesn't look like Wenger's serious to go for them. Yet again, Arsene is in danger of falling short and cover up the £63m spend on four players by selling Podolski. I don't think a fourth choice centre back would need assurances of Champions League football to hop on board.


Looking at this performance, I strongly doubt our ability to get past Besiktas on Wednesday. The draw we managed to snatch is papering over huge cracks in our performance levels, so don't expect much to change in terms of our playing style. If Bilic has the tactical nous to navigate past an unpredictably sluggish Wenger's Arsenal, chances are we might be staring at Europa this season. I don't like it, but I'm on the verge of acceptance.

Wednesday could either catalyst or sink our season. I pray we're up to it.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Everton preview + EPL triple swoop thoughts

Preview | Pre-match conference | Team news

Right, I'm a bit lax on time, so I'll keep this short.

Three points are perfectly reasonable to expect from a team that have objectives of winning the league. No way should we be going to Goodison and playing out for a draw. Our competitors Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool sure won't.

Everton is a very good team, one we've historically found hard to break down. But put simply, Arsenal are the better team. We match them in every aspect - even striker, if Alexis plays down the middle apart from Giroud. We have depth, we have quality; there's no reason why we shouldn't be confident about our chances. We shouldn't let past experiences hamstring us.

Big clubs aren't be fazed by such occasions. Yes, Everton are much more of a threat than the Besiktas we drew against, but we still should be walking out of Goodison with maximum points. Having the players to sustain a title challenge is job half done, but making use of the right talents at the right time are quite another, and the last piece of the puzzle.

Ozil and Mertesacker's return just makes us stronger, with Podolski suspiciously left behind. To me, a bold, pacey lineup of Szczesny - Debuchy - Mertesacker - Koscielny - Monreal - Flamini - Ramsey - Ozil - Chamberlain - Rosicky - Sanchez should win it. Even if we panic and screw up, there are options on the bench in Wilshere, Giroud and Campbell to help make amends.

Too early to say, but this is kind of a must win if we want to assert our credentials in the Premier League. Matches like these our exactly why pundits tip Arsenal for fourth again. Let's prove them wrong.

Let's go Gunners!


In other news, transfer news are hotting up. Well, not hotting up as much as forming into molten lava and evaporating ice buckets across London.

Truly, this is insanity. Balotelli to Liverpool, Di Maria to United, and Khedira to Arsenal?!

I have no doubt that if Di Maria somehow makes it to United, and Balotelli finalizes his imminent deal to Liverpool, the Premier League would be a genuine five-horse race for at least 25 Gameweeks. Under normal circumstances I'd be worried sick, but this time I'm not. I'm excited.

I've made pretty vocal that the reason I'm salivating every second of this league season is because it's so unpredictable. Every top team - even Arsenal - is a team I don't know where will finish. The predictable nature of Arsenal has been changed by proactive deals and backroom changes. For once, I have absolutely no clue what's going to happen. Di Maria and Balotelli would simply compound the uncertainty.

One thing's for sure, though. Khedira or not, we need to get a really good DM and a centre back for depth. Should the likes of Liverpool and United strengthen (as seems increasingly likely) forget first - even our beloved fourth would look in danger.

I don't concur with everyone's cries of wanting a striker. I'm pretty sure Alexis is going to be our striker this season. Why would Wenger buy Sanchez as a winger, when he already had Walcott, Chamberlain, Santi, Podolski, Gnabry and Campbell at his disposal? That being said, I do think we need a defensive midfielder and a centre back.

Khedira might not be the perfect solution to our DM woes, but his sheer pedigree and big-name signing would imply another Ozil-esque psychological boost. If Wenger goes for him and say, Manolas, I could proclaim with confidence that second would be guaranteed.

Hopefully that won't come back to bite me!

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Besiktas 0-0 Arsenal: Another unconvincing performance raises doubts

Match Report | Match highlights | Wenger's thoughts

Well that was dreadful. And disturbing. And, from my side, unexpected.

Let's start with the performance. I thought it was sluggish and questionable right from the start. Link-ups always seemed to break down, and when they did make the striker, Olivier made sure he put most of them to waste. He's gaining an unwanted reputation of unreliability. It came to such that our only attacking outlet was Alexis Sanchez, a man who was one of the only silver linings in a day full of black clouds.

Against Palace, Rambo's late tap-in ensured that we got away with question marks on our showing. But yesterday, when Besiktas managed to hold us at arms-length to a draw, our attacking woes were more vividly exposed. Some might argue that factors like the pitch and the country may have resulted in a poor display, and they may have a point. But hey, for a club like Arsenal that plays in the rough weathers of England and travels to the Britannia and St. James' Park twice a year, we ought to be used to it.

If Wenger's passing philosophy only works on a sunny day with perfect grass then I suggest he'd drop the whole philosophy, because the climate won't contrive to his wishes every time.

It's difficult to single out the main cause of our attacking shortcomings. Plenty have passed the buck to Olivier Giroud, and while he most definitely had one of his worst games in an Arsenal shirt, only holding him guilty is narrow and naive thinking. Look at the quality we had out there. Wilshere, Cazorla, Sanchez and Ramsey. That's flair, vision, pace and goals right there. How is the manager NOT getting the best out of these players?

Almost all of them performed badly, with Giroud the one taking the cake. And there can surely be little defence to that. Giroud was one of the worst performers on the pitch. Even his usually adept lay-offs were missing, and he always took the ball in the most unconventional of positions, and vainly tried to dribble it past (read: through) defenders.

Meanwhile, Demba Ba was delivering a much more accomplished performance at the other end, what with half-line strikes and volleys. Wenger once said that he passed up on Ba because him and Giroud were pretty much the same animal. Well, I'd rather two animals than one, then.

Also, this.

That shouldn't mean others must slip under the radar. Now, I rate Cazorla highly, but I've always said that his powers are curtailed on the left flank. He's time and time again proven to be inconsistent (if not average) when shunted out wide, and yesterday was another example of that. He had his usual accurate passing, but he was mostly anonymous, well off the pace and not providing the width that we needed.

