2013/14: Arsenal's Season Blogged - Sagas, songs & a cup


As the enthralling World Cup comes to a close and eyes begin to turn towards next season, I thought Read more

Gunnerblog End of Season Awards 2014


It’s that time again. Ladies and gentlemen, please be seated. The results are in. PLAYER OF THE SEASON In a season Read more

A Party 9 years in the Making


A cup nine years in the winning. A party nine years in the making. A blog nine years in Read more

Thoughts from Wembley: Torturous afternoon’s Final flourish


I don’t know about you, but I remembered reaching an FA Cup final as a good deal more fun. Don’t Read more

Everton 3 - 0 Arsenal: Is it over?


Is it over? Not the title race. That’s been over for a while. Not the “race for fourth”, either. That’s Read more

Arsenal 0 – 2 Chelsea: Arsenal understudies fluff their lines

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, League Cup, Match Reports |  

Match report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

The top story is: Chelsea’s reserves are better than Arsenal’s reserves…
I’m not sure there has been a squad in Premier League history as grossly bloated with talent as this current Chelsea group.

For this match Jose Mourinho was able to make 10 changes, yet the side he fielded would stand every chance of challenging for major honours. To have the likes of Juan Mata in reserve is beyond luxury and bordering upon absurdity.

The signing of Willian was symbolic of Abramovich and Mourinho’s tendency towards excess. When Arsenal signed Mesut Ozil, it was said that the Gunners didn’t “need” the German. Such an argument is plainly nonsense when held up against the Willian deal. Chelsea truly didn’t need the Brazilian. They signed him because they could, and because they feared his acquisition would strengthen a rival.

Wenger would never do that – even if he had the financial resources. He’d worry about congesting his squad, or allocating such a huge proportion of the club’s budget to a player who will not feature frequently.

Mourinho, on the other hand, is too short-termist to care, and Abramovich too rich. They build and build and buy and buy and now they’ve got a squad that contains at least two teams – maybe more. It might not be ethical but it’s pretty effective.

By contrast, Arsenal’s reserves are just that: players who fall a little way short of the standards expected of the first-team. Against Chelsea, it showed.

It would be disingenuous to blame it all on the stand-ins…
Arsenal fielded the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla in midfield, and none of those players hit the heights usually expected of them.

However, Carl Jenkinson had a shocker…
The opening goal exposed his major weakness: his aerial ability. First he was indecisive, then ungainly. It was a dreadful mistake to make.

Unfortunately for Jenkinson, even the areas of his game that are consistently positive, such as his crossing, were uncharacteristically poor.

He’s not as bad as he looked last night. However, it’s becoming clear that he may not be as good as he looked in the early part of last season.

Jenkinson’s current ability level lies somewhere in between the two poles: he is a good prospect with plenty to learn. He is not yet close to taking over as Arsenal’s first-choice right-back.

The sooner Bacary Sagna gets a new contract, the better.

Nicklas Bendtner looked as rusty as you’d expect…
Nothing stuck to the big Dane, and he even looked timid in front of goal. Believe it or not, the man with who turned the self-esteem up to 11 in his psychological profiling test looked short of confidence.

However, I refuse to believe he didn’t try. What would he have to gain from that? You’ve got a guy here who knows he’s on his last chance to make it with a big club, and whose contract expires this summer. He has every incentive to do well. Everyone agreed he seemed motivated and energised against Norwich. Now, all of a sudden, he doesn’t care? I don’t buy it.

The simple truth is he lacked service. A conventional target man like Bendtner is dependent upon supply.

Lacking in fitness? Certainly. Lacking in quality? Arguably. But those things, rather than a lack of will, were his principal crimes. And how booing him is supposed to help matters I have no idea.

Ryo Miyaichi is an odd one…
The coaching staff seem convinced he’s a gem, but he always looks more of a perfectly pleasant but inspiring pebble to me. Quick, with decent technique, but nothing special. I’m sure he’ll prove me wrong in time but I do wonder how great a toll all those injuries have taken.

Criticising Wenger’s selection policy is missing the point…
He didn’t have a huge amount of choice.

I’m convinced that had Serge Gnabry, Gedion Zelalem, Yaya Sanogo and Thomas Eisfeld been fit to start they would have been involved tonight. However, the crop of youngsters Wenger considers most appropriate to blood were almost entirely unavailable.

