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2011-12 Season

Countdown to the new season: Giroud’s fee; Podolski’s performances

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2011-12 Season | 157 Guns

Hello all.  As Euro 2012 hurries to a close, a new reason rapidly approaches.  In little over a week, Arsenal’s players will be back in training.  A fortnight today we have our first pre-season fixture: two 45-minute games against Southampton and Anderlecht at St. Mary’s Stadium.  It’s all tantalisingly close now.

Germany’s elimination on Thursday night means Arsenal’s interest in the competition is officially over.  Lukas Podolski and Per Mertesacker will go on holiday now, and return in time to join Arsenal on their trip to the Far East at the end of the month.

Whilst Mertesacker did not play a minute of competitive action during the tournament, ousted by Hummels and Badstuber, Podolski was recalled for the semi-final, only to hauled off at half-time, prompting criticism in both Germany and England.  I don’t think Arsenal fans need worry: the Podolski we saw at this tournament was shackled by a very disciplined system.  He played more as a left-midfielder than winger.  At Arsenal, the wide forwards are given more freedom to come inside and roam, and I think that will suit him down to the ground.  International football is known to be a more compressed game, with less space for attackers, and I think that is reflected in the relatively disappointing showings from some of the continent’s leading strikers – including our own Robin van Persie.

I’m still looking forward to seeing him in action next season.  Arsenal are in the unfamiliar position of having completed their major incoming transfer business ahead of pre-season.  I’m sure I’ll get flak for saying this, but I don’t foresee many big names arriving – despite what you may read elsewhere about Yann M’vila.  When you look at the squad, I just can’t see many gaps that require filling.  There are two obvious exceptions: we probably need a goalkeeper, and would hypothetically need to further strengthen the attack if Robin van Persie departs.

If the Dutchman were to go, it’d be too great a burden  to rely solely on our other new boy, Olivier Giroud.  On the subject of the Frenchman, my understanding is that the release clause we met to snare him is €13m rather than €15m – quite the bargain.  The player himself has admitted he rejected the advances of Chelsea, and can’t wait to get going in red and white:

“It is incredible for me. To already be a champion in France [with Montpellier], then play for Les Bleus, and now Arsenal.

I repeat myself, but this is a beautiful story. When I was little boy, I wanted to play in the Premier League. My heart has always looked for Arsenal.”

Not long to wait now, Olivier.  And not long for us fans, either.

Giroud signs: A good piece of proactive business

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2011-12 Season | 967 Guns

And so, Arsenal have confirmed the signing of France forward Olivier Giroud.  It’s not yet July and we’ve already completed two major transfers.  This is unusually proactive behaviour from Arsenal.

Arsene Wenger, who has made plenty of unofficial statements about the player already, officially said this:

“We are delighted to have secured the signing of Olivier Giroud. He has a very good physical presence and is exceptional in the air, with a great work ethic. We are excited about Olivier joining us and he will add an additional dimension to our attacking options next season.

He has proved that he is capable of performing at the top level with club and country, and we saw what a big influence he was in Montpellier’s championship-winning side last season. We all look forward to Olivier joining us and seeing him play in an Arsenal shirt.”

Giroud himself, meanwhile, is clearly delighted to have signed.  Presumably it was the player’s strong desire to make the move that saw this deal tied up relatively quickly:

“I am delighted to be here at Arsenal and to be part of one of the great teams in English football. It’s a huge satisfaction to join this great club and it’s been a dream since I was young to play in the Premier League.

I was attracted by the philosophy of football and Arsène Wenger’s ‘touch’ at this club. I have always admired Arsenal with its great history and reputation, and I now hope to achieve great things here. I’m very proud to be a Gunner and I will give my best for all the Arsenal fans.”

We owe a debt to Giroud’s France and former Tours team-mate, Laurent Koscielny, who doubtless helped convince him of the upside to joining Arsenal.  We were aided too by a very reasonable release clause in Giroud’s contract, pricing him at around £13m – not bad for the top goalscorer in Ligue 1.

This remains a big step up for a man who was playing football in France’s second division a few years ago, but Koscielny has shown such a transition can be managed with talent and hard work.  A quick glance at Giroud’s career record shows 93 goals in 216 games – not bad for someone deemed a slow starter.

He certainly has the qualities to make an impression in the Premier League: he’s tall, powerful and good in the air. His adaptation will probably be helped by the fact that he seems an intelligent guy: at Tours he was also undertaking a university degree, and made an impressive stand against homophobia in football whilst posing for a gay magazine.

Of course, there will be further question marks over how this signing relates to the future of Robin van Persie.  The pair do share certain similarities: they both prefer to play in the central striking role, are both left-footed, and both enjoy taking the keeper by surprise by striking the ball early – often on the volley.  However, I don’t take either Giroud’s arrival – or that of Lukas Podolski – as confirmation that RVP is off.  Both signings were necessary to improve upon the efforts of Chamakh, Gervinho, Park and Arshavin last season.  Both could play with RVP, and provide backup artillery if necessary.  If, however, the worst comes to the worst and Van Persie is sold this summer, at least we’ve begun the job of replacing him a good while before 5pm on transfer deadline day.

We’re taking more control of our fate, and not letting one player determine our entire summer transfer policy.  Makes a change, that.

Giroud on his way in; The Crab scuttling behind

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2011-12 Season | 292 Guns

When even Arsene Wenger is prepared to talk publicly about a transfer, you can be pretty sure it’s a done deal.  Yesterday, in an interview with TF1, he confirmed that France striker Olivier Giroud is “90%” certain to be an Arsenal player next season.  Arsene continued to eulogise over his forthcoming signing, saying:

“I think he has exceptional potential and will integrate very well in our collective and our way of playing. He’s a real team player and knows how to combine with other players and I’m sure he will do well with us.”

