Some thoughts on Chelsea and Mesut Ozil

Shad Forscythe

Another match away to a top team, another defeat. A few days have passed since events at Stamford Bridge but it doesn’t feel any better. I’m not exactly OptaJames, but I believe I’m right in saying we haven’t beaten a good team for more than a million years.

I’m not inclined to dwell on refereeing decisions. It seemed to me that the incompetence of this particular official extended to both teams. Gary Cahill should undoubtedly have been sent off, but so too should Danny Welbeck. Arsenal might well have had a penalty, but arguably Laurent Koscielny should have been dismissed for conceding the spot-kick that was given.

I’ll run through some thoughts now. To avoid repeating myself, I’ll link to a couple of a pieces I’ve published elsewhere too.

The primary difference was that their stars delivered…

Although we didn’t get any points, we did see some progress. Arsenal were more compact, more combative, and stayed in the game for much longer than last season. Admittedly, that’s not difficult. I don’t know about you, but I was watching the game in 5 minute increments, delighted as each segment passed without the concession of a goal. Mathieu Flamini was particularly good, hurling himself in to tackles and generally making a nuisance of himself.

Ultimately though, the game was decided by two moments of attacking brilliance. The first was that superb slalom from Eden Hazard. The second comprised of two pieces of play of outstanding quality: a lofted pass from Cesc Fabregas, and an emphatically efficient demonstration of control and finishing from Diego Costa.

Mesut Ozil, on the other hand…

…was desperately disappointing against Chelsea. As ever, many leapt to his defence, but I thought he was undeniably poor. During the latest episode of the Arsecast Extra, I described him as being a bit like modern art: people keep telling me I should see things there that I can’t quite make out.

Arsenal Player Ratings vs. Chelsea | ESPN

Mesut Ozil, 4 – It’s difficult to understand just how Ozil managed to avoid being substituted against Chelsea. Deployed on the right flank, he was woeful. Not only was his passing shockingly erratic, but he seemed to shrink in the face of Chelsea’s physical approach. He must toughen up if he is to influence these big games.

Anyhow, it seems his form is no longer of any great concern. As I sat down to finish off this piece, the news broke that Ozil could miss as many as three months with a ligament problem.

Many will tell you it’s a blessing in disguise. I think that’s a bit strong – you never want to lose your most talented players for a prolonged period. However, Arsene has struggled to find a way to fit Ozil, Wilshere, Cazorla and Alexis in to the same XI. Perhaps the German’s absence will simplify the task of arranging his midfield, at least until January.

In these big games, the first goal is so crucial…

Arsenal somehow need to find a way to get the first goal in big games on a more regular basis. Having taken the lead, Chelsea were able to execute their preferred game-plan to perfection, sitting deep before picking up on the break.

In Alexis and Welbeck, we have players who offer a real threat on the counter. Had Chelsea been forced to come out in search of a goal, we might have been able to exploit the space in behind. As it was, we found ourselves banging against a blue wall.

According to Orbinho, The last time Arsenal came from behind to beat a top four team was against Liverpool in March 2012. Since then, there have been 20 such fixtures played. In each of Arsenal’s three wins, the Gunners got the first goal. The big teams simply don’t let leads slip. You can’t afford to give them a headstart.

On Wenger vs. Mourinho | The Mirror

Time after time, Mourinho’s pragmatism has overcome Wenger’s purism. The Frenchman is gripped by footballing ideals that define his tactical philosophy. Mourinho does not seem burdened by the same romanticism.

Wenger is known as “The Professor”, but can’t shake his artistic tendencies. In reality, it is Mourinho who is the clinical scientist.

Fore an audio dissection of the match and Arsenal’s start to the season, check out the live edition of the Arsecast Extra.

Udinese Preview: One of the biggest games of Wenger’s career

You may feel there’s a little hyperbole involved in today’s headline. I don’t.

This is a huge game, in a huge week, in a huge month for Arsene. With Cesc Fabregas’ transfer to Barcelona now finalised (you can read details of his press conference, including praise for Arsene, Jack and Ramsey here), fans will be looking for some hope to cling to. A resounding victory against Udinese would provide just that.

It would also, of course, help us towards Champions League Qualification. Should we fail to progress, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Cesc money used to compensate for the financial losses incurred by not eating at Europe’s top table. If we do qualify, not only will we have money to spend, but we’ll also have the tour of Champions League football to offer potential acquisitions.

