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.

Deadline Day Thoughts: He’s Nacho left-back anymore, Malaga

To my immense surprise, Arsenal bought a player yesterday.

And not just any player. Several friends whose opinion I value highly sought me out to tell me just what a good player Arsenal have got. To be fair, his CV speaks for itself: Nacho Monreal is a Spanish international at the peak of his career.

Were it not for an injury to Kieran Gibbs on the eve of the transfer window, I doubt anyone would have arrived. Arsene Wenger revealed in his press conference today that Gibbs could miss as many as eight weeks with a thigh problem, and the prospect of relying on Andre Santos for that crucial period of the season was obviously not something the manage was prepared to face.

It shows you how swiftly a deal can be done when there’s a bit of urgency. I have spent most of this window frustrated with Arsene’s reluctance to enter the market. He seems to have fallen out of love with the entire idea of transfers; his recent quotes suggest he finds them dirty and a bit sordid. He views them as the ugly side of football – a side he would rather not engage with.

His relationship with the market seems to have been irrevocably soured by the sages over the likes of Fabregas, Nasri and Van Persie. Meantime many of his own signings have floundered. In the last few years, transfers have been more hurtful than helpful.

He’s wrong to be dismissive of transfers. People rightly laugh at cheque-book managers, but good recruitment is a skill. There are deficiencies in Arsenal’s squad and a club with our resources ought to be able to correct them.

Monreal is a great start. I would have liked to have seen him supplemented by a defensive midfielder and a striker, but despite reported bids for Etienne Capoue and David Villa, it wasn’t to be.

We’ve been allowed to get away with it, though. I expected our rivals for fourth place, Spurs and Everton, to make significant additions in this window. Instead, Tottenham only added Lewis Holtby, failing to sign the striker or holding midfielder they plainly need. Everton, meanwhile, got an England U-19 International defender and missed out on ambitious moves for Alvaro Negredo and Leroy Fer.

I expected both clubs to consolidate their strong league position with a few speculative purchases. Instead, they’ve allowed us right back in to the game.

No-one predicted the signing of Monreal. However, as usual with Arsene Wenger, there were clues. A few days ago, he said of the January window:

“It’s a market for me that is a wrong transfer market because the only teams who sell players are teams in financial trouble.”

His sympathy obviously only extends so far, as he returned to the club from whom he stole Santi Cazorla, debt-ridden Malaga, to take another top talent.

It’s unusual for Arsene Wenger to sign a player who provides genuine competition for an established first-team player. His squads usually have quite a rigid hierarchy, with a clear first XI and then a set of reserves. Nacho Monreal breaks that mould: he has not come here to play second fiddle to Kieran Gibbs. Once Gibbs is fit again, there will be a genuine tussle between these those two.

That is how it should be. Competition is healthy, and important. Has the emergence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain seen a decline in the form of Theo Walcott? Quite the opposite.

For the first time in a long time, Arsene Wenger may have the option of rotating a member of his defence without significantly weakening the side.

For now, however, Monreal has the left-back slot to himself. He is cup-tied for the European clash with Bayern Munich, but I expect him to slot straight in for tomorrow’s Premier League tie with Stoke.

Let’s just hope the orcs don’t end up feasting on Nacho.

Arsenal 2 – 2 Liverpool: Another day, another destiny…

Arsenal 2 – 2 Liverpool
Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

It strikes me that there are three topics of discussion today.  The positives of last night’s game, the negatives, and the impending transfer deadline.  I’ve decided to hit those one at a time.

THE POSITIVES

The fight-back
Perhaps because this side are becoming so accustomed to falling behind, their heads never really dropped, even at 2-0 down.  We clawed our way back in to the game with one of those flurries of goals we seem to have been producing of late – this time it was two in two minutes.  Our goalscoring potential seems to be far greater right now, and that’s down in no small part to the improved form of…

Olivier Giroud
It’s now 5 goals in 3 games for the Frenchman.  His second half display included some of his most convincing moments in an Arsenal shirt.  His goal was the sort of header that is becoming his trademark, while his lay-off assist for Theo was absolutely gorgeous.

Theo Walcott
Even Theo’s biggest doubters must be coming round now.  His volley was a fantastic finish and gave him his 18th goal of the season.  To put that in perspective, that’s more goals than Freddie Ljungberg scored in any season of his fondly-remembered seasons with Arsenal.  It is a massive contribution.

THE NEGATIVES

The defending
Disastrous.  Woeful.  Apocalyptic.  Really, really bad.

Perhaps in years to come we’ll look back upon allowing Jordan Henderson to waltz through our back-line and score as the nadir of our defensive troubles. Jordan Henderson can barely play football, or indeed waltz, and yet we made him look like Lionel Messi.

Kieran Gibbs’ injury
Gibbs is now out for the dreaded “three weeks”.  With Arsenal players, three weeks tends to become three months very quickly indeed.

It’s a big blow because Gibbs has undoubtedly been one of our best players in recent weeks.  It’s also a blow because it means we have to turn to Andre Santos, who is badly lacking both form and fitness.  That said, I’m not comfortable with the level of abuse Santos is receiving.  He might not be very good, but it wasn’t Andre who bought the player and continues to pick him.  It was Arsene.  Which brings me nicely on to…

The substitutions
Arsene Wenger knew after he saw Will Buckley give him the runaround at Brighton that Santos was a liability.  So why bring him on?  He could easily have introduced Laurent Koscielny and shifted Thomas Vermaelen to centre-back, giving the defence a far more solid look.

My other gripe is with the fact that no other substitution was made.  Arsenal needed a win, really, and yet we had no player to whom Arsene felt we could turn to make the difference.  Which brings me nicely on to…

DEADLINE DAY

Even with the injury to Gibbs, I’m not expecting much activity at Arsenal.  It’s increasingly clear we had hoped to make a big push for David Villa, but Barcelona had no interest in selling.

If anyone does come in, it’ll be the hurried signing of a defender, most likely on loan.  However, I wouldn’t bet on it.  I’ve got plenty to say about our potential inactivity, but I’ll hold it for tomorrow.

Finally, for anyone who missed it yesterday, you can watch my take on today’s events below. Thanks for all the kind comments about the video; I’m glad you enjoyed it.

Video: One Day More – Deadline Day Remix ft. Arsene Wenger

Screen shot 2013-01-29 at 23.12.36

Hello one and all.  Transfer Deadline Day is almost upon us.

As it’s traditionally a day of gloom for Arsenal, I’ve decided to put a lighter spin on things.  Some of you may recall the release of Stan a couple of years back.  Well, I’m nothing if not versatile: this time, rather than hip-hop, it’s musical theatre.

Arsene joins an ensemble of Premier League stars to sing a new version of ‘One Day More’ from Les Miserables. If the embed below doesn’t work in your browser you can watch it here.

Hope you like it.