Unai Emery makes a good first impression as Arsenal make a sensible appointment

You only get one chance to make a first impression, and I have to say Unai Emery’s performance as he was named head coach of Arsenal yesterday made his a very favourable one for me.

We had the announcement in the morning, confirmation of the story that broke on Monday evening, that the 46 year old Spaniard was to become the club’s new ‘Head Coach’. The distinction between that and manager couldn’t be more clear. Under the current set-up Arsene Wenger may well be the last ‘manager’ Arsenal have, and Emery the first man to take us into this new continental model, as people call it.

Ivan Gazidis outlined the process through which the decision was made, telling us that the former Sevilla and PSG boss had been on the chief executive’s personal radar since he achieved three consecutive third place finishes in La Liga with Valencia. After some more formalities, the new man spoke.

Now, for many people addressing a crowd of story hungry media in their native tongue can be something of a challenge, so do it in one you don’t know very well is something else entirely. Not only is your vocabulary and expression limited, there’s something difficult, almost embarrassing, about speaking in a language you don’t really understand too well.

So on that basis alone, Emery addressing the media – and the countless more watching via the stream on the official website – in English was both impressive and brave. It could easily have been done via an interpreter, Champions League style, but it was a clear demonstration that he’s here to learn and settle into England and English football as quickly as possible.

While his words were halting at times, he made himself understood as he took on his new role and responsibilities.

My English is not very best right now. I want to make an effort to speak with you, to the supporters, to explain my ideas, to explain my ambitions, to explain that I am very excited about this opportunity. It’s a big club, a great city, a grand stadium and also has great players for this work

Thank you, Arsene Wenger, for your legacy. For all the coaches over the world, he’s a reference and I learned from him all the things in football.

The club released a very odd video yesterday which showed some, but not all of the managers down the years, and the omission of Wenger from it was strange on the day in question. We know this is a new era, and whether you include him in it or not makes no difference as his shadow will inevitably fall over the new man for a time simply because he’s been part of the Arsenal story for so long. So, I thought Emery’s words to pay tribute to him were apt and showed a touch of class.

He then answered questions, using an earpiece to understand what was being said to him as some of the journalists made the assumption they could speak to him in the more or less the same way as they did Wenger. He coped with a nonsensical question – in the circumstances – about Jack Wilshere’s future, and laid out what he expects and wants from his players when the work in earnest begins:

What we want to do is not fear any team neither here in the Premier League or in Europe and our objective is to be among the best and to beat the best.

I’m very demanding of myself, I’m passionate and I really want to transmit that to the people around me – that we can, and must, improve in the future. That is the kind of thing I want to transmit, that desire to be better and I think that will lead us to improve in the Premier League and in Europe.

He’s got a real job on his hands to achieve that, let’s make no mistake about it, but I also think he’s got the bones of a decent squad which I think he can improve by adding the kind of discipline, organisation and so on that it has been missing. So, it’s about getting more out of what we have, adding to the squad as well as possible, and then seeing how responsive the players are to his ideas and his coaching.

For me, this is a far more sensible appointment than that of Mikel Arteta. Emery has managed hundreds of games in a managerial career that goes back 12 or 13 seasons, and his compatriot has managed none. There was a romanticism about the idea of a former player coming back, but on any objective level it was, as I said before, a bit mental.

I think many of us had grown used to the idea and had got somewhat on board with it, not just because it was so reportedly close to happening, but because we wanted it to be good for the sake of the club we support. There was a willingness to back the decision if that was what they were going to do simply out of blind hope, but in the end I think common sense prevailed.

How we got here isn’t really the issue any more, there’s no need to look in any other direction but the future and I watched that press conference yesterday and felt excited and energised about what’s to come. We’ve brought in a smart man who has clear ideas about what he wants to do and how he wants to do it. There are going to be challenges and obstacles along the way, but that’s the normal way of things for any manager.

For some, Emery is not the stellar name people wanted – even if his trophy record is pretty impressive. He’s got a track record of winning things, and although his time at PSG is perceived to be a failure because of their dominance in Ligue 1 and their inability to make progress in the Champions League, I think we have to look at it in context. He was dealing with a club hierarchy that is far from normal and a dysfunctional dressing room filled with warring egos.

It’s not an excuse, but an explanation, and it feels to me like Arsenal is a much more suited to a man who had his most successful times at almost equivalent clubs in Spain. We are a club in need of improvement, you can’t bemoan how poor things have been for so long and then expect us to be the most attractive job in football.

We finished 6th, we’re in the Europa League, we have fundamental problems that need to be solved through coaching and the transfer market, and on that basis it seems to me that Emery and Arsenal and Arsenal and Emery are a good fit. He needs to make us better, and at just 46 and with some ups and downs in his career, there’s a chance that Arsenal can make him better too.

He comes in to work in a structure he’s used to from his previous clubs, and it’s one that the Arsenal board have put that in place well over the last 12 months or so. It was overdue, but we’ve given ourselves the best chance of dealing with the post-Wenger fall-out through the appointments we’ve made behind the scenes.

A Head of Recruitment, a vastly experienced Director of Football (Head of Football Relations), a contracts dude, a Head of High Performance, and so on, will enable Emery to carry out the key parts of his work without distraction. He’ll obviously have some input into who we bring in and who we let go, but the nuts and bolts of it are all there to offer him genuine support.

We wanted change, and this is what change looks like. It goes without saying that I want it to work and be successful, and there was a lot to like about what we saw and heard from our new head coach yesterday. His work begins in earnest from today, as he starts to learn about all the other aspects of the club, how it operates, and all the rest.

