Alright gang. I’ve done another one of my silly songs. This time, my slightly strange brain has got Arsene Wenger belting out a version of CeeLo Green’s hit “F*ck You” at his former charge Robin van Persie. I thought it might be timely ahead of Sunday’s game. Enjoy:
As regards the Dortmund game, apologies for the lack of blog. I’ve got a few pieces I’ve written on it floating around the rest of the web though:
Brendan Rodgers over-thought this game…
I think Rodgers is a good manager. He has improved Liverpool dramatically. He seems to have an eye for a player and a creditable core philosophy.
However, he does have a tendency to over-think things. He seems to regard himself as an ingenious tactician, constantly seeking to reinvent the wheel.
Going in to a game against Arsenal with an outdated 3-5-2 formation was suicide. Liverpool’s wing backs – who, it should be pointed out, happen to be among the worst players in their squad – were isolated and overwhelmed.
At half-time, Rodgers switched to a conventional 4-4-2 to try and bring more stability to the side. However, Steven Gerrard has not been capable of playing in a central midfield pairing for some time. Even Rafa Benitez infamously fielded him wide on the right when selecting a midfield four, and that was years ago.
Rodgers’ tactical tinkering contributed to Liverpool’s downfall.
Mikel Arteta was outstanding…
Going in to the game, there was much wailing about the absence of Mathieu Flamini. However, Mikel Arteta covered for his absence with a superb man of the match display.
Arteta has been a little taken for granted this season. Flamini’s best performances came while the Spaniard was missing through inure. Given our excellent start, some fans wondered aloud whether Arteta had become obsolete.
Yesterday he demonstrated just why he’s such an essential member of the squad. His tackling was exemplary and his use of the ball typically intelligent. What’s more, he’s a leader. Throughout the game he could be seen marshalling Arsenal’s midfield, cajoling team-mates in to position and berating them if they neglected their defensive responsibilities.
Arsene Wenger deserves more credit for Arteta’s transformation…
Arsene used to be renowned for converting players to different positions. Indeed, in this match Arsenal came up against Kolo Toure, who had played on both wings for Arsenal before Wenger elected to use him as a centre-back.
Arteta arrived at Arsenal as a creative playmaker and has been refashioned in to a holding midfielder. The move has prolonged Arteta’s career and made him invaluable to the squad.
What’s happening to Aaron Ramsey feels almost supernatural…
In the week of Halloween, the Welshman is truly playing like a man possessed. His goal was the sort of thing you only attempt when your confidence is sky high. I’ve long thought Ramsey’s energy levels and shooting prowess were reminiscent of a young Steven Gerrard. The manner in which Ramsey dominated Gerrard in this match suggested a passing of the torch.
I was pleased for Thomas Vermaelen…
The club captain came on as a late substitute for Kieran Gibbs, and I was delighted he was involved in a great win. Vermaelen remains an important figure in the squad and the best reserve centre-half we’ve had in some time. It’s vital to keep him happy.
Confession: I only really care about the league…
Arsenal face a crucial Champions League tie with Dortmund this week, but I’d gladly swap victory in Germany for three points at Old Trafford next Sunday.
The Premier League campaign feels all-encompassing and all-consuming. The irritation felt at dropping out of the League cup was banished by beating Liverpool.
Arsenal are currently five points clear. There is a growing sense that Arsenal can mount their first serious and sustained title challenge since 2007/08. Nothing – not even European progression – would excite me more.
When Jonny Howson swung in a ball from the right, Mathieu Flamini did what he has done so effectively ever since returning to the Arsenal team. With a minimum of fuss, he intercepted the ball and passed it to one of his many more gifted team-mates.
That man, as we all now know, was Jack Wilshere.
Arsene Wenger recently said he views Wilshere’s best position as a deep-lying midfielder rather than a number 10. In this glorious move, we saw why. Although ostensibly playing as a right-winger, Wilshere collected the ball in a central position just yards outside his own penalty area.
