Cech Mate

Welcome to The Arsenal, Petr Cech. After 11 years with one of most despicable clubs in world football, Petr is now one of us, part of our great club that has the class, tradition, and history his previous employers seriously lack. That said, a small ounce of credit to Roman Abramovich who was true to his word and has allowed Cech to move to the club of his choice, despite the continued whining of Mourinho that he did not approve of the destination. It’s no surprise that one was thanked in Cech’s ‘Letter to the Fans’ while the other was completely omitted.

Welcome to Arsenal Football Club, Petr Cech

But enough of them and their loss, and instead let’s have a little more about us and review our first signing of the summer. At the age of 33 players are deemed to be in the twilight of their careers, but not goalkeepers; for them it’s their prime. Having signed a 4 year contract it seems clear to me that’s exactly the view of both Arsene and Cech himself.

Personally I’m sitting on the fence a little with this one. There’s no doubt Petr Cech was the best goalkeeper in the Premier League, and arguably across world football, during the majority of his stay in West London. But in recent years I thought I saw cracks appearing, mistakes that never used to occur, and was therefore not too surprised when Courtois was recalled following his successful loan period at Atletico Madrid.

But that’s the empty half of the glass. The half full part of me knows that no player is perfect, that everyone makes mistakes from time to time, and that we’ve signed a goalkeeper with bags of talent, who clearly still has a great hunger for the game, and a resume of vast experience – 4 Premier League titles, 4 FA Cups, 3 League Cups, 1 Champions League, and 1 Europa League to be precise. All very painful successes to watch as an Arsenal fan, but achieved by a player from whom we may now reap the rewards of such experience. A player, dropped and discarded by Mourinho, who is no doubt chomping at the bit to prove he still has what it takes. To have that level of quality and know-how between our sticks could prove invaluable come May.

Petr Cech In Arsenal's New Goalkeeper Kit

In addition, for those wanting to make a half full glass and completely full glass, I believe Cech will be the perfect mentor for Wojciech Szczesny. There is so much talent and potential in our Polish stopper, but flaws in his temperament and character appear to be inhibiting his progress, which has not been as great as I imagine Wenger would have hoped, especially in comparison to some of his peers, such as David De Gea.

I have no doubt, however, that Arsene will be hopeful that the professionalism of Cech will have a positive influence on Szczesny, whose warm response to Cech’s arrival was a welcome sight. By the end of Cech’s 4 year contract Wojciech will be 29 years old and, with any luck, perfectly moulded into the truly great Arsenal number one many believe he can be.

Petr Cech Signs His Arsenal Contract

So, with Petr Cech seemingly signed to be our number one, and mentor to future hope Wojciech Szczesny, what next for David Ospina? Personally I’ll be surprised if he’s still an Arsenal player come the end of the transfer window, even if he was only signed last summer, as I just don’t see him settling for third choice.

Statistically he hasn’t done a great deal wrong. His saves percentage is very good, as is his win ratio. But something has just never felt right for me. I like a goalkeeper to have an aura; a commanding presence, control of his area, marshal the back four, and the ability to make world-class saves out of nowhere. They almost need an air of arrogance, of invincibility about them. I also quite like goalkeepers who can clear the half way line with their goal kick!

Ospina offers none of the above, therefore when selecting Szczesny for the FA Cup final I’m sure a large part of Wenger’s thinking Wojciech’s ability, and instinctive nature, to own his penalty area; to come and claim crosses or to punch them clear. It became very clear, very early, that he would not allow Benteke to be an aerial threat. I’m not convinced Ospina could have done that.

Wojciech Szczesny Displaying His Extra Reach

With Szczesny there is of course high risk, as well as high reward, but I think that’s the reason behind Petr Cech. Someone who, like Lehmann before him (and Van der Sar for United), can more than fill the void while Szczesny matures and refines his game to the required level.