Wenger will have been disappointed that he was forced to use Ramsey, Wilshere and Cazorla, especially having failed to pick up a positive result. However, he’d gladly trade off Capital One Cup progression for three points against Liverpool on Saturday. That match is taking on more significance by the day.

For further reading follow me on Twitter @gunnerblog. More reaction to come throughout the day.

Crystal Palace 0 – 2 Arsenal: Gunners slip past greasy Chamakh

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Premier League |  

I never expected this to be walkover…
After their hammering on Monday, and with the cavalier Ian Holloway no longer in charge, Palace were always likely to have a conservative approach to the game.

So it proved. They sat deep and looked to frustrate Arsenal, occasionally launching a counter-attack with the pace of Jerome Thomas. An early goal would have forced them to change their strategy, but Arsenal initially looked sluggish despite dominating possession.

Gnabry was an intriguing introduction…
When Mathieu Flamini pulled up with a groin problem after eight minutes, I expected Arsene Wenger to replace him with Jack Wilshere.

However, Wenger had already read the pattern of play, and opted for Serge Gnabry to provide an injection of pace and width.

Gnabry’s introduction proved to be integral to Arsenal’s victory. He won the penalty with a darting run in to the penalty area, and tracked back tirelessly until he himself was replaced with 20 minutes to go.

Caz-ozil is not yet working as anticipated…
Arsenal fans waited for six weeks to see Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil play together. Thus far, the combination has failed to live up to its understandably starry billing.

In this game, Cazorla looked some way from his best. His touch was unusually erratic and his passing wayward. It’s almost certainly merely a question of match practice. Ozil, meanwhile, will surely benefit from a rest for the Capital One Cup tie with Chelsea.

Arteta’s sending off seemed harsh…
Even if you deem it a clear goalscoring opportunity, I’m not certain it was a foul. Chamakh initiated the challenge, needlessly bundling in to Arteta.

For Arsenal fans, it was a piece of familiar cowardice from Chamakh, who would rather go to ground than muster the courage to actually take on a shot.

Arsenal were able to rely on some outstanding defensive performances…
Wojciech Szczesny has been nothing less than excellent since the opening day defeat to Aston Villa. In this game, he produced two phenomenal saves to deny Palace when the game was precariously balanced at 1-0.

In front of him, the back four were all solid, but Bacary Sagna was particularly good. Sagna seems to relish these “backs to the wall” performances. The challenge brings the best out of him, and in this match he was simply unbeatable.

Arsenal needed a win today…
Our next four fixtures see us face off against Chelsea, Liverpool, Dortmund and Manchester United. This clash with Palace was all about getting three points – by any means.

It’s often said that winning while playing poorly is the mark of a title-challenging side. I’ll hold off from such proclamations until we are able to assess Arsenal’s performance in the difficult games ahead.

Arsenal 1-2 Dortmund: Lewandowski gives Arsenal the elbow

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Champions League, Match Reports |  

Giroud vs. Lewandowski…
…was an intriguing comparison. In the first half particularly, Lewandowski was imperious. His hold-up play is immaculate.

Giroud’s performance was a little more uncouth, but just as effective. Robbed of the service Lewandowski received, Giroud made his own luck, working the channels tirelessly.

Arsenal have been linked with Lewandowski, but for my money he’s too similar to Giroud to be ideal. Arsenal would be better served signing someone who provides an alternative rather than a replica. Plus, Lewandowski is obviously off to Bayern.

A red card for the Pole would have been harsh…
The elbow Lewandowski swung at Koscielny was certainly reckless. However, according to the laws of the game, a yellow card is the appropriate response for “reckless” behaviour. It is violence or the use of excessive force that warrants a straight red.

Lewandoski’s elbow looked to be dangerous but not deliberate. A yellow seemed about right.

Jack Wilshere struggled again…
Anyone hoping that his switch to the right and fabulous goal against Norwich might provoke an immediate upturn in his form will have been sorely disappointed. According to the official UEFA stat-pack handed at the end of the game, Wilshere completed just 15 of 30 attempted passes – a shockingly poor 50%.

By comparison, his replacement Santi Cazorla managed to complete 90% of his passes in his 30 minutes on the field.

There are two ways of interpreting those figures. The first and most lenient reading is that Wilshere was on the field during Arsenal’s poorest spell, hence the skewed numbers. He wasn’t the only player guilty of poor passing in the first half, and Cazorla may have benefited from facing a tiring Dortmund.

The alternative inference is that Wilshere directly contributed to Arsenal’s first half struggles, and that the introduction of Cazorla was actually the catalyst for Arsenal’s improvement.