He also had some positive words for Lukas Podolski, who is likely to start for Germany in their Quarter-Final with Greece tonight:

“Podolski did a great job for the German team, he has superb team work. He plays in a cautious way sometimes, but he’s still scored a very important goal against Denmark for his 100th cap.

I am very happy with what I’ve seen from him.”

He sounds like a kid on Christmas morn who can’t wait unwrap his new presents.  Arsene loves signing a striker, and next season he’ll have some proper ones to play with after a campaign making do with Chamakh and Park.  Hopefully he’s corrected his error there, and these strikers are ones actually capable of both playing matches and scoring the occasional goal.

Of course, I can’t help but notice that at a time when the future of Robin van Persie is in so much doubt, we’ve bought two left-footed strikers.  The other day Arsene bet a reporter an ice-cream that RVP wouldn’t sign for Juve – hardly ‘putting his house on it’.  It would be quick to put two and two together and infer the worst.  However, there’s no point worrying: if Robin signs a new deal, we’ve got a terrific set of strikers.  If he goes, at least we’ve begun the job of replacing him, avoiding the horror of a last-minute trolley dash.  And if he stays and sees out his deal, that will give the new boys plenty of time to settle in, and for Arsene to assess what further action might need to be taken.

By the way, that distant fanfare you can hear is not a premature welcome for Giroud, but one heralding the return of Denilson.  I can already see an orderly queue forming at the club shop as fans wait to get their new shirt printed with his name.  Not his squad number, though, as he doesn’t have one.  If Denilson does return I can only imagine it will be for a short while, with Spain a probably destination – although the Spanish club that showed most interest for him last summer have since been relegated.

We might just be stuck with him.

“What do you mean there’s no football tonight?!”

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2011-12 Season | 834 Guns

My cry last night shook Islington.  Euro 2012 has been a veritable feast of football, then last night the waiter inexplicably stopped bringing delicacies to my table.  I had to watch Channel 4′s Secret Eaters.  Pity me.

At least my abstinence has had the effect of making me disproportionately excited for the Czech Republic vs Portugal later this evening – so much so I’ve even had a flutter with FREEbets.org.uk.  Tomas Rosicky is unlikely to be fit to play, and that’s a significant blow for a Czech side I count as a little fortunate to get out of Group A.  The Quarter-Finals are shaping up nicely: England face Italy, whilst the tie of the round is surely France versus Spain, with Laurent Koscielny expected to start in place of the suspended Philippe Mexes.

Koscielny’s France team-mate, Olivier Giroud, curtly told reports yesterday that he has “not signed for Arsenal”, although I still expect him to shortly after France’s probably elimination on Saturday.  His arrival will edge Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh closer towards the exit door, although finding clubs who can afford to a) take the gamble of signing players with intermittent form and b) pay their wages won’t be easy.

Speaking of wages, I see Mathieu Flamini has been ‘released’ by AC Milan.  Some Arsenal fans have taken the opportunity to have a bit of a chuckle at Mathieu’s expense, but I think they’re missing the point: Flamini is a serial bosman mover.  He ran down his contract at Marseille, did the same at Arsenal, and has now completed a hatrick with Milan.  When he eventually retires, he’ll be a very rich man indeed.

Hmm.  That’s about it for today.  There’s not much happening, I suppose.  At least the Euros are on tonight.

Some Thoughts On Theo

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2011-12 Season | 181 Guns

I don’t know about you, but my emotional interest in international tournament is always two-fold. I cheer on my national side, England, doing my best to put aside my differences with various members of the squad. Beyond that, I look out for Arsenal players in action for their respective countries, and generally wish them well. Last night, for example, I was rather caught up in the varying fortunes of strike pair Lukas Podolski and Robin van Persie. The former scored on his 100th appearance for Germany as he sailed through to the Quarter-Finals. Robin, meanwhile, misfired again and is now heading on a plane home to ruminate further on his club future.

The night before, however, both my interests were intertwined, as Arsenal winger Theo Walcott came off the bench to drag England to victory against Sweden. After the pedestrian efforts of James Milner, his pace and direct running provided a welcome change in tempo. Just three minutes after entering the field, his deflected strike drew the score level at 2-2. And it was his searing run and pinpoint cross that allowed Danny Welbeck to pirouette and snatch England’s winner.

Unfortunately, Theo has now suffered a set-back in training, with a possible reoccurrence of the hamstring injury that troubled him at the back end of last season. If that is found to be the case, it will almost certainly end his tournament. It’s a shame for Walcott, who has waited six years to get on the field in a major international competition, but whatever happens it surely won’t be forgotten that without him England would be staring down the barrel of a group stage exit.

Of course, his game-changing contribution served to remind Arsenal fans that it is not just Robin van Persie’s future that is in doubt. Theo Walcott’s existing contract also expires in just twelve months, and there has been a far less tangible effort on Arsenal’s part to secure an extension.

There still seem to be serious doubts over Walcott’s ability. The emergence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as a genuine contender for his first-team spot with Arsenal and England has not helped him. In my opinion, we’d be mad to let him go. In purely cynical terms, he’s a major name and a commercial asset to the club. However, on the pitch, his understanding with Robin van Persie is almost telepathic, and his stats (for goals and assists) suggest that despite his capacity to frustrate he remains productive.

The problem for Theo will always be that he was hyped as the new Thierry. He’ll never be that. However, considering that when we bought him we were essentially taking a £10m gamble, the fact he’s turned in to a Champions League and international level performer is actually a pretty decent return. If he were to ever leave, we ought to expect a significant profit – and to do so, it is essential he is under contract. Letting it run down yet further makes no sense whatsoever.

The fixtures are out first thing this morning. All the chatter says we’ve got Sunderland at home in the first game. That’d be a nice start.

THE OX T-Shirt: Unleashed. Get Yours Now.

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2011-12 Season | 541 Guns

Anyone who saw Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s performance against France will confirm that to him, such a challenge is merely a red rag to a bull.  

Or should I say OX.  

