Post-Everton thoughts on Ospina, Gabriel, Walcott and more

Give David Ospina his dues…
Would I pick him over Wojciech Szczesny? No. Am I convinced he’ll be Arsenal’s long-term number one? Not even nearly. However, credit where credit is due: he was excellent against Everton.

As anticipated, Arsene Wenger dropped Per Mertesacker for Gabriel. However, what was arguably more intriguing about his team selection was the players who retained his trust. Ospina and Olivier Giroud, both disappointing in midweek, kept their spots.

In Giroud’s case, that wasn’t a huge surprise. Arsene has a longstanding admiration for the striker, who has established himself as the club’s undisputed first-choice centre-forward at the club.

Ospina is a different case. Although he has been a regular in the team since January, Arsene has never publicly declared him the new “No. 1”. There has been a lingering suspicion that the manager was simply waiting for Ospina’s first substandard display to reintroduce Szczesny.

The Monaco debacle made this an easy time to justify a change, yet Wenger stuck with the Colombian. That’s a significant show of faith. It begs the question: if the boss didn’t see fit to change after Monaco, does that suggest Ospina is likely to retain his place until May? And if so, what does that mean for Szczesny’s future?

Gabriel had a decent game…
I think there’s a danger that assessment of his performance falls victim to hyperbole. He made a couple of outstanding tackles, but those eye-catching contributions were balanced out by some glaring errors.

His decision to let the ball bounce in the first half, allowing Romelu Lukaku to steal in and run at David Ospina, was particularly bizarre. There was also a wildly misplaced pass and a couple of mistimed jumps for headers. Perhaps nerves were a factor for a guy making his first start in the Premier League.

There’s a lot to like about Gabriel, but he looks very much like a player still adapting to the demands of a new league. Koscielny suffered from plenty of teething problems; Mertesacker too. It may be next season before the begin to see the best of the Brazilian. His adaptation will certainly be accelerated if he retains his place ahead of the jaded German.

Theo Walcott must be worried…
If he can’t get off the bench in a game like this, when the manager has made a definitive decision to rotate his squad, he’s in trouble.

For weeks debate has raged about which of he or Danny Welbeck is more deserving of a first-team place. That dichotomy was a disservice to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was one of few bright spots in the first half of the campaign.

It now feels as if both Welbeck and Chamberlain are more prominent in Wenger’s thoughts. Some have suggested a connection with Walcott’s contract situation — when he stalled on a new deal in the Autumn of 2012, Walcott was excluded from the XI until form and fitness forced Wenger’s hand.

However, I believe it’s more to do with Walcott’s lack of defensive contribution. Speaking before the Everton match, Wenger said:

Offensively we have lots of solutions. We have to find a team balance. It is more about team balance than any individual.

When you have the ball in the modern game you have to attack, when you don’t have the ball you have to defend. All the players who can’t do that, cannot play.”

Until Walcott’s all-round contribution improves, it seems he will be confined to the sidelines.

Win a 1955 shirt signed by 4 Arsenal players!

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I get bombarded by a lot of potential giveaways at Gunnerblog, but this one is genuinely cool.

Arsenal partner Citroen are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the launch of their DS brand, and have managed to get some Arsenal players in on the celebration.

Laurent Koscielny, Mathieu Flamini, David Ospina and Theo Walcott recently took part in an exclusive photo shoot, posing in an Arsenal shirt from 1955 — the same year the DS was born. 

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Now, Citroen have kindly given Gunnerblog one of those retro shirts to give away, signed by all four players.

Winning couldn’t be easier. All you need to do is tweet me including ‘#DSis60′ and providing the answer to the following question:

In what position did Arsenal finish the 1954/55 league campaign?

I’ll announce a winner at midday UK-time on Friday. Good luck!

Meritocratic selection sees off Stoke + Arsecast Extra 50

Arsenal v Stoke City - Premier League

Arsenal recorded their 13th consecutive home win over Stoke City, and in doing so put in one of their most cohesive performances of the season.

