Two days after the drama of Italy Arsenal fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Our Champions League group has us in an awkward group with Borrusia Dortmund, the German champions, Olympiakos (Greek Champions) and Marseilles. Qualification will not be straight forward, but it never is for Arsenal even when we win our first three games it goes down to the wire!
Arsenal face Manchester United on Sunday with the following players missing from our midfield, Wilshere, Diaby, Song, Frimpong and Gervinho. Wenger will be a genius if he can put a team out on Sunday and come away from Old Trafford with anything.
Other pressing issues for Arsenal fans and players are new players. It was widely rumoured, correctly or not, that qualification for the Champions League group stages will see the cheque book come out. What we have seen so far are more rumours, speculations, players being tracked (we should have tracked them before) and agent/player’s quotes.
Wenger appears set on midfield re-enforcements, however he has qualified this by saying that we still have Wilshere and Diaby to come back from injuries, a worrying trend as far as Wenger transfer polices. These two players will add to the depth of the squad, but it just shows that a couple of injuries and we are struggling.
We have been linked with a loan move for Kaka, which has been rubbished by Kaka and turned down by Real Madrid, though a possible purchase could be on the cards, the price £17.5M. That would be the most audacious moves of Wenger’s time at Arsenal, Kaka was one of football’s stellar performances, but he has lost his way since moving to Real Madrid and Mourinho is not a Kaka fan. Whether Kaka will take a cut in his “galacticos” wages is a different matter.
The Times today links Arsenal with Malouda, a player that Wenger was looking at before he went to Chelsea. Malouda’s future at Chelsea has been in doubt for some time, and now that Chelsea have acquired Mata, his position is in further danger. He has reportedly turned down a move to Juventus. He will be the type of experienced midfielder that we need in the attacking part of the field, he can create goals and is always at the far post looking to score. His transfer could be linked to whether Chelsea buy Modric, but Malouda joining Arsenal would be a great signing.
Arsenal’s search for a defender continues. Wenger’s preferred option is Jagielka, a player who wants to stay at Everton, a player whom Everton consider “unsalable” and one for whom we offered £13M.
Wenger has looked at Cahill, but considers £17M too much for a player in the last year of his contract. WE have tried with a pathetic £7M bid today which was rejected out of hand. Wenger could try a last minute offer of £13M, knowing that Bolton cannot afford to lose Cahill on a free next summer. The alternative is that Wenger and Arsenal have made it clear to Cahill’s representatives that Arsenal will sing him next summer if he has not signed a new contract. This is a high risk strategy, especially as Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool could all try and get him on a free next summer and will all offer wages that we will never be able to match.
Scott Dann is another option, and I do not think it is a coincidence that Dann has not played in either of Birmingham’s Europa League games. Dann will be the cheaper option, probably around £8M, and with such a price tag will not be expected to play every game.
Another report is that Arsenal have been offered Raul Albiol, the Real Madrid and former Arsenal target. Wenger liked him a couple of years ago, but Real went on their mad spending splurge and he became a victim of “galacticos 2”.
The logistics of the transfer window are not helpful. There are games this week-end, then players start to report to their countries for the forthcoming set of international games. Wenger and Gazidis need to move fast to ensure that we buy two or three players or the fans will not be happy.
As Arsenal prepare for a crucial Champions League encounter in Italy, Wenger needs to throw away the blueprint for Arsenal games and get Arsenal to play ugly.
Arsenal’s cavalier style of football will not work in Italy, Udinese are team that will play on the counter-attack and from the first leg experience, and they have the ability to tear us apart. Wenger needs to set up a team that will be defensively minded, but unlike the capitulation against Barcelona, they need to have the ability to counter attack at pace.
Wenger needs to play Vermaelen at centre-back, any attempt at moving him out to the left-back slot will expose our weak middle. Both full-backs have to resist going forward, our priority is not to concede a goal.
It was no coincidence that against Udinese Arsenal looked more solid at the back and created more chances once Wenger introduced Frimpong. The Frimpong-Song axis is what is required from the outset. Young Frimpong has hopefully learnt from his rash challenges against Liverpool and could provide the steel and stability that is required. Both Frimpong and Song should sit back and protect the back four, which needs to be their prime duty. This is a departure for Arsene who always gives his plays licence to roam forward, even his so called defensive midfielders.
