Why Danny Welbeck reminds me of Emmanuel Adebayor

The Leicester game…
…was the latest in a string of uninspiring performances that have formed our start to the season. After our convincing victory over Manchester City in the Community Shield, many expected us to make a fast start in the Premier League. Not so: we’ve looked leggy and listless much of the time.

Part of the problem seems to be that we are struggling to come to terms with a new system. At Leicester, we once again employed the 4-1-4-1 formation we’ve seen in recent weeks. Yaya Sanogo was installed at the point of the attack, with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil alternating in the wide roles.

It didn’t really work. Arsene seems certain that he wants to include Santi Cazorla, Ozil and Alexis in his first XI, but hasn’t quite worked out how. Personally, I think he ought to have kept faith with Alexis through the middle. After an encouraging display against Besiktas, this could have helped establish him as Arsenal’s new centre-forward. Instead, another opportunity was misguidedly handed to Yaya Sanogo.

At this stage in his development, Sanogo should not be playing for Arsenal football club. Judging by his late transfer business, Arsene Wenger has recognised that too. I’m not willing to write Sanogo off entirely — I did that with Alex Song and was proved wrong. However, at present, if you deposited him in to the third tier of English football, I’m still not convinced he’d stand out as impressive.

Danny Welbeck is a smart signing…
All the good things people claim to see in Sanogo, I see in Welbeck. He is quick, agile, powerful, and a very willing worker.

He reminds me of Emmanuel Adebayor when he first arrived from Monaco. It’s easy to forget now, but in those days Adebayor was a ball of energy, tearing about the pitch trying to make a positive impression. He was partnered with a Thierry Henry riddled with sciatica, and was charged with doing much of the Frenchman’s heavy lifting for him. Pay rises and plaudits eventually killed off Adebayor’s work-rate, but in the early days he was a real handful.

Of course, there was a trade-off for all that perpetual motion: he couldn’t really finish. Adebayor once conspired to miss two open goals in the same game, on a dark night away to Portsmouth. Welbeck has suffered similar woes in front of goal. Hopefully Arsene Wenger can give him the confidence and composure he needs to develop, as Adebayor did, in to an accomplished goalscorer.

I feel good about this one. Welbeck has all the raw attributes, and we have the ideal coach to oversee his development. He is a huge upgrade on Sanogo, and I expect him to make an immediate impact.

The lack of defensive cover…
…is genuinely difficult to understand. We’ve known we needed another centre-back for some time now. Many of us were calling for an additional signing in January. When Arsene Wenger sold Thomas Vermaelen, he admitted that he would need replacing. And yet nothing has happened.

I can only think that the unexpected progress of Calum Chambers threw Wenger’s plans a little. Speaking to The Guardian last week, he said:

Today we are in a position sometimes, if you always buy, you can never give a chance to a player. We take now the example of Calum Chambers. Calum Chambers played centre-back because I gave him the chance to play centre-back. If I had four centre-backs already because I had bought four, I would never have played him. And he would sit on the bench and play in the youth team.

I think contained in that quote is something approaching an explanation of what was going on in Arsene’s head. He doesn’t want to block Chambers’ path to the first-team.

However, that’s a crazy way to think. Even as fourth-choice, Chambers would still get plenty of game time, especially given his versatility. What’s more, he’s arguably not even ready to be the immediate back-up for Koscielny and Mertesacker. Impressive though he has been, his inexperience has also been evident on several occasions.

We were far stronger at centre-back last season than this. Not only did we have the experience of Vermaelen in reserve, but we also had Bacary Sagna to call upon as emergency cover. No-one can convince me that Nacho Monreal is a centre-half in the making.

Arsenal will need to be very lucky to get away with their lack of defensive cover until January.

Thoughts from Wembley: Torturous afternoon’s Final flourish

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I don’t know about you, but I remembered reaching an FA Cup final as a good deal more fun.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m delighted to be there — and being there is undoubtedly what matters — but the journey was as torturous as a coach ride with that Man City fan in the Barclays ad.

Let’s focus on the positives: however shoddily, the job got done. A positive result in the final will vanquish any traumatic memories of the painful semi. In recent weeks, Arsenal have been criticised for a failure to grind out results on the big stage. Yesterday, they managed exactly that.

A penalty shootout is a test of technique. However, it’s also a test of nerve. It was to my considerable surprise that Arsenal passed that particular test with flying colours. Settled by the confidence and competence of Lukasz Fabianski, our takers executed their kicks perfectly.

I was chuffed too for Per Mertesacker, who would have been hugely unfortunate to have been cast as the scapegoat in the event of an Arsenal defeat. A mistimed lunge led to the Wigan penalty, but he eradicated the error with the crucial equalising goal. It was a better finish than it looked: Mertesacker had to twist his body quickly to direct the header in to the near post.