Arsenal couldn’t get Mesut Ozil in to the game…
…until the last 20 minutes. After an anonymous first-half, he spent the second half drifting from flank to flank looking for space. Eventually he found some joy on the right-hand side, and almost created a spectacular goal for Santi Cazorla, who was denied by the crossbar.

Arsenal were guilty of chasing the win…
After last season’s home defeat to Swansea, Wenger told the assembled press conference: “If you can’t win the game, don’t lose it”. He will have been disappointed to be forced to repeat the mantra in the wake of this defeat. Arsenal sensed their growing superiority against a tiring Dortmund and went for the jugular. Unfortunately, the Germans countered with a classic sucker punch.

Qualification will be difficult now…
Arsenal are in the unenviable position of requiring a favour from Marseille to avoid having to win at either Dortmund of Napoli. Given the French side have thus far failed to pick up a point, that seems unlikely.

Unfortunately, Marseille are so far adrift at the bottom of the group that if Arsenal fail to qualify they will more than likely drop in to the energy-sapping Europa League.

That, for me, is the worst case scenario.

But there’s no need for too much negativity…
In Dortmund, Arsenal lost to a side that is better than any they will come up against in the Premier League. What’s more, we were unlucky to lose.

This is a bump in the road rather than the end of it.

Arsenal 4 – 1 Norwich: 700 words on THAT goal

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Match Reports, Premier League |  

It began so simply.

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.

Further reading: Match report | Highlights | “Arsenal’s Magical Midfield Tortures Norwich” – BR Football

Tomas Rosicky can no longer afford to gamble with his fitness

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Sponsored Posts |  

Tomas Rosicky has not met up with the Czech squad for this international break. It’s an eminently sensible decision. Rosicky has only just returned from injury, and with the Czech team’s hopes of qualifying for the World Cup all but gone, he’d be wasting his time trekking to Prague. For a man as vulnerable to injury as Rosicky, it’s an unnecessary gamble.

Last week, Rosicky turned 33. In football terms, he is an old man. It’s difficult to believe when you look at him. Like his doppelganger Mark Owen, time’s ravages seem to have no influence over his youthful visage. Rosicky’s performances, too, bely his advancing years. During the game against West Brom, I remarked that he can look more sprightly than players who are more than a decade his junior.

Rosicky’s nick-name in Germany was “Little Mozart” after the gloriously gifted melodist. However, he’s more a conductor than a composer, setting the rhythm of the Arsenal midfield. There’s a certainly irony about the fact that the player most capable of lifting Arsenal’s tempo is also the oldest man in the squad.

Rosicky must start looking after his best interests – and those of his employers. Every time he goes away with the Czech squad it feels like a game of roulette – and one wherein landing on black lands Rosicky with another troubling hamstring problem. Arsene Wenger would prefer Rosicky did his gambling somewhere like the bwin casino than on the playing field.

Arsenal need Rosicky. Even with the addition of the £42.5m man Mesut Ozil and the emergence of lauded youngsters like Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey, Rosicky brings something unique to the Arsenal set-up. He combines the drive and feistiness of Mathieu Flamini with the flair of Arsenal’s more celebrated midfielders. His use of the ball is rarely spectacular, but never less than intelligent. His style is characterised by a smooth efficiency.

The good news is that well-informed sources in the Czech Republic indicate that Rosicky has been offered a new deal. Despite competition from clubs in the MLS, Rosicky is said to be keen on the idea of ending his career with Arsenal, and is likely to extend.

While he’ll never be offered more than a one-year rolling contract, he could pick up several more of those before retirement beckons. The example of Giggs shows what is possible given careful preparation and delicate management. However, the rigours of international football are hazardous. Giggs, under pressure from United boss Alex Ferguson, called time on his Wales career at the age of 33.

Rosicky would be wise to follow suit.

WBA 1-1 Arsenal: Ozil looks to be more Bergkamp than Fabregas

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Match Reports, Premier League |  

WBA 1 – 1 Arsenal
Match report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

This was a good point…
Arsenal responded well to a relatively unfamiliar challenge: this was the first time we have fallen behind in the match since the 3-1 victory over Norwich earlier this year. With the additions of Amalfitano and Sessegon, West Brom look an enterprising and athletic team. Their victory over Manchester United was no fluke, and they’ll take several more big scalps this season. Come the end of the season, I’m confident that Arsenal will look back on this one as a point gained.