He simply attacks it, with Pace, Skill, & Power.  Lots of Power.

THE OX has been unleashed.  Now get the shirt.

Graphic by North Internet

Only 150 of these shirts have been printed, so move fast and click here to get yours.  Alongside the tees, we’ve gone for something new to the store, which is both ideal for our inclement British summer and fits the Chicago Bulls-influenced design: a very limited number of sweatshirts (see right).  Only 20 have been made in this initial run.  They’re rarer than an appearance from Park Ju-Young.

If you want to support The Ox at the Euros, but can’t bring yourself to buy a shirt also worn by John Terry, then I might go so far as to suggest that this could prove a viable alternative.  Never mind Three Lions: We’ve got The Ox.  Anyway, hope you like ‘em.

In other news, it seems the potential signing of Olivier Giroud is creeping ever closer.  Arsene was loathe to talk about the subject on TF1 last night, but when pressed he eventually said, “nothing is decided”.  He’s right – nothing is decided, and nor will it be until Giroud returns from the Euros.  Despite that, we do seem his most likely destination.  I was chatting to my brother, the esteemed @char1ie_m (worth a follow if you enjoy transfer-talk and informed football chat), and he made a great point: this signing is a big test for Arsenal’s primary French Scout, Gilles Grimandi.  Ligue 1 was once a very happy hunting ground for Arsene.  However, in recent years we’ve seen Koscielny, Chamakh, Gervinho and Park arrive, and of those I would argue that only Koscielny could be deemed a success.  Let’s hope that in the event of his arrival Giroud replicates the effort of his friend and international colleague.

Last night two existing Arsenal forwards, Robin van Persie and Lukas Podolski, took to the field as Germany met Holland.  Van Persie may have netted an impressive strike with a swing of his chocolate leg, but Podolski will be the happier man this morning after his side took the three points.  I have to say, I think the criticism of Van Persie’s performances in this tournament has been a little harsh.  I, for one, hope he can turn it around and knock a couple past Portugal to give Holland a fighting chance.

Our most impressive striker in the tournament thus far?  Probably Nicklas Bendtner.  Who saw that one coming…

Finally, I suppose I had better touch on the news from over the road, that Harry Redknapp will be leaving Spurs.  There’ll be much dancing and taunting (dauncing?) from Arsenal fans, and with good reason.  However, I can’t help but feel that part of our glee is that Spurs have willingly got rid of a man who took them to fourth, fifth, and fourth consecutively.  With messrs Rodgers and Lambert already in new jobs elsewhere, they’ve severely limited their options for replacing Harry.  I have a sneaky feeling this move could prove to be, in every sense, a good thing for Arsenal fans.

Giroud could replace Chamakh – not RVP

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2011-12 Season | 591 Guns

In an interview with French radio station RMC, Montpellier manager Rene Girard has claimed that Arsenal are following their France international striker Olivier Giroud, and that the player is keen on a move to England.  Whilst it’s obviously in the early stages, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Arsene Wenger moving for one of Ligue 1′s breakout stars of 2011/12 – France is his favourite country to shop in, after all.

Giroud is a close pal of Laurent Koscielny after their time together at Ligue 2 Tours.  Like Koscielny, he is something of a late developer.  He was never once capped at youth level for France, and only made his debut this season, aged 25.  This past season, however, he has been in fantastic form, scoring 21 goals and firing Montpellier to a historic league title.

The suggestions in France is that he has a release clause of around €13m.  For an international striker, it’s not a huge amount.  And lest we forget, Arsenal are badly in need of goalscorers, even allowing for the forthcoming arrival of Lukas Podolski.  The Arsenal careers of Park Chu-Yung and Marouane Chamakh look doomed, and there’s even talk that the latter could join Montpellier as compensation for the loss of Giroud.

Swap deals are rare things, but this one would make sense.  Chamakh has not flourished in England as he did in France, and playing for Montpellier (possibly on loan) would give him the opportunity to put himself in the continental shop window of the Champions League.  There are also similarities in their style of play: they’re both tall, physical players with the ability to hold the ball up and bring others in to play. Giroud, fortunately, is a significantly better finisher with his feet than the Moroccan.

As with the signing of Podolski, this mooted transfer is only good news in addition to retaining Robin van Persie. Giroud would provide another option, an invaluable support, and a degree of depth.  He would not single-handedly replace the talismanic Dutchman.  Then again, I’m not sure anyone that we could afford would.

Anyway, here’s a look at Giroud in action last term:

He was an unused sub in yesterday’s France – England clash, where Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was surprise starter, and did rather well. Don’t forget you can grab your free Ox wallpaper from the Gunnerblog Store – just follow the instructions in the product description.

Keep your Three Lions – We’ve Got The Ox (Free Wallpaper)

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2011-12 Season | 273 Guns

When Arsenal signed Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, they knew they were getting a technical player. A graduate of Southampton’s esteemed academy system, he was plainly versatile, two-footed, and blessed with the one of those coveted ‘football brains’. What they couldn’t have known was the sheer power they’d be unleashing.

Aged 14, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s slight build saw his future in Southampton in doubt. At 15, he was told he had three months to win a contact. With hindsight, the idea seems ludicrous. Now 18, he has the upper-body build of a middle-weight boxer. His raw physicality and squat frame is reminiscent of one Julio ‘The Beast’ Baptista. Except this isn’t any generic beast. This is The Ox.

In the long-term, many see Oxlade-Chamberlain converting in to a central midfielder. In the meantime, there is no sight more enthralling than him barrelling down either wing, going to shoulder-to-shoulder with defenders almost twice his age. The Ox, you see, pays no heed to seniority, or reputation. He hurdles those challenges like the tackles that snap at his ankles, vaulting onward towards the goal.