Whatever you might hear or read elsewhere, our celebrations were justified. We’ve reached our first FA Cup Final in nine years, and have a fantastic chance to end a protracted wait for silverware. There was joy, and there was enormous relief. Stranded in the press box, I crumpled over my desk, exhausted. In the cup, results are everything. We had what we needed.

If all you’re interested in is basking in the promise of a return to Wembley on May 17th, I understand entirely. It’s probably best you stop reading now. I won’t begrudge you: I’m about to take a sip from my editorial glass which will take it from just over half-full to a little under half-empty.

The uncomfortable truth is that I saw little yesterday to convince me that that the chasmic flaws in the side are anywhere closer to being fixed.

We were dreadful. The team looked devoid of imagination, robbed of courage and drained of energy. After 120 minutes, we were held 1-1 by a team from the division below. It was hardly encouraging. Reaching the FA Cup Final is undoubtedly a good achievement, but avoiding defeat to a Championship team is primarily a disaster averted.

The decision to start Yaya Sanogo looked questionable before kick-off. By half-time, it looked plain absurd. I felt sorry for a player who is clearly not ready to be playing for a club of our stature. Going by some of the furious gesticulating when Wenger chose to replace Podolski rather than Sanogo, some of his team-mates feel the same way.

By the time the game entered its last 20 minutes of normal time, I was physically shaking with the enormity of what was unfolding before me. Make no mistake: Arsene was within 10 minutes of being forced to leave Arsenal on a sombre note. What’s more, he looked powerless to do much about it. It was grim viewing.

After the game, a journalist joked that I should ask Arsene what the plan was against Wigan. There’s no point answering a question to which there is no discernible answer.

I’m delighted we’ve made it to the final, particularly because it ensures an opportunity for a glorious finish for a manager who has served this club with remarkable distinction. Arsene was asked after the game if the result of the final would have any bearing on his future. His response was curt and immediate: “No”. Increasingly, I feel his mind is made up. Perhaps he, like me, thinks it could be time for a change — regardless of what happens when we return to Wembley.

Thoughts on Sanogo, Sunderland + Win a Bergkamp Canvas Print

I’ve been away…
…in Amsterdam. Working. No, not like that. I did manage to catch all our games while I was there, but given the demands of the job I was doing the Liverpool, Bayern and Sunderland matches had to remain blogless. I’d apologise, but I know that in this day and age you’re spoilt for choice. I’m sure you all got your fix elsewhere.

The Yaya Sanogo thing…
…caught me somewhat off-guard. I was mildly surprised to see him start against Liverpool, and truly shocked that he played against Bayern. It’s clear his opportunity has come about primarily due to non-footballing issues. Giroud’s off-field misdemeanours are well-documented, while Nicklas Bendtner is finally beginning to be frozen out.

Having been thrown in at the deep-end, Sanogo did enough to stay afloat. However, to continue the swimming analogy, I’m not yet convinced he’s the next Ian Thorpe. Nor Eric The Eel. Basically, he’s quite good at swimming. And football.

The criticism of Mesut Ozil…
…was way over the top. Anyone can miss a penalty.

That said, some people are more likely to miss than others. I have to say, I would never choose Ozil as a penalty taker. He simply doesn’t have the requisite ruthlessness in front of goal. He’s now missed two out of two for Arsenal. I’d be surprised if we see him take another.

Nevertheless, you can read about my hopes for his return over at ESPN.

Arsenal were excellent against Sunderland…
…and Tomas Rosicky rightly took plenty of the plaudits. Some argue we look better with just one of Ozil or Santi Cazorla in the team. I’d suggest the truth is that we simply look better because Rosicky is invariably the replacement for either player. We’re better with the Little Mozart in the team. It’s just a shame he’s not ten years younger.

Stoke away doesn’t hold as much fear as it used to…
Given the fixture list we face, this is actually one of our easier games. Three points is a must.

Competition time…
As you’ll know, last weekend Dennis Bergkamp’s statue was unveiled outside the Emirates Stadium. Obviously I can’t start giving away full-size bronze replicas of the non-flying Dutchman. However, thanks to the guys at Canvasartrocks.com, we have got one of these excellent Canvas Prints to give away.

Winning one is pretty simple. All you need to do is Tweet the answer to the following question, including the hashtag #DB10canvas.

Q. Against which club did Dennis Bergkamp score his last Arsenal goal?

The winner will be chosen at random and announced in the weekend’s post-Stoke blog. If you don’t fancy your chances in the competition, you can buy this and many other Arsenal-themed canvases here – use the discount code ‘GUNNERBLOG’ to get yourself  10% off any purchase.

Good luck!