His interactions with the players themselves won’t happen until pre-season in early June, but there’s plenty he can do before then. His language skills will improve quickly I’m sure, and it’s impossible to sit here this morning and not feel elevated and fired-up about what’s to come.

Bienvenido Señor Emery, mucha suerte!


Wenger’s final trip to Old Trafford as Arsenal Manager

Morning all. It’s unusual that a game between Manchester United and Arsenal pales into insignificance, but that’s kinda where we are this morning because it falls between the two legs of the Europa League semi-final. It’s not completely without importance though. It’s Arsene Wenger’s last ever trip to Old Trafford as Arsenal manager. It’s a stadium where he’s had some highs (“Wiltoooooooooorrrrrd”) – and some lows, but I hate two bring one of them in particular up again. I’m sure it will be a bitter-sweet moment for him, especially when he thinks back at how the incredible rivalry between us and them in the first ten years of his tenure was basically Premier League box office. If you lived through that, you’ll remember very well just how intense those games were. Two absolutely brilliant teams who were incredibly well matched, both in terms of their technical and physical quality, and who embraced this competitive conflict like it was something they’d been waiting for their entire lives. The football was superb, the desire to win on both sides at maximum levels, and that created something really, really special. Not just because it was two teams who wanted to win at all costs, you can have that at any level of football, but the quality of the players and the undercurrent of hatred and violence resonated with fans on both sides. The players didn’t like each other, the managers didn’t like each other, the fans didn’t like each other, and everybody else loved those elements because they sparked some incredible confrontations – with the ball and without, on the pitch and off it. These were pulsating encounters, and while I firmly believe Arsenal should have won more in the first part of Arsene’s reign, it was still absolutely brilliant on almost every level you can think of. It’s not the same now, it can’t be because what made it special was how organic it was. Wenger came in and made Arsenal a force to reckoned with at a time when United looked like they were going to dominate the league unopposed. The suspicion over foreigners in English football was still quite high, particularly in terms of managers, and that he got under the skin of Ferguson so quickly was a testament to the threat he and Arsenal posed. As much as our title wins, doubles, FA Cups, and unbeaten season will be part of the manager’s legacy, so too will be the battles against that United side. Two great teams, neither giving an inch, and winning the title there in 2002 – on a night when they were determined not to let us do that, through fair means or foul – is, to me, one of the greatest performances in this club’s history. Now, Ferguson is gone, United have been wishy-washy for a few years under Moyes and van Gaal, and although it’s Jose Mourinho there at the moment, Wenger is looking for a peaceful final visit to Manchester. He says:
You should leave me and give me a little peace for my final weeks and not try to push me into final confrontations.
The relationship with Mourinho has, down the years, been difficult to say the least, and let’s not allow the sentimentality of this occasion make it seem like it was both sides at war. It was because the Portuguese was an absolute prick, there’s no other way around this. He said things he should not have said down the years, behaved in ways he shouldn’t have too, and whatever else you think of Wenger his intolerance for rank cuntitude is to his eternal credit. A great example of this was a home game against Man City (perhaps) but whoever it was Mark Hughes was manager. He spent the entire game berating the Arsenal manager from the technical area, calling him names, making gestures, so at the final whistle Wenger walked off without shaking hands. Cue Hughes bleating to the press about how disrespectful that was, but Arsene was right in my opinion. If you want to call someone names, fine, but don’t cry when they rightly consider you a dickhead and don’t want to shake your hand. Things are calmer now between Wenger and Mourino:
It has been, like with Ferguson, very tense like always when you fight together, but overall it is respectful.
But I thought thought it very interesting that the manager had a little pop at sections of the press for helping to spark confrontation between the two down the years:
I must say as well it is very difficult when you play against fellow managers, they get reported things that you have not necessarily said. In press conferences, they say ‘Wenger said that’ even if it is taken out of context and you then get people who are upset or vice versa.
I have lost count how many times that’s happened. In time Wenger grew wise to it, but there were questions in press conferences that were designed to create conflict. He’s asked about something, he answers, that answer is taken out of context and presented to Mourinho at his press conference who, unable to help himself because he is a monstrous testicle, bites back. Which isn’t to excuse Mourinho or anything, but there’s been a lowest common denominator element to their relationship down the years, and amazingly he’s not it: it’s some of the hacks who take that award. And when you consider some of the stuff the United manager has said and done down the years, that puts some of those people well and truly in the gutter. Anyway, we’ll see what happens at Old Trafford tomorrow. Will it be peaceful and full of love? Or will both these managerial leopards find it to difficult to change their spots and have at it? If it comes down to it, my money’s on Arsene, the sinewy, long limbs would be no match for Mourinho – and the last thing you want to do is fight a guy who’s got nothing to lose. Metaphorically speaking, of course 😉 I’ll preview the game here tomorrow, I answered some questions for United site Stretty News here, and for now I’ll leave you with yesterday’s podcast – happy listening.  

Arsenal 3-0 Stoke: Gunners stick it to Stoke in the final 20


For around 70 minutes Arsenal v Stoke yesterday was something to be endured rather than enjoyed. We had been poor most of the game – although better in the second half than in the abject first – and there was a growing fear that they might just nick something and leave us with little time to react.

Then, in the 69th minute, Stoke got a corner. Xherdan Shaqiri took it, curled it over everyone and saw it clatter back off the post. Arsenal got it clear, and from there it was like we woke up. Almost immediately Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang found himself clean through on goal but Jack Butland stood up to make a save.