Today he may face his greatest challenge yet: the International stage and Euro 2012. If he is called upon to face France, there won’t be any nerves. For him, an opportunity like that is something to be savoured. A red rag to a bull-dozer of a player. He’ll do what he always does: bewilder them with skill, then frighten them with raw pace and strength. If the French defence haven’t heard of him before he game, they chances are they’ll know him after: The Ox – Arsenal’s Power Forward.

Graphic by North Internet

To have your desktop, iPhone or iPad adorned by Arsenal’s very own Power Forward than simply click on the image and follow the instructions to download your own free goodypack.  The wallpaper features by a graphic by North Internet, and a quick glance at the Gunnerblog Store will tell you it’ll soon be finding its way on to a rather fetching t-shirt and strictly limited run sweater – but more of that later this week…

Elsewhere, it’s been an inauspicious start to the Euros for the Arsenal contingent.  Wojciech Szczesny managed to endure a calamitous tournament debut, failing to capture a cross that led to a Greek equaliser, before conceding a penalty for a clumsy trip and getting sent off in the process.  He’ll sit out the next game with a suspension, and will have to hope his Polish comrades do enough to ensure he plays more of a part later in the tournament.

Things didn’t go much better for Tomas Rosicky, whose Czech side were hammered 4-1 by a fluent and exciting Russia.  Meanwhile, Robin van Persie endured something of a personal nightmare against Denmark, missing a couple of presentable opportunities that we would expect him to bury in red and white.

So far the major winners have been players who, whilst technically belonging to Arsenal, have spent recent months plying their trade elsewhere.  Nicklas Bendtner was ploddingly effective for the Danes, whilst a revitalised Andrey Arshavin was quite outstanding for Russia.  It was a glimpse of the Arshavin we saw in his first six months at the club: direct, incisive, and about half a stone lighter.  It seems the damage is done and neither of these players will be returning to the club, but these performances may well have put a few quid on their price tag.

Today, England face France, where Theo Walcott, Laurent Koscielny and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are all likely to begin on the bench.  If you were to bet on one man to make an impact, it might just be the teenage tyro with the body of a boxer and a predisposition for fearlessness.  History is there to be made.  Go On The Ox.

Gazidis speaks, and no news is probably bad news

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2011-12 Season | 761 Guns

Arsenal’s multi-accented marvel of a Chief Executive, Ivan Gazidis, has given an in-depth and intriguing interview to Arsenal.com.  It is certainly worth a read.  There’s a glowing tribute to Pat Rice, a bit of insight in to our commercial activity, and a tubthumping message to the Arsenal fans about our prospects in 2012/13.

There is, most pressingly, a little bit about RVP.  It goes something like this:

“Robin sat down with us at the end of the season and we had a good discussion. What we agreed at that meeting was that we would keep all the discussions we had over the summer to ourselves and make announcements when it is the right time. We have to respect the fact we have agreed to keep that among ourselves. Robin is clearly focused on the Euros at the moment and we wish him well, and at the right time we will make the right announcements. But at the moment we are not saying anything.”

It’s hard to gleam much from that.  If your glass is half-full, you might read something in to Ivan’s use of the word ‘announcements’ – the only likely announcement of any kind would be that Robin has agreed a new deal.  If it’s half-empty then you might ask why, with the entire club in suspense and season ticket renewals still open, if you had something positive to say would you not just say it?  If Robin really does want to focus on the Euros, and knows he wants to stay at Arsenal, then surely having it signed, sealed and settled would only help him concentrate on the task in hand.

It’s very clear that he wants to keep his options open, and the longer he does so the slimmer our chances of retaining him become.  My opinion about what will happen with Van Persie changes as frequently as the engravings in Salomon Kalou’s hair, but at the moment I find it very hard to foresee him agreeing to a new deal.  Arsenal would then be left with the same choice they faced with Samir Nasri: keep him for a year but lose him on a free, or pocked £25m.  Possibly more.

There is, I suppose, the possibility that Robin is holding Arsenal to ransom, waiting to see how our transfer activity unfurls before committing.  However, he’s unlikely to see any seismic moves take place between now and the end of the European Championships.  Gazidis himself says:

“I think the way that the window will pan out is with some activity before the Euros, particularly with respect to the European players who are playing, the quieter period while the Euros are actually taking place and then a period of activity afterwards.”

So even in the best case scenario, we won’t have any resolution for months yet.  It is going to be a long old summer.

Gazidis will come under the microscope again at this evening’s AST Q&A.  I imagine he’ll mainly be repeating himself, but if any interesting tidbits come out of that I’ll try to let you know.

2011/12: Arsenal’s Season Blogged

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2011-12 Season | 470 Guns

For the reflective among you, here’s a little look at 2011/12, as it happened on the blog.  I thought it might be interesting to see what I got right, what I got wrong, and just how topsy-curvy a campaign this was.  Without further ado, let’s get underway.  See you on the other side.

Only One Number Counts When It Comes To The Cesc Deal | August 6th 2011
“Whilst Arsenal are undoubtedly right to push Barca to pay as high a fee as possible, the truth is that I don’t think it matters too much exactly what the final amount is. What difference does a few million euros make, really? The fact is that Arsenal are losing their captain against their will. Having a little bit more money in the bank won’t make that blow any easier to suffer. The only figure that matters to me is how much is reinvested in the squad.”

A Real Life Signing: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain | August 8th 2011
“There will doubtless be fans who are frustrated at Arsene’s willingness to pay such a high price for a teenager when he baulks at similar fees for established internationals.  I share that frustration.  All I can say to that is that I hope Chamberlain is the first of several new faces, the rest of which will be slightly more experienced than the young Englishman.”

Truly Yours, Your Biggest Fan, This Is Stan (Kroenke) | August 9th 2011

The End Is Nigh | August 11th 2011
“Whisper it, but it may almost be over.  A transfer saga that has hung its miserable shadow over us since the day Cesc Fabregas first arrived in London, and that has spent two years showering uncertainty on to our captain and our club, may be about to end.”