The third member of the midfield should be Ramsey. He has the engine to play box to box football and is creative. His last two games he has been anonymous, but today he needs to step up to the plate and be counted. Rosicky has been played in this role, but Tomas is one dimensional, has no peripheral vision and does not track back.
Going forward we have few options, van Persie, Walcott and Gervinho. That is it for today. Wenger will only play Bendtner or Arshavin as a last resort; he wants neither player to be cup-tied as I expect both to leave before the end of the transfer window.
The bench will consist of Bendtner and Arshavin, whom I have stated Wenger will be reluctant to play, out of form Chamakh. This player is an enigma, he started off well last season, then as van Persie came back from injury, Wenger intimated that Chamakh is burnt out, and Chamakh took that literally and has stopped playing. The other substitutes will consist of Oxlade-Chamberlain, whom Wenger, due to circumstances, has not been able to play and Rosicky, who in all honesty cannot be relied upon to play a whole game.
This is a game we cannot afford to lose, I know we can through on away goals if we lose by one goal, but who is prepared or even wants to take that chance. Arsenal need to change tactics, play more defensive and take any chances that fall to us. This game will define our season, it will determine what players Arsene will sign and will either destroy the morale of the players or give them the boost they need before the Manchester United game.
Arsenal beat Udinese 1-0 in the first leg of the Champions League play-off. Ramsey looked good in midfield, Gervinho ran his heart out, Vermaelen was solid and Szczesny showed why we do need another goalkeeper.
The game started well for Arsenal, with Theo given us the lead after four minutes, after that though it was backs to the wall as Udinese caused us many problems. The midfield was a bit ragged, Rosicky looked a bit lightweight and was taken off once again as the pace of the game was too much for him. Song was advancing too far forward and left us exposes on many occasions, we looked more secure once Frimpong came on and allowed the other players to move forward and we created two more chances which Walcott failed to take.
The defence looked adequate, Koscielny appeared comfortable playing alongside Vermaelen and Szczesny pulled off two great saves top keep us in the tie.
Arsenal have escaped with 1-0 victory to take away to Italy where we will need to perform better if we are to make it through to the Champions League group stages.
The squad was very threadbare last night, with Bendtner making the bench on the day that both Eboue and Vela left the club (£4M sale to Galatasaray and season long loan to Real Sociedad respectively). The only players to come in for the rest of the season from the 18 on display last night are van Persie, Squillaci, Traore and Diaby.
Injuries hit the team once more with Gibbs and Djourou both having hamstring injuries. The squad for Liverpool will also be without the suspended Gervinho and Song, so it could be a long Saturday for the Gooners.
Too often in European away ties we play with an inbuilt fear, a fear of making a mistake and not being able to recover. Last night saw a very indifferent performance from Arsenal, a performance that the Sky TV team of Parry and Smith.
Within five minutes all Arsenal fans were wondering what had gone wrong. Again defensive mistakes resulted in goals. Clichy failed to cut out a cross that resulted in a corner. The corner was cleared and something possessed Eduardo to flick it back rather than clear the ball and we were losing 1-0. Within minutes Eboue lost the on the half-way line, this led to a penalty and it was curtains for Arsenal, or so Parry had hoped.
Arsenal got to grips with the game and slowly clawed their way back into the game after Diaby ran past two players and played Bendtner through who made no mistake with the goal.
Arsenal scored two fortuitous goals in the second half, but when you have lost to an own goal at Old Trafford do you really care?
At the end there was a lot relief all round, but the commentators were there to stick the boot in.
We need to put the match into context. We had won away from home against a goods footballing side. We came back from 2-0 down to win, this shows that the team will nor give up at any stage. We were unfortunate on Saturday not to have come back from 4-1. We were missing four creative players in Nasri, Walcott, Arshavin and van Persie.
The game saw a great performance from Rosicky who did not look jaded or off the pace. His creativity will prove a major asset for Arsenal over the weeks ahead, especially if Wenger has either Nasri or Walcott to bring on after Rosicky has run himself into the ground.
Ramsey looked like a man today. He was very assertive and confidence of his own performances and always looked to go forward. The boy has progressed immensely in a year and can now be relied upon by Wenger to do a job.
Vermaelen, once again, looked like a very accomplished and confident defender. He won his tackles and headers and was very comfortable on the ball.
People will criticise Arsenal for the performance, but maybe you need to win games when you are not playing well to give the team and supporters the belief that you can snatch victories under many circumstances.