Calum Chambers had a chance from a corner, but he couldn’t adjust his feet quickly enough, and there looked to be a bit more purpose to the way we were playing. So, when Mesut Ozil looked to have been fouled in the box and the referee pointed to the spot, it felt like we’d had just reward for putting on some pressure. Replays show that it was a generous decision, Bruno Martins Indi got the ball and Ozil kicked him as much as anything else, but I can’t explain to you how little I care.

Sometimes they go for you, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the opposition get awarded a soft penalty (which is, of course, evidence of a great anti-Arsenal refereeing conspiracy), and sometimes you get them. Aubameyang, who had missed from the spot against Man City, made no mistake this time, shooting low and hard to the keeper’s left to make it 1-0.

Arsenal were emboldened. Butland had to make saves from Ozil and substitute Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and from a corner Aubameyang got his second when the ball skidded into his path and he finished unerringly into the bottom corner. That was always going to be that in terms of the result, it sparked some enjoyable songs from the crowd about Stoke’s potential relegation, and you could see they’d lost their heads.

The foul on Lacazette for the second penalty was borne out of frustration, I’m sure, and while I was expecting the man who had scored twice already to knock it in for his hat-trick, he gave it to the French international who marked his return from surgery and injury with a goal to put him in double figures for the season.

Explaining why he didn’t take it himself, Aubameyang said:

I haven’t really paid too much attention to reaction, but from a cursory glance at Twitter I can see that some of the pundits have been critical about this, as if it means Aubameyang is not ruthless enough, or focused fully on scoring goals. To which I would say, that’s a strange accusation to make about a striker who scored 141 goals in 212 games for Borussia Dortmund and one who has 5 goals from 6 Premier League games for us. And by strange I mean utterly stupid.

I thought it was a great gesture, one that will benefit both Lacazette and the team, and shows this is a player who thinks more broadly than just how many goals he has at the end of the season. This is a team game, after all, and while nobody would have criticised him if he’d taken it himself, his decision to give it to his teammate is one to be applauded, not derided.

I guess when you win 3-0, somebody has to make a bit of a drama out of something, that’s just the kind of world we live in these days. For all the things you could be critical of having watched that game yesterday, that was definitely not one of them.

Generally, I thought we were poor, the first half in particular was worryingly bad and the way we conceded possession so frequently was hard to understand. I think a better team than Stoke might have made more of our carelessness, so we can be thankful that they’re as terrible as they are this season.

As I said yesterday, the enjoyment from this game would always come from beating them and contributing to their struggles. Taking the three points, and putting a dent in their goal difference, made those final 15-20 minutes quite enjoyable overall, but there wasn’t much else to like about what we did, how we did it, or the kind of football we tried to play.Maybe we can put it down to post-Interlull rustiness, it is something we’ve seen before and it was referenced by Aaron Ramsey afterwards, but it felt very much like more of the same stuff we’ve seen often this season.

Still, on the plus side we got the win, got some minutes under our belt before Thursday, hopefully got ourselves a bit sharper, Lacazette is back and scoring again – he made a real impact when he came on for Welbeck, and we made Stoke very, very unhappy which really trumps everything else this morning.

When you hear them sing songs about Aaron Ramsey walking with a limp, you can’t help but hope they end up going down and staying down. I mean, I hoped that anyway, but that kind of stuff just reinforces it. If this win helps that happen, then it’s a small bright spot in what has been a pretty dark season in the Premier League.

It’s impossible not to mention the crowd, or lack of it, and I don’t really buy into Arsene Wenger’s explanation that Easter was a contributory factor to people staying away (although he did mention how little there is to play for in the league now). It is a consequence of our season overall, and the fact that beyond sticking it to Stoke this was a game which had little going for it.

Thursday, however, is a different proposition. It’s a European quarter-final in a competition which has real meaning, so fingers crossed there’s a better turnout because despite the players saying the strange atmosphere didn’t make any difference, it can’t be easy playing in that kind of environment. Anyway, we’ve set ourselves up reasonably well for the CSKA encounter, and the focus can now turn towards that for the rest of the week.

James and I will be here this morning to deliver a bank holiday Arsecast Extra for you. If you have any questions or topics for discussion, send to @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – and that’ll be ready before lunchtime.

Until then.