Newcastle & Season Preview | August 13th 2011
“Cesc’s team has now been disbanded.  A new one is emerging, with a far more Northern European than Mediterranean flavour.  A team dominated by Van Persie, Vermaelen, and a growing British core of Wilshere, Ramsey, Gibbs, Walcott, Jenkinson and Chamberlain.  In most circumstances, it would be exciting.  But the revolution has come at a time when Arsenal fans do not have the patience for yet more transition.  Arsene has nurtured a team around Cesc and Nasri, only to have the creative heart ripped out of it when he thought it was closest to fruition.  Now he’s left to pick up the pieces and try and build yet another new side.

With the growing pressures on him, his only option is pragmatism.  He has to be more short-termist, and bring in experienced players who represent immediate solutions.  We’ve said this before, but never has it been more urgent, and more true.

The season proper starts on September 1st.  If Arsene isn’t careful, his position could become untenable before then.”

Barton, Brawls & Babies on the Bench | August 14th 2011
“Watching us on the pitch yesterday suddenly brought home the significance of losing Cesc and Nasri all the more clear to me.  These are huge, huge players.  Aaron Ramsey is a talented and characterful kid, but he’s not even close to their level.  Replacements are necessary if we’re to achieve our minimum aim of a top four finish, let alone challenge for major honours.”

The “Goodbye Cesc” Post | August 15th 2011
“I have known for some time that I’d have to write this post.  Probably ever since Cesc Fabregas arrived as a 15 year-old back in 2003.  I ought to have prepared it and kept it on file, ready to go, like major media organisations do with obituaries. And yet, for some reason, even as the past week has made it clear his departure was imminent, I haven’t dared to start it.  Patently, it’s because I didn’t really want to.”

How Arsene Has To Spend His Money | August 15th 2011
“The received wisdom is that the position which requires attention most urgently is centre-back.  That’s changed.  Losing Cesc and possibly Nasri means the priority is a creative midfielder – ideally two.  It’s unlikely that any individual will be able to replace Cesc’s enormous contribution to the team, so sharing that burden and providing some strength in depth would be sensible.”

Arsenal 0 – 2 Liverpool: Cracks Widening In Every Game | August 20th 2011
“Quite often, I get criticised in the ‘Comments’ section of this blog for being “too positive”.  I’m accused of being sycophantic to the manager and blind to the club’s problem.  Those readers will probably enjoy this blog a little more.  Equally, I hope that those fans who enjoy my more positive outlook will forgive the sombre mood of this post – but I was deeply alarmed by what I witnessed today.”

Nasri Won’t Be Missed Like Cesc | August 26th 2011
“Nasri’s departure certainly evokes memories of Hleb’s exit.  Last season was comfortably the Frenchman’s best, and seems to have left him with both an inflated ego and idea of what he ought to be paid.  After turning down a £90,000 p/week contract extension, Nasri left Arsenal with a clear choice: sell him now, or risk losing him for free in twelve months time.

For me, it’s a no-brainer.  As Arsene pointed out, both “economically and psychologically”, the club only had one option.  And, for economic and psychological reasons, Arsenal will be quietly delighted to have sold the player to City rather than United: his original suitors.”

Udinese Thoughts: Pride, Passion & Pace. Lots of Pace. | August 26th, 2011
“Congratulations to this group of players for triumphing in the face of adversity.  With their backs to the wall, a mishmash team pulled the manager out of an ominous hole.  I hope he’s wise enough to know they won’t be able to do so every week – to flourish, they need reinforcements.  With Champions League football in the bag, we should have both the means and the might to lure them.”

8 – 2: A Post Mortem | August 29th, 2011
“What sickened me more than anything was to watch this team perform without pride, and without belief.  The players know the squad isn’t good enough to compete.  It was written all over their performances – and some of them have even said as much.  They were caught in a losing battle.  When Van Persie and Walcott were withdrawn to fight another day, they sat down on the bench without so much as a glance at Wenger.  Inside, they will have been fuming.  You can bet that neither are in any mood to open contract negotiations anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the manager sat in the dugout, motionless.  He didn’t even walk to the touchline to cajole his troops.  He just sat there and watched his lambs slaughtered.  You know Arsene is in trouble when he’s receiving pity from his supposed adversary.  After the game, Alex Ferguson said, “we could’ve scored more, but you don’t want to score more against a weakened team like that”.  It’s a comment almost as withering and humiliating as the scoreline.”

Transfer Frenzy: 5 Signings In 2 Days| September 1st, 2011

Two days. Five signings. One goal: Regeneration.

“I expected activity from Arsenal.  I hoped for three, maybe four additions.  But five signings in two days is more than I could have wished for.

The 8-2 defeat to Manchester United brought the club to its knees.  But it also brought a change of ideology.  Arsene saw how on that day how vulnerable his young squad was, and has moved decisively to reinforce it with experience and quality.  The cavalry has arrived.”

Mikel Arteta: Class, Character & Cojones | September 6th 2011
“Arteta’s last act at Everton was to take a stoppage-time penalty.  At stake were three points for a beleaguered club.  Everton’s usual taker, Leighton Baines, handed the ball to Arteta, grasped his head in his hands, and whispered a few crucial words in to the Spaniard’s ear.  One can only imagine he was urging the midfielder to leave the club and the fans the parting gift of a goal.

That’s pressure.  That’s where a player has to draw upon experience, nerve, skill and character.  Arteta duly stepped up, and scored.  And that’s just why Arsenal need him.”

Curious Koscielny | September 16th 2011
“Laurent Koscielny is a very strange footballer.  Not because of his Polish-French heritage.  Not because of the upright, short-armed running style that makes him resemble a stalking velociraptor.  Laurent Koscielny is a strange footballer because he manages to look extremely competent whilst also being at the heart of a defence that is occasionally in disarray.”