It was interesting to see that Arsene Wenger’s team selection was not swayed by the renewed availability of some big names. The manager chose to keep Mathieu Flamini, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott in reserve, giving the likes of Francis Coquelin, Tomas Rosicky and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain a chance to extend their run of impressive form.

I suspect that even if Kieran Gibbs had been fit, Nacho Monreal might still have got the nod at left-back. Gibbs was very poor at the Britannia, and Monreal has emerged as a rugged and reliable option at full-back. His last seven starts have all resulted in wins, with five clean sheets along the way.

It seems Arsene has adopted a meritocratic selection policy, rewarding those in good form and making some players accustomed to an automatic spot bide their time. That’s ostensibly a decent plan, but it’ll certainly be put to the test when Arsenal face the giants of Manchester City next week.

The one selection decision I was not entirely convinced was based on performance levels was the one that saw Wojciech Szczesny dropped for David Ospina. As much as Arsene insists that call was made purely on form, it looks to me like a clear disciplinary issue.

I’m generally more comfortable seeing Szczesny between the sticks, but that’s largely because I haven’t seen enough of Ospina to make a valuable judgement. My suspicion is that the Pole will be back in the goal before too long – read why over on Mirror Football.

The Arsenal fans’ joy at seeing off Stoke was capped by the news that their train home was cancelled. This was met by cheers from most, but a perturbed silence from the few who realised this meant that Stoke fans would be patrolling the streets of London for longer than was strictly necessary. Deeply unpleasant.

As you’ll have noticed from the big play button at the top of this piece, there’s a new Arsecast Extra out today. It’s the 50th of its kind, and the familiar beep of the Arsecast lorry makes a return to mark the occasion. Have a listen: we chat about Debuchy’s injury, the goalkeeping situation, and whether Morgan Schneiderlin really is worth £30m.

Gunnerblog is 10 today

To my considerable surprise, Gunnerblog is 10 years old today.

I can’t believe that it was fully a decade ago when I took my first faltering steps in to the world of blogging. Although I have neither the time nor inventiveness to blog on a daily basis, the site (and its accompanying Twitter feed) has been a pretty consistent presence in my adult life. It’s brought me huge satisfaction, and I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who has looked in along the way. Without the support, the debate and the encouragement I almost certainly wouldn’t have made it this far. Thankyou. It continues to be a pleasure.

Writing about Arsenal is a particular joy this summer, with the club conducting it’s transfer business in an unfamiliarly efficient manner. Today, the club added David Ospina to a growing list of signings alongside Mathieu Debuchy and Alexis Sanchez.

Ospina looks to be a fantastic acquisition, especially at the bargain price of around £3m. His signing follows the growing trend for every elite club to have two top class goalkeepers. With Ospina around, Wojciech Szczesny faces a real battle to keep hold of the No. 1 shirt.

Another announcement could be just around the corner. Arsenal are also on the verge of declaring a deal over Southampton’s England U-19 captain Calum Chambers.

I have to say, I’m enormously excited about this one. I watched Chambers play right-back against Arsenal back in January, and was struck by his athleticism, technical ability and poise on the ball. The youngster obviously made a similar impression on Arsene Wenger, who is prepared to spend in excess of £10 million to get his man.

Speaking to The Daily Mail, Wenger admitted that Chambers’ versatility was one of the main attractions:

“He hasn’t played many games but the English players on the market in England are very expensive. At the end of the day I was ready to take a gamble because he is a one for the future.  

He is a player I wanted because I rated his quality and intelligence. He is only 19 and can play at centre-back, right-back and central midfield. I hope he will give us competition for the players in those three positions.”

Wenger was disappointed to miss out on Phil Jones a couple of years back, but now it seems he has the promising, powerful, adaptable English defensive player he’s been craving.

On that note, I’d better depart. Thanks again, and here’s to the next decade of drivel.