Arsenal’s winning streak may be over but our unbeaten run continues. In a topsy-turvy Premier League, consistency is King.

If I were in charge, I would’ve taken Jack Wilshere off at half-time…
…so it’s a good job I’m not. Wilshere responded to his dreadful first-half display with real guts. Switching to the centre, he immediately improved and by the end of the ninety minutes was arguably our most dangerous player. As well as grabbing the crucial equaliser, he also produced the pass of the match to find Olivier Giroud free in the penalty area. Unfortunately, Giroud was denied by Myhill.

While Wilshere deserves credit for his second half turnaround, I do wish he wouldn’t spent quite as much time sat on the floor pleading with the referee. Wilshere does get kicked a lot, but not half as much as he claims. If he continues to protest every single challenge, the really dangerous tackles will be lost amid his whining.

Carl Jenkinson’s greatest weakness is arguably his aerial ability…
Jenkinson is a versatile defender but has never been deployed by Arsene Wenger as a centre-back. Yesterday we saw why. Despite his height, Jenkinson is poor in the air: he lacks spring and his timing is often curiously off. Yesterday he struggled under  several high balls, and failed to get anywhere near Claudio Yacob as the Argentine nodded in the opening goal.

It’s an area in which Jenkinson compares particularly poorly with his rival Bacary Sagna, who probably deserves more credit for his outstanding aerial ability.

Ozil is not dominating games as you might expect…
While the German is not yet dictating our tempo, he never fails to produce one or two moments of pure magic in every game. At this stage, he is more Bergkamp than Fabregas; more gifted soloist than conductor.

In this match, there were two sumptuous slide-rule passes in to the feet of Aaron Ramsey and Kieran Gibbs. I also enjoyed his contribution to our equalising goal, out-muscling Mulumbu deep inside our half before spraying a long ball forward to launch the move. When you look at our recent goals, his contribution tends to be key.

The international break comes at a good time…
…and not just because it guarantees we’ll retain top spot for a fortnight. It gives a worryingly thin Arsenal squad the chance to add on some bulk. Santi Cazorla is set to return after the break, with Bacary Sagna and Theo Walcott not far behind. Options will be key ahead of a sequence of difficult fixtures in October and November. Thus far, I’ve avoided any pronouncements about what this Arsenal squad might be capable of this season. I’m cautiously optimistic, but we’ll have a far clearer picture come the end of November.

Arsenal 3-1 Stoke: A football match, believe it or not

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Match Reports, Premier League |  

It sticks in my craw, but I have to credit Mark Hughes…

Funny idiom, that. Apparently a craw is the throat of a bird. I googled it. I don’t have a bird’s throat, but if I did, having to be nice about Mark Hughes would certainly clog it right up.

Stoke are a changed team. They’re playing football now. Proper football. Rory Delap has been let go and has found his rightful place in League Two. Ryan Shotton and his towel have been dispatched to Wigan. The long-throws are out and short-passing is in.

I have to admit, I was impressed. Marc Wilson has transformed from a lumbering utility player in to a technically competent and positionally intelligent holding midfielder. In Marko Arnautovic, the Potters have acquired a number ten with both imagination and industry.

I don’t know if the speed of Stoke’s adaptation says more about Hughes’ innovation or Pulis’ intransigence. However, the latter option allows me to reduce Hughes’ credit and have a pop his predecessor, so I’ll plump for that.

There was a bit of role-reversal going on…

Stoke controlled a lot of the possession, yet Arsenal scored from three set-pieces. Still, at least the Stoke fans were forced to abandon their usual boast of supporting an “English” team – Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere outnumbered Ryan Shawcross on today’s team-sheets.

Opportunity Gnocked for Serge…
…and I thought Gnabry did very well. His touch was superb, and the only criticism you could level at him is that he sometimes looked a little timid. After beating the first man he’d generally look to pass the ball to a more senior colleague.

His body-shape and running style remind me a little of Chelsea’s Eden Hazard. I certainly hope to see more of him in next week’s Capital One Cup tie with West Brom.

It was good to see some familiar faces on the bench…

The return of Mikel Arteta gives us back some depth in midfield. It will be genuinely difficult to choose between Arteta and Flamini, who was at his rambunctious best against Stoke, putting as much energy in to pointing and cajoling as tackling and harrying.