It won’t, however, be easy. Udinese finished fourth in Serie A last year. Like us, they have lost their best player to Barcelona (Alexis Sanchez), but they still have some great players, such as Antonio Di Natale, who has finished as the division’s top goalscorer for two seasons running.

Arsenal, meanwhile, go in to the game with a weakened team. Already shorn of Cesc, we lose both Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie to suspension. Tomas Rosicky also faces a fitness test, meaning their could be a huge creative burden on the trio of Arshavin, Walcott and Gervinho. Hopefully they have enough in them to carry it. There are some suggestions that Nicklas Bendtner could be included – if he is, I can only assume that’s because he is moving to a club where a Champions League cup-tie would have no cost.

Whether Nasri would’ve played tonight anyway is in some doubt. Yesterday, via twitter, he launched a stinging attack in the fans who sang abusive chants at him against Newcastle. It feels very much like a parting shot thrown as he heads out the door – if and when Nasri goes, he won’t receive anything like the fond farewell afforded to Cesc.

Nasri did join in Arsenal training yesterday, as Arsenal.com showed us on this free video, which also revealed the startling and disturbing news that Alex Song insists on training naked from the waist down:

Each to their own, I suppose.

Perhaps it was some kind of protest against his charge from the FA. Arsenal have also decided to appeal Gervinho’s red card, which strikes me as unwise. Unfairly provoked though he was, he did commit a red card offence. Hopefully his appeal won’t see his ban extended on grounds of frivolity.

Song’s partner in silliness, Emmanuel Eboue, is about to leave the club after Galatasaray confirmed they were in talks with the player. A source close to the deal gave me an amusing footnote to this one: Eboue landed in Turkey last night, expecting to be met by the Galatasaray chief exec. Meanwhile, the CEO is landing in London, expecting to meet Eboue there. Only Eboue’s exit could occur in such comical fashion.

Arsene Wenger will not be allowed to take his place on the bench tonight due to a one-match touchline ban. Hopefully those who join him in the stands remember that the players out there in and red and White all take pride in playing for Arsenal. They want to be here, and they need your support. This is a huge test.

Come On You Gunners.

The “Goodbye Cesc” post

cescbarcakid

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.

Tonight, however, reality hit home, as Arsenal confirmed through their official website that an agreement with Barcelona had finally been struck. Arsene said:

“We have been clear that we didn’t want Cesc to leave and that remains the case. However, we understand Cesc’s desire to move to his home town club and have now accepted an offer from Barcelona. We thank Cesc for his contribution at Arsenal and wish him future success.”

The deal was done on Friday morning, though we’ve waiting till now to make any kind of official announcement – hopefully we’ve used the intervening period to make advances in spending the money we’ll receive for Cesc. On that note, there’ll be more from me on what Arsenal need to do to replace him later today, so stay tuned.

The fee has been confirmed by Sandro Rossell as being €29m upfront with a possible further €10m in add-ons. That’s an absolute maximum of £34.2m.

It is, of course, a steal. At the start of the summer we would have laughed off such a ridiculous fee. Now, it’s Barcelona who are laughing. Their disruptive tactics have won the day, and ultimately the player’s desire to move has seen us do a deal at a fee lower than that for which for Andy Carroll moved to Liverpool.

Aside from Barca’s antics, our negotiating position was weakened primarily by the fact that the race to sign Cesc contained just one Catalan horse. On the open market, he’d fetch £50m+, no doubt.

To be honest I don’t think the fee really matters. It’s almost entirely profit, meaning it even surpasses the ludicrous amount we made on Nicolas Anelka when we flogged him to Real Madrid. Whether he went for £30m, £40m, or £50m really makes no difference to me: he’s going.

Cesc is already in Barcelona and will undergo a medical tomorrow morning before being presented around 1230 UK-time. I will, at that precise point, be undergoing an operation in a dentist’s chair. Which promises to be less painful than having to watch him paraded.

There are so many reasons that losing Fabregas is a blow. He’s the club captain, and the heartbeat of the side. He is one of the world’s finest midfielders. And, for so long, he felt like one of our own.

Collectively, we watched him grow and develop from spindly prodigy to midfield maestro. I was there at Highbury when he became our youngest ever player against Rotherham in the League Cup. I was there when he became our youngest goalscorer, tapping in against Wolves. And I was there when he came of age in 2006, winning a duel with the grand master himself, Patrick Vieira, who by that time was playing for Juventus.

