Arsenal 0 – 2 Chelsea: Arsenal understudies fluff their lines

Match report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

The top story is: Chelsea’s reserves are better than Arsenal’s reserves…
I’m not sure there has been a squad in Premier League history as grossly bloated with talent as this current Chelsea group.

For this match Jose Mourinho was able to make 10 changes, yet the side he fielded would stand every chance of challenging for major honours. To have the likes of Juan Mata in reserve is beyond luxury and bordering upon absurdity.

The signing of Willian was symbolic of Abramovich and Mourinho’s tendency towards excess. When Arsenal signed Mesut Ozil, it was said that the Gunners didn’t “need” the German. Such an argument is plainly nonsense when held up against the Willian deal. Chelsea truly didn’t need the Brazilian. They signed him because they could, and because they feared his acquisition would strengthen a rival.

Wenger would never do that – even if he had the financial resources. He’d worry about congesting his squad, or allocating such a huge proportion of the club’s budget to a player who will not feature frequently.

Mourinho, on the other hand, is too short-termist to care, and Abramovich too rich. They build and build and buy and buy and now they’ve got a squad that contains at least two teams – maybe more. It might not be ethical but it’s pretty effective.

By contrast, Arsenal’s reserves are just that: players who fall a little way short of the standards expected of the first-team. Against Chelsea, it showed.

It would be disingenuous to blame it all on the stand-ins…
Arsenal fielded the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla in midfield, and none of those players hit the heights usually expected of them.

However, Carl Jenkinson had a shocker…
The opening goal exposed his major weakness: his aerial ability. First he was indecisive, then ungainly. It was a dreadful mistake to make.

Unfortunately for Jenkinson, even the areas of his game that are consistently positive, such as his crossing, were uncharacteristically poor.

He’s not as bad as he looked last night. However, it’s becoming clear that he may not be as good as he looked in the early part of last season.

Jenkinson’s current ability level lies somewhere in between the two poles: he is a good prospect with plenty to learn. He is not yet close to taking over as Arsenal’s first-choice right-back.

The sooner Bacary Sagna gets a new contract, the better.

Nicklas Bendtner looked as rusty as you’d expect…
Nothing stuck to the big Dane, and he even looked timid in front of goal. Believe it or not, the man with who turned the self-esteem up to 11 in his psychological profiling test looked short of confidence.

However, I refuse to believe he didn’t try. What would he have to gain from that? You’ve got a guy here who knows he’s on his last chance to make it with a big club, and whose contract expires this summer. He has every incentive to do well. Everyone agreed he seemed motivated and energised against Norwich. Now, all of a sudden, he doesn’t care? I don’t buy it.

The simple truth is he lacked service. A conventional target man like Bendtner is dependent upon supply.

Lacking in fitness? Certainly. Lacking in quality? Arguably. But those things, rather than a lack of will, were his principal crimes. And how booing him is supposed to help matters I have no idea.

Ryo Miyaichi is an odd one…
The coaching staff seem convinced he’s a gem, but he always looks more of a perfectly pleasant but inspiring pebble to me. Quick, with decent technique, but nothing special. I’m sure he’ll prove me wrong in time but I do wonder how great a toll all those injuries have taken.

Criticising Wenger’s selection policy is missing the point…
He didn’t have a huge amount of choice.

I’m convinced that had Serge Gnabry, Gedion Zelalem, Yaya Sanogo and Thomas Eisfeld been fit to start they would have been involved tonight. However, the crop of youngsters Wenger considers most appropriate to blood were almost entirely unavailable.

Wenger will have been disappointed that he was forced to use Ramsey, Wilshere and Cazorla, especially having failed to pick up a positive result. However, he’d gladly trade off Capital One Cup progression for three points against Liverpool on Saturday. That match is taking on more significance by the day.

For further reading follow me on Twitter @gunnerblog. More reaction to come throughout the day.

The summer of the long knives begins

Have you ever tried eating with a long knife? It is very awkward, particularly when the knife is disproportionately large when compared with the fork. It is probably relatively easy, however, when compared to the task of offloading Arsenal’s glut of overpaid squad members.

The list, by now, is familiar: Fabianski, Squillaci, Denilson, Arshavin, Chamakh, Bendtner and Vela are all very much available. The problem is finding someone who will a) pay a reasonable fee, and b) match their current salary. One can’t help but think that we will end up sacrificing a) in order to facilitate b). From the little I know about the murky world of transfers, I can tell you this: no player will lose out financially.

