Defence not a priority as Arsenal look to attack

15 Sep

We didn’t have long without football this summer did we? Perhaps that’s why it’s caught us cold this season and we are only all back on the BackPageBanter sofa now, the first time since that glorious day at Wembley last season. But back we are. No departures you’ll be pleased to hear, just a few wage increases that have tied our hands in the transfer market. The lads are worth it of course and they are on good form already after their summer lay-off.

So, a few games into the new season. What do we make of Arsenal? What lies in store in the wake of FA Cup triumph?

You’re about to find out…

Can Arsenal add the trophy cabinet this year?

Can Arsenal add the trophy cabinet this year?

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Team-Player Tom

Where to begin? Sanchez’s signature early in the summer certainly launched a wave of expectation that Arsene may finally be ready to crank open the creaky war chest and spend the big bucks. The usual torturous transfer window was made even more tumultuous with the feeling that top targets were well and truly in reach. Messi claimed he liked Arsenal’s playing style. “Snap him up Wenger” were the calls.

Then the window closed, with the customary Jim White sign off and agents and ITK’s everywhere were left to shut down their Twitter accounts and prepare for next January’s dramas under a different name. And what of us Arsenal fans? Well, there is no doubting that this is the strongest squad assembled in some time, not least due to some serious money being spent by the board. A hesitant start to the season hasn’t helped confirm that just yet, but the signs were there against Manchester City that the gears are starting to turn.

Nick-A-Win

Very true. The signing of Sanchez was one of real intent by the boss – even if photos of him on a beach in Brazil did little to suggest that! But it wasn’t just the Volleyball court where Wenger was flexing his muscles; Sanchez, Ospina, Debuchy and Chambers were all brought in nice and early. Unfortunately, much like the World Cup, the early enjoyment dried up and we were all left clamouring for more. Why do you do this to us Arsene! 

BackPageBanter - Sanchez

You can walk like that when you are THAT good

 Taxi-For-Maxi

For your average Gooner the transfer window proved a frustrating affair again, with key business being done (and not done) at the death. Danny Welbeck could prove to be a really astute piece of business but the “Viera” like figure and another commanding CB to replace the outgoing TV were still missing.

In a transfer window where the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United spent big on numerous players, Sanchez and co were made to look like pocket fluff signings by the end, a real shame. Of course, that’s not to say that Manchester United’s outlay is to be admired. Far from it. Theirs was one of supermarket sweep-esque desperation, but it’s hard to fault Chelsea and City as they addressed problem areas from last season. In my eyes there remain holes, holes that were poorly concealed last year and are already evident in the season’s early exchanges.

Team-Player-Tom

True, but despite not playing to full potential, points are on the board and Champions League football is assured again. Over the last decade Arsenal have been beaten in the title race by teams who can grind out points from a poor performance, even the Invincibles from time to time had to nick a late goal to keep their famous record in tact and Arsenal remain unbeaten this season.

 A lot has been made of the fact the Gunners have lacked a midfield enforcer for some time now. Pundits worsen the problem, with their habit of flinging around the usual list of names (Keane, Viera etc) every time a more physical outfit undoes the Arsenal team. But for me, Flamini can still marshall the midfield, provided those around him are willing to do the hard work. If you look at where some of the goals we have conceded have come this season, you wouldn’t say that they came as a result of not having a Matic, or a Fernando. No, the problem has been individuals switching off. Ramsey against City, Ozil against Everton, Koscielny against Leicester (not aided by his head injury mind). Of course, Flamini has to make sure he swats a little harder to stop the likes of Navas picking up the scraps, but he will always need the support of those around him and our midfield will function best the likes of Wilshere, Ramsey and Flamini all sharing the responsibility.

How old is he again? A solid start to his Arsenal career

How old is he again? A solid start to his Arsenal career

Nick-A-Win

So far for me, it’s player of the month Callum Chambers who looks to be the real steal of the transfer window and someone who may be that long-term DM. Already he had proved incredibly versatile and looks as though he has been playing the game for years. With Debuchy now facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines, our season could well hinge on the performances of the young lad.

We finished last season 7 points off the top after a tricky run of fixtures saw us slide down the table, but ultimately we finished with the FA Cup. This season we have added some real quality and there is plenty to be positive about. We have so much speed in the side with Walcott still to come back into the fold.

Danny Wellbeck for 16 million is a bargain in today’s market, whatever you say about his world-class status. At 23, with pace and power and a hungry attitude to succeed, there is no way anyone can write him off. His debut against City almost saw him score an exquisite chip and I felt pundits were too quick to pull him up. I remember watching Suarez hit the post on numerous occasions, before it all started to fall for him. Time under Wenger’s tutelage will no doubt help him improve. Comparisons with Henry maybe too soon, but the attributes are all there. 

Touchline Tom

And he’s only bloody English!

