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Arsenal’s options limited by injury crisis

Per Mertesacker. Andre Santos. Sebastien Squillaci. Johan Djourou. Kieran Gibbs. Abou Diaby. Tomas Rosicky. Mikel Arteta. Aaron Ramsey. Jack Wilshere. Emmanuel Frimpong. Yossi Benayoun. Francis Coquelin.

Those are all of the players who are unavailable to Arsenal for the home leg against AC Milan on Tuesday night – Tomas Rosicky, Kieran Gibbs and Johan Djourou are in italics due to their status of ‘doubtful’. There is just one specialist midfielder (Alex Song) in the entire first team at Arsene Wenger’s disposal, assuming that Rosicky doesn’t recover in time. If ever there was an injury crisis, this was it.

With so many midfielders injured, an option might be to bring a defender such as Thomas Vermaelen into midfield. However, this isn’t an option either – just four defenders in the first team are available: Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny, Thomas Vermaelen and Carl Jenkinson, who will presumably make up the back four. Arsenal’s squad has suddenly been annihilated by injuries.

Out of the entirety of the first team squad, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is the only player who could plausibly play in midfield alongside Alex Song. Then you have the remaining forwards – Robin van Persie, Marouane Chamakh, Park Ju-Young, Theo Walcott and Gervinho, with four places needing to be filled. Walcott and Gervinho would naturally play as wide forwards, while you’d probably want Robin van Persie playing off of Chamakh. In the entire squad, that only leaves Lukasz Fabianski and Park unused (poor guy).

It would be a bit of an odd shape – some would optimistically call it a 4-4-2, as many have been calling for that for months. However, Walcott and Gervinho are certainly not wide midfielders, but more wide forwards/strikers. This would leave the formation as more of a 4-2-4, or a 4-2-1-3 when van Persie drops off of Chamakh.

The mix-and-match formation would see two things that haven’t happened a whole lot at Arsenal – Robin van Persie playing behind a main striker, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in midfield. Many have called for van Persie to be deployed in the “Bergkamp role”, and the last time he was from the start was against Partizan Belgrade in the Champions League.

As for Oxlade-Chamberlain, it does seem as if he’ll end up as a central midfielder. He appears to have all of the vital attributes – powerful runs, an excellent range of passing, a sturdy build and superb long shots. However, Arsene Wenger will continue to play the ex-Southampton man (who did appear a lot in midfield at St Mary’s, including against Manchester United in the FA Cup) out wide for as long as he can. As with van Persie and Theo Walcott, and it could be argued Nicklas Bendtner, it’s where he seems to put offensive players until he’s satisfied that they’re ready to move centrally.

Chamberlain did come on for Abou Diaby through necessity against Liverpool, but Tomas Rosicky was there also to offer protection, which will probably not be the case on Tuesday. Chamberlain will have to maintain a huge amount of discipline, especially alongside Alex Song, who tends to roam. Song will also need to curb his attacking instincts – although it’s a bit of a catch-22 for Arsenal. They need to go on the attack, and with the line-up they’ll be forced to opt for that will be the natural thing to do. But with such a make-shift midfield in particular, they’ll be extremely vulnerable on the counter-attack, so may not want to commit too many players forward.

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Farewell, Gael Clichy

And so, the Invincibles are completely and utterly gone.

Gael Clichy has left the club after eight years of service and joined Manchester City. If you wish to watch his first interview at his new club, you can have a look at their website. We can only speculate as to the fee, but most suggest it’s in the region of £7 million, and for a player of his quality, that really is a steal. He may have had his bad moments, but without doubt, he is a top quality player. He makes mistakes, but all players do. He got barely any support in defence – Arshavin and Nasri were never interested in defending, and while Alex Song gave Bacary Sagna added protection on the right, Jack Wilshere was a little less defensively disciplined, leaving Clichy exposed at times.

I’ll miss him, he was a top servant, and he never gave up. What I’ll remember most about him are his lung-busting runs down the left, and the superb interceptions when he nipped in past the opposition player to steal the player. I remember against Barcelona, in the first leg of the recent tie, Clichy was facing up to Pedro, and somebody in front of me yelled “Don’t dive in!”, but Clichy did, and still won the ball. It was also him that set up van Persie’s goal to put us on our way to the victory in that leg.