Ospina on the other hand is simply a safe option. Real clangers will be few and far between, and he’ll make the saves you’d expect any decent keeper to make for you. But he’ll never produce that moment of magic. In his, albeit short, Arsenal career he has never made a save that made me gasp, which prevented what felt like an inevitable goal. I’ve seen both Cech and Szczesny do that many a time.

I’m certain that, at this point, people will point to Ospina’s fabulous double save for Columbia against Argentina in the recent Copa America. However, even then I was left thinking “Messi should have buried that” as opposed to “wow, what a save”. When a striker does all they can possibly do and yet the keeper still makes the save, that is world-class. I believe Petr Cech has that ability, I believe Szczesny has it too, but I’m not convinced that Ospina does.

Does Ospina Have The Ability For World Class Saves

I think of goals such as Southampton’s first in the League Cup, Monaco’s first and third goals in the Champions League, and Swansea’s winner towards the end of the league season, and I see fundamental flaws in Ospina. For many these are not seen; these goals were not deemed to be the fault of Ospina. But I see a keeper with a lack of height, a lack of reach, a lack of push and spring in the diving motion. I’m often left wondering “could he have done better?”

Cech or Szczesny, goalkeepers with the extra height, reach, and technique, would, in my opinion, have produced fantastic fingertip saves. Yes their potential rewards may come with real possibilities of risk (especially Szczesny), but I’d rather win by rolling the dice than fall short playing safe.

I’m fully aware that I’m being super critical of Ospina, who is a good goalkeeper; I’m highlighting, and fixating on, the smallest of margins. But the reality is that we’re now in a position to do just that. With the stadium transition complete, and with greater funds available to us, we no longer have to decide between Almunia and Fabianski, or have deputies such as Shaaban, Warmuz, or Mannone. Instead we can now nit-pick between Cech, Szczesny, and Ospina. It’s a fantastic headache for the manager to have, so welcome to The Arsenal, Petr Cech.

arsenal-cannon

It’s Happened Again

*Blows away the cobwebs*

Ten games, two months, twenty-one days, and however many hours and minutes since I last put my lazy pen to paper. I’m sure you’ve missed me like a hole in the head.

All in all it’s been a positive absence. Five league victories, the highlight of which was the 4-1 thumping of a pathetic Liverpool side which I very much enjoyed watching in the company of my Liverpool supporting in-laws, culminating in us celebrating St.Totteringham’s Day for the twentieth, yes TWENTIETH, season running.

St.Totteringham's Day

And of course there was the small matter of our record 19th FA Cup Final, emphatically won 4-0 against Aston Villa to secure a record 12th FA Cup triumph. Never have I witnessed such a one-sided, comfortable cup final victory. It was heaven.

The Arsenal - FA Cup Winners 2015

We’re now in the depths of summer (or winter for those of us down under), where, from a football perspective, you essentially have three options: reflect on the season that was, debate the summer business required to improve next season, or watch international football.

Looking at the first of those, reflecting on the season that was, and the debate of did we make progress? For me the answer is yes. We finished one place higher (avoiding a Champions League qualifier), retained the FA Cup with a display in the final of greater maturity and composure to that of last year, our end of season form was second to none, and for once our injury list went down in numbers instead of up.

Some have challenged these views, in particular raising the question of points vs. places. To those on the side of points, I’ll ask you this – which of the following league seasons was your favourite: 1997/98, 1998/99, 2002/03, 2004/05, 2007/08, 2013/14?

I’m guessing your answer was 1997/98 given we won the league title and in the other five seasons listed we did not. And yet, in those five other seasons we finished with the same number of points (78) or more than we did in 1997/98. If you still prefer points, that’s fine, but I’ll be sticking to places.

The Arsenal - League Champions 1997-98 - Places, Not Points

But for some mitigating circumstances, some of which were unavoidable and some of which were self-inflicted, I fully believe we’d have challenged for the title. The key is to learn the lessons of the self-inflicted issues and avoid them from happening again because the hope of last summer has been replaced by expectation this. Arsene’s record suggests we have stronger league campaigns in seasons following a vacant summer, so with no European Championship and no World Cup to disrupt our preparations next season feels like it could finally be our time again.