I'm increasingly getting of the opinion that we should make Chamberlain a regular on the left, relegate Santi to Ozil's deputy and make Rosicky Walcott's alternative option.

Left flank: Chamberlain, Podolski
Right flank: Walcott, Rosicky
Attacking midfielders: Ozil, Cazorla
Strikers: Alexis, Giroud, Campbell, Sanogo

Not too shabby, eh? Just a thought.

Anyway, Ramsey. He too had a forgettable game, being rather ordinary except for providing a delicious pass to Giroud towards the end of the first half. What I found striking, though, was the general defence of the ones backing Giroud (I'm one of them, remember) being "Well, Ramsey was equally shit too, why aren't we slating him?"

Lest we forget (or choose to forget), Ramsey has been playing out of his skin for around a year. He's almost earned his one-off. Giroud, however much I may rate him, has been inconsistent and unreliable since March. This wasn't a knee-jerk reaction towards him. This was simmering for a good few months.

Towards the end of the game Arteta limped out injured. For a 32 year old footballer playing regularly in such a stamina-consuming job that he does, the repercussions could be severe. I haven't got any news of his injury status as I type this, but it goes without saying that it makes our need for a proper, reliable defensive midfielder even more. And no, not a Kim Kallstrom-esque body.

Wenger wasn't encouraging.

"Honestly, we are not close to signing anybody."

However, based on the clear evidence of yesterday, buying a defensive midfielder will not solve our problems. For all our defensive personnel crisis and cries for a DM, it is our star-studded attack that's faltering. The reasons for it could be as simple as fitness problems or as complex as fundamental flaws tactically; I won't pretend to be in the know.

However, all I know is that we need to sort out our attacking problems quickly. We have the players to do it, and based on Arsene Wenger's previous Arsenal teams, we have the manager to do it. But for some reason - reasons I haven't worked out yet - our attacking dimension of the team seems completely dysfunctional. Giroud was a part of that yesterday, but by no means was he the sole reason.

A trip to Everton beckons in the weekend. If we're not careful, the expectations surrounding the Gooner community may well take a major hit by then.

Right, that's it from me. Here's to hoping that Sanchez takes over Giroud's starting berth soon...

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Besiktas preview + Is Wenger done for the summer?

Preview | Pre-match conference | Team news

We need to do well in the Champions League this season, but for that we need to get through the most basic requirement – which is rather simple, really.

Besiktas away is a potentially tricky test, but I feel that it’s been rather overrated. It’s almost like people are saying "don’t underestimate them" simply for the heck of it. In truth, it’d be quite the achievement if we manage to (what is the word for...?) fuck this up. I agree that it’s a very important clash that would go oceans into judging our season, but going as far as saying that Besiktas at Turkey should be treated with extreme caution is, frankly, an insult to our talented squad.

Is our team so incapable that we find it difficult to beat a team that finished third in the Turkish League? Given our eight year record in the playoff area, and particularly our 3-0 win against Fenerbache roughly a year ago with a mismatch team, I daresay this match should be one of the easiest we face this season.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the sentiment of not underestimating the opposition, better safe than sorry stuff. My concerns lie, however, when not underestimating the opposition quickly turns to overrating them. Sometimes it’s healthy, but sometimes it’s just counterproductive and useless. If we trash them 3-0 or 4-1 in Turkey, the perception created prior to the match about Besiktas being roughly equivalent to Turkey’s Bayern Munich would result in Gooners incorrectly singing undue plaudits upon the team, hailing them as title favourites and heaping more pressure than necessary on the lads.

The significance of the match is undoubtedly vast, but let’s face it – the quality of the opponent isn’t. With that respect, I find the practice of playing men like Ramsey and Sanchez a bit extreme. I know I wouldn’t risk Aaron and Alexis missing Everton away because they played ninety minutes and comfortably saw through Besiktas. Then again, I'm not paid £8m a year.

Using fresher, like-for-like replacements like Rosicky, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Giroud would be really wise from Arsene. There’s little virtue in overplaying the likes of Ramsey, Cazorla and even Sanchez for this match, unless Wenger opines that Besiktas would be tougher than Everton away, which is really unlikely. Hopefully, we’ll see a more rotated lineup of Szczesny – Debuchy – Chambers – Koscielny – Monreal – Arteta – Wilshere – Cazorla – Rosicky – Chamberlain – Giroud, or something of that sort. Maybe even throw in a bit of Campbell and Flamini in there?

I wouldn’t be too concerned about this match. I’m confident we’ll pull a decent result, providing we defend well on set-pieces. Let’s face it – if we give away free headers [as we have in the past matches (including pre-season)] to a guy like Demba Ba, we’re inviting trouble.

Aside from set-pieces, however, I see no reason why we shouldn’t see this game through with much trouble. A 2-0 or 3-0 win for me.

I’ve jinxed it, haven’t I?


As if that wasn't enough, the injury gods have set a 2-3 week timeline to Kieran Gibbs’ injury. Aside from the back four that are starting today - out of which Koscielny is a bit of a question mark – we have zero match fit defenders to go on with. I heard Bellerin is making the trip to Turkey. Now, I like Bellerin, he impressed me in pre-season and all that, but I have a strong suspicion (as do many) that Hector is used more as a stop-gap than a well thought-of choice here. I wouldn’t particularly mind if Wenger decides to promote Bellerin as Debuchy’s deputy and make Calum Chambers a backup to our centre-halves, but Bellerin’s exclusion from Arsenal’s category of first team players suggests that that may not be the case.

We’re desperately short on full-backs. We’re one injury away from bringing on a player who Arsene Wenger perceives as a reserve. Even if we have all of our defenders fit, we have merely six of them to work with. Number-wise, we’ve gone backwards from last season. And plenty would argue that we weren’t well-stocked on centre backs the last time around.

