WBA 1-1 Arsenal: Ozil looks to be more Bergkamp than Fabregas

WBA 1 – 1 Arsenal
Match report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

This was a good point…
Arsenal responded well to a relatively unfamiliar challenge: this was the first time we have fallen behind in the match since the 3-1 victory over Norwich earlier this year. With the additions of Amalfitano and Sessegon, West Brom look an enterprising and athletic team. Their victory over Manchester United was no fluke, and they’ll take several more big scalps this season. Come the end of the season, I’m confident that Arsenal will look back on this one as a point gained.

Arsenal’s winning streak may be over but our unbeaten run continues. In a topsy-turvy Premier League, consistency is King.

If I were in charge, I would’ve taken Jack Wilshere off at half-time…
…so it’s a good job I’m not. Wilshere responded to his dreadful first-half display with real guts. Switching to the centre, he immediately improved and by the end of the ninety minutes was arguably our most dangerous player. As well as grabbing the crucial equaliser, he also produced the pass of the match to find Olivier Giroud free in the penalty area. Unfortunately, Giroud was denied by Myhill.

While Wilshere deserves credit for his second half turnaround, I do wish he wouldn’t spent quite as much time sat on the floor pleading with the referee. Wilshere does get kicked a lot, but not half as much as he claims. If he continues to protest every single challenge, the really dangerous tackles will be lost amid his whining.

Carl Jenkinson’s greatest weakness is arguably his aerial ability…
Jenkinson is a versatile defender but has never been deployed by Arsene Wenger as a centre-back. Yesterday we saw why. Despite his height, Jenkinson is poor in the air: he lacks spring and his timing is often curiously off. Yesterday he struggled under  several high balls, and failed to get anywhere near Claudio Yacob as the Argentine nodded in the opening goal.

It’s an area in which Jenkinson compares particularly poorly with his rival Bacary Sagna, who probably deserves more credit for his outstanding aerial ability.

Ozil is not dominating games as you might expect…
While the German is not yet dictating our tempo, he never fails to produce one or two moments of pure magic in every game. At this stage, he is more Bergkamp than Fabregas; more gifted soloist than conductor.

In this match, there were two sumptuous slide-rule passes in to the feet of Aaron Ramsey and Kieran Gibbs. I also enjoyed his contribution to our equalising goal, out-muscling Mulumbu deep inside our half before spraying a long ball forward to launch the move. When you look at our recent goals, his contribution tends to be key.

The international break comes at a good time…
…and not just because it guarantees we’ll retain top spot for a fortnight. It gives a worryingly thin Arsenal squad the chance to add on some bulk. Santi Cazorla is set to return after the break, with Bacary Sagna and Theo Walcott not far behind. Options will be key ahead of a sequence of difficult fixtures in October and November. Thus far, I’ve avoided any pronouncements about what this Arsenal squad might be capable of this season. I’m cautiously optimistic, but we’ll have a far clearer picture come the end of November.

Arsenal 3-1 Stoke: A football match, believe it or not

It sticks in my craw, but I have to credit Mark Hughes…

Funny idiom, that. Apparently a craw is the throat of a bird. I googled it. I don’t have a bird’s throat, but if I did, having to be nice about Mark Hughes would certainly clog it right up.

Stoke are a changed team. They’re playing football now. Proper football. Rory Delap has been let go and has found his rightful place in League Two. Ryan Shotton and his towel have been dispatched to Wigan. The long-throws are out and short-passing is in.

I have to admit, I was impressed. Marc Wilson has transformed from a lumbering utility player in to a technically competent and positionally intelligent holding midfielder. In Marko Arnautovic, the Potters have acquired a number ten with both imagination and industry.

I don’t know if the speed of Stoke’s adaptation says more about Hughes’ innovation or Pulis’ intransigence. However, the latter option allows me to reduce Hughes’ credit and have a pop his predecessor, so I’ll plump for that.

There was a bit of role-reversal going on…

Stoke controlled a lot of the possession, yet Arsenal scored from three set-pieces. Still, at least the Stoke fans were forced to abandon their usual boast of supporting an “English” team – Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere outnumbered Ryan Shawcross on today’s team-sheets.

Opportunity Gnocked for Serge…
…and I thought Gnabry did very well. His touch was superb, and the only criticism you could level at him is that he sometimes looked a little timid. After beating the first man he’d generally look to pass the ball to a more senior colleague.

His body-shape and running style remind me a little of Chelsea’s Eden Hazard. I certainly hope to see more of him in next week’s Capital One Cup tie with West Brom.

