Back on track. Another big game.

The weekend passes and we are back to the somewhat disconcerting feeling of comfort after an unspectacular win against the Saints. Entering the week absent of stress is a welcome change to previous campaigns when we would have somehow managed to lose a 2-goal lead to a side down at the bottom. It was a fairly poor game of football all round but coming away with the result highlights the maturing element to the side this year. They are making winning a habit and it is great to see. We were undoubtedly fortunate to be served a goal on a plate and the award of the penalty was a total lack of discipline on Fonte’s part. Regardless the history books will say 2-0 to the Arsenal and that’s all that concerns me.
Other results at the weekend also worked in our favour. I don’t want to speak to soon but a slight roll reversal seems to be in play with Utd. Them stepping up for the big game against us before failing to a team they should comfortable beat (sure Van Persie is enjoying that all too familiar feeling). Tottenham also got well and truly dispatched by Man City. I wonder when 5pur2 will stop pretending to be a big club and concede life outside the top 4 is set to continue. Calls for AVB’s head are madness from fans but I am of the belief that if they were to make such a rash call it really would spell the end of their era close to the top. So by all means let it happen.
Anyways enough smugness as it is bound to come back to haunt me. We host Marseille tonight and it is another huge game (as they all are these days), a win takes us to 12 points and should all but secure us qualification to the next round. This is the sort of game, given what’s on the line, which we would previously have potentially bottled but given my current confidence in this team I think we will get a solid win. Marseille are yet to get a point so far this year and from what I have seen of them there is little they possess that can pose a genuine threat.

Walcott Marsielle

Another prospect that is exciting me is the return of Theo Walcott. People who have read this blog before will know that I am not his greatest advocate, but his small introduction on Saturday reminded me of just how quick he is. So far this year our team has been essentially void of it, there were a couple of times on the weekend that highlighted the threat he can create. One moment in particular was when he made one of his signature runs in behind the defence, Ozil played a curling ball from the left flank and although successfully blocked by Fonte it gave us a taste of what we have in stall. Ozil’s ability to pick him out behind the defence adds a whole new dimension to our game and his shear presence means no team can risk the high lines we have seen at times this year. The long awaited presence of the likes of Walcott and Chamberlain (proper wingers) is going to allow further developments to our game and I am intrigued to see how Wenger balances the team following their return.

Will

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January: Strikers, Theo and our Busy Schedule

January is a month that brings, for most Arsenal fans, a great deal of expectation. By the beginning of February we’re usually left with a host of different emotions. Of these emotions joy is rarely one.

So far this January has been no different. We entered the month with Spain’s most prolific striker, David Villa, being touted as our main target. For me this seems highly unlikely and news earlier today has confirmed Barcelona want him till the end of the season. A move for him in the summer may be feasible but at 31 you might say he is past his peak and there is the added concern that he’s returning from injury. I can’t speak for Barcelona but I can only imagine that if he had returned and was looking as good as ever that Barca would be keeping hold of him long-term. As we have seen recently with the contract extension of both Puyol and Xavi, if the quality is there age is not an issue.

Looking elsewhere, many will point to Chelsea’s signing of Demba Ba. He would have been a fantastic addition to the squad and worth the risk given his supposed injury record (his knee that’s so terrible he’s barely missed and game since his arrival to the Premier League…). Watching him against Newcastle, his movement and hold up play was excellent and he grabbed a brace for his efforts. In this case, however, the sad fact is that even if we had come in for him I am convinced he would still have gone to Chelsea. They are likely to have given him a nice big wage, one that Arsenal couldn’t rival, and though it pains me to say it Chelsea are looking far more likely to make top four than us this season.

Now we move onto our internal solution, Theo Walcott. Looking at statistics this season (14 goals in 20 appearances) coupled with individual moments of brilliance like his first and third goals against Newcastle you might say he is a pretty good option. But when you step back from that and you point to his flaws (indecisiveness, final ball, lack of strength) they are issues we all know too well and ones that we’ve been accepting for years because he’s ‘young’ and English. Given these problems I think its pretty clear he is not a long-term solution.