It has become common practise in the Premier League for clubs to pay up the remainder of players contracts using transfer fees. Take for example, one transfer between two Premier League clubs last season. A player at a top six club was being moved on by the Chairman to make room for a new signing. A mid-table club wanted to take him, and made a reasonable offer, but could not match his wages. The player refused to take a pay-cut and move, and on transfer deadline day the selling club’s desperation to get the player off the wage bill saw them pay him a fee which would make up the difference in his earnings for the duration of his remaining contract. In doing so, they essentially halved the fee they received. This happens all the time, so anyone expecting us to rake in a huge warchest by selling of our fringe players is barking up the wrong tree. Getting them off the books and distributing our salary budget more sensibly remains undoubtedly worthwhile.

That process began in earnest on Monday with the release of seven players, including Manuel Almunia. I’ve always been somewhat fond of Manuel, despite his much-publicised flaws. For a brief time, when he first ousted Jens Lehmann, he looked like a reasonable number one, although he was always distressingly vulnerable at his near post. In the end, old foibles crept back in, and he ended up being taken out of the firing line. His departure comes as no surprise, and his shirt number will surely join his spot in the team in falling in to the safer hands of Wojciech Szczesny.

We all hope the clear-out will make room for a few new signings, but it’s worth remembering we have some good prospects returning to the squad from loan spells last year. Yesterday Ryo Miyaichi became Japan’s second youngest ever player when he made his international debut as a substitute. Bolton seem keen to take him next season, but I suspect Arsene may want Ryo to test himself at Premier League level again. We shall see: he’ll certainly accompany us on our pre-season tour. If he performs well he may make a case to remain with the squad next season.

The same is true of Joel Campbell, although his situation is dependent on him being granted a work permit. If he does, I can foresee him being kept around as a third or fourth choice striker. It’s worth noting that he’s played a lot of his football at Lorient as a right-winger cutting in on his left-foot, so he does bring a degree of versatility.

Right, that’s all from me today.  Time to enjoy the freshly-arrived sun and the silliness of summer.

Up for the cup: Chamberlain, Miyaichi & Park

Given our disastrous league form, some see the advent of a Carling Cup campaign as an ill-timed and unnecessary distraction.  To me, it comes as a great relief, and a chance to see some fresh talent at a time when the first-team appears to be stagnating.

Tonight there will be a mix of relatively experienced talent, and new faces.  Lukasz Fabianski ought to make his first appearance of the season in goal, with Johan Djourou and Carl Jenkinson making their first starts since the Old Trafford debacle.  Alongside Djourou, the ball-playing centre-half Ignasi Miquel will continue his development, whilst Kieran Gibbs could well be recalled after sitting out the game at Ewood Park.

In midfield I expect Coquelin and Frimpong to form a no-nonsense pairing, with the intriguing flair of Ryo Miyaichi, Park Chu-Young and Alex Chamberlain, all making their full debuts, behind target man Marouane Chamakh.

It is the trio of debutants who fire the imagination most.  After signing just before deadline day and instantly collecting a flurry of international goals, we’re yet to catch a glimpse of Park.  Tonight he’ll most likely play just off Chamakh, and it’s this versatility that Arsene thinks will make him particularly useful as the season progresses:

“Park is good in every area.  He is good in the air, good technically, he is mobile and that’s why he is an adaptable striker who can play up front behind the striker.

That’s why we went for him. What I like with him is that he is very mobile and that’s the basis of our game.”

If I’m not mistaken, it’ll be the first time an Asian player takes to the field for Arsenal since the days of Junichi Inamoto.  And there’ll be two of them.  Left-winger Ryo Miyaichi will finally make his much-anticipated Arsenal debut.  Ryo trialled with the club only last season, only to break his leg, delaying any move till January.  Unable to get a work permit, he then moved on loan to Feyenoord, where he impressed enormously, before joining up with the first-team squad this summer.  He’s made a huge impression in training and Arsene is convinced he will make the breakthrough to the full team before long.  In the meantime, the Carling Cup is a perfect opportunity to adapt to the English game:

“We have to give him time and not put too much pressure on him but he is a fantastic player.  We want to do things properly with him and not to rush him too much.

He has pace, attitude, efficiency in what he is doing and complete commitment.”

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain already has one appearance under his belt: an ill-fated cameo at Old Trafford.  On his first start for the club, he’ll be keen to erase that memory and make a positive impression on the supporters.

It’s easy to forget that Chamberlain was our most expensive buy this summer, with a fee that could rise as high as £15m.  He’s clearly incredibly highly-rated, and as a quick wideman bought from Southampton, has drawn comparisons with Theo Walcott – comparisons which Arsene has been quick to dispell.

What’s clear from the little bits of Chamberlain I’ve seen playing for Southampton and for England U-21s is that he’s a far more accomplished technical player than Walcott.  I’d liken him more to a Samir Nasri type: a stocky, powerful dribbler who can create and score goals by coming from deep.

