Dortmund await new-look Arsenal

If Swansea was the start of a new era, then (with due respect to the Welsh side) this is our first test.  Victory on Saturday was essential, but also expected.  The outcome of tonight’s game is much harder to call.

Dortmund are the Champions of Germany, and a fine footballing side.  Arsene paid them the compliment of saying they have a “similar style” to his own team, and the talents of Kagawa, Goetze and Lewandowski make them a very real attacking threat.  They can defend too – Neven Subotic, a one-time Arsenal target, is the key figure in a back-line that conceded a meagre 22 league goals last season.

Dortmund’s impressive coach Jurgen Klopp is excited about a clash between two attacking teams:

“I think it is good for us that Arsenal play attacking football. The problem is that they have so much quality that we have to be very careful. But we are prepared. We are capable of defending against this kind of team and have to work to make space and impose our own game.”

He even sounds rather like our own manager there.  Rather than being a reactive tactician, he imposes a philosophy on to his team and asks them to abide by it in every game – no matter who the opposition.

It promises to be an exciting encounter, and a betting man would predict goals – at least at one end.  Arsenal haven’t kept a clean-sheet away from home in the Champions League since the victory over AC Milan in the San Siro.  That was in 2008, three years and 16 games ago.

Those games, of course, were without Per Mertesacker.  The giant centre-half returns to his native Germany today to face former domestic rivals, and will hopefully be able to pass on his knowledge of our opposition to messrs Szczesny, Koscielny, Sagna and Gibbs.

In midfield we’re without the injured Rosicky and Ramsey, so Alex Song and Emmanuel Frimpong will most likely be charged with shacking Goetze and Kagawa, with Mikel Arteta pulling the strings ahead of them.  After an eight year absence the Spaniard returns to the Champions League, and the competition and occasion ought to suit his fluid passing game.

Gervinho returns to flank skipper Van Persie, with one of Theo Walcott or Andrey Arshavin on the other side.  Ordinarily you’d expect Walcott to start, but I wonder if Arshavin’s early withdrawal on Saturday was partly with tonight in mind.

We go in to the game as something of an unknown quantity.  As well as the clutch of new signings, the likes of Gibbs and Frimpong barely figured last season.  Even Szczesny emerged quite late in the campaign.  Arsene says:

“For us, it’s a new start because we are a new squad. What is at stake during the Group Stages is for us to show that we can go through.”

Victory tonight would be a huge step in that direction.

In other news, Henri Lansbury has extended his existing Arsenal deal.  It’s great news, as he has started the season in fine form, scoring goals for both the England U-21s and loan club West Ham.  An impressive campaign in the Championship could see him finally afforded the chance in the first-team I believe he richly deserves.  Perhaps, after all, Arsene does still see him as an Arsenal player of the future.

Back to the present.  Dortmund fans made the following video to ‘welcome’ Arsenal fans to the intimidating Westfalenstadion.

So that, it seems, is what Dortmund are about.

It’s time for this new-look Arsenal to show them, and indeed us, just what they’re about.

Come On You Gunners.

Park & RVP net seven goals in one day

With all the fuss over deadline day, I almost forgot there was a round of internationals to be played last night.  Several of our new boys were in action, with strike pairing Robin van Persie and Park Chu-Young grabbing the headlines.  Park scored an excellent hatrick against Lebanon, before RVP went one better by netting four in the Netherlands’ 11-0 win over San Marino.  Follow the links for video clips.

Whilst the level of opposition has to be taken in to account, it’s always good for a striker to score goals, and Park showed his potential with a variety of finishes: a stretching volley, a powerful header, and a neat finish across the keeper.  He looks like he can score all kinds of goals, which is more than can be said for Marouane Chamakh – who, at the moment, can’t score any.