Lacazette back in training as Elneny signs a new deal

The last round of international friendlies takes place today, and genuinely I don’t really know which Arsenal players are going to be involved. I don’t think there’s too many, and once these games are done and dusted it’s uninterrupted Arsenal between now and May, starting with Stoke on Sunday. In the meantime, there’s been a fitness boost with the return of Alexandre Lacazette who has been out of action since mid-February after surgery on his knee. At the time it was reported he’d be out of action for around 4-6 weeks, so this fits very much in that schedule, and his comeback is very welcome. With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang sidelined for the Europa League because of stupid UEFA rules, we’re missing some firepower for our European games. Danny Welbeck got a couple against AC Milan, and that will certainly have done his confidence some good, but to have Lacazette back is a boost for what remains of our campaign. We also saw Aaron Ramsey taking part in the session after he was supposed to have undergone a ‘small procedure’ during the Interlull. It was obviously very small as he’s in full training and hopefully now available for the rest of the season. As our most productive central midfield player he is going to be very important for what we need to do against CSKA Moscow and beyond, so fingers crossed he stays fit. Meanwhile, a central midfielder who is going to the World Cup this summer has signed a new deal with the club. Mohamed Elneny put pen to paper on a new long-term contract which was announced yesterday, and the Egyptian international seemed rightly pleased about the whole thing: That’s him pictured with Arsene Wenger and new contract dude, Huss Fahmy, and I think this is a decent move for all concerned. Every squad needs players like Elneny, who work hard, can come into the side and be reliable, consistent performers. He’s very rarely a 9 out of 10 player, but also very rarely anything less than a 7 out of 10 player. He does tend to err on the cautious side of things in possession at times, but in recent games has shown a bit more incision and ambition with his passing. However, we have other players in the team whose job it is to try and make things happen so to have someone who can keep the ball moving and not be wasteful or careless with it is no bad thing in my opinion. He also seems like a good character, doesn’t complain when he’s left out of the side – sometimes a bit unfairly I think – and when he does come in you pretty much know what you’re going to get from him. It’s in contrast to some of our other midfield players whose level of performance can tilt much further towards either end of the spectrum, for good and bad, and with doubts over the futures of a couple of them ensuring we have some squad stability is important. That said, his renewal does raise questions about the way we manage the squad and the players. Last summer Arsenal were willing to let him go to Leicester but he turned down the move to stay and fight for his place, so from being considered surplus to requirements he’s got a new contract (I guess that’s to his credit for the way he plays/trains etc, but it makes you wonder about the decisions we’re making). We have a similar situation with Jack Wilshere who was told by Arsene Wenger last summer that if he found a new club he could go. You don’t need to even read between the lines to understand what message was being sent there. The manager was telling a player he didn’t really want him anymore, didn’t consider him important to his plans, and now we’re in a position where Wenger is telling is he’s urging Wilshere to sign a new deal:
I push him to stay and I think he’s an Arsenal man. We want him to stay and we’ve made a proposal.
It’s quite the flip-flop, and if you’re Jack Wilshere you could understand being reluctant to sign on. As much as he loves the club having grown up with us, when your manager tells you that you can leave, then offers you a new deal but with a cut in your basic salary while everyone around you is getting increases – some of them very substantial ones – you might ask yourself if you wouldn’t be better off or valued more highly somewhere else. If you were being generous you’d say his situation, and that of Elneny, speak to somewhat muddled thinking on the part of Arsenal. In some ways it’s not a bad a thing to change your mind on a situation and recognise that a player you thought wasn’t up to it still has something to offer. It shows you don’t have a fixed position no matter what, that evidence to the contrary can alter your thinking, but a more cynical outlook is that we’re just making it up as we go along because there’s a lack of real planning and strategy to what we do and how we do it. Anyway, Elneny is signed up, and hopefully there are a few more to come over the next few weeks and months. For now, I’ll leave you with yesterday’s Arsecast Extra, discussing the manager how his future is tied to the Europa League, the development of young players, and Gunnerblog’s dismissal of soup. Also, the long-awaited FIFA match up between us is taking place at 9pm tonight, it’ll be streaming on YouTube and I’ll put links up on @arseblog closer to the time. Have a good one.


This Arsecast Extra was recorded with ipDTL  

Arsenal Gentleman’s Weekly Review

Arsenal Gentleman's Weekly Review
You may think of me as an anachronism. An Edwardian era relic. An antediluvian moustachioed vagabond that somehow embodies the values of one hundred years ago. Yet you would be surprised, nay, shocked, nay stunned, to learn that I am something of a philanthropist. A caregiver, if you will. I have developed a deep yearning to help the less fortunate of our society. In recent years I have begun to visit those who rarely venture outside the stifling environs of their own home, due to agoraphobia, or crippling anxiety, or in today’s case, super morbid obesity.
I have been visiting my charge at his home near Watford in Hertfordshire for some years now. Since others and I have been taking a keen interest in his wellbeing his quality of life has improved immeasurably. He still has to sleep in a specially reinforced bed, adapted from a zoo’s operating table for megafauna such as the rhinoceros or the elephant, and his armchair remains a steel-reinforced affair that began life as a three-person sofa. It still hugs his enormous girth at the hips. A local charity has paid for a cook to provide sustenance for this poor soul, whose calorific requirements run to ten thousand or more a day; sometimes he simply shouts “BIG MAC SOUP,” at which command the cook sends an assistant to the local McDonalds hamburger restaurant for six ‘Big Mac’ hamburgers with accompanying French fries and milkshakes, deposits them in a blender and brings them through to our lad, who devours it by simply tipping the muddy liquid into his mouth straight from the jug. Such gluttony is to be pitied, rather than mocked. One myth about people of fifty stones or more is that they are somehow ‘jolly’. Spend ten minutes with this creature and you would soon be disavowed of that option, for he is the most ill tempered personage you will ever meet. Yet his most unfortunate character trait is what his psychiatrists are calling ‘Extreme Hubris’. This manifests itself by the uttering of foolishly proud, overconfident and arrogant statements, which at some point are proved completely and utterly wrong, bringing about not so much a comeuppance as a startling humiliation. A local tentmaker has taken pity on this poor soul and been manufacturing bespoke items of clothing for him; a pair of jeans, with a waist of 90 inches. A pair of pyjamas adapted from a pair of large silk curtains. And a football kit, for in one of the great humanitarian acts of our age, a local club have given this fellow a job. I knock on the door. His assistant answers. “Good afternoon Gent. He’s in the front room.” As usual. What greets me is a vast rear end, his custom-made jeans barely covering half of it and his gluteal cleft is in full view. He is shouting at the television, which is playing the children’s animated drama Peppa Pig. “You need a bit of cojones, Daddy Pig, a bit of nuts.” He takes a sip of his Big Mac Soup. “And you, Peppa you want to fight with me, I’m gonna beat you all day.” He passes wind, loudly and moistly. He changes the channel. It is ‘Bob the Builder’, a tale of a helpful tradesman and his pals. “Bob, you need cojones, you’re never going to get that building built.” Again, he changes channels. It is Blue Peter. “You’re never going to be able to make that thing out of cardboard. You need some cojones. Some nuts.”
“How long has he been like this?” I whisper. “Since Sunday,” says his assistant. “Ever since he waddled back through the front door with his two walking sticks on Sunday evening he’s been like this.” So there we have it, ladies and gentlemen. The perils of hubris.