Many still blame Clichy for our collapse against Birmingham in 2007/08. The penalty was an absolutely perfect tackle, he toed the ball away from Parnaby (yes, I remember who it was, I still hold a grudge) and was nowhere near touching the player, yet he went down, and the referee pointed to the spot, for whatever reason. That was not Clichy’s fault – if the referee had not made the wrong decision, we would have been praising Clichy for making a crucial tackle.

It’s important to note that he’s only 25. He seemed to struggle mentally after the Birmingham game, and never fully recovered his form, although that may have been the formation change. He’s still nowhere near his peak, that will come in three years or so. I’m of the belief that he’ll thrive at City – they defend as a team, and maintain defensive discipline, unlike us. We could take a leaf out of their book in that respect.

He worked his socks off all over the pitch, covering every inch of grass. I for one, am sad to see him go, and I pray that we bring in a decent replacement. There must be someone Wenger could pluck from France or Italy like he did with Sagna? Matt Statto recently suggested Pablo Armero from Udinese, and I think we could do far worse than to have a look at him. I certainly don’t think Gibbs is the answer, not yet anyway – positionally he was awful last season, and cost us quite a bit with his lackadaisical play. Many times you’d find him in the left midfield position, having given the ball away, and struggling to get back. He’s far too indisciplined to be a starter for us yet.

Armand Traore and Pedro Botelho are certainly not the answer either – Traore was average at Juventus, nothing more, while Pedro Botelho is a Gareth Bale-type player; an adventurous left-sided player who can play in defence or midfield, but is far more suited to playing in midfield.

So goodbye, Gael Clichy. Some may not have appreciated you, but in years to come, I’m sure they’ll realise you were a pretty good player.

Oh, and score loads of own goals.

Pat Rice stays & other things

So, the big news today is that Pat Rice is staying for another year.

The Mail have the quotes from Arsene: ‘Pat Rice has told me he will continue for one more year,’ Wenger said on Sunday. ‘It’s important for me because he knows how I work and we have a good understanding and complement each other. The day he stops will be a massive loss to this club.’

Many people have blamed Pat for some of our failings this season, labelling him a “yes-man” but I don’t think you can judge how good an assistant manager he is just by watching the game. People seem to be searching for someone to blame, and they just want change of any kind so would like to see a new assistant manager.

What they seem to be forgetting is that Rice also coached the Invincibles and our double-winning sides in recent years, so it works both ways. Also in that report in the Mail was the admission that Arsene will be given £30 million to spend in the summer. They reckon he might think about selling Cesc or Nasri so he had more money to make the surgery required.

The only situation I can see one of those players leaving is if Nasri refuses to sign a new contract. What would be the point in selling arguably our best two players? That would be two steps backwards already, regardless of who we signed. Wenger’s got a great history in the transfer market, I’m sure he can pick up some bargains. For example, Hernandez has been absolutely incredible, and barely anyone had heard of him.

If we have £30 million, that’s four players for an average of £7 million each. I’m sure Arsene, with his huge scouting network and knowledge of players, can find four players for that kind of money to improve the squad. Hernandez was £6.5 million, which just goes to show there’s always a bargain signing ready to be made.

And anyway, there will surely be some other players leaving – Rosicky, Almunia and Denilson are certainly headed out of the door. I think we’d get a maximum of £12 million from those three, and one of Chamakh and Bendtner may be heading out of the exit door as well. That would free up more money for quality players.

Also, the infamous Black Scarf Movement are walking in London in protest over several things before the game today. They’ve got a bit of a bad press, and had some quotes taken out of context. Overall they actually make some very good points. I won’t be joining them on the walk, but it’ll be interesting to see how it pans out.

Finally, some more first team squad news. Conor Henderson is in the squad, as is Ignasi Miquel. The exclusive was once more brought to you by Young Guns. As much as it’ll be good for them to get some experience, it’s not as if this game doesn’t mean anything. We may well get beaten to 3rd place by Man City, and we can’t afford to let that happen. We need to secure that automatic qualification for the Champions League.