As a rule, it seems our players have been more successful in their internationals than in their recent club form – and the good news is that so far I’m yet to hear of any injuries.  English fans will have enjoyed watching Theo Walcott give an impressive performance on the right-hand line of Fabio Capello’s new look attack, with his driving run helping to create the third goal for Wayne Rooney.  In the same group another Brit, Wales skipper Aaron Ramsey, scored in a 2-1 win over Montenegro.

Andrey Arshavin‘s impressive dribble set up Russia’s winner against Macedonia, whilst Bacary Sagna and Laurent Koscielny only made the bench for France as they saw off Albania.

The same was true of Per Mertesacker, which is fine with me –  I’d rather him rest than run the risk of injury.  The other two new boys, Mikel Arteta and Andre Santos, are not on international duty, so should arrive at London Colney in the next couple of days to join the rest of the squad for training.

There’s a lot of debate about whether or not Arteta can match Cesc’s class on the pitch, but he’s certainly very classy off it.  Yesterday he spoke to Sky Sports News about his transfer.  He spoke with great humility and honesty about his departure from Everton – it was clearly a difficult decision for him, somewhat akin to Cesc’s departure from Arsenal.  Hopefully he will show the same loyalty and commitment to us as he did to Everton.  You can see the video here.

The night before the senior internationals, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made his debut for the England U-21s, and impressed, setting up a couple of goals including this beauty from loanee Henri Lansbury.  Now that we’re almost a week on and I can mention the game without wanting to cry, I ought to say that I was quite impressed by his little cameo at Old Trafford.  Despite the circumstances he showed some real guts, going on a couple of mazy runs and spraying one nonchalant fifty-yard pass across the pitch.  Although the signing of Yossi Benayoun (who captained Israel in a 1-0 defeat to Greece) will nudge him a little down the pecking order, he looks like he’s ready to fight for this place.  The Carling Cup tie with Shrewsbury on the 20th looks like a chance for him to make his first start as an Arsenal player.

Yesterday the club named their 25-man squad for the Premier League.  I say 25; it was actually 22.  Chamberlain is one of several players who do not have to be named due to their age.   The only surprise is that Manuel Almunia is a) included and b) still here.  I’m guessing he couldn’t find a club to match his wages.  Still, at least it means we have plenty of depth in a position that provided us with no end of trouble last season.

There are a couple of transfer stories doing the rounds, suggesting we made enquiries for Yoann Gourcuff and Clint Dempsey.  I’m sure that’s true: Arsenal clearly had an extensive list of targets and had to explore them all.  I don’t know about you but I’m still recovering from the madness that was transfer deadline day.  There was no blog yesterday, and if it’s alright with you I might take Sunday off too.  To be honest, I’ll probably do it even if it’s not alright with you, because I’m just horribly inconsiderate.  I’ll be back in force next week with some in-depth pieces on our new players ahead of the Swansea match.

Only a week until we get to see the new boys in action…

Transfer frenzy: 5 signings in 2 days

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Two days. Five signings. One goal: Regeneration.

I expected activity from Arsenal.  I hoped for three, maybe four additions.  But five signings in two days is more than I could have wished for.

The 8-2 defeat to Manchester United brought the club to its knees.  But it also brought a change of ideology.  Arsene saw how on that day how vulnerable his young squad was, and has moved decisively to reinforce it with experience and quality.  The cavalry has arrived.

On Tuesday we completed the signing of Park Chu-Young, and Wednesday afternoon saw us secure the anticipated signings of Andre Santos and Per Mertesacker.  That saw the defence and attack sorted, but huge concerns remained about the midfield.  As night drew in and the 11pm deadline inched closer, fans were deeply concerned: could Arsenal really go in to the season without adding to a midfield shorn of Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas?

They needn’t have worried.  An impeccable source tells me that Mikel Arteta was at London Colney as early as 6.30pm.  After some haggling over wages – it seems Arteta may have taken a pay-cut to secure his four year deal – his signing was secured, right on the deadline.  Not only that, but he was joined by Yossi Benayoun, on a season long loan from Chelsea.