I’m excited to see all three talents, and hope they can contribute to creating a positive atmosphere a ground which, with any luck, we can carry in to Saturday’s game with Bolton.  If you wish to dwell on the gloom of our affairs in the league, then you can read Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis telling us lots of things we already know.

I won’t profess to know too much about our opponents, Shrewsbury, but they’re in decent form and currently occupy the third automatic promotion spot in League Two.  Arsenal.com has a neatly prepared scouting report on them – it seems the main threat will be provided by left-winger Lionel Ainsworth.

I expect this inexperienced Arsenal team to get the win, and hopefully provide some mouthwatering glimpses of potential.  Some of you will be cynical about a tomorrow that never comes, but let’s not allow the travails of the first-team to impact upon the promise of these youngsters.  They need and deserve out support tonight, and beyond.

Miyaichi joins our stable of flyers

miyaichiwide1

After completing the signing of Alex Chamberlain on Monday, yesterday Arsenal added another flying winger to their first team-squad, with the news Ryo Miyaichi has been granted a work permit for the forthcoming season.

Arsene Wenger travelled to an FA panel meeting at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday to give evidence as to why Ryo ought to be granted an “exceptional talent” visa.  Fortunately, the committee concurred, and Ryo will now be part of the first team squad for 2011/12.

It’s the culmination of a meteoric rise for a player who, a matter of months ago, was playing Japanese schoolboy football.  Indeed, a year ago a potential move to Arsenal looked to have been scuppered when he broke his leg and was out for five months injured.

Now, one impressive loan spell at Feyenoord later, Miyaichi is joining the Premier League.  It’s comic-book stuff. Manga, even.  Arsene said:

“We are absolutely delighted that Ryo has been granted a work permit. This is almost like a new signing for us, as we weren’t completely sure we would be given the authorisation. Ryo has worked extremely hard in pre-season and performed very well during the matches in Asia, Germany and Portugal.

Ryo has natural technical ability. He has good balance and phenomenal pace, and his passing and crossing is consistently of a high quality. He is a very exciting player.”

He’s also hard-working, and genuinely two-footed, although he normally operates from the left-hand side.  I don’t expect him to be starting league games any time soon, but he provides us with an option, and will certainly get games in the domestic cups.  His permit didn’t arrive in time for him to eligible for the Champions League qualifier, the squad for which has been announced but is not really newsworthy in for any reason other than the slightly surprising omission of Henri Lansbury.

As Goonerholic has pointed out, the arrival of Gervinho, Chamberlain and Miyaichi this summer means we have some real speed out on the flanks to add to last season’s singular threat of Theo Walcott.  Clearly Arsene has identified this as a problem last season, and is attempting to give our approach plays a few revs with some sprightly sprinters.

It also means we now have a collection of wide attackers that includes the aforementioned quartet, Andrey Arshavin, Tomas Rosicky, Samir Nasri and Carlos Vela.  Eight in to two just doesn’t go, so it seems there will be at least one departure.

Real Sociedad’s Director of Football has confirmed their interest in signing Carlos Vela, and has said that Arsenal would prefer a loan move to a permanent deal.  Meanwhile, doubts persist over the future of Samir Nasri.  At yesterday’s press conference for the French team, Laurent Blanc said:

“I just know that he is in talks with his club. Not to extend his contract because he said he would not, but to change clubs.”

Nasri is expected to start for France tonight, but I’d be very surprised if Arsene chooses to use him against Newcastle.

Meanwhile, in an interview with French tv show Foot & Co, Marouane Chamakh sounded just as skeptical about the future of Nasri’s partner-in-disruption, Cesc Fabregas:

“I think both of them are likely leaving the club. It’s a difficult situation for the manager.

I don’t think it’s a matter of money for Fabregas or Samir, I think he (Wenger) is looking for their successors and he hasn’t found them. I think before letting them go he wants to find the players to replace them. That’s my opinion about the situation. The problem is the season starts this weekend, and it’s even more difficult for us.”

Today's cover of 'Sport'

Today, Catalan paper Sport lead with the story that the end of a Cesc saga is a “matter of hours” away (see right).

It’s just a few days until the big kick-off, and it’s mad to think that between now and the end of the August, a list of players including Manuel Almunia, Emmanuel Eboue, Fabregas, Nasri, Vela and Bendtner could all depart.  Assuming several of those do, it’s impossible not to imagine replacements arriving.

It’s also impossible to write any kind of season preview until those issues are resolved.

It looks like we’ll have to take this month on game-by-game basis, starting on Saturday. I can’t wait.

ps. if you missed it yesterday, listen to ‘Stan’ – Kroenke vs. Wenger, the Arsenal remix.