Blackburn 4 – 3 Arsenal: Adjust Your Sights For This Season | September 17th 2011
“I can’t sit here and tell you that Arsenal defended anything other than dreadfully.  Nor can I tell you that we’ll turn this round and become title challengers.  What I can tell you is that I saw signs today that we are perfectly capable of finishing fourth in this league.  It will take a lot of work, and a few changes, but it can happen.  And if you care about the future of this club you had better hope it does.

The manager will not walk away.  Nor will he be sacked.  Like it or not, he is here for this season.  You may believe that this mess is of his creation, and I’d probably agree.  However, I still believe he can get us out of it.”

Of Course Arsene’s Arsenal Can Finish Fourth | September 19th 2011
“I think there is real evidence for my assertion. The team favoured for fourth by most is Liverpool, who beat one of the weakest Arsenal teams in history largely due to an unfortunate own goal. Yesterday they shipped four goals at Spurs. They’ve now lost consecutive league games. Despite about £100m investment, they hardly look world-beaters, and are just three points ahead of an ‘in crisis’ Arsenal.

If not Liverpool, then Spurs, you cry. But Tottenham remain, well, Tottenham. They have not finished above Arsenal in the course of Arsene’s reign, and consistency remains a problem for them. When it comes to the crunch, wobbly nerves or dicky tummies tend to see Arsenal emerge on top.

It is, in reality, a three-horse race for fourth place. Looking at the squads on paper, there isn’t much to choose between Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool. But the fact that we’ve done it before will surely count in our favour. Every season for the past five years I’ve seen pundits write off our chances of a top four finish, only to be proven wrong. This year, after the difficult start we’ve had, would be sweeter than ever.”

Spurs 2 – 1 Arsenal: Arsene Wenger & The World’s Worst Handbrake | October 3rd 2011
After the game, Arsene trotted out the now-familiar refrain of Arsenal’s problematic braking system:

“In the first half I felt we played a little but with the handbrake on.”

Maybe.  But I thought a handbrake was supposed to stop you going downhill fast?

Chelsea 3 – 5 Arsenal: Arsenal Get Their Swagger Back At The Bridge | October 31st 2011
“The celebrations for the fifth goal and the final whistle have have looked a little over-the-top to the neutral. They were more befitting of a side winning the league than a mere three points. However, for Arsenal fans, they require no explanation. After the horrors of Old Trafford, this game provided a necessary and hugely cathartic fillip. For the first time since the victory over Barcelona in spring, Arsenal fans are able to feel unapologetically proud of their team.”

Norwich 1 – 2 Arsenal | November 21st 2011
“In the calendar year of 2011, he has now scored 31 goals in 29 league games.  In the history of the Premier League, only Alan Shearer (36) and Thierry Henry (34) have managed more.  It is an extraordinary run, and one that surely confirms his place as one of Europe’s greatest strikers.  What’s particularly fascinating is that he doesn’t have the electrifying pace of Henry, or the brute strength of Shearer.  He is a pure footballer, and it is a combination of intelligent movement, breathtaking technique, and devastating finishing that is seeing him ascend these heights.”

An Extraordinary Week To Be An Arsenal Fan | December 12th 2011
“I was very grateful to be invited by Arsenal to attend the unveiling of three statues commissioned to commemorate the club’s 125th Anniversary.  It was something of an open secret that the statue’s would be of Herbert Chapman, Tony Adams, and Thierry Henry.  What I didn’t know was that Mr. Henry would be there in person, and that I would be stood just yards from the legendary striker when he broke down upon seeing his statue.”

Thoughts on Arsenal’s Festive Sandwich | December 28th 2011
Yossi Benayoun deserves more opportunities.
His headed winner at Villa Park was a rare example of an Arsenal player coming off the bench and making a genuine different to the game. Supporters are tired of seeing the uninspiring sight of Marouane Chamakh or Andrey Arshavin preparing to take to the field. Benayoun guarantees hard work and, of late, real quality. His display at home to Wolves was another example of what he can offer the side.

Whisper it quietly, but Spurs don’t look likely to collapse anytime soon.
Whilst of course we ought to try and pursue and overhaul them, I’m increasingly of the belief that the real battle for Champions League qualification is between us and Chelsea, and for fourth rather than third place. Spurs look very strong indeed, and I don’t perceive Liverpool to have the strength in depth to mount a sustained challenge – particularly in light of Luis Suarez’s ban.”

Henry’s Pride Will Not Allow Him To Fail | December 30th 2011
“However Thierry’s physical condition may have degraded, he is still Thierry Henry.  You have to remember that in electing to come back, the player himself has everything to lose and nothing to gain.  Is that a risk he would take if he felt he was genuinely past it?  I suspect not.  In my time as an Arsenal fan, I have never seen a player so image conscious.  Everything – his interviews, his transfer flirtations, even his celebrations – were expertly stage-managed.  It was as much his intelligence off the pitch, as well as his brilliance on it, that helped make him a living legend at Arsenal.  Over the past few years, he has had many opportunities for the perfect goodbye, including that emotional appearance as a Red Bulls player at the Emirates Cup this summer.  A player so conscious of his own legacy would not dare jeopardise that by coming back only to depart with a whimper.  If he’s coming back, it’s because he believes he can make one last, lasting contribution.”

Return Of The King: Welcome Home Thierry | January 9th 2012
“What is va va voom?

It’s many things. It’s a style, an attitude. It’s a grace, an impudence, a gallic flair. It’s instant control, a side-footed finish, and a shrug of celebration. And what is more, it’s back. As of today, for a period of six to eight weeks, Arsenal will once more be able to call on the greatest player in their history. Thierry Henry has returned.”

 Invincible, Immortal, & In The Fourth Round | January 10th 2012
“The diagonal through ball from Alex Song was perfect. It could have been played by Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires, or even Dennis Bergkamp. The first touch was immaculate, the body shape breathtakingly familiar. The giant clock suspended from the Emirates canopy seemed to stop, dead. Time wound back to 2004 and, briefly, Thierry Henry was invincible again.

