Arsenal 4-1 Galatasaray: Danny Welbeck’s pace and potential light up the Emirates

welbeckgala

Well, that was very enjoyable indeed. I’m on holiday at the moment, so forgive me if this entry is a little shorter than usual.

Thank God we got Danny Welbeck…

It hasn’t been the subject of much discussion, but Yaya Sanogo has missed every Arsenal match since transfer deadline day with injury. Had Welbeck not been secured at the 11th hour, Arsenal would have been strikerless for the entire month of September.

I felt Welbeck had enjoyed a solid enough start to his time with us. Last night, however, his Arsenal career exploded in to life. The England international notched the first hat-trick of his career to dispatch Galatasaray and earn us our first three points of the Champions League campaign.

After the Tottenham match, Wenger insisted that if our collective game was good then Welbeck would score. That hypothesis was validated last night, with Welbeck flourishing at the point of a slick Arsenal attack.

Welbeck is fast. Faster, it transpires, than any of us – including Arsene Wenger – initially thought. Ever since Welbeck signed, we’ve wondered how we might terrify defenders by partnering him with the equally quick Alexis and Walcott. Last night, we got an idea, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain performing admirably as Theo’s understudy.

Welbeck’s second goal was the one that sticks in the mind. Latching on to a loose defensive header, he raced away from his marker, showcasing speed and muscularity, before opening up his body to sidefoot in to the far corner. There was an audible gasp from the Emirates Crowd. For a split-second, the Arsenal fans thought they had seen a ghost.

He’s not yet at a level where he can produce this kind of performance every week. However, it’s a glimpse of what he can produce. It’s not what he is, but it’s what he might be. It’s very exciting.

In the week Olivier Giroud agreed a deserved new deal, Welbeck delivered a devastating demonstration of why I believe he could be a superior option as our centre-forward.

I’m not going to join the naysayers…

…who’d have you believe that our victory was down purely to Galatasaray’s incompetent. I’ve seen us fail to beat plenty of incompetent sides in the past – last weekend, for example. This win is significant because it was one of the few times this season that Arsene got our attacking alchemy right. The combination of pace up top and Ozil central is something we need to stick with.

There was one down-side…

Wojciech Szczesny’s sending off was silly. He didn’t need to go charging out at the feet of the attacker in such reckless fashion.

Tempting as it is to come down hard on Szczesny’s impetuous nature, it’s worth remembering that the great Jens Lehmann was guilty of similar moments of madness. That didn’t stop him remaining first-choice keeper throughout the unbeaten season. The best goalkeepers are often slightly eccentric. The balance between talent and temperament is a difficult one to find.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain deserves special mention…

Over the past month, The Ox has played himself in to the first XI. He is an example to any player currently out of favour. He made a positive impression with a series of energetic cameos, and when handed the opportunity to start games has made himself undroppable. Lukas Podolski & co could learn a thing or too from that.

Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal: Bridge of Sighs

This was a dreadful day…
The scoreline equals the 8-2 at Old Trafford as Arsenal’s worst ever Premier League defeat under Arsene Wenger. Speaking personally, I found that match more painful, due to my deep-seated hatred of all things Manchester United.

However, on that occasion there were mitigating circumstances. Arsenal were in the midst of a difficult transfer window and a defensive injury crisis. The team we fielded included Jenkinson, Djourou, Traore and Coquelin. The bench found room for Miquel, Lansbury, Ozyakup, Chamakh and Sunu.

Arsenal have injury problems, but the XI we fielded against Chelsea was still made up of experienced internationals. Our first-choice back four and goalkeeper were all available to play. And yet this game looked more like a mismatched cup tie against a League Two side than an elite clash between two Champions League teams.

It was sickening but not surprising. Arsenal have collapsed in each of their three games away to Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, conceding a remarkable 17 goals along the way. We’ve only conceded 34 goals this season, meaning half that tally has come in our three most important games.

Each of those games was seen as vital in our bid for the title. Each of those games took place at 12.45 on a Saturday. And each of those games saw us effectively surrender in the first quarter. Across the fixtures, we conspired to concede seven goals in the opening 20 minutes.

It can’t be just coincidence. Something is deeply wrong.

We haven’t looked like champions for a while…
Arsenal have now won just three of their last eight games. Three times this season we’ve faced a supposed “Death Run”, and it’s difficult to argue we’ve come out of any of those periods well.

The team selection was wrong…
Sticking with the same XI who played at Spurs was a strange decision given our awkward performance at White Hart Lane. After the first meeting between Arsenal and Chelsea in the league, Jose Mourinho boasted that he had stifled Arsenal by suffocating Mikel Arteta. He did exactly the same thing at Stamford Bridge. Perhaps the inclusion of Mathieu Flamini alongside Arteta would have helped the Spaniard cope with Chelsea’s marauding midfield.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain produced one of their worst performances in memory…
He was absolutely atrocious. Wenger is famously reluctant to make early changes – the fact he was withdrawn at half-time speaks volumes. Given his recent form, I must confess I did not see this coming.

Arsene was as frustrated with Giroud as the fans…
Friends at the game tell me he frequently showed his displeasure with the striker’s performance. His frustration mirrored that experienced by the fans at home. Many of our players looked as if they were running through treacle — Giroud looked as if he was running through cement.