And that’s about all for today, thoughts on the game will follow tomorrow I should think. Also, thanks to arsenalnews.net for sourcing my posts – hit 3,000, 4,000 and 5,000 views yesterday! Wonder what I’ll be at by the time I arrive home… until then.

Some academy news & rumours, Clichy and more Stoke talk

Today seems to be a day of rumours.

As well as a lot of talk about the future of Gael Clichy, among others, which I’ll cover later, there’s been some encouraging buzz about a potential academy link up with Belgian side Anderlecht. John Chapman began the talk on Twitter – not many know more about Belgian football than him. The only Anderlecht youngster I know much about is Romelu Lukaku. Similar to Didier Drogba in style, the 6ft3 17 year old has been linked with Chelsea and Real Madrid, as well as some others. He also has a younger brother, Jordan.

It looks unlikely that we’re in for Lukaku. Tribal Football links us with Lukaku jr and Dennis Praet, the former being a “powerful left back”, the latter being a “highly-rated central midfielder”. Some other news to stem from the Anderlecht link is the potential loan deal of Wellington Silva to the Belgian side. He’s struggled to make an impact at Levante, and I think a spell elsewhere would do him good. The Daily Mirror links him with said move here.

That article also links Bendtner, Clichy and Arshavin to moves elsewhere. I’d be surprised if Bendtner and Arshavin left, but I can’t see Clichy staying. It looks like we’ll look for something in the region of £5.5 million for him – he may have struggled in recent seasons but that fee is a lot less than he’s worth. Sadly his contract is running out, so that may be the best we get. He’s a likable guy, so despite his shortcomings, I’ll be sad to see him go if he does leave.

Returning to the subject of the academy, Young Guns has a few stories about the futures of trialists and our own youth players. Apparently we’re set to decide on whether Kevin Mbabu and Robert Mirosavic stay at the club after relatively successful trial periods or not. The same site also reports that promising youngster Roarie Deacon will follow George Brislen-Hall out of the Arsenal exit, and is on trial at Sunderland.

I’ve heard good things about Deacon – mainly from Young Guns – so it’s a little surprising that he’s being let go. What wouldn’t surprise me though, is if Jay Emmanuel-Thomas left. He’s not exactly set the world alight at Cardiff, and his attitude has been criticised. I suppose we’ll see in the summer.

Rounding off the Young Guns news, we have the news of another potential exit – this time it’s Oguzhan Ozyakup. Apparently his contract talks have broken down, with the Dutch youngster listing broken promises in terms of his future as the reason. Coincidentally, he’s been linked with Anderlecht. He’s been praised by a lot of academy enthustiasts, but I’m sure there’ll be someone ready to take his place.

Anyway, back to first team matters. There’s been a lot of back and forth between Arsenal and Stoke Rugby Club fans. I’ve not got involved, as it’s silly to attempt to reason with insane human beings such as them. However, I’ve read some comments that their fans have made, and they really are vile people.

Some have spoken about how they’re going to abuse Aaron Ramsey. Quite where he was in the wrong for having his leg almost snapped off I don’t know. Speaking of that tackle, there’s a terrific article on Futbol Intellect about tackles like those – it’s a great read. There’s also been accusations at Arsene Wenger just like in the song you often hear at Old Trafford – I don’t think I need to go into further detail. The hypocrisy is rife; forgetting the fact that Wenger is clearly innocent of such ridiculous accusations, he’s not the manager who showers with his own players. Cough – Pulis – cough.

It’s a shame that all of the pre-match talk has been about the rivalry between the clubs’ fans and the situation with Ramsey and Shawcross. I’m sure Sky will zoom in on their hands as they meet/miss before the game, which is a bit silly. It’s a football match, and the talk should focus on the football – even if only one team will be playing football on the day.

We’ve been linked once again with Phil Jagielka by the Mirror in the article I linked earlier. Most people who claim to be in-the-know have said that we were strongly interested in Jagielka last summer, and had a bid turned down. It seems like solid talk, and I’d be pleased if we were interested again. He’s a top player, severly underrated. How Lescott went for £22 million baffles me. In truth, Jagielka was the one making him look good.