On that note I seem to have reached our second option for the summer, debating what’s required to improve next season. Whilst preferred transfer targets may differ there appears to be some consensus on the areas of the field that need addressing, with goalkeeper, defensive midfielder and strikers on most people’s lips.

Between the sticks I’m open to improvement. Since Seaman and more recently Lehmann we haven’t had a top quality keeper. But the struggle I have here is identifying a realistic target that is significantly better than Szczesny.

Who's Your No.1 - Szczesny or Ospina

Good goalkeepers are few and far between, so those of the highest calibre are already at top clubs. Petr Cech is the name generating the most noise right now, but I’m far from convinced he still has the quality displayed during his heyday. If he does, of if Arsene has an alternative option in mind then great, but if not I’d be quite comfortable sticking with Szczesny. My only concern there of course is whether Wojciech remains left out in the cold, but I’ll leave the Szczesny vs. Ospina conversation for another day!

With regards to defensive midfield Coquelin has been a revelation and, hopefully, has made Arsene realise just how pivotal his role is to the team. The defence need protection and our creative sparks need the freedom to play. But Coquelin is just one man. Injury or suspension is likely to occur at some stage, as is fatigue. Having a suitable back-up could prove fundamental to just how successful we are next season.

The third area of improvement, for many, is up front. Podolski, Sanogo, and Campbell will, most likely, be sold or loaned out again and rightly so on all three counts. What leaves us with Walcott, Welbeck, and Alexis as alternatives to Giroud, but all three have their limitations.

The Best of Both Worlds - Walcott and Giroud

Walcott has frightening pace and movement, but doesn’t offer the physicality, hold-up play, or aerial ability of Giroud. Welbeck can offer some of those components, plus Walcott’s pace, but never quite to the clinical level required. And Alexis is an absolute gem who is devastating from the wide position, so why play him through the middle where he’s outnumbered and lost in a sea of bodies?

What would therefore be great is to have another option that provides the combined physicality, touch, electric pace, and finishing of both Giroud and Walcott, but with greater consistency than Welbeck. Does such a player exist? If so are they a realistic target? Hopefully Arsene knows the answer.

And finally that brings us to summer option number three: watch international football. There are friendlies, European qualifiers, the Copa America, and the Women’s World Cup. Personally international football really isn’t for me. If it’s the quarter finals onwards of the Euros or World Cup then maybe, otherwise I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. That England has lost only 1 of their last 33 qualifiers yet can’t even come close to making their first semi-final since 1996 tells you all you need to know. So as I say, unless it’s the latter stages of a major tournament I’m happy to give it a miss, but fair play to those who can find enjoyment from it.

So there you have it, options 1, 2 and 3 for the summer with my view on each. The countdown for the new season has well and truly begun, with Arsenal unveiling our new home kit. And for me personally the countdown has even more significance than usual this year because for me, in 46 days’ time, on the Community Shield weekend, I’ll be marrying the girl of my dreams. I can’t wait.

arsenal-cannon

Let Battle Commence

For one reason or another it’s been a while since I last spoke to you. Back then we had just beaten Boreham Wood in our first pre-season friendly of the summer and had just announced the signing of Debuchy.

Fast forward in time and so much seems to have happened. First we had a thoroughly entertaining trip to New York city that ended with a thoroughly dull 1-0 defeat to New York Red Bulls, with interest levels saved by a certain Thierry Henry and the irony of his strike partner being Ian Wright’s son (Bradley Wright-Phillips).

Henry versus Wilshere in NYC

We then flew to Austria for the briefest of training camps where we got our first glimpse of Calum Chambers, who signed from Southampton. I have to say I’m rather excited by this signing. He looks big and strong, and most importantly of all provides us with some much-needed versatility at the back. David Ospina was also officially announced, but has yet to appear as he continues his recovering from a thigh muscle injury sustained during the World Cup.