I don’t know about you, but it’s been great to see so much young English talent at Arsenal. The Ox hasn’t yet hit top form just yet, but with Walcott coming back into the fold and Gibbs looking to have a season without injuries (alright, 1 down so far) it’s exciting for fans of the national team. The British contingent could become a big part of the team for many years to come. The desire to go abroad isn’t as great and they will quickly develop an understanding on and off the pitch. I don’t think this season will see Arsenal finish with the Premier League, but I do think we will improve and kick on from last year. It’s a young squad, not too young to be called kids, but young enough to secure attractive football at the Emirates for seasons to come.

Much of this season will hinge on keeping key defenders fit

Much of this season will hinge on keeping key defenders fit

 Team-Player-Tom

It will be interesting to see how we get through the next few weeks with a depleted back line. Hopefully fortune favours the brave. Wenger was undoubtedly brave not to sign any cover. Time will tell. Our other option? Score more than the opponent. And with the likes of Sanchez, Cazorla, Walcott and Ramsey, hey, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility. So settle in lads, it’s a long season ahead, with much discussion to be had on the sofa and plenty banter that’s for sure.

Until next time

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Get involved in the pre-match chat and tweet us @backpagebanter

She wore a yellow ribbon in the merry month of May

15 May

2005: Viera sprints forward and slots the ball high and past a diving Carrol from the penalty spot. Arsenal have beaten Manchester United on penalties and as the tall Frenchman veers away to celebrate with his teammates, I’m not sure that any of the fans in the stadium that day believed it would be 9 years before  such elation could be felt again. Indeed that Wembley would be the name for an altogether different stadium. 

Seems only fitting then doesn’t it to bookmark the barren spell with another FA Cup final? A chance to silence the critics so to speak, but more importantly, a chance for Wenger to show that his eye-catching brand of football can still hold firm in the modern game. There’s no doubting it’s a game with a lot at stake, but perhaps none more so than for the manager who must be desperate to get this over-sized gorilla off his back and see out the remainder of his time at Arsenal on a high. 

So, as it’s Arsenal’s biggest game in years, we couldn’t just take it lightly, so for this preview we’ve drafted in a hardcore Hull fan to give us the inside track on Saturday’s opponents. The usual rabble are also here to discuss our path to the FA Cup and chances of silverware this weekend. As the nerves are kicking in, hopefully this will provide some light distraction…

The stage is set!

The stage is set!

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MrMckee

Where to start? Well, 5 weeks after that 5-3 semi-final blockbuster, the ‘Tigers’ (Hull City AFC) will once again descend their orange army on London in a bid to win the FA Cup…what an impossible thought.

 History will tell you Hull City enjoy a Wembley day out. A Dean Windass volley in the Championship Play-Off Final in 2008, sending Hull to the Premiership for the first time in its (then) 104-year history, will be fresh in the fans memories and will put the Tigers in a buoyant mood. It’s the time old cliché, but what’s there to lose?

Taxi-For-Maxi

First things first, this is no banker for Arsenal. Let’s just take a moment to remember one Obafemi Martins – not nice granted, but pin that scoreline up on the wall pre match and remind this team it’s a job far from done.

The league win in Hull a couple of weeks ago provides a nice psychological advantage sure, but as we know it all goes out the window for a Cup final. 

A moment to forget and a moment to motivate this time around!

A moment to forget but a moment to draw focus this time around!

 Team-Player-Tom

Too right. The tigers shouldn’t be underestimated; the Birmingham fiasco still stands strong in the memory and a similar slip up (or cock-up at the back!) would be devastating.

The Premier League game against Hull showed that an on song Arsenal will always be too strong for the Tigers, who produced more of a whimper than a roar at the KC. What’s more, the returning Ramsey and Ozil have lifted the squad in recent weeks and with their influence and intricate football we should be much better placed to create chances. This is a team desperate for a trophy after limping out of the title race (quite literally) and if they each learn their lines properly the script is set for a scintillating Saturday. 

Let's hope neither will be saying bye on the final whistle!

Let’s hope neither will be saying bye on the final whistle!

Nick-A-Win

Don’t remind me! It was a mad March for Arsenal when the wheels came off with tough away games and injuries to key players, a run that even sent Wenger tumbling at the train station! When push came to shove in the big games we lacked tactical nous and a bit of extra quality in the final third. That’s one for Wenger to mull over in the next few months as you feel some quality signings in the right areas and we are not far away from really challenging at the top!  Back to the cup final though and if we were to lose it would be au revoir for Mr Wenger! Unfortunately that’s the precarious nature of his position at the moment. Football’s a fickle business. 

Maybe if we had bought a striker last summer after months of trying to get that ‘Villa’ in Spain or the £40 million and £1 Luis Suarez, to then losing out on Higuain, who knows we might have had a say in the title race! Giroud has been good at what he has done this season, scoring on and off the pitch, but he isn’t world class for me! 