Almost instantly, Wilshere was confronted by the bruising figure of Leroy Fer. Wilshere drops a shoulder, hurdles over Fer’s arboresque right leg, and sprints in to space.
Suddenly, Norwich have three players caught upfield, and Arsenal are on the break.
Wilshere raises his head, his periscopic vision scanning first right then left. Mesut Ozil is free just a few yards away, but Wilshere instead opts to lay the ball in to the path of the overlapping Kieran Gibbs. And then keep going.
As Gibbs crosses the halfway line, Wilshere continued to race upfield, leaving Howson in his wake. Seeking to continue the moves rapid vertical velocity, Gibbs plays the ball down the line in to the path of Santi Cazorla.
It’s at that point that the move dramatically shifts gear. A promising counter-attack transitions to a penetrative assault, as Cazorla puts his head down and drives infield. Outside him, Gibbs continues his dash towards the byline, simultaneously opening up space in the centre.
Cazorla glances to his right, and lays the ball, left-footed, in to the feet of Jack Wilshere, now some thirty yards from goal.
Faced by the imposing frame of Alex Tettey, Wilshere instantly controls the ball with the outside of his left boot before nudging it back to the Spaniard. And he keeps going.
Cazorla already knows what he will do with the ball when it returns. The moment he gave it to Wilshere, he looked up to identify the position of Olivier Giroud. As the ball comes back to him, he instantly turns it on to the French forward, positioned with his back to goal on the edge of the Norwich area.
On the half-turn, Giroud can see Wilshere out of the corner of his eye, darting towards goal. Rather than slow the move by bringing the ball in to his body, he flicks it with his outstep towards Wilshere.
It’s arguably the only slight inaccuracy in this almost-perfect move. Giroud slightly misjudged Wilshere’s trajectory, and the ball floats behind the Englishman. However, Wilshere is able to recover with a stunning piece of improvisation, using his heel to retrieve the ball from behind him and knock it back to Giroud. What Wilshere does is not just good football – it’s a circus trick. And he keeps going.
Giroud does not need to look to know where Wilshere will be. There is no imperfection in his next pass. Stabbing his left foot towards the ground, he allows the ball to roll up off his boot and float impishly to his team-mate’s path. It’s audacious and beautiful, bisecting four Norwich defenders perfectly. Tettey, who has dutifully tracked Wilshere’s pitch-length run, is disorientated and drained. Red-and-white synapses crackle as Arsenal’s pin-ball plays out to perfection. Hours of training ground practice, small-sided games and exacting ball-control drills collide in a moment of sheer magnificence.
The ball arrives on Wilshere’s right foot, and he places a perfect volley in to the far corner. No power is needed. The finish, like the rest of the move, is all guile and grace. When he sees the ball hit the net, he allows himself a roar of exhalation.
He knows it’s special. The Arsenal fans do too, reacting with an upwardly-inflected combination of awe and disbelief. And he keeps going, jogging towards the fans before sliding on his knees in celebration.
Wilshere finally rests. 20.34 seconds, five players, nine passes, and 28 touches have come together to create one masterpiece.
There’s surely no greater tribute to Arsene Wenger’s 17 year reign at Arsenal than this one extraordinary goal.
An imperfect window has ended with the perfect signing: Mesut Ozil is an Arsenal player.
It is, in every respect, an incredible story. I can still scarcely believe it. Ozil’s presence in the Arsenal squad feels like a miraculous accident – and the truth is not that different.
Arsenal knew that ending the summer without a major marquee signing would be an embarrassment. Ivan Gazidis’ forceful words earlier this summer transmogrified in to a rod for the club’s own back. That self-inflicted burden, combined with the weight of public pressure, forced Arsenal in to action.
I don’t believe Ozil was ever part of any grand plan. I don’t believe he was even particularly high on our list of targets: with failed moves for Stevan Jovetic, Gonzalo Higuain and Luis Suarez it’s clear we had wanted to spend the majority of our budget on a mobile centre-forward rather than another playmaker.