It was good to see some familiar faces on the bench…

The return of Mikel Arteta gives us back some depth in midfield. It will be genuinely difficult to choose between Arteta and Flamini, who was at his rambunctious best against Stoke, putting as much energy in to pointing and cajoling as tackling and harrying.

In difficult away games, it could be an option to field both, with Aaron Ramsey patrolling the area just ahead and Mesut Ozil stationed on the wing. It’s one of those “nice problems” Arsene Wenger will be delighted to have.

It was good too see Nicklas Bendtner back on the bench. Yes, he is hugely out of practise. Yes, he is a little overweight. Yes, he looks like he’s come to a fancy dress party in disguise as ‘The Mandarin’ from Iron Man 3. However, I’d still rather call on the Dane than either Yaya Sanogo or Chuba Akpom.

For Aaron Ramsey, confidence is everything…

His opening goal looked like a simple tap-in, but was in reality far trickier. He had to react in an instant to find a very narrow gap between goalie and post with his weaker foot.

Of course, in his current form, he pulled it off. Confidence is an extraordinary thing. It can do incredible things to a footballer. Ramsey is at the crest of a wave, and I hope he can stay there as long as possible. When he inevitably reverts to somewhere approaching the mean, I still think we’ll still have a very fine footballer on our hands.

Ozil’s set-pieces are a bonus…
The German is not renowned as a dead-ball specialist but as an assured technician is able to get the ball beyond the first man and in to dangerous areas. That’s more than most of our current crop.

I am continually amazed that a group of such technically gifted players are unable to consistently deliver a decent set-piece. Even the wondrously-gifted Santi Cazorla seems to have inherited the Arsenal disease of lumping the ball directly in to the first defender.

Hopefully Ozil’s immaculate technique can give us a new attacking weapon for our Arsenal.

Have Arsenal ever had so many one-footed players?
We frequently celebrate Cazorla’s ambidexterity, but I can’t remember an Arsenal team containing so many players who simply refused to use their wrong foot. The likes of Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud seem allergic to kicking the ball with their right boot.

Perhaps its because we have so many lefties in the squad. Left-footed players aren’t encouraged to develop their two-footedness as much as they’re generally allowed to flourish as specialists.

It’s time some of our squad got working on moulding their chocolate legs.

Arsenal miss Tomas Rosicky…
Arsenal struggled to maintain their tempo for long periods of this game. I can’t help but feel that’s because of the absence of the metronomic Tomas Rosicky.

It seems there will not be room for Rosicky and Ozil in the same team. Hopefully one of the other midfielders – Ramsey perhaps – can pick up the baton and start picking up the tempo in the middle of the park.

For all Ozil’s gifts, he won’t replicate the persistent pressure that Rosicky is able to put on opposition defenders.

Mesut Ozil: A perfect signing in a far from perfect window

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An imperfect window has ended with the perfect signing: Mesut Ozil is an Arsenal player.

It is, in every respect, an incredible story. I can still scarcely believe it. Ozil’s presence in the Arsenal squad feels like a miraculous accident – and the truth is not that different.

Arsenal knew that ending the summer without a major marquee signing would be an embarrassment. Ivan Gazidis’ forceful words earlier this summer transmogrified in to a rod for the club’s own back. That self-inflicted burden, combined with the weight of public pressure, forced Arsenal in to action.

I don’t believe Ozil was ever part of any grand plan. I don’t believe he was even particularly high on our list of targets: with failed moves for Stevan Jovetic, Gonzalo Higuain and Luis Suarez it’s clear we had wanted to spend the majority of our budget on a mobile centre-forward rather than another playmaker.

Like the signing of Mathieu Flamini, there is the whiff of opportunism about Arsenal’s Ozil raid. And yet I couldn’t care less. When an opportunity like this arises, you simply have to take it.

Players like Ozil are generally un-buyable. The other ‘marquee’ talents we were linked with this summer all had their scratches. Higuain had essentially been demoted to being a glamorous reserve at Madrid amid doubts about his ability to perform in the biggest games. Luis Suarez, as we all know, is a cannibalistic racist. Wayne Rooney carries as much psychological baggage as he does flab around his middle.

Ozil is as yet unimpeached. In the truest sense, he’s pure class.

There’s no doubt it’s a transformative signing, and the most significant since the arrival of Dennis Bergkamp in 1995. When it was announced half an hour before the window’s close last night, Sky’s Geraint Hughes noted that the Arsenal fans’ jubilation was due to the fact they’d waited all day for a signing like this. The reporter were wrong: we’ve waited for more than a decade.

This signing is what the move to the Emirates Stadium was for. In one fell swoop Arsenal have re-established themselves among the big boys. It’s not just the size of the fee, but the calibre of the player. Arsenal have bought the real deal.