In difficult away games, it could be an option to field both, with Aaron Ramsey patrolling the area just ahead and Mesut Ozil stationed on the wing. It’s one of those “nice problems” Arsene Wenger will be delighted to have.

It was good too see Nicklas Bendtner back on the bench. Yes, he is hugely out of practise. Yes, he is a little overweight. Yes, he looks like he’s come to a fancy dress party in disguise as ‘The Mandarin’ from Iron Man 3. However, I’d still rather call on the Dane than either Yaya Sanogo or Chuba Akpom.

For Aaron Ramsey, confidence is everything…

His opening goal looked like a simple tap-in, but was in reality far trickier. He had to react in an instant to find a very narrow gap between goalie and post with his weaker foot.

Of course, in his current form, he pulled it off. Confidence is an extraordinary thing. It can do incredible things to a footballer. Ramsey is at the crest of a wave, and I hope he can stay there as long as possible. When he inevitably reverts to somewhere approaching the mean, I still think we’ll still have a very fine footballer on our hands.

Ozil’s set-pieces are a bonus…
The German is not renowned as a dead-ball specialist but as an assured technician is able to get the ball beyond the first man and in to dangerous areas. That’s more than most of our current crop.

I am continually amazed that a group of such technically gifted players are unable to consistently deliver a decent set-piece. Even the wondrously-gifted Santi Cazorla seems to have inherited the Arsenal disease of lumping the ball directly in to the first defender.

Hopefully Ozil’s immaculate technique can give us a new attacking weapon for our Arsenal.

Have Arsenal ever had so many one-footed players?
We frequently celebrate Cazorla’s ambidexterity, but I can’t remember an Arsenal team containing so many players who simply refused to use their wrong foot. The likes of Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud seem allergic to kicking the ball with their right boot.

Perhaps its because we have so many lefties in the squad. Left-footed players aren’t encouraged to develop their two-footedness as much as they’re generally allowed to flourish as specialists.

It’s time some of our squad got working on moulding their chocolate legs.

Arsenal miss Tomas Rosicky…
Arsenal struggled to maintain their tempo for long periods of this game. I can’t help but feel that’s because of the absence of the metronomic Tomas Rosicky.

It seems there will not be room for Rosicky and Ozil in the same team. Hopefully one of the other midfielders – Ramsey perhaps – can pick up the baton and start picking up the tempo in the middle of the park.

For all Ozil’s gifts, he won’t replicate the persistent pressure that Rosicky is able to put on opposition defenders.

Marseille 1-2 Arsenal: Arsenal’s “magic square” leaves Marseille puzzled

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Champions League, Match Reports |  

Kieran Gibbs was a decisive figure at both ends of the field…
Shortly after clearing a miscued Per Mertesacker clearance off the line, Gibbs bounded up the other end of the field to supply the telling cross for Theo Walcott to fire home.

Those few minutes encapsulate a finely-balanced match. Mertesacker’s mistake could so easily have seen Marseille grab the opener, and as Arsene Wenger shrewdly observed in his post-match conference, the first goal is so often crucial in these ties. As it was, Gibbs bailed us out, and it a similarly misjudged header from Marseille full-back Jeremy Morel tipped the balance of power our way.

Gibbs has had a terrific start to the 2013/14 campaign, firmly establishing himself as first-choice left-back ahead of Nacho Monreal. It’s a shame for Gibbs that international recognition remains unlikely – Roy Hodgson seems understandably taken with Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines. However, as an Arsenal fan first and foremost I’m delighted that Gibbs’ brittle body is not being exposed to the rigours of the international schedule.

Theo Walcott…
…has taken an undue amount of stick this season for both Arsenal and England. Although this was his first goal of the season, he has consistently been one of our most dangerous players. And it’s not as if Walcott has been missing open goals. Had Wojciech Szczesny pulled off the saves Kieran Westwood did to deny Walcott at Sunderland we’d be hailing the shot-stopping of our Polish ‘keeper rather than laying in to the opposition forward.

That said, Szczesny is doing pretty well himself…
After an inauspicious start, Wojciech Szczesny has had a very solid start to the season. Were it not for some sloppily conceded penalties, the big Pole would have a couple more clean sheets to his name too. Perhaps the presence of two experienced back-ups in Fabianski and Viviano is helping focus his occasionally wandering mind.

Jack Wilshere outshone Ozil on the night…
It was good to see the young Englishman take the game to Marseille, cutting in from his left-wing position to drive at central defenders and try to make things happen. I know Wilshere himself prefers to play deeper, picking up the ball from the defenders and scooting through the midfield, but I like seeing his acceleration and artistry applied in the final third.