Like the signing of Mathieu Flamini, there is the whiff of opportunism about Arsenal’s Ozil raid. And yet I couldn’t care less. When an opportunity like this arises, you simply have to take it.
Players like Ozil are generally un-buyable. The other ‘marquee’ talents we were linked with this summer all had their scratches. Higuain had essentially been demoted to being a glamorous reserve at Madrid amid doubts about his ability to perform in the biggest games. Luis Suarez, as we all know, is a cannibalistic racist. Wayne Rooney carries as much psychological baggage as he does flab around his middle.
Ozil is as yet unimpeached. In the truest sense, he’s pure class.
There’s no doubt it’s a transformative signing, and the most significant since the arrival of Dennis Bergkamp in 1995. When it was announced half an hour before the window’s close last night, Sky’s Geraint Hughes noted that the Arsenal fans’ jubilation was due to the fact they’d waited all day for a signing like this. The reporter were wrong: we’ve waited for more than a decade.
This signing is what the move to the Emirates Stadium was for. In one fell swoop Arsenal have re-established themselves among the big boys. It’s not just the size of the fee, but the calibre of the player. Arsenal have bought the real deal.
Ozil is Germany’s best player. He is among the continent’s top ten. He is, in Jose Mourinho’s estimation, the finest creative midfielder in world football.
I’ve been infatuated with Ozil since I first laid eyes on him at the 2010 World Cup. I was there in the flesh to see him destroy England in Bloemfontein – the only person more alarmed by Ozil’s arrival in the Premier League than Tottenham fans must be Gareth Barry.
I’m not alone in my joy. It has lifted everyone. Arsenal fans who grimly renewed their season tickets, more out of loyalty than genuine optimism, now have cause for excitement. Shirt sales will soar, and the aesthetic quality of our performances on the pitch should have an upwards trajectory too. Ozil can make us beautiful again.
Hopefully Ozil will find a home for his talents in North London. His comments since signing have had a clear subtext: he was unhappy to be forced out of Real Madrid. It’s clear Madrid’s decision to negotiate his sale wounded him deeply:
At the weekend, I was certain that I would stay at Real Madrid, but afterwards I realised that I did not have the faith from the coach or the bosses.
His heartache is no cause for concern. He comes here with a fire burning behind those orbicular eyes, and a point to prove. That’s how it should be.
When news of our interest in Ozil first broke, fans of rival clubs sniped, “Why would he want to go there?” Some might have felt irked. Not me.
That’s what I want people to ask of our new signings. I don’t want people to say, “Oh yes, I could see why he’d make that move, it’s clearly a nice step up for him”. The detractors are right: Ozil probably is out of our league – and that’s precisely what makes him such a thrilling capture. Only by signing players of that ilk will we drag ourselves back to the top of the English game.
I hope my delight about Ozil’s arrival is clear, because I have to couch it with the fact that his signing alone does not transform this window in to a success. Arsenal failed to recruit in several other key positions. In fact, had Ozil not become unexpectedly available at the last moment than this window could have ended in disaster.
The fact that Arsenal enter the next few months with just one senior centre-forward is ridiculous. From what I understand the club were confident of acquiring Demba Ba as a deadline day loan, but Wenger and Gazidis ought to have realised that Chelsea were never inclined to do us a favour. As the day dragged on I couldn’t help but be reminded of our unproductive dealings with Liverpool for Xabi Alonso in 2008. It suited Chelsea to tie us up in a negotiation that they knew full well would never come to fruition.
Moving forward, lessons must be learnt. One of those lessons must be the positive impact that a statement signing like Ozil can make. The fans are elated, the squad are motivated, and the whole club is buzzing.
Just a few hundred yards separate Highbury and the Emirates, yet the Ozil deal feels like the completion of an arduous ten-year journey. However, it must be not only an ending, but also a new beginning. This has to be the start of something.
A new era has dawned. I wouldn’t Mesut for the wörld.