If Wenger looks to promote Bellerin and make Chambers a centre back, we’ll still need at least one more centre half. What happened to the days when Wenger employed five centre backs in the club, of Koscielny, Squillaci, Djourou, Vermaelen, and Ignasi Miquel? Why has that number fallen down to merely three? In addition, at a time when we should be in the market for (at most) two defenders, why are we not seeing any concrete links to any centre backs?

Now, I know I got it all wrong about this transfer window, by confidently saying that by this time we wouldn’t have bought more than two players. However, my concerns lie that Wenger has chosen to close his book for the summer. Possibly, he’s seeing the buzz and atmosphere around the club and mooting, "Well, the pressure’s off me, I could just save the money for next year". He’s done it before, lest we forget. Remember 2012, when he bought Santi, Podolski and Giroud, and when the hard part was over and he just needed to get a DM, he shut his transfer chequebook?

We need two, if not three players in the club. An ideal, not impossible scenario would be if Wenger buys a pure centre back and then buys a versatile defensive midfielder, who can also fill in defence. However, since my trust in pretty much everything has extinguished after Cesc left for Chelsea, I’m going to go out on a limb once again and say that Wenger is done for the summer. He may get the odd promising centre back, but not enough number-wise to sustain a title challenge throughout the year.

I’d love it if I’m wrong, like back in July.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Arsenal 2-1 Palace: Some start!

Match Report | Match highlights | Wenger's thoughts

Before the season started I spoke of unpredictable campaigns, but this was ridiculous. True, in the end we defeated Palace 2-1 and kept a potential title challenge on track, but considering the buzz around the camp and the expectations that followed prior, this wasn't a performance that merited our credentials.

We started brightly, yes. Our midfield was on top of Palace's rather easily, but individual performances were getting found out later. Ramsey was uncharacteristically sloppy, Alexis was understandably struggling with fitness, and after looking at his showing, it's tempting to say that Santi Cazorla is on a downward slide. I think Wilshere knows he is under the spotlight and was trying to make the most of the chance he was offered, but it seemed like he was forcefully trying to produce something, akin to playing controlled and composed football.

Yaya Sanogo was really awful. Bar lively displays against Bayern and Man City, Sanogo has always looked bad to me ever since he came to Arsenal. The sentiment surrounding him had meant that I refrained from making a judgment on him last season, but it seems clear now that he hasn't improved one bit from 2013/14. Arsene Wenger's stubbornness to not admit that Sanogo was a fail signing in a nearly failed summer of 2013 has not only affected our momentum on the pitch, it has also wrongly influenced the minds of plenty of Arsenal supporters, who too, are guilty of not believing their eyes.

Wenger's fixation on Sanogo is perhaps because he was a frustratingly typical buy during a time when supporters were clamouring for Higuains and Suarezs. While Ozil went a long way to restore belief and optimism, the obvious notion of "Well, what could have been if we had bought someone established?" also remained.

Wenger's backers assumed that Sanogo would be perceived as a joke buy in a deeply flawed transfer window, and sought to defend him (from no one) even before he had a chance to prove himself. The truth is, it was the circumstances of the buy that had angered the fanbase rather than the player himself. Lest we forget, this club was talking about Bayern-esque days to arrive and then bought an injury-prone, free striker from Ligue 2 in the same month.

It is my firm belief that people want Sanogo to succeed simply so that Wenger would be proved right. For every good pass he executes, supporters conveniently seem to forget his previous seven poor lay-offs. Sanogo, like Ozil, is a player who supporters are fooling themselves into believing is a success, with one prime difference. Ozil has all the ingredients to succeed; Sanogo doesn't.

We fell behind against the run of play to a Palace corner. Now, I've already admitted that I know as much as the art of defending as Lady GaGa, but wouldn't it have been sensible to have a man at the post to head off a potential goal? All the evidence has suggested that having an extra man on the line has helped prevent goals, none more so than Gibbs against Hull. Moreover, why in the world was Alexis handling Hangeland's zone? It was no wonder that Hangeland got a good head to the ball - Alexis might be robust, but few would argue that him and Hangeland are an aerial mismatch.

Speaking of Sanchez; I really hope he gets his goal. I feel that he really, really needs it. He seems to be bringing the pressure of expectation upon himself, and is trying too hard to prove that he's worth the £30m. A goal would do him the world of good - it would take the pressure and the spotlight off him to perform.

We did get an assist from him to whet our appetites, though. He swung a ball in from a resulting free-kick which Koscielny headed in quite superbly. His movement and understanding of where the goal was was excellent. If I had tried that I would have wound up in a heap with a broken neck.

Aside from a headed goal against Sunderland, has Koscielny always scored on Totteringham Day's and important times?

Unfortunately, Laurent's leveler wasn't the catalyst we needed. For all the attacking quality we had in the team, we looked leggy and dysfunctional as a unit. It's tempting to say that we haven't shaken off the side effects of the World Cup yet, but I don't think that's the case. Cazorla, Ramsey and Wilshere, even Sanogo looked sharp in the Community Shield. And even if they weren't fit enough to start this match, oughtn't the manager gone for options like Chamberlain or Rosicky on the bench? Yesterday was either the fitness coach's fault or the manager's. A case to ponder for Shad and Arsene.

Elsewhere, Kieran Gibbs tweaked his hamstring around the 60th minute. He'll probably be sidelined for a couple of weeks, which screws up our threadbare defence even further. We now only have four match fit defenders, just enough for Besiktas but not nearly enough to sustain a title challenge. Wenger has to decide if Chambers is a firm right-back option or a centre-back one, so that he can proceed with his defensive recruitment.

If Wenger sees Chambers as a right back, that would mean there is a large hole in our centre back options which would need to be tended through the transfer market or our youth academy. If Wenger chooses Chambers as a centre back and seeks to promote Bellerin as Debuchy's deputy (which wouldn't be the worst idea), then that would mean we are still short of one centre back (we need four, remember).