There have been murmurings in the press over the last day or so that a contract is close to being signed. This is great news, he may be a flawed player but he is highly effective for us a times. I do hope, however, that Arsene and the board have not bowed to his original contract demands. What he was asking for was ridiculous for a player of his quality and bluntly the way he has gone about this whole situation has really pissed me off. If it hadn’t been for the loss of Van PerSie and Na$ri in a similar way I feel he would have quite rightly received a lot more stick from the Arsenal faithful. He stands next to Jack in interviews saying how these processes take a long time when Jack has wrapped it up in a matter of weeks. Is Walcott a better player than Wilshire? No. Work harder on the pitch? No. A better bloke? No. I could go on. The point that I am trying to make is Walcott has been taking us for a ride and as fans we have accepted that because of the mistakes made previously by the club. For me he is not a striker and he certainly does not deserve to be anywhere near the highest paid player at the club. Sign the contract and that’s great but until then I will certainly not be chanting ‘Theo’ as he laps up the applause at the end of home games.

Onto the footballing side of the month and with the draw at Swansea we have landed ourselves with an extra fixture leaving us with 5/6 games depending on the FA cup result. Four are premier league games, three coming against Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool. This is a worrying schedule, our key players have started to look tired recently and given Arsene’s refusal to rotate the central three midfielders, our engine may not be running at full throttle. The supposed return of Abou Diaby to full training could theoretically help ease the burden but we all know how unreliable his fitness is.

I feel a signing or two is essential to maintaining our top four ambitions and a high quality central striker must be the priority. Either way this is a make or break month for Arsenal Football Club. I think by the end we will have a very good indication of where we will be come the end of May.

Will


Theo and Man Utd Preview…

We enter the game on Saturday following the crazy mid week spectacle at the Madejski; the likes of which I haven’t seen before and from an Arsenal point of view am very unlikely to see again. However enjoyable the drama of Tuesday night, when you step back from it you can’t help but feel that allowing ourselves to get into such a position is a worrying feat from any Arsenal side. Tom Lutz on Football Weekly made an interesting point this week about the reaction of Arsene Wenger, whose celebrations were pretty muted despite the comeback. Perhaps a good indication of what he really thought to our overall performance. Despite this, Wenger’s favorite character reference could not be applied better to a game and there is no doubt that it will bring about some positive momentum around the club.

One encouraging aspect of Tuesday’s game was the three goals for Theo Walcott. Admittedly the Reading defence was sub standard to say the very least, but given the opportunities you couldn’t have asked for much more from him. The first goal in particular, a show of composure that in seasons gone by he most likely would have scuffed at ninety degrees. This is, of course, the age old problem with Walcott, one day he will give you a display of finishing that will bring back memories of Thierry only to go into the next game and produce a level closer to our old friend Franny Jeffers. So does his performance warrant a place in the starting line-up this weekend? It’s tough to call; given his clear lack of loyalty to the club my enthusiasm towards him is lacking, but on pure footballing reasons it might be time to give him a start. Even without the injury to Gervinho I’d say Walcott is now better suited to the central role. You can’t help thinking that his reluctance to sign a new deal has effected his game time this season. It might be quite nice to see a 4-4-2 with Walcott and Giroud working along side but that seems a highly unlikely change to make given the importance of Saturday.

Arsene has come out saying that Theo’s negotiations must be wrapped up by Christmas, no doubt with an eye on the January window. If he doesn’t sign then, for me, he must be sold and must be replaced. An additional striker is needed anyway but to see our squad weakened in January would be madness.

Saturday 12.00 sees us head to Old Trafford, where we have not tasted victory since 2006, when Adebayor grabbed the only goal. So on stats alone the odds are stacked against us. I am, however reasonably optimistic ahead of the game. I feel we have a squad that on paper is well equipped to cope with United all over the pitch. I expect Jack to start and the midfield trio of Carzola, Arteta and Wilshire have the ability to set the tone for the others to follow.

Our potency in attack is an area that is a slight worry, but I continue to be impressed by the impact Giroud has made since breaking his duck. His headed goal against Reading in midweek was top quality and his overall impact very encouraging. Granted Utd are a very different challenge but with good performances around him I remain convinced he can have an effective game.

In previous seasons it has been their wing play that has caused us major problems, it wouldn’t surprise me to see their wingers given the freedom to run, particularly at Santos whose defensive discipline has been put under scrutiny after his last two performances. Podolski will have to be on his toes to keep up the good defensive work he’s provided this season.