Having been put through their paces in Austria the squad then returned home for the Emirates Cup. Day one was quite excellent, with a resounding 5-1 victory over Benfica. Yaya Sanogo was the star of the show with four (yes FOUR!) of the goals, while Joel Campbell made his mark by also getting on the score sheet, with what was arguably goal of the game.

Goalscorers Sanogo and Campbell

Day two saw a number of changes to the starting line-up, as you’d expect, with the most noticeable introductions being those of our returning Frenchmen – Koscielny, Debuchy, and a very much off the pace Giroud. In the end the match, and ultimately the Emirates Cup’s destination, was settled by a single goal from the head of Falcao with Monaco being the match victors and Valencia being the tournament victors.

And lastly, but by no means least, in the pre-season schedule was Sunday’s Community Shield where we played some lovely football and quite comprehensively beat Man City by three goals to nil. Cazorla and Ramsey were on the Wembley score sheet once more, while Giroud provided the cherry on top in the second half with a fabulous strike. The kind of effort he seems to try every game, but this time the result was a bulging opposition net as opposed to a rearranged fans face in row Z.

New Club Captain Mikel Arteta Lifts The Community Shield

Other significant news, away from the pitch, in recent weeks has also been the draw for the Champions League qualifiers which sees us pit our wits against Beskitas. As I say every time we face a Champions League qualifier, if we have serious ambitions about going far in this tournament then we really should be winning this tie quite comfortably over the two legs. I know people get nervous about the qualifying round, but I honestly believe this is more to do with the desire to avoid the ridicule that would accompany defeat because if we were to meet a side like Besiktas in the “Round of 16” (us having won our group, them having finished second in theirs) then I believe everyone would be feeling pretty confident. Here’s hoping for safe passage to the Group Stage; don’t panic, Mr Mannering!

That said, one thing that does make me nervous is our lack of numbers in defence. Whilst I fully understand the sale of Vermaelen to Barcelona, wish Thomas well, and even more so fully applaud the club in ensuring he moved abroad, we can’t hide the fact that we are now very light in that area of the field.

Koscielny and The BFG Looking For Support

Mertesacker (and his fellow Germans) only returned to training on Monday, Koscielny is reportedly struggling with an Achilles injury, and whilst Chambers has performed very well in a central role so far I think it’s fair to say Wenger would probably prefer to bed him in on the right hand side for his inaugural season and not at the heart of our defence. Personally I think we’re still two players short; an out-and-out central defender and another player like Chambers, who can provide both youth and versatility.

What Wenger has up his sleeve is anyone’s guess, but the Premier League kicks off on Saturday and Palace won’t be looking to do us any favours. So we need to be ready and I’m not convinced a centre back pairing of Chambers and Monreal would demonstrate that we are. For all the great work and positivity we’ve seen this summer I fear the ramifications if points are dropped come the final whistle this weekend due to an error by Monreal being played out of position.

I have every faith, however, that we will see at least another signing (if not two) before the transfer window closes, but there’s a lot of football to be played between now and then. Until then it’s up to new club captain Mikel Arteta (and vice-captain, the BFG) to steer our ship in the right direction, starting with a win this Saturday. Over to you, Mikel. Up The Arsenal.

10,000 Miles Apart, But Forever In Our Hearts

BOREHAM WOOD 0   ARSENAL 2

We kicked off our pre-season fixtures this weekend with a 2-0 victory away to Boreham Wood. The home of Arsenal Ladies had its new stand opened by Arsene Wenger, before we saw a game of two halves, with Arsene fielding two entirely different sets of eleven players in each half. Aaron Ramsey In Action Against Boreham Wood At this stage it’s all about continuing to build core fitness, avoiding injuries, and giving some of our younger players an opportunity to shine, so it was good to see all three boxes ticked with a good work out for all involved, goals for Olsson and Afobe, and an eye catching performance from Akpom. Next up, a certain Thierry Henry as we head across the Atlantic Ocean to face New York Red Bulls.