In his early years, Cesc lived with a club landlady, whose son is a friend of mine. To them – indeed, to all Arsenal supporters – he always felt like family. Inevitably, therefore, his departure feels like a rejection. Forgive the crowbarred analogy, but it’s a little like an adopted child deciding they’d like to go and be with their real parents. As much as we understand, it still hurts.

Whilst the pull of home is clearly a factor, one can’t help but feel a tinge of regret that Cesc is leaving earlier than any of us expected. Xavi is a long way from calling it a day, whilst the likes of Aaron Ramsey are not yet ready to fill the vacuum created by his absence.

He’s left, ultimately, because he no longer believes in the project. He wouldn’t relinquish the armband lightly. If he felt he could win trophies as captain of Arsenal, he would be staying for a year or two at least. Whatever anyone else tells you, whatever you read elsewhere, do not doubt that Cesc Fabregas loves Arsenal Football Club. Barcelona is in his blood, but Arsenal is in his heart. Sadly – and this will hurt Arsene enormously – he no longer believes that the team built around him with bear the fruit of trophies.

I can understand his frustration. His star has too often shone alone in Arsenal’s galaxy. The failure to sign the established players his talent deserved around him has cost him and Arsenal dear.

Now, at Barcelona, his potential seems destined to finally be fulfilled. When I hear pundits claim Cesc will warm the bench at Barca, I chuckle. Alongside the likes of Xavi, Villa and Messi, he will step up another gear. It pains me to say it, but I think Barca will see the best of Cesc. Whatever they ended up paying, it would have been a bargain: Fabregas is a Ballon D’Or winner waiting to happen.

He does, however, leave us with an awful lot of memories, including 303 appearances, 57 goals, and 98 assists. It’s sad that it ended the way it did, but when he was on the pitch for us I never doubted his commitment. I won’t be talking too much about Fabregas from now on – it’s important that the whole club moves on. Nor will the departing Samir Nasri be afforded a similar eulogy. But for now, for the sake of nostalgia, let’s end with some of Cesc’s finest moments.

The following video ends with an optimistic “to be continued?”. Sadly, it seems this love affair is, for now, over. It’s less “Cesc We Can”, and more “Cesc we could’ve”.

Farewell, El Capitán.

Official: Joel Campbell to jet in on Sunday

campbellwide

Hello all.  In the broader scheme of things at the club, this is not big news, but having followed it all the way I wanted to carry on the story: Costa Rican striker Joel Campbell has confirmed he will fly to England on Sunday, when he is expected to sign for Arsenal.

Campbell gave the news to website EverardoHerrera.com, who initially broke the news of Arsenal’s interest.  Although Campbell has not yet explicitly confirmed that Arsenal are his destination, he laughed and joked with the presenters when wished luck wearing the red and white shirt of the Gunners – and confirmed to journalists off-record that he would be joining Arsenal during the u-20 World Cup.

He is saving the announcement itself for a press conference which will be held by his club, Deportivo Saprissa, at 1am UK-time.  Spanish speakers among you can listen to the interview here.

Arsenal would like the player to become part of the first team squad immediately, but that will be dependent on whether or not he receives a work permit.  There are some rumours flying round that he has Irish grandparents: he doesn’t.  He is as Irish as Ryo Miyaichi (ie. not very), so like the Japanese winger would most likely have to be awarded an ‘extraordinary talent visa’.  There is also a rumour you cannot only make one application for an extraordinary talent visa per season; this is also untrue.  It’s one application per season per individual, if that makes any sense.  Anyway, Campbell will have his day before the FA panel, and that will decide whether he stays in England or goes out elsewhere on loan.  His caps for Costa Rica will certainly stand him in good stead.

UPDATE: Arsenal just confirmed the deal on the official website.  Arsene said:

“Joel Campbell has already shown that he is a player with great ability, and has also performed well on the international stage at a young age. We look forward to the formalities of the transfer being completed and working with Joel when he joins us at Arsenal.”

Why have the club chosen to announce the deal now?  Well, partly because they knew the press conference in Costa Rica was about to steal their thunder somewhat.  But there is an amusing sub-plot: Barcelona officials are currently waiting in their offices for an email confirming the deal for Cesc after the clubs reached verbal agreement this morning.

Catalan journalists close to the club have told me that Barca leaked news of an agreement and are now left feeling embarrassed and concerned that an official agreement has not been forthcoming.  Arsenal, meanwhile, are presumably enjoying making them suffer a little.  Announcing Campbell now shows we have staff on call – we’re just letting them stew.

Petty, but amusing.

Right.  The rebuilding continues.  Till tomorrow.