Missing In Action

Missing In Action

Team-Player-Tom

There is no doubt this team has been sucker punched by a series of injuries; the sick bay seems to have been chock-a-block since Christmas, and it is hard to envisage any squad surviving at the top after losing players like Ramsey, Ozil and Walcott. With that in mind, and accounting for the anxiety that accompanied the season opener, fourth spot with ten points daylight from Tottenham doesn’t seem the worst result, right?

Hull face somewhat of a crisis themselves this week with key players cup tied, so the proverbial boot is on the other foot. In fact, neither Long or Jelavíc will be lacing up this weekend. 

Mr Mckee

An obvious blow to Hull is their 2 cup-tied January signings which will leave the City attack a little lacking, so Bruce will almost certainly be looking to keep the game as tight as a camel’s arse in a sandstorm! One to watch out for is Sone Aluko whose pace could surprise a few of the Arsenal boys and result in some dangerous free-kicks on the edge of the area. Tom Huddlestone will be only too happy to oblige against his old nemesis if given the chance of converting one! 

 As Bruce says, “The pressure will be on Arsenal because they have not won anything for a while.”

So Bruce is playing it down. Hull is only a ’little horse’, more of a My Little Pony if truth be told, but we did see how dangerous another little horse was this season.

If you believe in statistics, of the 8 games played against the top 4 this season, Hull have lost 7, conceded 16 goals, and scored just 3, all coming in an impressive 3-1 win against Liverpool.  So it’s decided then. The impossible can’t happen…can it?

 Team-Player-Tom

Victory in the cup for Arsenal will mark a significant milestone for the club, laying down a solid foundation for future silverware and finally putting to bed the (mostly sub par) jokes about the state of the team trophy room. 

A return to the glory days perhaps?

A return to the glory days perhaps?

Touchline Tom

It’s around this time that those fans who have stumped up in the thousands for tickets to the game must really be hoping they get to see Arsenal lift a trophy. I’m a little more optimistic and think this could be the start of a new era for the boys, so my money will be spent on beers and throat sweets this time around. 

I can’t say I have a problem with Hull as a team and I certainly think this game will throw up the usual drama that accompanies such occasions. Wenger has looked close to cracking numerous times, but much like the team this season, has addressed issues and kicked on again. I wonder what a trophy would do for his confidence and not just the players on the field? Lessons must have been learnt and come Saturday at 17.30pm (not an early kick-off thank goodness!) we need to put in a performance akin to those first 20 minutes against Bayern Munich at home. We can mix it with the best, but now it’s time to be the best and win a trophy, 9 years on… 

Mr Mckee

In truth, realistic Hull fans will settle for cheesy chips, a nice cuppa and a fun day out, dreaming of next season’s Europa League away trips to far-flung corners of Europe with the inevitable booze-up, missed flight and Friday morning hung-over phone call to the boss blaming Dave for whole thing. But when the day comes and the players walk out past that famous trophy/the oldest football cup in the world, even the most realistic Tigers fans will sense a chance of glory.

Hull’s official slogan  –  Dare to Dream 

Nick-A-Win

Arsenal won’t have a better chance of lifting that all elusive trophy and ending the 9 year wait for silverware! It’s going to be a great day and hopefully an even better night celebrating the win! Hull City will of course be up for it on the day but I feel Wenger and his band of merry men will tame the Tigers under the Wembley arch! With key players returning and with Ramsey carrying on from where he left off before his injury you just feel it’s going to be our day! Win the FA cup and hopefully this will inspire us onto winning more trophies next season! COYG!!!

More of the same please! Minus the penalty shoot out..

More of the same please! Minus the penalty shoot out..

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Get involved in the pre-match chat and tweet us @backpagebanter

So merry ‘cross the Mersey as Arsenal look to stay top?

7 Feb

The next run of fixtures is a bit like that first day back at school after the summer. We knew it was coming, it was somewhere there in the back of our minds while we enjoyed a few blissful weeks on top of the world and yet, it was just ever-so-tempting to ignore the reality until the last day.

Well today is that day and tomorrow the real work begins for this Arsenal team. Wenger chose not to replace any of the current crop’s school clothing in January and has even prepared a few kids for their first year in the big League along the way, but regardless of any of of that, the next run of games will reveal a lot about a team that has remained perennial underdogs. Few think we will win the League, despite our record suggesting otherwise! But I really believe that will help us in the next few games. I watched the City v Chelsea match, albeit in Fulham which made me kind of want Chelsea to slip up, but the sheer expectation on City to roll over their opponents seemed to hinder them. It’s an expectation that isn’t on Arsenal. We haven’t spent millions on chopping and changing a team until it (kind of) works. Nor have we belied the beliefs of the club in the face of such spending. We have tightened at the back and relied on the quality of a team in general. They say the best team wins the League and, you know what, I think we might just have found that.