Apparently we're going for a Greek defender called Kostas Manolas, a guy I never heard of. I looked him up and it turns out he's the nephew of "Greek football legend Stelios Manolas". Suffice to say, I haven't heard of Stelios Manolas too. I wouldn't care anyways - as long as he's good, we're good.

Giroud was much more sharper than Sanogo when he came on, simply because he's a much better player. Let's face it - for all his limitations, Giroud isn't going to come under any threat from Sanogo. Once Theo Walcott is fit and Sanchez has (hopefully) been integrated into the team, I hope to see Sanchez play through the middle more often. There's no doubt he'd be a much better striking alternative than Sanogo.

Sanchez played really well in the last 15-20 minutes, two dreadful crosses aside. He seems like a hardworking guy who has all the attributes to make it big at Arsenal, but nerves are somewhat creating a barrier between him and the road to greatness. Hopefully him and Wilshere try to keep their minds on their games and not on expectant fans, such as myself.

We got the winner, and we left it really late to get it. Giroud held it up for Debuchy (Sanogo couldn't have done that), Mathieu fired it right at the keeper, and who else popped up on the rebound but Aaron Ramsey? I'm telling you, if you haven't already heard it, this is a player who is currently topping Cesc Fabregas and Frank Lampard at their best, and he may not even have reached his prime yet. It'd be a great achievement on Arsenal's side if we manage to keep a player like him for five more seasons. He's our best, and possibly only all-round midfielder. I'd be astounded if he didn't win the PFA Player of the Year, injuries aside.

Rambo's goal was much needed and the timing of it dramatized an eventful day, but we really should be hoping for more from this team. This was the exact same team that played against Manchester City so well, so arguing that match fitness was key in our sluggish play is incorrect. A managerless Palace in the Emirates Stadium is as good as it gets in the Premier League, and we almost made a right mess of it.

Unlike yesterday, the tie against Besiktas is a must win. They aren't a good enough outfit to cause us any major problems, providing we're serious enough to come flying out of the blocks early. We have a really good team and aren't affected much by injury. Even though results are greater than performances, we really should be delivering both. This isn't a performance that we will get away with on another day.

Till Tuesday.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Arsenal season preview: The joy of unpredictability

It's back.

Here we go!

The Premier League has begun, and I don't remember the last time I was looking so forward to it.

Course, irrespective of the squad state I always looked forward to the EPL, but this season truly feels different. It is the one season I enter into without having any idea what's going to happen. I'm cautiously excited - it's like going to the dentist, but it's a very sexy dentist who's wearing a miniskirt.

In previous seasons, the excitement has always been dented by our transfer dealings off the pitch. There is the obvious example of last season, and 2011/12, when van Persie left the club on the eve of the new campaign. This season, instead, we've bought really good players and got a massive boost in the shape of the FA Community Shield. Optimism is buzzing around the camp like it has never buzzed before.

I'm totally one of them. And as I have mentioned before, it's not only signing Alexis that has brought this about. Genuine progress on and off the pitch means that apart from having much likable and better players to cheer on, we can also live in the genuine hope that we may not have as many injury crises anymore. The players don't have the constant 'trophyless' pressure to ride with anymore. Our transfer dealings are nearly over. Even if they aren't, I daresay we're already in a good position to fight for major honours. Certainly better than last season, and we still topped the league higher than anyone back then.

For a good 8 years, our Premier League campaigns have been laughably predictable, categorized into two:

1. Fight for the league until February, and collapse in the end finishing third/fourth : 2007/08, 2009/10, 2010/11, 2013/14

2. Flirt with mid-table mediocrity and then somehow retrieve third/fourth after a commendable end-of-season winning streak : 2005/06, 2008/09, 2011/12, 2012/13

The constant predictability of all sickened me. It sickened me that for a good eight years, the club were stuck in a rudderless cycle of fourth place trophy.

That, I believe, is changing today. The general assent is that the prime contenders for the league are Chelsea and Manchester City, with Arsenal a wild card entry. I'm not saying that it's pleasing to be an outsider, but it's rather thrilling to watch your beloved Arsenal play without having any idea where they're going to finish. Despite all the surprises and the 'dare to dream' stuff after we topped the league for more than a hundred days, I always knew that we weren't going to win the league last season unless we bought a striker in January. As soon as we didn't, I confidently ruled it out on February 1.

This season, I don't concur. My complete inability to predict the happenings of the league is what makes me particularly elevated about this season. Course, on CAE I predicted that we'll finish third, but that really depends on fine, fine margins. We might as well finish second or first, because the top three teams of England are so closely matched it's frightening.

I believe that the reason plenty are tipping Chelsea or City to win it is because they've done it before, which will surely count in their favour. We haven't won the league since we won it in style, which was 10 years ago. Unless we act fast, we're in danger of turning into Liverpool. But with the squad we have, it's not like we can't have a good crack.

Brendan Rodgers, who finished second in an open league last season, is a good but one-dimensional manager, who isn't up to the mark defensively. In fact, he reminds me a bit of Wenger, a manager that excels in attack but fails at the back. However, this time Arsenal have Steve Bould, a manager who complements Wenger's weaknesses.

We have a great attack and a great defence. We have squad depth, albeit lacking a player or two in the back four. We have the best playmaker, the fastest player and the most complete midfielder of the league in our team. We have Alexis Sanchez. I see no reason why we can't give it a real push this season, especially considering that we scared the shit out of City and Chelsea last season with so many flaws in our team, most of which have been rectified.

There's a good chance that we won't win the league, but a fair chance that we will, too. All I have ever demanded from Arsenal was competitiveness on the big stage, and it doesn't get better than this.

We may win the league, we may not. But what we'll definitely see is marquee Arsenal back in action.


-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Realistic expectations for Arsenal's 2014/15 campaign

I have long stated that Arsenal are on the verge of big things. The foundation has been made, and this is the year we need to pursue success. And not the FA Cup or top four kind of success - but going for top prizes like the Champions League and competing for the league till the end. The expectations below, hence, may seem a bit extreme, but it's something a club of our standard have to go for; especially considering the buzz and morale in the camp.

