Thursday Round-Up: Arteta’s reasonable request

The international break is over, and it seems we survived it without any players falling out of an aeroplane or chocking on some jagged foreign food.  It’s a treacherous time for Arsenal as we have a host of international players, and it’s only going to get worse with the news that Japan and Ghana are considering calling up Ryo Miyaichi and Emmanuel Frimpong respectively.  To be fair, that’s the only way it’d work: relaxed though FIFA rules have become, there’d be a few raised eyebrows at the sight of Frimpong in a Japan shirt.

Anyway, in this instance we seem to have been lucky enough to avoid major injury scares from our travelling posse, with even Theo Walcott expected to be fit for Saturday.  At some point today Arsene Wenger should appear on to update us on the availability of the likes of Kieran Gibbs, who will be keen not to fall behind new boy Andre Santos in the race for the left-back spot.

Mikel Arteta has asked not to be called ‘Cesc’, which for a man called Mikel seems very reasonable.  I see his point though: despite being Spanish and having played at Barcelona, it’s plain unrealistic to expect him to be a like-for-like replacement.  Andrey Arshavin’s comments about Arsenal having to play “different football” now that we’re without Cesc and Nasri seem to have been widely interpreted as him saying we’ve gone backwards.  I don’t think that’s necessarily true.  It’s worth remembering the slower, shorter passing game favoured by the two playmakers hasn’t delivered much in the way of trophies.  An evolved strategy that makes the most of the blistering pace of our counter-attacking wingers, Gervinho, Walcott, Chamberlain et al might prove more productive.  And, having played in a far more direct Everton side, Arteta could be a useful part of that.

Wales hero Aaron Ramsey is definitely hoping that this Saturday can mark the start of a new era:

“We’ve had a good think about stuff (during the break).

We’ve brought in some new players and I think everything is going to be sort of a fresh start now so hopefully we can just get the three points and build on that and get ourselves back into the race.”

I think that whilst we all have grievances about the way the summer was handled and don’t want those lessons to go unlearned, it’s important that we let go of that now and focus on the task at hand: winning football matches.

I for one will be glad to put an end to the speculation and the sniping, and get back to getting behind the boys on the pitch.

Injuries, Internationals, & Integration

After transfer deadline day, the mood among Arsenal fans was surprisingly positive considering our domestic results thus far.  A fistful of new signings offered the opportunity of a fresh start.  The honeymoon, however, has not lasted long.  If there was anything likely to puncture the morale of the supporters, it was injuries.

Surprisingly enough, the worst news has not come from participants in the dreaded interlull.  Although both Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott missed their respective games last night with minor muscle strains, they’re not expected to be major doubts for Saturday.  The worst news has come from two players who stayed at home with what we had believed to be relatively minor problems.  Turns out, in true Arsenal fashion, they’re much worse than we feared.  On Monday it was confirmed that Jack Wilshere will miss at least two months, and then yesterday Arsenal revealed that Thomas Vermaelen had undergone an operation which means he will miss at least a month of training.  His likely return date is the home game with Sunderland on October 16th, meaning he’ll miss Champions League ties with Dortmund and Olympiacos as well as the North London Derby.

The news casts a slightly different light on our transfer activity – the staff would have been well aware of these injuries when negotiating for the likes of Mertesacker and Arteta – and means those players will immediately become integral to the side.  The big German wore the captain’s armband for Germany last night (in a game in which Wojciech Szczesny was outstanding for Poland), and should be ready to go straight in to the team on Saturday alongside Laurent Koscielny.

In midfield, Alex Song will still be suspended, so Mikel Arteta should start alongside Emmanuel Frimpong and Aaron Ramsey.  Ramsey was named Man of the Match in Wales 1-0 defeat at Wembley last night, and gave a commanding midfield performance as captain.  With the departure of Cesc and Nasri on top of Wilshere’s injury, it’s clearly a huge season for Aaron.  I don’t doubt his talent, but sometimes he seems to try too hard, playing 50-yard Hollywood passes when a simple ball is on.  It’s easy to forget what a fantastic recovery he’s made from his broken leg, and perhaps he’s just a little over-eager to make up for lost time.  If he can start to use the ball more maturely that will be a big step along the road back to where he was just prior to his injury.