It’s that time again, when I metaphorically hand out fictional awards to players who will never actually receive them or know they’ve won.
Let’s get straight on with it.
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
Last year Arsenal hand a stand-out winner: footballer of the year Robin van Persie. In the wake of Van Persie’s departure, Arsene Wenger made it plain that responsibility would have to be shared more equally throughout the team.
Nevertheless, one man rose above the rest. It’s a good job he rose, because he’s so small that frankly you’d have difficulty spotting him otherwise.
Santi Cazorla has had an outstanding first season in English football. I’d second Arsene Wenger’s sentiments in wondering aloud just how he wasn’t voted in to the PFA Team of the Year. Few players in English football have demonstrated Cazorla’s combination of style and stoicism; technique and tenacity. Cazorla is that rare thing: a flair player with real guts. His numbers aren’t bad either: in the Premier League alone, he managed 12 goals and 12 assists.
The first thing that struck me about Cazorla in pre-season was his remarkable two-footedness. He is genuinely ambidextrous, able to torment defenders by shifting on to either his left or right foot with equal ease. That two-footedness is a hallmark of the astonishing degree of technical excellence which Cazorla brings to all aspects of his game (with the disappointing and typically-Arsenal exception of set-piece delivery).
At the start of the season, Arsene understandably sought to build the team around the diminutive Spaniard, fielding him in a central playmaking role. As the campaign wore on, pragmatism took hold, and Cazorla was confined to the left wing. It is testament to his intelligence and versatility that his influence has not waned.
No player has had a more consistent presence in the first team: Cazorla has started 47 games this season. That underlines his important to the side. We simply wouldn’t know what to do without him.
Cazorla was the obvious candidate for me, although I’d also like to give a quick mention to two other players. Firstly, Per Mertesacker deserves credit for a hugely consistent year. Many expected him to fall behind Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen in the battle for places at centre-back, but instead he emerged as the lynch-pin of our defence. I can’t help but feel Steve Bould sees something of himself in the lanky German.
Theo Walcott also warrants praise for his best season to date. In just 31 starts he amassed 22 goals and 15 assists. Our collective frustration with Walcott would be better exercised elsewhere: when we needed him, he invariably produced the goods, and his decision to stay with the club was undoubtedly one of the high-points of the season.
YOUNG PLAYER OF THE SEASON
Once upon a time the Arsenal team was full of striplings, and this category was hotly contested. Previous winners include the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song and Jack Wilshere. However those kids have either graduated, grown up, or been injured a lot.
The Arsenal team these days has a more grizzled look to it. The likes of Mertesacker, Sagna, Arteta and Cazorla raise the age profile of the side considerably, and even our Carling Cup side this term had an unusual degree of experience.
Of the remaining Arsenal tyros, there were high hopes for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but he struggled to meet the unfair levels of expectation. Carl Jenkinson had an excellent start to the season that saw him earn an England call-up and a new contract, and he’ll hope to challenge for a first-team spot on a more consistent basis next season.
I toyed with the idea of giving it to Kieran Gibbs, but decided that at 23 he was probably too old. I hate seeing the PFA dish out Young Player awards to the likes of James Milner when he’s well in to his mid-twenties.
However, at the start of this season, Aaron Ramsey was just 21. He was also something of a lightening-conductor for the Arsenal fans’ frustrations. If not every misplaced pass was met with a boo, they were certainly met with a collective tut of disapproval. By the end of the season, however, he had emerged as one of the team’s most important components.
Ramsey’s season mirrors Arsenal’s own. In the first half he looked out of sorts. He was trying things he didn’t necessarily have the skill or the confidence to pull off. In the second half, pragmatism took hold. Ramsey, like Arsenal, kept it simple and reaped the benefits. Alongside the efficiency of Arteta, Ramsey’s energy and effervescence has proved invaluable.
WORST PLAYER OF THE SEASON
There are some players who disappointed this season. Bacary Sagna fell below his previously immaculate standards, and Thomas Vermaelen’s performances lacked the discipline you’d expect of an Arsenal captain and centre-half.
