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!

5 questions from Arsenal’s defeat at Southampton

szczesnysouthampton

Will Arsenal win three consecutive league games this season?

We haven’t managed it yet. Arsene Wenger is quick to point out that consistency will be the key to making the top four, but it’s precisely that which evades us at present.

Every time we seem to be building some momentum, that nefarious handbrake slams down to foil us once again.

Nevertheless, six points from nine is more than I expected from our festive fixture list. Watching our defending at St. Mary’s, the victory at Upton Park began to look ever more miraculous.

I still think we’ll make the top four, but I think that case more about an absence of quality elsewhere in this league than any positive attributes of our own.

Is Francis Coquelin the answer to our defensive midfield problem?

Not for me. Coquelin’s tenacious displays don’t make me think we ought to anoint him as the long-awaited “DM” — rather, they convince me of how much better we’d be with a top class player performing in that role. However, Coquelin does look as if he will give Mathieu Flamini a run for his money until a superior player arrives.

At present, Coquelin’s certainly a better option in that role than Calum Chambers. According to Squawka, Chambers didn’t make a single tackle during his return to his former club.

That stat doesn’t necessarily mean quite as much as you might imagine — interceptions are just as important, and tackles can be a desperate last resort prompted by poor positioning. However, it was clear watching the game that the Englishman is a long way from ready to play regularly in central midfield.

Is Wojciech Szczesny good enough to be our number one?

I think so. He has the talent. Is it being properly harnessed? That’s another question (but, crucially, not one in bold. Got to stick to the five. #SEO)

Look at where David de Gea was two years ago and where he is now. That’s surely down to coaching. Has Szczesny made the same strides forward? Probably not. He relies on his instincts and his preternatural self-confidence. Technically and tactically there are still flaws in his game.

The identical errors made by Almunia, Fabianski and Szczesny can’t be mere coincidence. The problem must lie on the training ground.

What’s up with Laurent Koscielny?

Although Szczesny was painted as the villain of the piece, Koscielny also endured something of a personal nightmare against Southampton. Aside from misjudging the run of Saido Mane on the opener, he also played a weak back-pass that ought to have resulted in a third for the Saints.

You know, it’s almost as if he’s being forced to play through a debilitating chronic injury. Tendinitis doesn’t just disappear. His is a condition that requires careful management. It’s been said many times, but Wenger has to buy a central defender with the ability to cover a prolonged absence for Koscielny. Relying on him is a risk we can not afford.

On the subject of the back four, much will understandably be made of how shoddy we looked with our first choice defensive unit in place. However, in their defence it was the first time those five players have played together this season. All change — even position change — can be disruptive. It will take time for that unit to click.

What sort of team will we see in the FA Cup?

Ideally, I think Arsene Wenger would like to field a rotated side after a demanding Christmas period. However, a glance at our subs bench at Southampton suggests he has very few options at his disposal. Theo Walcott should start his first game in a year, while David Ospina is guaranteed a game in goal. Other than that I expect it to be fairly similar team.

One man who may get a run-out, most likely from the bench, is Chuba Akpom. It seems clear Wenger is launching a charm offensive to convince the young striker to extend his deal beyond the summer. The development of Joel Campbell does not seem to be quite such a priority for our manager.

Stoke 1-0 Arsenal: Gunners fall to familiar foe

In truth, Arsenal couldn’t really afford to draw this game, let alone lose…
In isolation, a draw at Stoke is a decent result. However, this game was not played in isolation. It was played in the context of a title race, and all our other results. A draw would not have been good enough, and a defeat is a disaster.

There were only so many times we could afford to drop points between now and the end of the season. Given that we face the most difficult fixture list of any of the four title-challengers, this was a game we probably had to win.

I know Stoke’s not an easy place to go. However, when we dropped points at home to United, it effectively narrowed the margin for potential error. Some hailed that as a good result “in isolation”. I wonder if they still think so now.

We have now won just two of our last six Premier League games.

Do I think Chelsea could slip up? Maybe. Do I think that Chelsea, City and Liverpool will pick up less points than us in the run-in, given our respective fixture lists? Probably not.

I know some will consider this an unnecessarily grim assessment. After all, we might go and beat Tottenham, Everton, Chelsea and City in succession. However, given the evidence of our performances against our biggest rivals thus far this season, such a run seems improbable at best.