His constant interceptions, ball-winning tackles and powerful headers help Everton win games and keep clean sheets. He’s a dynamic player and a leader from the back. I’d be thrilled if he was playing in the red and white of Arsenal next season, but if I was a betting man (who was allowed to bet) I’d put money on him staying at Everton. Still, I guess we’ll see.

That’s about all I’ve got for today, more tomorrow when hopefully we’ll get a good three points at Stoke.

Injury news, Cesc, and Squillaci & Bendtner

You see that big Belgian nutter up there?

He’s back.

That’s right – nine months after that puzzling Achilles injury was first sustained, Thomas Vermaelen is back in a senior Arsenal squad.

Last week he made an impressive return to football in a reserve game against Manchester United at Old Trafford; you can see pretty much all of his involvements here. It hadn’t been expected that we would see Thomas back this season after a lot of confusion over his fitness. His return radically changed every few weeks – he went from returning soon to out indefinitely nearly every time Wenger was asked about him.

Now though he is well and truly back, and with the injury to Johan Djourou possibly keeping the Swiss centre-half out of the Stoke game, Vermaelen looks likely to start. The other option in Djourou’s absence would be to pair Sebastien Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny together in the centre of defence. While individually they’re both pretty good defenders, together they have been an absolute disaster. Since they were unable to cope with Newcastle’s limited aerial threat, playing them together against the Kenwyne Jones’ and Robert Huths of Stoke would be a big mistake in my opinion.

Squillaci has had some success alongside Djourou, but I don’t think he’s suited to our style of play. Similar to the likes of Vidic and Hangeland, he’s a solid defender, but struggles against pace, or generally when playing in a high line. Sadly for Seb that’s the defensive system we employ, so he gets caught out of a few times. I think he gets perhaps a bit of a harsh assessment from Gooners, but a lot of us look for scapegoats and targetted Squillaci, just like Denilson, Eboue and Bendtner had been previously.

Speaking of Bendtner, I’ve been meaning to talk about him and today brings the perfect opportunity. As well as this being the fixture when he scored a beautiful header during his excellent scoring run last season, Arsene has recently said that he wants to keep the big Dane – unlike a lot of Arsenal fans.

As I just mentioned, Nicklas had a superb run in the team when given a chance last season, and scored something like nine goals in eleven games. For a player who gets so much criticism, that’s a big statistic – you can write stats off as much as you want but it’s difficult to write that one off. He kept us in the title race with vital goals against Stoke, Hull and Wolves – two of those being last minute winners – plus some more.

He’ll always have a place in my heart, as his last minute winner against Wolves gave me an experience I’ll never forget. I was at that game, and it ranks up there with the Barcelona win, which I was also at – remember I’m only a youngster so I don’t remember WHL 04, let alone WHL 71!

That run of goals from Bendtner gave us a huge chance at the title, only for us to blow it in the end (through no fault of his, might I add). I can’t remember many times other than that when he’s had a consistent run in the team, and it’s so much easier to play well when you’re playing regularly. Just ask Lukasz Fabianski. His performances were dodgy and error-strewn until he got a run in the team this season, and he was superb. Maybe it’s different for goalkeepers, but I feel the same principles apply.

To sum up, I think we should keep Bendtner, as I think he offers something to the squad, and there are quite a few who contribute a lot less than the big man. As I said earlier in the week, what we need to do is add to the squad, while getting rid of the deadwood, not selling players that still have a role to play here.

That point was made about our captain, when I was explaining why people are silly to demand that we sell him. Well, according to this post on arsenalfanblog, they’re going to get their wish. Apparently Real have had a €45 million offer accepted by the club, but Cesc will turn them down in favour for Barcelona, who look set to be lining up a similar bid of their own. More updates will likely follow on that site, so I guess we’ll see.

Finally, returning to the injury front, Diaby, Nasri and Cesc are definitely out. There’s a suggestion that Cesc’s injury is fake, with information circulating from sources “within the club”. I myself have no sources, but if the reason given (Arsene being unhappy with the recent interview) is true, I’m a little confused, as it’s a bit of a late backlash surely? Still, I suppose we will probably never know for sure, but I’d probably say it was a genuine thigh injury.