The signings all bring a wealth of experience and character to the table

Per Mertesacker – 26 years old, Former Werder Bremen captain, 75 Germany caps
Andre Santos – 28 years old, 22 Brazil caps
Mikel Arteta – 29 years old, 161 Premier League appearances – more than any other Arsenal player
Yossi Benayoun – 31 years old, Current Israel captain with 83 Israel caps
Park Chu-Young – 26 years old, Current captain of South Korea with 53 caps

And all that for a total outlay of about £28m.

The negative element of the fanbase with complain that we haven’t made a marquee signing – someone of the stature of a Cesc or a Nasri.  To a degree they’re right – although I consider Mertesacker and Arteta to be unusually high profile signings for Arsene.  What we have done is significantly strength the squad – certainly since Sunday, and perhaps even since last season.  I expect Santos, Mertesaker and Arteta to make a significant impact on the first XI this season, whilst Benayoun and Park will provide capable options in attacking areas.

The big German centre-half is what we’ve been crying out for, and I’m looking forward to him forming a mean looking partnership with Thomas Vermaelen.  Santos will provide stiff competition for Gibbs – you don’t play for Brazil regularly without being a half-decent footballer – and Arteta is an absolutely vital addition.  He knows the league inside out, he can pass the ball, and score goals.  We’ve seen how someone like Ashley Young has stepped up to another level since joining a Champions League club, and I believe Arteta has the talent to do the same.

I think Benayoun is regarded a little harshly by Arsenal fans, perhaps because he’s played for several rival clubs.  I believe he’s talented and capable of scoring goals – and he hasn’t cost us anything yet!  Remember, this is the man who scored the goal for West Ham that put us in Europe ahead of Spurs after lasagne-gate, so we owe him a little goodwill.  Park, meanwhile, seems like a very solid pro who will fit right in to our technical style of football.

It’s all unprecedented for Arsenal on so many levels.  To make so many signings – and this kind of signing too.  Mertesacker is the tallest player Arsene has ever bought.  He’s added two veterans of the Premier League.  He’s signed players who are ready to go now – and for some of whom time is actively running out!

For those who wanted a global superstar: Arsene will tell you that within twelve months, the likes of Wilshere or Gervinho could reach that level.  These players will provide the platform they need to do that.  My favourite aspect of deadline day was seeing the tweets flood in from young Jack:

Maybe Arteta will give him the support Cesc needed but never had.  Against Manchester United, we saw an Arsenal team that didn’t believe in themselves.  Now, they might just have a reason.

There were departures too.  Henri Lansbury joined West Ham on loan, and with his contract close to expiry he may not be coming back.  Nicklas Bendtner also joined Sunderland on a temporary deal – his long-term future is harder to call.  We might get him as a proven Premier League goalscorer.  Gilles Sunu got himself a four year deal at Lorient, who have also taken Joel Campbell on loan for the season.

It is a radical overhaul of the squad.  At a glance:

Out: Denilson (loan), Clichy, Fabregas, Eboue, JET, Vela (loan), Nasri, Traore, Lansbury (loan), Sunu, Campbell (loan), Bendtner (loan)

In: Jenkinson, Gervinho, Chamberlain, Miyaichi (WP granted), Campbell, Park, Santos, Mertesacker, Benayoun, Arteta

I’ve probably missed some out – but still, you get the point.

Over the international break there’ll be plenty of time to analyse each signing individually and their potential impact on the side.  For now, I’m exhausted, and need to rest for a long time.

It’s a new look Arsenal squad.  It might not be good enough to win the league, but it’s certainly good enough for Champions League qualification.  Also, it’s one I can take pride in, which is more than I can say for the situation last week.  I’m glad that Arsene, too, seems to have shown some humility and amended his transfer policy.  It was, I’m sure we all agree, entirely necessary.

The season starts against Swansea.  I can’t wait.