Our title challenge has been mounted upon our capacity to put away the lesser teams. Today, we failed to do that. It looks costly.

Saying all that, the penalty award was incredibly harsh…
I’m not sure how the referee can possibly give that as a deliberate handball. Still, it seems that The Curse of Laurent Koscielny has struck again. That was the sixth Premier League penalty he’s given away in his time at Arsenal (h/t @OptaJoe). However well he’s playing, he can’t seem to escape those big controversial moments.

You could question the line-up…
I can understand leaving out Mesut Ozil. Tomas Rosicky was outstanding against Sunderland and didn’t really deserve to be dropped.

However, was Jack Wilshere really better equipped than Mathieu Flamini to cope with the tumult of the Britannia’s midfield battle? I’m not sure. This was one of those games in which Wilshere seemed to spend more time on the floor than his feet.

I’m also surprised that Wenger didn’t see the need to start with The Ox. Against Liverpool, he showed that his penetrative running is invaluable to a side desperately missing Theo Walcott. A rest against Sunderland made sense, but there was no reason for him to be left out today.

That late Yaya Sanogo miss felt telling…
When we desperately needed something to rescue the game, we turned to an unproved 21 year-old without a Premier League goal to his name. I’m by no means holding young Sanogo accountable, but he way he scooped that late chance over the bar reminded me of our inexplicable failure to recruit a new attacker.

The priority in January was to find a striker who was better than Bendtner and Sanogo. I refuse to accept that was an impossible task.

The FA Cup feels massive now…
Arsenal are still just three wins away from winning a trophy. I pray that we don’t witness any rotation against Everton. Our league hopes hang by a thread, but the FA Cup remains a very real possibility.

To end on a positive…
Congratulations to @bentayloruk for winning the Bergkamp print – I’ll be in touch shortly about your prize. If you missed out, you can use the discount code ‘GUNNERBLOG’ to get 10% off any Arsenal canvas print.

Transfer thoughts: Koscielny, Grenier, Higuain, Jovetic and more

Football’s annual auction is also known as the ‘silly season’. I’m not sure silly does it justice. For starters, it sounds a lot more fun than the seasonal process of being pillaged, gazumped and ultimately disappointed.

This summer, we’re told, will be different. We’ll see. It felt worryingly familiar yesterday when Laurent Koscielny started mouthing off about his future. The quote that made the headlines was:

I want to lift trophies and to have a winning record. I hope the club will give me the means. If this weren’t the case, I’d look elsewhere. Paris [Saint Germain]? I don’t know. I’ve not heard anything.

Clearly Kos isn’t content with finishing top of the Fair Play League.

In seriousness, I’m not sure there’s much to worry about here. Koscielny is merely echoing the sentiment of the fans: we all want the club to push on and compete for trophies. He also told Eurosport “I do not want to go anywhere”, but that just isn’t as interesting to journalists.

The PSG link seems entirely spurious. Here’s a transfer window tip for you all: if you ever see a player quoted as mentioning a club in the form of a rhetorical question, it’s because they’ve been asked about it directly by an interviewer. They haven’t brought it up themselves. No-one talks like that.

I am not hungry right now, but eventually I may want to eat something. A sandwich? I don’t know. I’ve not heard anything. Of course sandwiches are delicious, so I am flattered to be linked with them.

This journalistic quirk also accounts for the quotes from Gonzalo Higuain suggesting a move to Arsenal may be on the cards:

There have already been offers and I hope that Madrid do the best for me and themselves.

Arsenal? They would suit me, I’m still young and I have goals.

I’m glad Higuain still has goals. Arsenal could use about thirty of them per season.

I’d love to see a player of Higuain’s undoubted calibre at Arsenal, but as yet there’s little evidence that there’s much substance to this story. There are an unusual number of high quality forwards available on the market this summer. The likes of Higuain, Villa, Rooney, Benteke, Cavani, Falcao, Gomez and more could all be on the move. Everyone knows that Arsenal need a forward, so it’s just a question of connecting the dots to create a story. It’s almost impossible for us to know how legitimate any one of these rumours is. The chances are that one is bang on. If you give enough monkeys enough typewriters, they will write a correct transfer story on Goal.com.