Arsenal 3-1 AC Milan: Gunners convincing winners over two legs despite media pearl clutching

Arsenal went through to the quarter-finals of the Europa League with a 3-1 win over AC Milan at the Emirates last night. Two goals from Danny Welbeck and a Granit Xhaka strike added to the 2-0 win in Italy last week to give us a hugely convincing 5-1 victory on aggregate. For a team that’s been well and truly in the doldrums in recent times, that’s a pretty impressive outcome. Not one I was necessarily expecting either, but during a difficult period where criticism has been rife – and not undeserved – I think it’s right to credit the players and the manager for what we’ve done over the two games. I mean, the takeaway from these 180 minutes of football for me, at least, is that Arsenal scored five times against a team that had been on a thirteen game unbeaten run and had conceded just four goals in total in that period. They came into this tie in better form and for Arsenal to win so convincingly was what I would seek to build my story around if I were writing about it. That doesn’t seem to be the case for others though, as the penalty awarded to us yesterday has dominated the headlines and back pages. I’m not one for media conspiracies or anything, but I guess ‘Arsenal win comfortably’ isn’t quite as catchy as ‘Danny Welbeck’s shameful dive overshadows Arsenal win and embarrasses English football – even Gunners fans were appalled’. No, I did not make that up. That was the headline to John Cross’s piece in the Mirror, and at this point we should point out that sub-editors, not journalists, write the headlines, but inside the piece John said:
The game will be remembered for Danny Welbeck’s blatant dive to win a penalty. It was a moment that should embarrass English football and maybe even shame a few others to stop diving once they see the reaction as even Arsenal fans were left appalled. And, ultimately, it was the moment that decided the whole tie because Welbeck dived just at a time when AC Milan were threatening to stage a fightback.
I engaged with John on Twitter about this. Not to defend Danny Welbeck, because I think it was a dive, but with the contention that ‘it was the moment that decided the whole tie’, which is frankly an absurd thing to say. Over the two legs Arsenal scored five times, Milan just once, and while I do understand that it happened at a key moment in the game, to suggest it has embarrassed English football is hyperbole of the highest order. Was it as embarrassing as one of the richest clubs in the world crashing out of the Champions League playing the most atrocious brand of safety-first football you’ll ever see? Was it, perhaps, as embarrassing as the chief executive of the FA conflating the Star of David with the Nazi swastika or the ISIS badge? Or maybe as embarrassing as the FA Chairman signing a ‘memorandum of understanding’ with Qatar, where homosexuality remains illegal and flies in the face of the some of the genuinely good work that has been done in that regard in England (like the Rainbow Laces campaign)? Give me a break. Even the one man who has every right to be outraged if he wants, Milan manager Gennaro Gattuso, wasn’t as shrill and hysterical as elements of the English press, saying:
He is a striker. He has to do what he does, but we can’t use that as the entire influence of English football. Even when I was a player, I always tried to get away with something.
Game, set and match really. Also, the laser-focus on Welbeck for one dive in his career that I can think of is remarkable when there are players at other clubs who have more dives this season than Greg Louganis could manage if he appeared in a hundred Olympics. I’m happy to call it a dive, I don’t like it when our players do it, but what do people want beyond that? Be critical of Welbeck if you want – making sure of course that the same values apply to every player who dives, whether he’s English or foreign – but the idea that he has somehow brought shame to English football is nonsensical. He did what countless players have done before and will do in the future without anywhere near as much fuss. I mean, Milan had a player booked for diving last night. Where’s the outrage? Did it have an impact on the game? Yes. Did it decide the entire tie? My hole did it. Arsenal scored five goals. FIVE.


Milan one. In fact, if you want to look back at the game the biggest problem the visitors had last night wasn’t Welbeck, but their own inefficiency in front of goal. They had good chances, as early as the first minute, and had they not been as wasteful they could have really changed the trajectory of the game. That was something that was in their hands, under their own control, and they fluffed their lines repeatedly. They embarrassed Italian football with their wastefulness. In seriousness though, over the course of those two games the best team has gone through. We got a bit of good fortune with Granit Xhaka’s second, the keeper and his sweaty palms won’t want to watch a reply, and throughout we played some nice stuff without always being able to find the final ball. Welbeck put the icing on the cake late on when he pounced on the rebound after Ramsey’s header from a Wilshere cross was saved, nodding home from close range for his second of the night. And I bet you he went home last night feeling good about himself because he’s got back on the scoresheet, and so he should. It’s important for us and our Europa League campaign that he got back on track a bit so last night was pleasing in that regard. It means we’re in the draw which takes place today, and our potential opponents are: Atletico Madrid, Marseille, Lazio, Sporting Lisbon, RB Leipzig, Red Bull Salzburg, and CSKA Moscow. Varying degrees of difficulty there, but we’re now at the point of this tournament when a place in the final starts to appear in the distance. I think we can take plenty of encouragement from what we’ve done over the two games against Milan, and whoever we get is going to be tough anyway, so bring it on. If we go the distance we’ll have to beat some good teams, but then that’s what happens when you make progress in a tournament like this and it’s exciting. It’s also good to have something that keeps the season alive, keeps the players focused and gives fans something to look forward to. I think we need that. We’ll have the draw for you over on Arseblog News as soon as it happens, and because of the late football last night James and I will have an extra Arsecast Extra for you this morning. If you have any questions or topics for discussion, please send to both of us on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog with the hashtag #arsecastextra, and you can dive right into that before lunchtime. Until then, have a good one, and I hope the shame that Arsenal have brought to English football isn’t too much for you to bear this morning.  