As for Nasri, he announced on Twitter that he’ll be out for between 10 days and two weeks. That means he has an outside chance for Aston Villa next week, as Arsene confirmed, and should return for Fulham on the last day, which I’m hoping to get down to Craven Cottage for.

Ramsey should deputise for Cesc again at the ground where he broke his leg back in February of last year. If there are any mental hurdles he didn’t overcome with that goal against United, I’m sure he’ll leap right over them if he gets through this game unscathed. Neither team has much to play for right now, so it shouldn’t be too physical a game, but you never know, as Stoke are a bunch of complete and utter…. cavemen.

That’s it from me today, if you’ll excuse me I have some poetry to write about. Joy… And just before I go, I hit 2,000 views today – thanks to all who have clicked, and I hope you continue to do so! Au revoir.

A win at last, the new kit and tickets prices increase

Today, we spell redemption A-A-R-O-N.

I’ve always wanted to use an Anchorman quote in a blog post so this was the perfect opportunity.

Firstly, apologies for the week long absence, but a lot of things have happened since my last post, so your “make-up present” is a big, juicy blog post with lots of lovely words and junk.

Now, down to business. Where else to start but the game at the Emirates? It was a terrific show of character from our players. We had barely anything to play for, had been completely buried by all around us, but produced a terrific performance to beat the league leaders. It was brilliant to finally beat Man United, even if it probably won’t mean much in terms of our season.

And what a performance by that man Ramsey! Only his second start since that horrific injury against our next opponents Stoke and he hardly put a foot wrong. Other than Nasri and Squillaci, who played 45 and 20 minutes respectively, Ramsey had the highest passing percentage, completing 92% of his passes. You can check out @Orbinho’s Twitter for more excellent Arsenal statistics like that.

Aaron stepped into Cesc’s shoes seamlessly, and I can’t help wondering whether the outcome would have been the same with our captain starting instead of the Welshman. I must admit, when I found out that it was Ramsey and not Fabregas in the side, I immediately texted (as that’s what us kids do these days) my friend who supports Man United congratulating him in advance on their win. That humble pie was the nicest it’s ever tasted!

With the inclusion of Ramsey, there was a little bit of a tactical switch. We usually play a double-pivot* in midfield of Song and Wilshere, with Fabregas in front of the two, as opposed to Song being behind two attack-minded centre midfielders last season. It seemed like we switched back to that 1-2 set-up in midfield, with Song screening the defence and man-marking Rooney out of the game. He made many interceptions, including the one which led to our winning goal.

Wilshere and Ramsey played in front of Song, and absolutely ran the game. They were both terrific, and showed us what we’ll be seeing in the not-so-distant future. There have been people claiming that that showed us how little we need Cesc, but I can’t agree. People complain about us selling our best players and moan about how we continually go backwards and not forwards, but then they suggest we sell our best player! It really doesn’t make sense to me.

What we need to do is add to the squad, and get rid of the players that don’t contribute enough, like Denilson, Rosicky and Almunia, who I am absolutely sure are gone this summer anyway. Selling our best player would quite obviously be detrimental to our chances at glory. If anything, Sunday’s game showed how good our players can be.

A lot of the time, some players seem to let Cesc and Robin take the responsibility instead of sharing it. Because of how big a character our captain is, they feel like it’s OK. If all of our players took on equal responsibility, like on Sunday, and Cesc played to his best, we’d be a lot better for it. That’s what we need to look at, as well as investing in the squad.

Now, the second matter of this blog post – the Club’s new home kit which commemorates our 125th anniversary. You can check out the pictures on the official website here, although I’d have thought everyone will have seen them by now. I’m a big fan of it, I like the badge and the whole kit looks pretty sharp.

One thing I’ve noticed is to do with the socks. Having seen the pictures on the website, I was pleased that red socks had been included for the first time in a while. It came as a surprise, but I was glad, as I think it looks a lot better. But then I came across this picture with white socks. I’ll be interested to see which socks are actually used in most games.