However, the fact remains that it was Arsene who put his faith in Giroud, and Arsene who neglected to bring in another striker. Giroud’s flaws have been evident for some time. He certainly isn’t going to become quicker anytime soon.

What next for Arsene?
The manager neglected to turn up for his post-match press conference. Presumably, he didn’t know what to say. When asked by BT Sport if he could have anticipated such a catastrophic result, he said it was “unfortunately unpredictable”.

Arsenal’s capitulations at the Etihad and Anfield suggests he’s wrong about that. Distressingly, every time Arsenal head in to a big match away from home, this kind of humiliation is on the cards. The floodgates opened in August 2011 and Wenger can’t seem to find a way to close them.

It’s not entirely his fault. The players have to take responsibility for their abject performance. However, Arsene is in charge of selecting and preparing them. He is struggling to break the cycle which sees this kind of display occur again and again.

Today will have hurt him. His contempt for Jose Mourinho is clear, and the Portugese’s barbed comments about Wenger’s many “bad moments” prior to the game will have stung. That pain will be amplified by the prophetic nature of Mourinho’s words – this game will surely rank among Wenger’s worst moments as Arsenal manager.

On Friday, Wenger spoke with confidence about the prospect of signing a new deal at Arsenal. One wonders if a result like this might give him cause for reconsideration. On the biggest stages, his team continue to freeze. The spate of new contracts suggest a full recast is unlikely. To continue the theatrical analogy, the simplest thing might be to change the director.

Wenger is intelligent and self-aware. If we can see his problems, the chances are he can too. His last eight years at Arsenal have been characterised by his selfless sense of duty. Perhaps his final selfless act will be to recognise a new man may be required to fix some of the underlying problems in this team.

I don’t know if it’s that simple, in truth. I’m certainly not wishing Wenger in to a hasty retirement. I’m merely articulating my concern at seeing the same issues reoccur again and again. There’s been much to admire about this season, but when you break it down the problems — defeat at Stoke, frailty against the big boys, a failure to invest in the crucial midseason period — remain worryingly familiar.

Given this teams propensity to self-destruct, the FA Cup semi-final currently engenders feelings of anxiety rather than comfort.

Much to ponder — and I’d be fibbing if I said I had the answers. Unfortunately, I’m not confident that Arsene has them either.

Arsenal 2 – 0 Crystal Palace: Ox in the box sees off Pulis

Arsenal were methodical rather than meek…
At half-time I saw a number of people on my Twitter timeline criticising Arsenal for an apparent lack of attacking ambition. On closer inspection, it transpired most of these people were neutrals.

Their disappointment was presumably based on ill-informed expectations. Tuning in to televised coverage of the game, they probably anticipated Arsenal producing an exhibition of attacking excellence. We retain a reputation for extravagant football, just as we retain a reputation as bottlers. This season, it could be argued that both are unjustified. The fans who watch regularly will recognise that this team is evolving a different character: one far steelier, and devastatingly efficient.

Arsene Wenger remarked recently that while Mesut Ozil’s style is not always the most eye-catching, he wears opponents down due to the sheer consistency of his passing. The same analysis could be applied to the team as a whole.

Crystal Palace under Tony Pulis are a highly-organised unit. They are notoriously difficult to break down. Arsenal showed great patience to break down their opponent. It’s also worth pointing out that we put one more goal past them than the vaunted Manchester City.

I couldn’t care less if neutrals are entertained. We’re winning. That’s all I’m bothered about.

Ox t-shirts on sale now

Oxlade-Chamberlain in midfield reminds of Ross Barkley…

He has the same entrancing combination of power and technique. As his second goal demonstrates, he is able to burst past defenders at will, and has the shooting power to finish things off too.

Comparisons with Theo Walcott have always been somewhat lazy. Chamberlain doesn’t share Walcott’s blistering pace or his probing movement off the ball. However, he does possess an impressive range of passing and a genuinely creative streak. As Wenger has long stressed, the middle is his natural home.

Like Barkley, Ox needs to improve his stamina and defensive play if he’s to become a true box-to-box midfielder. Given time, he’ll do it. In Aaron Ramsey’s continued absence, Oxlade-Chamberlain is arguably the closest replicant of the Welshman’s all-action style.

The defence deserve enormous credit…

Arsenal have conceded one goal in their last 11 matches at the Emirates Stadium. It’s stunning stuff. Yesterday, Mertesacker and Koscielny were simply imperious. At one point they could even afford to play a spot of head tennis in their own half.

It’d be remiss not to mention the Kallstrom deal…
This is my first opportunity to talk about it on the blog, and I have to say it continues to puzzle me. Seemingly the only reason we were after a midfielder was to cope with the short-term absence of Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini. However, we have signed a player who is not available for the period those two are set to miss.

Arsene has stressed that the club were not aware of Kallstrom’s injury until 5pm on Deadline Day. By then, it was “too late” to find an alternative. The choice, according to Le Boss, was to sign Kallstrom or no-one. In those circumstances, concluding the deal was probably the right option. However, should it have come to that? Could there not have been a back-up for Kallstrom?

Arsenal really needed a striker in this window, yet Arsene insisted there was no-one of the “super quality” required available. I’m not convinced we necessarily needed a midfielder, and yet he brought in one of dubious calibre who is injured.

It’s a funny one. But he’s proved me wrong before. I, like many, has my doubts about the acquisition of Mathieu Flamini. I’d love to be similarly wrong again.

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

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.

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

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.