Arsenal 2-0 Brighton: Alexis provides a moment of magic as Gunners win again

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A 2-0 win over Brighton yesterday made it six wins from our last seven games, the 0-0 at Chelsea the only ‘blip’ on our record since that defeat at Anfield. It was an odd kind of game, and I think the 12 noon kickoff played a part in that. Everyone’s just a bit more subdued at that time of the day but generally it was a pretty comfortable victory bar one or two moments which saw the visitors threaten. I suppose you could be concerned that almost every time we play there seem to be moments like that, where the width of a post or the fingertips of Petr Cech would see the complexion of the game change, but when it comes right down to it we focus first and foremost on results and those have been positive. After Alexandre Lacazette had rattled the post in the second minute, Nacho Monreal opened the scoring for us a few minute later, finishing with his right foot after efforts from Shkodran Mustafi and Hector Bellerin had been blocked. It was his first Premier League goal since scoring against Swansea in March 2013, and it opened up the game a bit. Brighton, whose game-plan was to sit deep and deny us space in which to attack had to come out and play, and they did so quite well. A clever free kick routine saw a shot from distance crash back off the post and the rebound skewed wide so there were warning signs there. Nevertheless, Arsenal had control, and better decision making would have seen us extend the lead before the break. You can understand Lacazette’s desire to shoot, but his left-footed effort was tame and with Alexis free outside him the pass would have been the better option. We stepped things up from an attacking point of view in the second half, Alexis was key to that as he drove the attacking play throughout. He created, he had attempts himself – denied a goal only by a deflection which took a shot inches wide – and it was his ingenuity and touch of class that brought about the second goal. On television, because they were showing a replay of a Brighton shot that preceded it, we didn’t quite get to see how well worked the move was, but this graphic illustrates it nicely (via arsenal.com stats centre): We moved the ball with pace and precision, something that they found hard to deal with when we got it right, and the backheel from Alexis found Iwobi whose finish can only be described as emphatic – particularly from a player whose shooting is often a bit more tame than you’d like. At that point the game was more or less won. Arsene Wenger brought on Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott to inject some freshness into the last 20 minutes, but those changes ended up sucking the life out of us from an attacking perspective. If there is a complaint about yesterday it’s that we didn’t really turn the screw and score more goals. It felt like one of those games where we could have done that, and afterwards the manager picked up on it, saying:
Offensively we were certainly not ruthless enough.
Maybe the confidence isn’t quite there in this team yet, but you could see the green shoots at times. The Iwobi goal, a  move in the first half which presented another chance to the Nigerian, and a really slick second half break which saw a close-range Ramsey effort well saved were evidence of the kind of football Wenger wants his team to play. However, there were plenty of other moves and decisions which lacked that incision, and two goals from 25 shots isn’t quite as efficient a return as you’d expect. We are on a run of fixtures from which there’s an expectation of three points, so we’re doing what we need to do. It wasn’t exactly thrilling yesterday, and while there are no bonus points for artistic impression we might just need to think a little more about goal difference and being a bit more emphatic when there’s an opportunity to move that in a positive direction. Still, when it comes right down to it it’s three points, another win, and another clean sheet – that’s four in a row in the Premier League and we haven’t conceded a goal since Anfield. It’s also about the nicest complaint you can have when you can say you won but didn’t quite do it well enough. Ultimately it’s points on the board and that really is the main thing. All in all though, a decent win and we’re now into 5th in the table, level on points with Chelsea. The players go away now on international duty – bar the injured ones like Koscielny and Ozil – and we’ll pick up again in a couple of weeks time with a trip to a currently high-flying Watford. James and I will be here later with an Arsecast Extra for you. If you have any questions or topics you’d like us to discuss, please send to @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra. We’ll have that before lunch for you, until then.   The post Arsenal 2-0 Brighton: Alexis provides a moment of magic as Gunners win again appeared first on Arseblog ... an Arsenal blog.