As he drew back his right-foot to strike the ball, the Emirates was momentarily hushed. Then followed the trademark sidefoot strike. Before the ball crossed the line, Henry glanced across at the linesman. He just had to check. Check that this was really happening, that it wasn’t a dream, that a cruel flag wasn’t about to deny him his moment.

He knew, of course, that the ball would settle in the bottom corner. When he’s wearing red and white, it invariably does.”

 Arsenal 1 – 2 Man U: Mutiny At The Emirates | January 23rd 2012
“I suppose the vitriol on display is a symptom of a relationship under strain. The reaction yesterday was about more than one substitution – it’s about 6 trophless years, a baffling transfer policy, and most recently a run of three consecutive defeats. Patience with Arsene has been thinning and yesterday, for many, it gave way.

Truth be told, I think our record is simply levelling out to something approaching an accurate reflection of our ability. Robin van Persie carried us to a long unbeaten run pre-Christmas, but I think in that spell we did disproportionately well.  Expectations may have been raised higher than was appropriate.”

Sunderland 1 – 2 Arsenal: Thierry’s Fabulous Fond Farewell | February 13th 2012
“On Saturday, in the final Premier League appearance of his farewell tour, the man who writes scripts with a swish of his right boot rather than a pen emerged from the bench.  There was just half an hour to play in our game against in form Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.  After Aaron Ramsey had clawed back an equaliser to James McClean’s opener, Henry’s expertly volleyed home a stoppage time winner to hand Arsenal a vital three points.  229 Arsenal goals and, with a game against AC Milan to come, still counting.”

Thoughts On Our Milan Mauling | February 17th 2012
“Arsenal have suffered a few significant defeats this season. There was the obvious example of the thrashing at Old Trafford, the collapse at Blackburn, and the capitulation in Greece. In all of those instances, there were mitigating circumstances: teams weakened due to transfer activity, injuries, or rotation. The reason the 4-0 defeat to Milan cuts particularly deep is that this is a game in which Arsenal were bereft of excuses. We had a strong side, a massive incentive, and we were hugely disappointing. Make no mistake about it: on Europe’s biggest stage, this was a humiliation.”

Sunderland 2 – 0 Arsenal: Fourth Place Is Everything Now | February 19th 2012
“I have never subscribed to Arsene’s view that a top four finish is equivalent to claiming silverware. It’s nonsense. There is no explosion of joy, no entry in the record books, no trophy. But it remains absolutely vital. As bad as things are, falling out of the top four would be disastrous. It’s not a prize – it’s a necessity.

I’m gutted about the defeats to Milan and Sunderland, but if I had to choose between going out of the cups or suffering two league defeats, I think I’d choose the former. To win the FA Cup would be fantastic, but I’m not sure it’d be enough to keep Robin van Persie, or attract major talent to augment (or indeed replace) him. Fourth place might.”

This Is Not The Time For Arshavin To Go | February 24th 2012
I know Arshavin has been a major disappointment.  I know that the end of his Arsenal career is inevitable.  But why let him go now?  With the number of injuries our squad picks up, it’s almost certain he would have been used between now and May.  And for all his flaws, he is very occasionally capable of important, match-winning contributions.

For the sake of a few months wages, I cannot see the sense in selling at this point.  But then, that’s rather in-keeping with most of our transfer business of late.

5 Reasons 2 Believe | February 27th 2012
Grateful though we all are for yesterday, there is a strong and accurate feeling that redemption is about more than one game. This was the first of three hugely significant league games, which will also take in clashes with Liverpool and Newcastle. The performance yesterday has to be a blueprint for those games, and beyond. If we are to qualify for the Champions League we need to consistently find that level of desire, that degree of determination, and that quality in our play.

Today marks a year to the day since the Carling Cup Final defeat by Birmingham – a game which signified the beginning of something on an annus horribilis for Arsene’s Arsenal. Let’s hope yesterday’s victory can signify the start of a more enjoyable twelve months.

Oh, and Tottenham fans: Mind the gap.

Liverpool 1 – 2 Arsenal: Robin Rocks Anfield | March 3rd 2012
“Last week we blew away Spurs with a five-star, five-goal derby demolition. This victory at Anfield could not have been more different: we absolutely sneaked it. And, to me at least, it felt just as sweet.”

Milan Preview: Chamberlain To Get Central Role? | March 6th 2012
I don’t know if I speak for all Arsenal fans, but I’m rather looking forward to tonight.  A couple of big wins in the league have changed the mood in the camp, and what previously looked like a humiliating dead rubber now feels like an opportunity to face glamorous opposition with, really, nothing to lose.  No one has ever over-turned a four-goal deficit in Europe and the Champions League betting reflects the uphill task Arsenal face.  To all intents and purposes, we’re already out, but any sort of positive result would be catalytic fuel on the fire of our momentum.  And if – IF – we were to score a couple of early goals… well, you just never know.

Arsenal 3 – 0 Milan: Now Let’s Fight For More Nights Like This | March 7th 2012
“I was bowled over by what I saw last night. Arsenal may have lost the tie, but I couldn’t have been more proud. Proud of the performance, and proud of the club. Lesser men would have given up before kick-off. Lesser clubs, I would argue, would have crumbled after what we have been through this season. And yet there we were, putting the sword to one of Europe’s finest. The fans who sang so loudly, the players who worked so hard – they all need to know that if they show similar levels of commitment between now and May, they will be back on that stage, with a chance to put things right. Let’s make it happen.”

Arsenal 2 – 1 Newcastle: Arsenal Complete A Quartet Of Comebacks | March 13th 2012
“For the first time in a long time, Arsenal play without fear.  In they go behind, they believe they can retrieve it.  If they go in to the tackle, they believe they can win it.  The ghosts of Eduardo, Ramsey and others have evaporated, and Arsenal players are throwing themselves in to challenges like they’re impervious to pain.  The commitment is fantastic, and it’s bringing results.