WELCOME TO THE ARSENAL, DEBUCHY

For the second Friday running those of us based in the land down under woke to news of a shiny new Arsenal player, with the signing of Mathieu Debuchy officially announced. Welcome To The Arsenal, Debuchy A top class international player with Premier League experience, Debuchy has been tasked with the same assignment for Arsenal as he has by the French national team – replace Bacary Sagna. It’s not going to be an easy feat, but I have every confidence he can and will succeed.

Sagna has been one of our most consistent performers since the day he arrived, and that he achieved such consistency whilst effectively undertaking a one man mission to defend our right hand side (given his source of protection was Theo Walcott) speaks for itself. And he was also a very reliable deputy across our back line, providing defensive cover at both centre-half and left-back on various occasions.

But Sagna has chosen pastures new, and I think Debuchy will prove a solid and reliable replacement. He may not be an exciting marquee signing like Özil or Sanchez, but he brings a wealth of experience and, as demonstrated by Arseblog, is a very apt replacement statistically. And, at the age of 28 (soon to be 29), he shouldn’t create too much of a road block to the careers of Jenkinson, Bellerin, or any other up and coming full backs Arsene may be looking at for the long term.

Debuchy will wear the number 2 shirt, with Gibbs taking over Sagna’s number 3, and I must say I’m rather pleased about this. It may seem trivial to many, but I for one am pleased to see a more old school approach being taken to our defensive shirt numbering.

KEEP THEM COMING

More important than shirt numbers though is of course the fact that the signing of Debuchy plugs one of our defensive gaps. The full back areas are now at full quota again and hopefully the goalkeeper situation won’t be too far behind with Nice president Jean-Pierre Rivere speaking about a deal for Colombian David Ospina being not too far away.

Ospina had a fantastic World Cup for Colombia, but signings based on a World Cup alone make me somewhat nervous. So I was pleased to hear, from sources who have seen him play far more often than I have, that his form with Nice over the last six seasons has been good, with @1DavidWall providing the rather impressive stat that Ospina was one of only four goalkeepers in Europe’s top leagues last season to save at least 80% of shots faced, with the other three being Buffon, Navas, and Neuer. Not too shabby.

Of course at this stage of the process there are still lots of t’s to be crossed and i’s to be dotted, but at £4m and the [goalkeeping] tender age of 25 he’d provide not only strong back-up to Szczesny, but some bloody fierce competition. So fingers crossed us Aussie based folk awake to more good news this Friday…or earlier, who am I to be picky!

Another reason I’d like to see the goalkeeping situation resolved is so Arsene can give the central area of our defensive platform his full focus. With Sagna gone our centre-half resources are down to just three, one of whom (The BFG) will not return until early August due to his World Cup exploits and one of whom (Vermaelen) seems to be itching for an exit.

Historically Arsene has been known to let a player go for reasons that better suit the needs of the player than those of the club. This cannot be one of those occasions. Looking to sign a centre half with Vermaelen still on our books is not only the safer option, but surely the smarter option too, providing us with a stronger negotiating platform. But sell the Belgian, and I fear Dick Law will find himself sitting at the negotiation table with one arm tied behind his back and asking prices that keep on rising. I trust Arsene will recruit the new centre half (or two) that we require before he considers letting our club captain go.

ARSENAL SYDNEY

Finally for today, I’d like to point you all in the direction of the new Arsenal Sydney website and Facebook page. The level of support in Australia, and in particular Sydney, is exceptional. It’s great to see so many passionate, loyal, and knowledgeable Arsenal fans following our great club and that those of us here in Sydney have the opportunity to be a part of such an excellent supporters club. Arsenal Sydney Supporters Club - NSW & ACT For those of you based in NSW and ACT I fully recommend becoming a member of Arsenal Sydney, which will provide you with lots of great benefits including a top community of fellow Gooners to watch the games with, special Arsenal themed events, and a rather swish membership pack – I can’t wait to receive mine, the t-shirt in particular looks fantastic. And furthermore, you can also receive a discount on your new Arsenal home and away shirts! So what are you waiting for? Get yourself over to Arsenal Sydney now and become a member of the biggest Arsenal supporters group in Australia!