Gunners have to ensure Brighton don’t rock + live blog/arses update

It’s our third game in 6 days today, and it’s a very early kick-0ff for a Sunday. The visitors are newly promoted Brighton and Hove Albion, and if you want to find out a bit more about them, check out the last 20 minutes of this week’s Arsecast. Having rested so many players for the midweek win in the Europa League, it’s likely to be quite a different team from the one that beat BATE Borisov, however there are some injury worries for Arsene Wenger. Mesut Ozil is out with a knee problem that’s kept him out of international duty, while worryingly Laurent Koscielny is a doubt as his ongoing Achilles problem has flared up. If he misses out, I’d assume Rob Holding will come into the back three alongside Shkodran Mustafi and Nacho Monreal. What will be interesting is to see who he plays in the Ozil role. Aaron Ramsey was shifted forward for the game against West Brom, giving us a central midfield duo of Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny. It worked quite well, but the Egyptian did the full 90 in the last three games, so there may be issues of fatigue there. Alex Iwobi is an option if he passes a fitness test, as is Theo Walcott fresh off his two goal haul in Belarus. Without taking anything for granted, there should certainly enough quality in the squad to cope with a home game against Brighton. Having endured a poor start the season, we’re now unbeaten in six games, and the manager thinks we’re heading in the right direction:
Our recent results make us a bit more confident but as well we want to keep a level of urgency that allows you to perform at your best. If you look at the performances I believe that what’s most interesting is that we looked like we are consistent now and the results are always the consequence of the performances.
As we head into an Interlull after this game, there’s just that little bit extra riding on today’s result. The last Interlull was preceded by that visit to Anfield, a game many of us would like to forget but one which remains indelibly etched onto our brains (yes, I’ve tried wine and beer). The last thing we need is two weeks of introspection and anger because we couldn’t do what we should do, and that’s take three points today. A win would take us to 13 points, level with Chelsea, and 6 behind the two Manchester clubs who are ominously out in front with 19. I watched some of both their games yesterday, and while United have been fairly ruthless in swatting away the mid-table chaff, City’s performance at Stamford Bridge was worryingly good. It’s why games like today are so vital for us. I think we need to look at it first as one from which we take the points, but also one that could improve our goal difference if we play as well as we can. I don’t think there are any easy games in the Premier League, but you can make some of them look easy if you’re efficient and organised, and hopefully we’ll be that today. —

Live blog and arses update

Just a quick update for those of you who use the arses – the bespoke comments system we have on the site – and the live blog. Unfortunately we’re having some real problems getting things back up and running again. We had hoped to have it back for today, but not only have we hit a brick wall, the brick wall has hit us back. Tom and I will be looking at various options, and I’ll be able to give you a more in-depth update shortly. I’m also aware that people paid their subscriptions for live blog chat, so if anybody wants a refund we’ll sort that out without question. Just drop me an email to thearseblog at arseblog dot com with your live blog username and email, and we’ll get that sorted for you. Once again, really sorry about this, but as much as technology makes our lives easier, it can sometimes complicate them too. Like I said though, we’ll have a fuller update for you, hopefully early in the week. As ever though, we’ll have a match report, stats, players ratings and the rest over on Arseblog News after the game. Until then.   The post Gunners have to ensure Brighton don’t rock + live blog/arses update appeared first on Arseblog ... an Arsenal blog.

Arsenal look to BATE Borisov : Sky’s Christmas Eve plans should be resisted

We get the full Europa League experience tonight: a 3,000 mile trip to play a team that are hardly one of Europe’s leading lights with a 6pm kick-off (in the UK at least). Arsenal face BATE Borisov for the first time in our history, and Arsene Wenger has brought a relatively experienced squad but with a real smattering of youth. There are three or four players who have never played at senior level as the manager keeps Sunday’s early kick-off in mind, including a couple of central midfielders, a ‘number 10’, and an apparently versatile defender. There are some, like Reiss Nelson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles who have been around the first team squad for a while, and both could start this evening. Wenger spoke very highly of Maitland-Niles in particular, saying that his future as a defensive midfielder is very bright once he can sort out some issues of concentration. The 19 year old will likely be asked to play as a wing-back tonight though. With the experienced players in the squad, we could see a team like this: Ospina, Mustafi, Mertesacker, Holding, Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Wilshere, Dasilva, Nelson, Walcott, Giroud. The manager says:
I said on Monday night after the game that I would play an experienced team with a young bench. We have a very tight schedule and it is an important game, and that’s why there is only one or two young players who will start the game.
As for tonight’s opposition, who sit third in the league in Belarus ahead of the likes of Torpedo BelAZ, Slutsk and Neman Grodno, I don’t know a lot about them, but Wenger says they’re a strong outfit that we will have to take seriously:
We watched them yesterday. They are a team with good quality, technically strong, so we will need a good performance to have a chance.
They’d certainly enjoy the prospect of taking a big scalp at home. Even if it’s not the strongest team we’d ever put out it’d be a great thing to beat a side like Arsenal. There ought to be enough experience to do the job tonight, but it’s very hard to predict what might happen and how we’re going to play. Coming in a tricky week this could be a potential banana skin but fingers crossed we can get the win, because the quicker we get the points on the board to qualify from the group, the less impact these games will have domestically as there’s even more scope to rotate and play youth. Live blog update: At the moment it doesn’t look like we’ll have the live blog back up and running for today, sorry about that. It’s a bit complicated but hopefully we can get up and running again for Sunday’s Premier League game against Brighton. We will, as ever, have a report and all the post-match stuff over on Arseblog News. — Meanwhile, back home, comes news that Sky Sports are showing their true contempt for fans by scheduling Arsenal v Liverpool for Christmas Eve. They actually requested a 4pm kick off (!), which was refused by police – probably because they couldn’t get the staff – and have since revised that and are currently looking for a 12 noon start. Discussions remain ongoing apparently, and Arsenal have already checked with their own staff to see if they have the numbers to do it. Aside from permanent employees, Arsenal have hundreds and hundreds of part-time staff who work for every home game, so it’s about being able to provide all the required services of a match-day. However, once more it’s an example of television not considering the fans, this time though taken to another level. Without wanting to be all sentimental, and bearing in mind there are many who don’t celebrate Christmas at all, it is a day when many focus on family, their kids, their preparations for the next day (LAST MINUTE HALF-DRUNK SHOPPING!), and all the rest. Then think about what it means for the travelling supporters, who will have all those things as part of their lives, but are then asked to spend most of the day making their way from Liverpool to London and back to Liverpool again – especially with the curtailed travel services on Christmas Eve. Then, let’s look at what we’re being asked to do from a sporting perspective. Arsenal are scheduled to play four games between December 23rd – the current date for the Liverpool game – and January 1st when we host Chelsea. As it stands, this is what we’re looking at: Saturday December 23rd – Liverpool (H) Tuesday December 26th – Crystal Palace (A) Saturday December 30th – West Brom (A) Monday January 1st – Chelsea (H) Four games in 9 days is difficult enough, but to rob us of one more day of ‘rest’ during this period is absurd. There’s already a very good case to be made for playing at least one game fewer at this time of the year, and when more and more evidence tells you this kind of schedule is bad for players, bad for the spectacle, and that a winter break is actually the direction we should be heading in, to try and squeeze these fixtures into even fewer days is something that both fans and the club needs to resist. We all know that television calls the shots, they pay so much money there’s now an expectation that they can do what they want when they want, but there has to be a line. There has to be. Arsenal have a responsibility to do right by their players, right by the club from a sporting point of view, and right by the fans (even if we all know we are the easiest group to ignore in all this). At a time when empty seats are a very real issue for this club right now, to ask people to accept this kind of schedule would be a mistake. People are already choosing other things over Arsenal, and you can be quite sure that many more will choose family first on Christmas Eve. It’s one of those situations that demands solidarity between fans, both Arsenal and Liverpool, who can see very well they way they’re thought of by the fact this idea is even being proposed. It’s not good for Arsenal or Liverpool from a sporting point of view, and it’s terrible for fans. There’s football almost every day of the week now. Weekend games, Friday night football, Monday night football, Premier League games take place on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, there’s European football midweek, can’t there just be a couple of days that are sacrosanct? Particularly at a time of the season when there’s a glut of football for us to enjoy? Let’s see what happens, but I suspect this might be one that pushes people too far, and they’d be wise to listen to, and show some respect for, fans on this one. — Right, that’s your lot. Some extra reading for you this morning from Tim Stillman as he looks at the Arsenal Trident. Have a good one.   The post Arsenal look to BATE Borisov : Sky’s Christmas Eve plans should be resisted appeared first on Arseblog ... an Arsenal blog.