Frimpong, meanwhile, has once again declared his intention to play for Ghana.  Selfishly, I’d like him to play for England: a) because it means we won’t lose him for African Nations football, and b) because I’m an England fan!  That said, he was born in Accra and his Ghanaian heritage clearly means an enormous amount to him, so best of luck to him.  There are African Nations tournaments in January 2012 AND 2013 – the only consolation being that Cameroon are unlikely to qualify for this season’s tournament, meaning we won’t be entirely bereft of defensive midfielders.

Upfront, there’s a slim possibility of a debut for Park, who has scored again for Korea – that’s now four in his last two games.  It’s clear he’s a decent technical finisher, and in a team like ours he’s certain to get chances.  I actually think that at the end of the season we may look back on his signing as something of a bargain.

We may also witness a home debut for teenage flyer Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.  The teenager has been in superb form over the International break with England U-21s, with this cameo against Israel particularly impressive, setting up all four England goals:

It sounds like he made a decent impression off the pitch too, when the squad decided to have an ‘X-Factor night’ bonding session. The Daily Mail claims:

“Arsenal’s man-of-the-moment Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – according to observers – ‘brought the house down’ when impersonating Will Smith by rapping the theme tune to his old comedy series, the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

On a serious note, he looks a hell of a talent: quick, powerful with an eye for a pass.  We shouldn’t let any disappointment that bigger names didn’t arrive cloud the fact we’ve signed a hugely promising youngster here.

We’re slightly fortunate that the injuries to Wilshere and Vermaelen come at a time when the fixture list is a little less daunting than it has been until now.  In September we have home games with Swansea, Shrewsbury, Bolton and Olympiacos, as well as trips to Dortmund and Blackburn.  In that period we are able to welcome back Song and Gervinho from suspension, as well as adding five new signings in to the mix.  It is no exaggeration to say that, with our new look squad, all those games are winnable.  What a different season it would look then.

Come on Gunners.  Let’s turn this around.  Starting on Saturday.

Wilshere injured, but Arteta training at Colney

I have to say, what excited me most about the signing of Mikel Arteta was the possibility of once more seeing an intelligent, technical midfielder alongside the prodigious Jack Wilshere.  It seems I will be waiting some time.  Yesterday, Jack took to Twitter to confirm he’ll miss at least two, possibly three months with this mysterious ankle problem.

To put that in context, that’ll be more than a third of the season and is in danger of becoming half.  Also, that recovery schedule assumes no set-backs, which considering our injury record seems more than a little unlikely.  It explains why Arsene was so keen to pursue Arteta alongside other reported midfield targets like Rennes’ Yann M’Vila.  The Spaniard has now joined up for training at London Colney, and is already making a good impression – it’s good news, as he’ll need to hit the ground running.  Sprinting, even.

Arsenal may find themselves still reliant on Tomas Rosicky, who helped create an equaliser for the Czech Republic this weekend with an outstanding slide-rule pass.  He’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and I doubt he’ll ever be the player he might have been, but he does work hard and keep the ball moving.  If he could add some goals to his game he would remain an important squad member.

Considering the injuries and departures elsewhere in the squad, it’s increasingly unfortunate Gervinho managed to get himself suspended for three league games.  Arsene has spoken in his press conferences about how quickly the winger has settled and how he’s showing real confidence in training, and yet so far we’ve only seen glimpses.  He was on the scoresheet for Ivory Coast at the weekend, which will have helped keep his form and fitness up.  Swansea on Saturday will be the final match of his ban, and after that I expect him to become a regular name on the team-sheet.

Right.  That really is all that’s going on at the moment.  There’s another round of internationals tomorrow night – let’s hope our players come through unscathed and we can begin looking forward to a few debuts on Saturday…

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…