There will inevitably be a lot of talk of reeling in Spurs.  With the ups and downs of the past few months, my principal target remains fourth spot and a chance of Champions League qualification.  Anything beyond that will be a bonus – albeit a very welcome one indeed.  For the first time in a while, Arsenal are beginning to look up as well as down.”

QPR 2 – 1 AFC: Back To Earth | April 2nd 2012
“It was a poor performance, and a poor result.  But it’s not the end of the world – nor, crucially, the end of our season.  Before the game I spoke of eight cup finals.  We lost the first one, but win the next against Man City and it will soon be forgotten.  Arsenal have plenty to play for, and I’m afraid slip-ups along the way are inevitable.  Don’t be fooled by unbeaten runs: this team are not the Invincibles.  They are, however, earning a reputation for being fairly unkillable: as soon as they’re written off, they find a way of coming back from the brink.  It’s a trait I can’t help but admire.”

Arsenal 1 – 0 Man City: Small Feet, Big Goal | April 9th 2012
“After his thumping free-kick against Aston Villa, Arsene Wenger revealed the secret behind Mikel Arteta’s shooting: his unusually small feet.  Well, rarely can such pies pequeños have been responsible for sending such reverberations through the Premier League.  Arteta’s 87th minute strike has not only continued our propulsion towards Champions League qualification, but also seems to have handed the title to Manchester United.”

Arsenal Foiled By Wigan’s Tactical Masterclass | April 17th 2012
“Wigan’s recent form suggest they should have been clear of the relegation zone long before now.  Noises from inside the club have suggested that Martinez’s tactics were too perhaps too sophisticed for some of his players.  It seems as if he is finally getting the message across.  Hats off: I was mightily impressed.

Arsenal, meanwhile, have missed a massive opportunity.  The game against Chelsea takes on even bigger significance now – we need to bounce back all over again.”

Ramsey, Chamberlain & Fan Perception | April 17th 2012
“It’s good to back youngsters.  But here’s my worry: when Aaron Ramsey was 18 years old, I’d say his potential was roughly equivalent to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s now.  People were talking about him as a future Arsenal captain, a ‘Steven Gerrard figure’ and part of an exciting new generation of British talent.  Ramsey is a lesson that the hype and expectation around a young starlet can quickly turn to frustration – just ask Theo Walcott, who was pilloried last night for a performance that was nullified more by Wigan’s outstanding tactics than any failings on Theo’s part.

It is my firm belief that Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will become massive players for Arsenal Football Club.  What they both need from the fans is time, patience, support, and a bit of perspective.  Let’s give them that.”

Fourth Is Now A Risk We Simply Can’t Take | April 25th 2012
“Roberto Di Matteo’s side are now just one game from snatching the Champions League Qualification spot normally awarded to the side who finishes fourth. Fourth would always have been a risk – our tie with Udinese this season showed just how treacherous the obligatory qualifying round can be. Now, with the possibility that even that opportunity to qualify might be whisked from under our feet in Munich, it’s a risk we simply cannot take.”

Podolski Confirmed; Third Place Far From It | May 1st 2012
“Like his countryman Per Mertesacker, Podolski fits the new profile of Arsenal signings: mid-twenties, internationally decorated, and continentally-known.  His Bundesliga experience and muscular build mean that adaptation to the Premier League shouldn’t be too problematic, whilst his direct running and powerful shooting offers an immediate improvement upon the likes of Gervinho, Park, and Chamakh.”

Confessions Of An Anxious Arsenal Fan | May 4th 2012

The squad must know now that there is absolutely no margin for error. Spurs have had their dip, and are now right back in form. Newcastle’s dip came and went months ago, and they look like they could overturn anyone at the moment. The pressure is back on us now, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s when we were comfortably clear that we began to look a little complacent. Beat Norwich tomorrow, and the pendulum swings once again.

Come On You Gunners. Please.

Arsenal 3 – 3 Norwich: Advantage Spurs | May 6th 2012
“This game was a rather neat microcosm of our entire season. A fairly abject first half, a spirited improvement in the second, due largely to the unquestionable brilliance of Robin van Persie; and a heart-wrenching collapse at the finale. Having dragged us ourselves back from the brink to lead 3-2, we handed Norwich an equaliser, and in doing so may have handed third place to either Spurs or Newcastle.”

If I Were Giving Today’s Team Talk | May 13th 2012
“Now it’s time to reward the fans. To allow them to celebrate something – not a trophy, but something: a place on the European stage, and getting one over on a rival. It’s time to reward Pat Rice for 44 years of outstanding service to Arsenal with a good send off. It’s time to put down a marker for next season, and show that despite the loss of key players, terrible injury problems, humiliating defeats and plenty of bad luck, this club will not be broken. We are Arsenal, and winning this one game is well within our capacity. Keep focused, keep fighting, keep the faith, and get this done. Come on boys.”

WBA 2 – 3 Arsenal: Arsenal Complete The Great Escape | May 14th 2012
“At the full-time whistle, the relief was palpable. To have finished third in a season which began with four defeats from seven feels like we have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Disaster threatened to engulf us on so many occasions this season, and yet we’ve actually managed to improve upon our league placing from last year. And, crucially, we’ve edged above Tottenham. Not so chatty now, Mr. Van der Vaart.

Personally, I’d like to extend my congratulations to Arsene Wenger. If another manager had arrived in September and shepherded us to this position, he’d be hailed as a messiah. Instead, I’ll doff my cap to an ordinary human who is an extraordinary football manager.”

Arsenal players hold Pat Rice aloft after the final whistle

Whoof. And there you have it. Goes past rather quickly when you put it like that. An extraordinary season, with many lessons for the club and its supporters alike.

Fixtures for 2012/13 are out in a couple of weeks. Bring it on.