Premier League: Top two

Winning the Premier League obviously is the club's primary target, but it would be remarkable if we actually achieve it. As good as our squad is, Chelsea's and Manchester City's are decisively better, and a lot of our title chances hinge on our summer deal(s). Fans are rightly clamouring for a defender and a DM, but I suspect Wenger will buy one player who will be neither.

I understand that we have a huge chance in recent years to win the league, but other teams have better. Pellegrini has quietly strengthened his depth and kept the core intact, while Mourinho is a class above Wenger tactically. I find it hard to believe Wenger has changed his tactical approach and man management, as much as he deserves credit for his adaptation to modern football.

Man City and Chelsea are tied as prime contenders for the league, so I believe our challenge must be to at least topple one of them bigshots and usurp second, if not first. As of now, even though I hope we win the league, my mind says we'll finish third.

Champions League: Semi finals

Aim for the stars, right?

Course, all of this will topple if we lose to Besiktas, but I feel it's about time we start to assert ourselves in Europe. We're in danger of falling into the 'Marseille-Napoli-Schalke' category; a team that is ever-present in the CL but are considered as fillers rather than contenders. We have the raw materials - a great attack, the philosophy of continental football, and the Emirates is turning into a bit of a fortress.

If this season isn't the time to have a genuine shot at the CL, then I don't know when is. After qualifying for the group stages, we need to make absolutely sure that we top the group, so that we likely face an easy team in the Round of 16. Hopefully, that'd send the ball rolling.

FA Cup: A ticket to Wembley

Last season's FA Cup run was fun. In fact, it was one of those things that made the whole season fun.

I have always looked at the FA Cup as a sort of consolation prize. But, even for a club like Arsenal - one starting to gain the 'big club' mentality - sometimes we have to make do. The FA Cup still remains a prestigious knockout competition and one that could hold decisive while judging a season. At least reaching the semi final should, for me, be the minimum requirement.

Capital One Cup: Who gives a shit?

As far as I'm concerned, whatever happens in the Capital One Cup is a complete irrelevance. If we win, it's a bonus. If we lose 5-2 to Tottenham in the first round with Adebayor scoring a hattrick, well, meh.

However, I wouldn't want the Capital One Cup to influence competitions like the Premier League, Champions League or the FA Cup. I don't want Alexis to rupture his ACL during an away trip to Leeds, and I don't want Mertesacker to miss a clash against United because he bollixed a player in the Capital One Cup.

Gosh, did I jinx it?

Win a trophy

The FA Community Shield has changed little. We still need to lift some silverware come May. If we falter in the Premier League, we must win the FA Cup to compensate that. If we get knocked out in the CL and the Cup, we must go all out for the league and win it. It's better to win one trophy and fail in the other two, than to reach mighty close on all three fronts but win peanuts in the end. Which season do you prefer - the 2010/11 season or the 2013/14 one? There's your answer.

And it's not like we don't have the potential to do it. Aside from a DM, the team is lacking quantity rather than quality. We're in a position where all of our players aren't dispensable and everyone offers something unique. I wouldn't even mind Squillaci back for depth.

All we need are a centre back (who'd play around fifteenish games anyway), and a decent defensive midfielder, if not world-class. Then, for me, we're good to go. All that's standing in our way are tactical blunders and injury crises.

The season starts on Saturday. I wouldn't miss it for the world. Come on Arsenal!

P.S. My apologies for those weirdly designed tabs at the top, but I'm facing coding errors with making drop-down tabs for well over a year now. I tried HTML, CSS and Java but none worked. If you have any advice, shoot a mail to or find me on Twitter.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Monday, 11 August 2014

Arsenal 3-0 Man City: Welcome to the New Age

Two trophies in three months. I could get used to this.

Course, while the FA Community Shield is officially a trophy, it doesn't signal the euphoria winning an FA Cup or Premier League offers. One couldn't possibly equate the feeling of topping the rigours of a league season to winning a charity shield match. But, for a team making rampant progress and threatening to make their mark on the history books, yesterday was an important step in achieving that. Possibly the last.

It was genuinely hard for me to recall the last time we faced a top side and streamrolled them. Perhaps it was when we faced Manchester City themselves in April 2012 and beat them 1-0, a scoreline that didn't do justice to the ways and means we overwhelmed them. As much as the scoreline, it was yesterday's performance - two years too late - that enabled me to believe that the lost glories of a decade ago have been recovered.

Santi Cazorla started things off with an instinctive shimmy and a neat finish into the bottom corner, making Clichy and Caballero look foolish. The reaction to such a casual dodge-and-shoot move was monstrous. The expectations surrounding the bar for Arsenal to finally get the edge was almost palpable. The roar of elation was mixed with a tinge of relief.

The commentator mooted that Arsenal taking a lead against City was coming since kickoff. He was wrong. This was coming all summer.

If not Olivier Giroud, I'd have opted for Alexis Sanchez or Joel Campbell to start up front, but Wenger made the correct call in choosing Yaya Sanogo instead. The guy probably had his best match in an Arsenal jersey so far, and came out of it much less clumsier than in his earlier encounters. I'm much more comfortable having him as a third choice striker than before.

His assist for the second goal was what one would call scrappily good. Under pressure from Boyata, he somehow found the strength in him to square it onto an onrushing Ramsey. Rambo's clever dink to give him a crucial yard of space was, blimey, truly mind-blowing. I don't know what was more striking - that he had the composure to analyse the situation and execute that Zidane-esque trick in a split second, or that he performed a trick of such high magnitude so matter-of-factly.

Before half-time it was 2-0 to Arsenal, and Pellegrini's face was beyond priceless. For the first time in a freakishly long time, the class of Arsenal were prevailing over the buckets of City's oil money. Despite their attempts to drown us by robbing us of our prized assets, here we were, taking City in our stride as they cowed under pressure.