Although it pains me to say it the front duo of Rooney and Van Persie is frightening combination and it’s going to take a top defensive performance from Per and Vermaelen to prevent goals. Hopefully our previous experience of Van Persie will help us throughout the game, but it’s still going to be a tough task.

I’m interested to see how he conducts himself on the pitch, he’s always had a fiery side to him and hopefully we can get under his skin and he’ll produce something rash. Wenger has asked fans to show respect towards our old captain, but given the respect shown to us I highly doubt his request to be granted.

It’s a tough one to call but my gut tells me we might just grab it. Both teams to score but a 2-1 win to Arsenal.

Maybe it’s blinded loyalty but who cares, COYG!


Are Theo Walcott’s Days Numbered? I Kinda Hope So…

This time last year Theo Walcott held an automatic starting berth in the Arsenal team, lining up and scoring in the 8-2 defeat to Utd. It was on that day that a 19 yr old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made his debut for the Club. Fast forward one year exactly and Walcott was left to warm the bench by both Arsene Wenger at Liverpool and Roy Hodgson in Moldova, both at the behest of Oxlade-Chamberlain.

After an uncertain summer of transfer rumours surrounding Walcott, a player running into the last year of his contract, is this the changing of the guard and potentially the beginning of the end for Walcott at Arsenal?

Comparisons between these two players is inevitable. Both coming through the famed Southampton youth system, the Ox made his debut at 16 yrs and 199 days, coming off the bench during a 5-0 win over Huddersfield Town to become the Club’s second youngest appearance maker, behind Theo Walcott. Both have blistering pace and both play on the wing, at least for the time being. Both also have aspirations of playing through the middle. Arsene has hinted during pre-season that the Ox will be considered as one of the 3 central midfielders more frequently this year. Meanwhile Walcott’s desire to play as a striker is well documented but unrealistic in the current system.

In many ways, The Ox’s rise to prominence couldn’t have been timed any better. Walcott’s contact negotiations dragged on throughout the summer, and still no agreement has been found. However critical you want to be about our transfer policy, rarely does Wenger allow a player to see out the last year of his contract with the risk of them leaving on a bosman the following summer, rendering the Walcott situation bizarre. Wenger has spoken of his confidence that Theo will stay, but you get the feeling that, after the disrespectful and ungrateful way Arsene has been treated by former players over the past few summers, and with the rise of the Ox, Walcott may have damaged his relationship with Arsene and the Club. I would have been very tempted to sell him for a reasonable price this summer with Liverpool and City supposedly lingering (why I’m not sure).

Apparently Theo has demanded £100,000 a week which would see him enter the very top bracket of earners at the Club, something I’m just not sure he deserves judging by his performances on the pitch. Last season was Walcott’s best statistically with 11 goals and 12 assists in all competitions (46 matches). Clearly when analysing a player, stats are a good place to start, but Walcott is no normal player. Ever since Sven took him to the world cup, a huge amount has been expected of him. Ever since Theo scored that hatrick against Croatia and went on that incredible run against Liverpool, we knew that he was capable of great things. This perhaps is his downfall. He has rare qualities that no other player possesses, namely ridiculous pace, however he also lacks the technical capabilities necessary to harness these qualities. The Ox shares crazy speed but he has strength, power, vision, aggression, incredible touch, accurate passing and crossing and a ferocious shot with either foot. He has all the raw materials necessary, Theo doesn’t.

Telling also was the lack of concern from Arsenal fans when rumours of a Walcott transfer emerged a few weeks ago. Similarly to Alex Dmitri Song Billong, the feeling seemed to be that he was replaceable, with Jesus Navas even being suggested as a possible replacement.

Meanwhile the Ox is going from strength to strength. Roy Hodgson singled out both Cleverly and Chamberlain after the game on Friday. He’s even gone and followed Wilshere’s lead and got himself on the cover of FIFA 13.

Yes Walcott is more experienced and more of a natural wide-man, but he really hasn’t developed in the way that I expected him to over the last six and a half years. Yes, six and a half years!! I still think Walcott is a useful man to have around but not if he wants silly money, and only if he is used shrewdly against teams playing high up the pitch.

Arsene I urge you to keep playing the Ox on the right hand side. As a great footballing philosopher once said about the 18 year old Michael Owen, ‘if you’re good enough then you’re old enough’.. (Glenn Hoddle 1997)
Nick