Three points a must but West Brom will make it tough as always

Morning all. Our next five league games are a chance to get some points on the board, and that starts tonight as we face West Brom at the Emirates. It’s a busy week, because we play tonight, again on Thursday in Belarus in the Europa League, then we have a 12 noon kick-off on Sunday in the league again. It means that Arsene Wenger is going to have to use the full depth of his squad this week, so I think we’ll see as strong a team as possible for tonight. So, tonight I suspect it’ll be: Cech, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal, Bellerin, Ramsey, Xhaka, Kolasinac, Alexis, Ozil, Lacazette. I’m making the assumption that if Ozil is fit enough to train he’s fit enough to start, and that having got those minutes under his belt last week Sanchez is ready to go from a Premier League point of view as well. The midfield basically picks itself, especially against a team that will look to sit deep, but it’s important that they carry on where they left off against Chelsea last weekend. Tonight is a different proposition, a different kind of opponent, but Ramsey and Xhaka helped provide a stable platform for a very good performance and just because West Brom might be seen as somewhat less threatening doesn’t mean we should abandon that discipline and organisation. If that team is the one he selects, it’ll be the first time we get to see Ozil and Sanchez with Lacazette ahead of them. On paper there is a lot there to trouble defences. There’s pace, creativity, finishing ability, and for a team that played for so long with a more static centre-forward like Olivier Giroud, it should certainly make us less predictable. However, it’s about how quickly they can dovetail, so hopefully there’s been plenty going on on the training ground in that regard. The manager has spoken again about his record signing and the comparisons to Ian Wright, but says the French international may have to toughen up a bit now that he’s in England. He said:
There are similarities. Maybe Lacazette is a bit less aggressive than Ian Wright but hopefully he will get that because in England you have to survive. Up front is a very difficult position because you get harsh treatment sometimes. He looks to have shrewdness and overall I believe if the team plays well he looks always to be at the end of some interesting movements.
He looks a smart player from what we’ve seen so far, and while you don’t want him careering around like Vinnie Jones on PCP, you could see how a bit more edge to him might benefit him and the team. But that aggression doesn’t have to be crunching tackles, it can be seen in how hard he works, and you think back to the third goal against Bournemouth the other week. It was his persistence that won the ball back in the first place, and that’s part of it too. In games like tonight’s, where there’s bound to be a lot of Arsenal pressure in their final third as they defend well and stay organised like a Tony Pulis team does, it’s the ability to convert the chances that becomes so important. He’ll know he should have scored against Chelsea, and while he’s done well enough so far, he’s nearly two months into his career in England and it’s time for him to start making his mark consistently – especially against the teams below the top 6. Overall, we know what to expect from West Brom. They’re solid, physical, and have some quality that can hurt you if you switch off in defensive situations. We know they’ll make it tough for us, but after an indifferent start to the season, these are the games we have to win if we want to be in the ballpark of competing for the top four at least. There was a lot to like about the way we played against Chelsea, so if we can bring much of that into tonight’s game then I think we should be happy come 10pm tonight. We will have all the match coverage for you this evening, with reports, stats and the rest on Arseblog News after the game. There’s no Arsecast Extra this morning for obvious reasons, but James and I will have a podcast for you tomorrow. Join us for that. Catch you later for the game. ARSES UPDATE: All going well we should have the arses back up and running for you today, and with it the live blog too for tonight’s game.   The post Three points a must but West Brom will make it tough as always appeared first on Arseblog ... an Arsenal blog.