The story with most smoke around it is the link to Fiorentina forward Stevan Jovetic. The most recent twist is that according to The Times Chelsea have entered the race. Wouldn’t it be just like Mourinho to announce his return to English football by ruining our transfer plans?

Anyhow, after that detour through the apparent rhetorical habits of footballers, back to matters closer to home. If Laurent Koscielny’s future seems safe, the same can’t be said for Bacary Sagna. The full-back insists that talks with Arsenal are ongoing, but the lack of progress is telling. I suspect the club are unwilling to provide Sagna with the length of deal he’ll be offered elsewhere. For a player who has suffered two broken legs inside two seasons, security will be paramount.

Arsenal may be faced with a choice: sell Sagna now, or allow him to hobble away on a Bosman in a year’s time. Personally, I hope they choose the latter of those two options. Sagna still has plenty to offer, and another season would help Arsene decide whether or not Carl Jenkinson is ready to inherit his first-team spot. What’s more, Sagna’s market value is not sufficiently high to demand selling now. It’s not like we’d be throwing £20m+ away, as with Nasri and Van Persie.

Sagna is French. So is Clement Grenier. As this article has worn on, you may have noticed that my links have become progressively more lazy. I wrote a brief scouting report on Grenier which you can find here. Grenier is a central attacking playmaker with the shuffling gait and effortless technical skill of Robert Pires. He is not, at first glance, the midfielder that we need.

Heading in to the window, many expected Arsenal to recruit a holding midfielder. Indeed, I mentioned a month or so ago that talks had taken place with the representatives of Grenier’s defensive-minded Lyon team-mate, Maxime Gonalons. Subsequent links with the likes of Victor Wanyama have strengthened the idea that Arsene Wenger is looking to add steel rather than sheen to his midfield.

However, perhaps the outstanding performances of Aaron Ramsey in that role have given Arsene pause for thought. In recent weeks, with Cazorla playing predominantly on the wing, the number 10 berth has been shared between Tomas Rosicky and  Jack Wilshere. Given the increasing age of the former and the fitness problems of both, perhaps recruiting a new playmaker wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all.

We can but wait and see.

Arsenal 0 – 2 Man City: Do your job, Arsene

Laurent Koscielny wrestles Edin Dzeko to the ground

Laurent Koscielny wrestles Edin Dzeko to the ground

Arsenal 0 – 2 Man City
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

All the talk before this game was of the exorbitant prices fans were asked to pay to watch the match.  It felt particularly expensive for Arsenal fans when Laurent Koscielny’s red card effectively ended the contest after 10 minutes.

In fairness, it might not have been much of a game regardless.  In his post-match press conference, Arsene Wenger admitted:

“Overall we started too timidly, with not enough authority in a game like that, and we allowed them to dictate from the start. We paid very early from it.”

It’s a relief to see him be honest and avoid laying all the blame at the door of referee Mike Dean, who I believe got most of the major decisions right.  From kick-off City were more purposeful, more organised, and more commanding.  They looked like the home team.  What happened in the tenth minute simply compounded problems that were already alarmingly evident.

I think Laurent Koscielny is probably Arsenal’s best all-round defender, and yet I wouldn’t have him in the first-team.  It’s a paradoxical statement about a bewildering player.  For all his excellence, his time in English football has been littered with some major errors, and his decision to bear-hug Edin Dzeko to the ground inside the penalty box was inexplicable and yet entirely in character.

Was it a foul?  Certainly.  Did it deny a goalscoring opportunity?  Yes.  Although Tevez ultimately reached the ball, it was only Koscielny’s intervention that prevented Dzeko getting there.  If pulling someone’s shirt as the last man forty yards from goal warrants a red card, then rugby tackling someone to the ground six yards out should definitely do the same.

Some fans have suggested that Dean’s decision “ruined the game”.  I didn’t hear them making the same point when Emmanuel Adebayor was dismissed in the 17th minute of the North London Derby.  We know Dean enjoys the limelight and will gleefully make a big call given the opportunity, but it took Koscielny to be stupid enough to give him that chance.  For what it’s worth, I thought Dean did a decent job with a difficult match, and made the correct call with Vincent Kompany’s late dismissal too.