The only other question left for me will be which player to get on the back of the shirt – yes I still do that. I need to pick carefully – I got Reyes on the back, and he left a year later, then I got Rosicky, and that’s not panned out well. I got Walcott last season and he was injured for ages. It’s a bit like the Arsenal calendar curse – something seems to happen to the player on the current month! Luckily I managed to avoid getting Denilson on the back this or last season though. I was seriously considering it… bullet well and truly dodged!

The final issue to contend with today is the season ticket price increase. I have to say, it doesn’t directly affect me, as the season ticket I share is paid for by my dad – if you’re reading this dad, thanks! Still, it may affect the atmosphere, because loyal fans might be priced out. As a teenager I’m really not clued up much on the financial side of football – like the tactical side it’s something I’m keen to learn about – but still, I can understand why people are angry about it.

It’s good to see that Gazidis will look at a complete change of the pricing structure for the 2012/13 season, if by then we haven’t all been destroyed by the “armageddon” in December 2012 of course. The tickets wouldn’t be so expensive if our commercial staff, namely Keith Edelman, hadn’t done a relatively poor job. Not only are we getting a terrible deal in terms of the Emirates sponsorship, but we get a shocking percentage of the money made by “our” club stores. It’s definitely something that needs to be looked at, and I’m sure it has and will continue to be studied closely.

That’s all for today, my hands/wrists/fingers are starting to ache, and the pillow that I’m resting my potentially bruised funny bone is starting to cause some uncomfort… Until tomorrow, when I have an interesting letter to the club to publish as a favour to a friend!

*I would really have little understanding about tactical terms like this if it wasn’t for the excellent Arsenal Report website. I recommend you bookmark the site, as the analysis is top class. Joss and Ix, plus the guest writers, have inspired me to include a little more tactical jargon and analysis in the articles I write, so look out for that!

Injured trio back, Vermaelen progressing

It’s not often we get good news on the injury front, so let’s savour this moment.

Ahhhh. That’s nice.

Sorry? Oh right, the news!

Well you probably already know; three crucial players in Wojciech Szczesny, Johan Djourou and Alex Song are set to return to action in the vital match against Liverpool. It’s a massive boost to us, and it’ll really give us a helping hand in our efforts to gain another three points at the Emirates. The last time we won there in the league was against Stoke I believe, and that was too long ago.

I’d expect the returning players to slot straight back into the starting line-up, what with cover in those positions being particularly scare in this moment in time. Seeing as our alternatives would be Lehmann, Squillaci and an admittedly improving Diaby, I’d be surprised if Arsene didn’t opt to slot Szczesny, Djourou and Song back into the side.

It has to be said, they’ve been three of our best performers this year. It’s strange – last season we had a few players who had great seasons, and the team played really well. This season, we’ve had loads of great seasons from players, but less success overall.

Perhaps the reason is the players haven’t actually been performing as well as we think. Maybe players like Szczesny, Djourou, Wilshere and Nasri all seem to be playing exceptionally well, when in reality what’s changed is they’ve improved hugely from their previous seasons. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve all done really well, but I don’t think we’ve had anyone on the level that Cesc was on last season.

Anyway, on with things. Thomas Vermaelen is back in full training and is making good progress. Apparently he may play before the end of the season, but I think it would be silly to play him in a match with a lot at stake. What he needs is a proper pre-season to get him back into the swing of things. It’s excellent that he’s recovering, but rushing him back was exactly how he exacerbated his injury. There’s no need to do the same again, especially with Djourou and Koscielny being a fine partnership.

There’s also a picture of the apparent away kit for next season on arsenalinsider.com. Here it is in all its… well, glory’s not really the word…

Most people aren’t keen on it. Some really hate it, some just dislike it. I’m not sure about it, I’d probably need to see some of the players lining up in it to make a proper verdict. The badge is nice, I like the “FORWARD” on the wreath, although it might be a little over the top. As I said it’s quite difficult to judge without seeing the guys playing in it so I’ll reserve proper comment until then. Who knows, it may not even be the real kit! But it seems likely.

Anyway, more will probably follow on here before the Liverpool game – more team news when it comes through maybe. We’re still unsure of whether Sagna will be available, but Rosicky is ruled out for sure. Until then.