I never thought Giroud was one for technical excellence. Still don't, as a matter of fact. However, his long-range strike and his swish on the ball which sailed into the net urged me to reconsider. The last time I recall Olivier pulling off such a feat (well, almost) was his last-gasp volley against Everton which rebounded off the crossbar.

Even though I vehemently advocated his importance to the squad during his turbulent times, Giroud has always struck me as a limited player. He's come across as one who'd do a good job from the bench and be a reliable backup striker, but not good enough as an RVP replacement. And while that absolute peach of a goal has changed little, the signs do look encouraging.

What pleased me most was a return of swagger in the Arsenal camp. Not just in the players, but in the fans as well. When City tried a desperate 10 minute assault and heaped crosses in, neither the fans nor did the players seem genuinely unnerved. Of course, some of that was down to mature work from Chambers and Szczesny, who stood out in a resolute Arsenal defence.

Most of it, though, was down to a newfound calmness and casualness among the players. It was in stark contrast to the haywireness that clouded our 6-3 loss some seven months ago. This time around, the players know the squad is good enough. The club knows that great things they were destined for are arriving. I can't remember the last time the mood around the club was so high.

I have always refrained from bracketing Mesut Ozil's signing as the start of a new era. For me, that signing was a harried consolation by a manager who promised the world to patient supporters but delivered zilch until then. Granted, his buy changed the worldwide perception of the club and must have helped us in buying Alexis. However, citing it as a game-changer for the entire football club's history was always taking it a touch too far.

To be more blunt, Ozil was papering over wide cracks.

These three months that have passed by have seen a number of significant moments engulf the club. There was the obvious example of the FA Cup triumph, followed by proactive purchases of Sanchez, Debuchy, Ospina and Chambers. But more than that, the club has also seen a revamp at a fundamental, backroom level.

Andries Jonker and Shad Forsythe have to be better than Colbert and Brady, which would mean lesser injury crises and better youth products. While our scouting network remains chronically flawed, our newfound PUMA wealth means that we don't have to depend as much on our scouting reach as before.

This time last transfer window, Wenger would have probably only bought Debuchy and made a transfer saga of Calum Chambers. The potency of our wealth and renewed hunger from Arsene has decisively changed things. Even if you keep Alexis aside, the club and the manager are showing signs of adapting to modern football. Instead of papering over the cracks, we knocked them down and built newer, firmer foundations.

The swift, three-month transition from top-four club to top-one ended yesterday. The three months of change are over, and it has left us in a terrifyingly exciting position. The manner of our win yesterday underlined what many had only logically guessed; the times of Arsenal being pretenders rather than contenders are gone. After a decade of hibernation, The Gunners are back.

Welcome to the New Age.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Arsenal vs Manchester City: Match Preview + Vermaelen thoughts

The FA Community Shield tends to be overrated. It doesn't equal to the glories of lifting the Premier League, or even the Capital One Cup. But for a club like Arsenal, one on the verge of becoming an English elite, this trophy remains important.

In all honesty, we presently aren't a big club. Sure, we have a proud history, a fantastic stadium, global reach and Champions League (let's face it, Besiktas is ideal); but we aren't there yet. We're severely lacking in trophies and still have issues to sort before having a crack at the Premier League. We're still backed with terrible odds despite having a better squad on paper and critics still back us for a third place finish.

It's not all doom and gloom, though. Since winning the FA Cup we've made really good progress. Wenger has bought replacements nice and early and added the peeling pace and the fine finishing of Alexis. From what I hear, Shad Forsythe is given space on the training ground, which would mean lesser rigorous training sessions, and lesser injuries. We have a quality team that only lacks quantity in defence and one decent, if not excellent DM. We're knocking on the door.

Currently, we're not in the bracket of 'best', but we're on the way. Winning the FA Community Shield would only further that cause.

We've had a rather good few months. There's the obvious beginning at Wembley, when we came over Hull. Then there was the good proactive business. Adding to that were some backroom changes which could only help the club, since the likes of Colbert were doing a bang-up job. There have been improvements on and off the pitch, and the word is understandably increasing that winning the Cup was the sort of 'beginning of an era' moments everyone longed for. Capping that with a trophy will lift spirits really high.

We have a good chance of doing that as well. Arsenal may be missing their German contingent, but Manchester City are missing seven first teamers. Like Arsenal, they too will be facing a defensive shape-up. Crucially, they won't be taking this match seriously.

We need to take this match seriously. Not because it is our only realistic chance of winning a trophy this season, but because it would be the end of the beginning of a new era. This Shield under our belts won't be one to brag about, but it might give us a psychological edge since signing Ozil.

Come on Arsenal.


I always thought Vermaelen was remarkably professional throughout his dry spell at Arsenal. However, even though the Mertesacker-Koscielny axis were undoubtedly better than him, I still feel that Vermaelen was treated rather harshly by the club. Instead of rotating Vermaelen with Mertesacker and Koscielny from time to time, Wenger made the wrong decision of overplaying both of them until one of them (Koscielny) got injured, and then just slotted Vermie in his place. It's this kind of man managing that makes people feel unwanted at the club. Him being the skipper just added insult to injury.

I don't think many realize how close Podolski was to leaving Arsenal. In Wenger's mind Podolski was a second choice left winger, so he always played Santi Cazorla above Lukas. He chose to overplay Santi and make Podolski unhappy than to rotate both of them and leave both relatively content. Podolski ultimately decided to stay because Walcott and Chamberlain got injured and the German was given a slot on the left wing, and Cazorla shifted to the right.

The game goes with Fabianski, and may apply to Ospina in the future. My point is, that all of us want quality in depth, and Wenger finally has that. But what's the virtue in having depth if the manager doesn't use it? The reason for depth isn't only so that we'd have good backup if a player gets injured. It's so that players are rested, the team gets new dimensions and the squad as a whole can survive the rigours of a 50+ game campaign.

Wenger has always praised his egalitarian squad. However, he needs to use his players more often, so that they don't leave out of unhappiness. Lack of playing time is why Vermaelen and Fabianski left, and why Podolski, Ospina or Monreal may leave in the future.