Back to the penalty.  I didn’t fancy Dzeko to score the spot-kick at all, and indeed Wojciech Szczesny made the first of several important saves to deny the Bosnian.  Without another impressive performance from the Pole, the score could have become humiliating.

The fact we survived the penalty with our clean sheet intact made the way we gave away the two goals all the more infuriating.  First the team failed to switch on as City took a quick free-kick and released James Milner to thump brilliantly past Szczesny; then Kieran Gibbs was caught in possession and duly punished as Zabaleta crossed for Dzeko to tap in via another Szczesny save.

City were in complete control of the game, and though the second half introduction of Olivier Giroud gave them the occasional scare, they never looked less than comfortable.  The fact they managed nine shots on target as compared with Arsenal’s four tells you that they looked more like adding to their tally than conceding.

I was relieved that the scoreline wasn’t more embarrassing.  Arsenal have difficult fixtures to come in this month, and a home humiliation would have been hugely unhelpful.

Afterwards, Arsene Wenger was unusually unguarded about the failings in his team:

“We need to be a bit more confident in this kind of game. We want to do so well that we are a bit up tight. I’m not angry, it’s frustration that you do not see from the start what this team is capable of.”

We are not, he makes clear, seeing the best of the players we have.  Questions must therefore be asked of the man being tasked with coaching, organising and motivating them: Arsene himself.

I’d also query today’s team selection.  The manager seems to harbour a desire to reunite Koscielny and Vermaelen for the big games.  He tried it against Chelsea back in September, and we combusted.  Today produced a similar result.

Theo Walcott got the nod in the central striker’s role, and although it was something of a thankless task today, was entirely unconvincing.  Amid rumours of an imminent new deal, a cynic might suggest his performance was that of a man who has now got the golden handshake he’s been after.

I was more immediately concerned by his failure to provide any kind of outlet for our embattled midfield.  He never came and showed for the ball in to feet, and was dominated by Kompany and Nastasic throughout.  Whenever we created space wide, we neglected to cross as Walcott doesn’t have the capacity to provide any kind of aerial threat.

It’s worth noting that of Walcott’s 14 goals this season, only five have come while playing through the middle.  While I’m not convinced that Olivier Giroud is good enough for a side with top four ‘ambitions’, he remains the best centre-forward we have, and should be starting games.

The injury to Mikel Arteta is obviously a blow, but throwing the very rusty Abou Diaby back in after three months out was a strange decision.  Leaving him on at the expense of Oxlade-Chamberlain after the sending off was arguably stranger.  A red card to a centre-back robs you of one substitution; leaving a barely fit Diaby on effectively robs you of another.

Perhaps Arsene wasn’t fussed, as he knew that Olivier Giroud was the only attacker available on the bench.  The unexplained omission of Arshavin and Rosicky meant that of the six outfield substitutes available, three were defenders and one a defensive midfielder.  The absence of player capable of coming on and changing the game was palpable, which makes Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to enter the transfer market all the more infuriating.

Asked if Arteta’s injury would prompt him to move to reinforce the squad, he replied:

“To find players of a calibre of Arteta, available in January, I wish you good luck.”

Cry me a river, Arsene.  You had the summer, but you ‘kept your powder dry’.  Since then you’ve had four months to identify players to improve the squad.  You’ve now had a full two weeks in which you could have actually bought someone; a period in which we’ve failed to qualify in the cup and dropped five league points.  Stop moaning and do your job.

The real positive for Arsenal was the performance of Jack Wilshere.  Faced with adversity, he was fearless, bold, and brave.  City did their best to kick him out of the game, and he responded time after time with driving runs that represented our only real hope of getting back in to the game.

In a match in which the talented but timid Cazorla was anonymous, Wilshere emerged as our true playmaker.  Our true leader.  The class and courage he displayed was reminiscent of one Cesc Fabregas – a player who ultimately left Arsenal because the club failed to build a side befitting of such a unique talent.

If Arsenal and Arsene continue to neglect their responsibility to improve the squad, Jack will go the way of Cesc.  And Van Persie, Nasri, Clichy and Song.  Jack’s enthusiasm and love for the club was entirely evident against City, but no player is immune from disillusionment.  Years of stagnation and decline will wear that affinity thin.  We’ve seen it before.  Let’s not let history repeat itself.