Then there are some players whose contribution was plain poor. Our record signing Andrey Arshavin failed to make a single Premier League start, and even when called upon rarely looked like a player itching for 90 minutes of action.
Then there is Andre Santos. When it comes to this award, it’s impossible to see past the Brazilian – and that’s not just because of his expanding waistline. I actually think the stick he received for his half-time strip session with a certain Dutchman was way overblown, but it remains impossible to defend some of his performances on the field. Although his loan spell with Gremio is about to come to an end, it seems Santos’ Arsenal career reached its own conclusion the moment we signed Nacho Monreal.
GAME OF THE SEASON
There was a period before Christmas when Arsenal played with all the self-destructive madness of a radicalised lemming. The consequence was a series of unbelievable matches. The 7-3 with Newcastle is noteworthy not only for the unusual scoreline but also Theo Walcott’s breathtaking hat-trick.
Beating Tottenham 5-2 is hard to surpass, although seeing as it’s becoming an annual thing there’s no need to lavish it with another award. Like that swotty child in school, it can’t win the Maths prize every year.
The first half was abject, then apocalyptic, then embarrassing. The second half was acceptable, then alluring, then astounding. Extra-time was just plain bonkers.
WORST GAME OF THE SEASON
This season managed to provide far too many contenders for this category for my liking.
The home defeat to Swansea was probably as volatile an atmosphere as the Emirates has ever experienced. I remember leaving the ground that day wondering if Arsene would be forced to resign. The players were apathetic and the crowd were apoplectic.
However, the cup defeats to lower league opposition take the biscuit. Blackburn was bad; Bradford was worse. To lose to a team in League Two, with effectively our best team on the field, was humiliating. The fact that defeat also robbed us of a fantastic chance to win a trophy merely rubbed salt in to the not inconsiderable wound.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE SEASON
I was so stuck for what to write in this bit that I opened it up to Twitter. As ever, there were some cracking suggestions: Per Mertesacker’s thumping header against Spurs; Tottenham fans celebrating an imaginary goal on the final day; Jack Wilshere’s long-awaited return.
In the end, I’ve simply had to plump for the end.
This was not a vintage season for our club. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t glad to see the back of it. We celebrated on the final day, but it was more an escape than an achievement. Fourth place is often compared to a trophy, but for a club of our stature it’s more comparable to surviving a relegation scrap. We felt relief rather than joy.
DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE SEASON
There were so many – and sadly, so many that are now horribly familiar. Our utter failure to contest the major trophies is something that is becoming soul-crushingly customary.
For the sake of variety, I’ve decided to opt for an unusual choice: the plight of Abou Diaby.
When scrolling through our statistics to make my choice for Player of the Season, I was genuinely jolted by seeing Diaby’s name: I had forgotten he played for us. That rapid decline is all the more remarkable when you consider that at the start of the season he was turning in man of the match performances against the likes of Manchester City.
Sadly, since then he has succumbed to another major injury. I’m not sure how many more there will be in his career.
Arsene Wenger has shown enormous faith in Diaby throughout his struggles, and Diaby himself has shown tremendous courage to fight back from a succession of blows. However, after this latest blow I can’t help but feel that Arsene’s faith and Diaby’s courage will be wearing as thin as the cartilage in the Frenchman’s knackered ankle.
So there you have it. Tomorrow I’ll be taking a look at the season as a whole through the prism of the blog. Till then.
Hello one and all. Transfer Deadline Day is almost upon us.
As it’s traditionally a day of gloom for Arsenal, I’ve decided to put a lighter spin on things. Some of you may recall the release of Stan a couple of years back. Well, I’m nothing if not versatile: this time, rather than hip-hop, it’s musical theatre.
Arsene joins an ensemble of Premier League stars to sing a new version of ‘One Day More’ from Les Miserables. If the embed below doesn’t work in your browser you can watch it here.