Play your best players for the best matches, but use your depth for less important matches. Everybody wins.

P.S. Apologies for the sparse blogging, but I fear it will continue over the course of a few months. Instead, you could check out my upcoming articles on Crazy About EPL, Arse Talks, Brangled Minds, Soccer Fanbase and Arsenal Banter.

For all my English readers, have a great day at Wembley!

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Monday, 4 August 2014

Arsenal 0-1 Monaco: "It's only pre-season", hopefully

Somewhat unexpectedly, Arsenal put on a rather tame performance and were deserved 1-0 losers against Monaco. It was a bit puzzling, especially after the efficient 5-1 win a day ago, and the club being on a general high and all that. You can't win them all, but the docile manner of our defeat was mildly concerning.

Granted, pre-season is a chance to get games under the belt and improve fitness. But that shouldn't hide the fact that for fair chunks of the game, our attack looked dysfunctional and we weren't assured in possession. One might brush this game aside as a mere hiccup in a match that didn't matter anyway, but let's not forget that the team we had out there was as good as our starting XI. Indeed, insert Gibbs for Monreal, and you may get a team that is likely to play Manchester City next week.

Individual performances were okay. Chambers and Wilshere were bright lights. Calum looked good - on a day when he was busier than against Benfica, he came out of it looking like a guy who knows his stuff. Wilshere probably looked like the only Gunner who had fire in his belly while playing; nevertheless, his end product was lacking.

However, others didn't come out with much merit. Debuchy was forward too many times and was caught napping. Monreal really needs some tough love from Bould, his positional sense is ghastly. One thing's for sure - Kieran Gibbs isn't going to come under pressure anytime soon.

Ramsey was good-ish, but I don't blame the Welshman for his performance levels notably dropping. 180 minutes in two days is repulsive man management. Alexis, despite the peeling pace he excitedly offers, wasn't looking comfortable throughout the game. We all want him to do well, but let's not pretend his performance wasn't a swing and a miss. Of course, it's freakishly early days, and this doesn't mean he's destined for doom. Can't blame a guy for raising valid concerns though, right?

Olivier Giroud's performance up front was of a person who is simply not ready. Indeed, at times he was so dire that Wenger was forced into conceding that he may have to reconsider his role next week. It speaks volumes, for Arsene of all people holds Olivier in the highest regard.

Our performance as a unit was a bit frightening. The confidence and clinicality of the day before was worryingly absent. The objective of pre-season matches are to recognize the best formations and tactical approaches to suit the chemistry. Yesterday was definitely not it.

Owing to the fitness fiasco and the "nothing at stake" justifications, it's tempting to call yesterday a one-off. However, the team still needs to go up from here. Citing a crisis and hashtaging WengerOut would be a touch too far, but refusing to address some obvious deficiencies in the team under the pretext of "It's only pre-season" would be equally foolish.

Friendlies are meant to highlight errors, especially when we have the time to rectify them. Evidently, this is not the time for inaction. It's time to see if Wenger concurs.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Thoughts on transfers, Arsenal's defence, Gerrard, Sanogo, Joel, Sanchez and Khedira exclusive

Wenger is looking serious. He's having an excellent transfer window so far. Two more signings - Ospina and Calum Chambers - have been announced. And while they're only replacements, they're rather good ones. There's talk of a centre back, now that Arsene has fuelled the fire on Vermaelen, and signs of Khedira and Schneiderlin re-emerging.

On the pitch, we just trashed what I consider a decent team 5-1, playing some really supple football. My thoughts on Sanogo and Campbell are down below.

Alright, here we go.



We've got quite a goalkeeper and quite a situation on our hands. Ospina is young, reputed, enthusiastic and better at diving than Szczesny. His knee problem might give Wenger a reason rather than an excuse to put him out of contention, but after that the situation might turn ugly. I'm not sure that Ospina would come out on top in this circumstance, where both Szczesny and Ospina are forced to fight to stay in the sun. Mostly because I'm not sure Wenger will give him enough chances for him to prove his worth.

I can see Ospina leaving in two years. Wenger may have changed, but his habits of lesser rotation and poor tactical approach will still remain, and Ospina may be a victim of that. I'm more than happy that Wenger has bought a keeper of Ospina's caliber, but what's the point of buying good keepers and not using them much? Playing time was a major factor in Fabianski leaving, and unless Wenger plays Ospina more (apart from 3-4 Cup games), we may have to replace him in two-three years again. It's a waste of funds.

I enjoyed Stillman's analogy of the signing, calling it a 'Darwinist' approach by Wenger, handing one pistol to the two of them and seeing who makes it. Essentially, that's what he's doing, because either Szczesny or Ospina aren't going to enjoy being understudies to one another. I think Szczesny is earmarked to be Arsenal's long-term captain, so I'd personally hope the Polish comes out on top. We'll see.

Calum Chambers...
Look, I don't pretend on knowing much about defenders. I'm actually rather bad at it, because I thought Chambers did merely okay yesterday, and Twitter said excellent.

I'll tell you what I do know, though. Almost every person I know has highly valued his ability, and Southampton have a darn good academy. I know I shouldn't take everything at face value, as people might have overstated due to happiness out of our transfer activity. All I'm saying is that the signs seems good, albeit 16m was a touch too much. Some say that may look like a bargain three years down the line, but I'm not one of them.

Arsene Wenger has spent £25m on two right-backs, and I'm not certain that they fill Sagna's void or not. Debuchy isn't a like-for-like Sagna player, as I mentioned last blog, and Chambers will need his time.

Meanwhile, Jenkinson has been given an ultimatum, on loan to West Ham. For all his love for Arsenal and his special connection with the fans, I must say that he had never really convinced me. I mean, I like him as a guy, and think that he's an honest, hardworking Gooner. But then, so are we, you know? Being a Gooner doesn't mean shouldn't confirm a berth for you. That's not how it works. The same goes to Jack Wilshere, although I'm fairly confident he'll make it at Arsenal.