Ozil is Germany’s best player. He is among the continent’s top ten. He is, in Jose Mourinho’s estimation, the finest creative midfielder in world football.

I’ve been infatuated with Ozil since I first laid eyes on him at the 2010 World Cup. I was there in the flesh to see him destroy England in Bloemfontein – the only person more alarmed by Ozil’s arrival in the Premier League than Tottenham fans must be Gareth Barry.

I’m not alone in my joy. It has lifted everyone. Arsenal fans who grimly renewed their season tickets, more out of loyalty than genuine optimism, now have cause for excitement. Shirt sales will soar, and the aesthetic quality of our performances on the pitch should have an upwards trajectory too. Ozil can make us beautiful again.

Hopefully Ozil will find a home for his talents in North London. His comments since signing have had a clear subtext: he was unhappy to be forced out of Real Madrid. It’s clear Madrid’s decision to negotiate his sale wounded him deeply:

At the weekend, I was certain that I would stay at Real Madrid, but afterwards I realised that I did not have the faith from the coach or the bosses.

His heartache is no cause for concern. He comes here with a fire burning behind those orbicular eyes, and a point to prove. That’s how it should be.

When news of our interest in Ozil first broke, fans of rival clubs sniped, “Why would he want to go there?” Some might have felt irked. Not me.

That’s what I want people to ask of our new signings. I don’t want people to say, “Oh yes, I could see why he’d make that move, it’s clearly a nice step up for him”. The detractors are right: Ozil probably is out of our league – and that’s precisely what makes him such a thrilling capture. Only by signing players of that ilk will we drag ourselves back to the top of the English game.

I hope my delight about Ozil’s arrival is clear, because I have to couch it with the fact that his signing alone does not transform this window in to a success. Arsenal failed to recruit in several other key positions. In fact, had Ozil not become unexpectedly available at the last moment than this window could have ended in disaster.

The fact that Arsenal enter the next few months with just one senior centre-forward is ridiculous. From what I understand the club were confident of acquiring Demba Ba as a deadline day loan, but Wenger and Gazidis ought to have realised that Chelsea were never inclined to do us a favour. As the day dragged on I couldn’t help but be reminded of our unproductive dealings with Liverpool for Xabi Alonso in 2008. It suited Chelsea to tie us up in a negotiation that they knew full well would never come to fruition.

Moving forward, lessons must be learnt. One of those lessons must be the positive impact that a statement signing like Ozil can make. The fans are elated, the squad are motivated, and the whole club is buzzing.

Just a few hundred yards separate Highbury and the Emirates, yet the Ozil deal feels like the completion of an arduous ten-year journey. However, it must be not only an ending, but also a new beginning. This has to be the start of something.

A new era has dawned. I wouldn’t Mesut for the wörld.

Thoughts on the Derby & Deadline Day

Derby Day victory…
Felt as good as it ever does. Arsenal needed this win more than Tottenham, and it showed.

It was fitting that this game marked the return of Mathieu Flamini to Arsenal: our display was cast in his image, occasionally lacking finesse but full of commitment and courage. Our passing game wasn’t firing on all cylinders, but we were certainly fired up.

Spurs looked like a side who haven’t yet worked out their attacking strategy. They don’t seem to know what sort of service Roberto Soldado thrives off – for all their possession, they didn’t create many clear-cut chances.

They had similar problems last season but got out of jail time after time thanks to one Gareth Bale. Fortunately, they no longer have that trump card at their disposal.

Conversely, Arsenal seem to be developing a fairly coherent tactical set-up. As against Fulham, once ahead they dropped deep behind the ball, using the lung-busting running of Walcott and Ramsey to launch rapier counter-attacks.

If it weren’t for the alert goalkeeping of Hugo Lloris, Arsenal could have won by another goal or two.

Mesut Ozil is a game-changing signing…
Assuming it goes ahead, it’s massive. I would never have believed that we’d be capable of signing a marquee talent of this level.

All the other big names we’ve been linked with this summer have had some slight against them. Higuain never convinced in Madrid’s biggest games. Suarez is a bitey racist rat. Conversely, Ozil was a Real regular and is arguably in the world’s top ten players.

Ozil is genuinely one of my favourite footballers. I’ve been infatuated with him ever since the 2010 World Cup. I can hardly wait to see him play.

However…
I hate to gripe on what is a undoubtedly momentous day for the club, but I’m staggered that Arsenal are going to go in to the season with Olivier Giroud as the only senior centre-forward.

Giroud was superb against Spurs, but by the end of the game was exhausted. It’s a feeling he’ll have to get used to in the coming months.

Right. Now it’s time to get this deal announced. Less than an hour to go. Come on Arsenal.