It’s not really a 4-3-3…
Arsenal conventionally line-up in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. Right now, things are a little different. With Wilshere drifting infield from his wide starting position, and Theo Walcott playing almost as advanced as Olivier Giroud, Arsenal have adopted a South American style “magic square” in midfield.

It’s something we saw a bit of last season, with the likes of Aaron Ramsey or Santi Cazorla stationed on one flank, with an advanced forward like Walcott or Lukas Podolski on the other.

You can read more about our new tactical system in my latest column for Bleacher Report, here.

Fatigue is the greatest threat against Stoke…
We don’t currently have a squad capable of withstanding rotation, so Arsene will almost certainly have to call upon the same set of players for Sunday’s game at Stoke.

If the players can muster some energy, we should have more than enough to dispatch Mark Hughes’ side. The supposed evolution of Stoke’s game from Stone Age to Bronze Age  should play straight in to our hands.

It will be Mesut Ozil’s home debut, and the Emirates should be rocking. I can’t wait.

Thoughts on Sunderland 1-3 Arsenal: Ozil glides like Pires, passes like Bergkamp

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season, Match Reports, Premier League | 1

Great players elevate those around them…
…and Mesut Ozil is undoubtedly a great player. Seeing him step out on to the pitch in an Arsenal shirt was both surreal and sublime. His touch was immaculate and his passing incisive. Considering he had barely trained with the team, his immediate rapport with the likes of Wilshere, Ramsey and Walcott was remarkable.

Arsenal have been blessed with some great playmakers in recent years. Ozil shares Dennis Bergkamp’s elegant stride and cushioned control. He also seems to derive the same satisfaction from creating goals as the Dutchman once did.

Bergkamp laid on goal after goal for the likes of Nicolas Anelka and Thierry Henry. Cesc Fabregas performed footballing alchemy by using his gifts to transform Emmanuel Adebayor in to a thirty goal striker. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Ozil could do the same for Olivier Giroud.

Ozil looks like he’ll cope fine with the physicality of the Premier League…
I was struck by both Ozil’s height and speed. He is able to accelerate away from defenders with relative ease, both with and without the ball. His time spent in the Bundesliga should mean he’ll have few problems acclimatising to the rough and tumble of the English game.

Ramsey is the perfect example to Wilshere…
It’s a point that’s been well-made elsewhere, but as he bids to improve his form Jack Wilshere could do worse than take a look at the man alongside him. Aaron Ramsey has demonstrated that with persistence, hard-work and a degree of humility it is perfectly possibility to rehabilitate your game after a long lay-off. In fact, Ramsey has done more than rehabilitate his game: he has rebuilt it, from the ground up.

A year ago Ramsey was guilty of over-playing. He was too eager to make an immediate impression, attempting ambitious passes and unnecessary back-heels. In order to get back to his best, he had to keep it simple and rebuild from the ground up. Now we’re seeing flourishes – such as the two outstanding finishes on Saturday – added to an increasingly solid technical foundation. Ramsey is developing in to an outstanding central midfielder, and is surely the front-runner for the PFA Young Player of the Year Award.

Wilshere played from the left flank against Sunderland. I’m not averse to seeing him continue there for now. Until he learns to control his over-exuberance, his risk-taking game is better suited to the wing.

Giroud is integral to this team…
When he went down clutching his knee, I felt the same pang of anxiety that accompanied every Robin van Persie injury during his time with the club. However, for the majority of Van Persie’s time at the club we had the likes of Emmanuel Adebayor and Eduardo da Silva in reserve.

Now there is no such luxury. Giroud has been passed fit to play tomorrow – fit enough, at any rate. The paucity of options means that we’ll never be able to afford him a rest.

Worryingly, he told French website RMCSport that he has been carrying a knee problem since pre-season. For all my excitement over Ozil, the fact that we entered the season without signing another striker continues to baffle and frustrate me in equal measure.

Marseille away might prove to be a must-win game…
Dortmund have won their first five games. Napoli have won their first three. Marseille are a decent side, but arguably the weakest in a very tough group. Tomorrow night’s result could be crucial in the battle for qualification. Fortunately for Arsenal, Marseille have experimented with a very high defensive line this season.

That should be music to Ozil’s ears.

Mesut Ozil: A perfect signing in a far from perfect window

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2013-14 Season | 2 Guns

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.