Anyway, this could all be a case of "Let's develop Jenkinson and Chambers until Debuchy is too old, and then let's prioritize with them". A good plan, assuming that's it.

You could read more of my thoughts here.

Vermaelen a definite departure...
In Arsene Wenger language, that's what one must assume when he says "It is a possibility that he goes."

Unlike an unproven Jenkinson, it'd be a huge blow for Arsenal if Vermaelen leaves. I'd understand it, as his man management has been really bad. He's been heaped pressure and spotlight upon when made captain (he wasn't ready), and he hasn't been rotated much into the foray, even when Mertesacker and Koscielny were fit.

I think he's a good defender, and would do a really good job for any Champions League team. The quality of centre backs in Europe is falling, and we were fortunate to have three excellent ones for two years. Unfortunately, it can't last, and I hope that he leaves for a team not in England. A guy like him could hurt us in the future.

That makes it two centre backs needed...
 It's quite a task. Chambers' role as right-back is pretty much confirmed, now that Jenkinson has made way. That would mean that apart from Mertesacker and Koscielny (50% of whom won't be available for the start), we have no one to rely on. 

Again, I'm emphasizing that I'm particularly bad at judging defenders, but I really feel we should give Semi Ajayi a shot. I've vouched for him for a good seven months, and that's because I've really studied the guy. I've watched him on Arsenal Player, and his highlights. Trust me, this guy is actually better than your Haydens or Miquels. I hope Wenger gives him a shot, at least for fourth-choice.

I'm a big believer in units for defences. Meaning, I'd prefer it if Arsenal actually choose two sets of defences and play them together in different matches. I wouldn't want players like Monreal or Chambers simply replacing one or two defenders, but keeping the other defensive structure same (unless suspensions or injuries force otherwise). If, for Premier League and Champions League matches, the set of Szczesny - Debuchy - Mertesacker - Koscielny - Gibbs start, then for  FA Cup and Capital One Cup matches, the substitute set of defence should play. The whole unit of defence must be rotated, rather than individuals.

We've already known that the back five of Szczesny - Sagna Debuchy (?) - Mertesacker - Koscielny - Gibbs have been a rock at the back, orchestrated by Steve Bould. What I'd want is a centre back who would be compatible with the defence line of Ospina, Chambers, Ajayi and Nacho. Which is why Wenger should consider asking Steve Bould about this, since he's the guy who trains the defence.

It's unorthodox, but hey, that's what Wenger has been this summer.

Khedira or Schneiderlin?
Both of them are possibilities. Check it out.

Schneiderlin doesn't look particularly pleased at the moment.


Now, this source was the same one that said Sanchez was an Arsenal target back in early June, so you'd believe me when I say "reliable". I'd be amazed if the Khedira links don't hot up in the coming week. Let's see what happens on this.

Both of Khedira and Schneiderlin would be an immeasurable upgrade over Arteta. While Schneiderlin offers Premier League experience and a more shoe-in replacement for Mikel, Khedira is big-name pedigree and would be more comfortable around Ozil and the German co. Choosing between Khedira and Schneiderlin is like choosing between a bite of Giroud's sandwich and a strand of Santi Cazorla's hair. Yeah, I'd have that.

Gerrard, uh...
I know that Gerrard is having a tough time. I know that he probably took a frustrated piss at Arsenal because he wasn't thinking straight. But I still laughed, because this was small club mentality from him.

“I would have been really sad and disappointed to see Luis go to Arsenal. With all due respect to them, I said to him that he was too good for Arsenal. I said if you score 30 goals for us and win the PFA player of the year, the press player of the year – I knew he was going to win them – I told him Real or Barcelona will come for you.”

Jokes aside, I don't know why we're pointing out the flaws in Gerrard's interview. As far as I'm concerned, Arsenal are above the Liverpools and Tottenhams. We're on the threshold of being in the English elite. Let's not allow low-lives like Liverpool drag us down. We're way better than that.

No disrespect to Gerrard, but I sincerely don't care what his opinion on Arsenal is. Frankly, we have bigger fish to fry. Right now, we're the joint second best team in England. Liverpool are far below. Why get bothered by them? It's like listening to Tottenham.

Anyway, Wenger responded with a hint of insult, but it was great banter nonetheless.

"You're never too good for Arsenal and Steven Gerrard knows that. But it didn't happen, and anyway, Suarez left."


Hopefully Gerrard has the sense to not push it. He's losing respect from neutral fans from stuff like this.

Sanogo and Campbell thoughts...
My thoughts on Sanogo hasn't changed yet. Sure, he scored 4 goals and I'm happy for him and all, but his performance was still bad. He didn't seem to be in control of what he did. His passing was poor, his lay-offs were poor, his finishing was poor as well. All the four goals were tap-ins. Sanogo only tops a guy like Giroud in movement. His positioning and movement is really good, I'll give him that.

But, for me, he's not a promising aspect. Players like Nasri, Henry, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain were promising because you could see it in their play, and big clubs also moved for these players. Sanogo is just an enthusiastic player who's way out of depth and shape, whose mind doesn't work with his legs. Yesterday was his day, but I'll be surprised if he'll have more of that.

Joel Campbell is a different story. That guy is one for the future. Quick, powerful, athletic, finisher, passer, he's what we want. Wenger has gone on record saying he's not going to be sold or loaned, which is absolutely the right call. His presence in the team makes me very comfortable about our forward options.

Campbell could be a massive Arsenal player two years down the line.

Finally, Alexis!It's obvious why we need him as a striker. He played in the middle as a substitute and looked understandably unfocused, but one highlight in this video showed exactly why we bought him (skip to 2:30). Giroud wouldn't have made the runs the way Alexis did. Sanchez gives us that pace and trickery only Walcott has.

He's playing today against Monaco on the right flank, which is where he'll be playing during the initial part of the season, until Theo gains fitness.

Right, that's me done. Time to catch the match!

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]