Thoughts lads?

He who laughs last...

He who laughs last…

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Nick-A-Win

Arsenal enter the decisive part of their season with games coming thicker and faster than the custard we used to get served at school (thanks for reminding me about school Tom!).

It’s safe to say we have ground out the results in the last couple of weeks, but all that matters is the two-point cushion that we have afforded ourselves at the top of the Premier League. It’s easy to criticise recent performances, however I can’t help but feel that in the past we wouldn’t have taken any points from those games. A big reason behind bucking that trend has been the back five. With Per and Kos at the back I genuinely back them to win almost every 50/50. On the odd occasion when a mistake is made… well, the goalkeeper and full backs have been on hand to cover.

People talk a lot about partnerships – SAS at Liverpool, Fernandinho and Toure at City (FAT) – but I don’t think any of these come close to Arsenal’s centre back pairing (PAK/LAP… Ok, it doesn’t work as a letter anagram but still!). In terms of understanding of each other’s game, their relationship on field is second to none.

The next test will be going on to win the big games, backed by that defensive stability and BOY have we got a lot of them coming up. Liverpool have only won one of the last 13 games against Arsenal and none of the last six at Anfield. The only team to stop SAS in the 11 games they have played this season? Arsenal.

 Team-Player-Tom

Returning to the Palace game and credit has to be given to them. They have become a much more stable outfit under Pulis. They were organised, disciplined and the return of Chamakh gave a real threat up top. Despite sticking with that woeful haircut, Marouane the Moroccan has been resurgent this campaign and could just keep the Eagles flying in the top flight come May. In a season that has consistently seen shock results, the Arsenal showed a maturity and patience to ensure that this one was a routine win. A big three points with Chelsea drawing with West Ham.

The Ox’s towering performance in that very game proved he has the ability to command that central spot. Despite a lengthy layoff, he showed strength, vision and tenacity all wrapped up in a very well spoken post-match interview. He was joined in a magical midfield with Mesut, Mikel and a scintillating Santi who has continued a superb spell of games. The sparkling Spaniard has shown the form that endeared him to the Emirates faithful when he first made the move from Malaga. His dribbling has been straight out of the top drawer and his little lift to find Chambo was electric. With Wilshere on the mend and Gnabry and Rosicky showing an appetite for action, Arsene will have some selection headaches over the next run of games.

Player of the month!

Player of the month!

Taxi-For-Maxi

You  have to say Chelsea’s perfect away display on Monday somewhat atoned for the points dropped against the Hammers and the Premiership title race is ever so perfectly poised with 14 games to go and 2 points separating the realistic challengers (sorry United fans, it really is game over now). The Gooners have remained top for the majority of the season, but come 6pm on Sunday you’ll have done very well if that is maintained.

 Team-Player-Tom

Liverpool will have a point to prove after an unsatisfactory point against West Brom. There is no denying they have two superb strikers in Suarez and Sturridge, but Arsenal will look to their dominant display in the reverse fixture as a source of encouragement on Saturday. Three points on the road would do wonders for confidence heading into the three tough home tests that follow.

Nick-A-Win

Midfield is an area we can and should dominate, with Liverpool lacking a natural defensive midfielder after Lucas’ injury. It’s a shame there’s no Ramsey tomorrow because he stole the show in the reverse fixture at the Emirates. Hat tricks have been a popular occurrence in these games with 5 hat tricks scored in this fixture, the most trebles in any fixture in premier league history. What a day it would be for big Olly Giroud to bag one this weekend after Wenger decided in his wisdom against bringing in a striker. Still, at least he thought of the medical team and is keeping them busy with our new Spineless Swede. There are always goals in this fixture so expect plenty this weekend, but it’s the kind of game we need to go and win and make a statement to the rest of the League. 

Old and new to battle it out

Old and new to battle it out

Taxi-For-Maxi

Wenger has to do a job very much akin to Mourinho at the Etihad. Suffocate the goalscoring threat before it has a chance to do the damage. That means getting right in the faces of Coutinho, Gerrard and Suarez before they even get a sniff in the penalty area. Something the missing Flamini might have relished.

This could be exactly the sort of fixture that brings out the best in Arsenal. Liverpool will be under pressure to make the running and if Arsenal can weather the inevitable, and proverbial, storm whilst counter attacking as swiftly as they can do, the game should open up nicely for the creative names to make their mark on the game. Mesut is surely due a big game no? Could this be just the ticket for him? Let’s hope so.

A very difficult game on paper where normally you’d take a point but given the circumstances and the ‘must win’ nature of every game there’s no reason why, if set up correctly, Arsenal can’t go and produce one of those ‘perfect away performances’. Step up Monsieur Wenger.

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