Arsene tells the truth about this season

Arsene Wenger gave a very honest interview to L’Equipe (translated by News of the World) before the Wigan game where he really goes into detail about Arsenal’s inconsistencies early this season and how he feels about it.

“I did make a mistake in perhaps underestimating the harmful effects of last season, especially the loss of the title. I asked myself a lot of questions during the close season about the influence losing the title in the last two months might cause.”

I really felt that the way we lost the title last season was very hard on the players – to think that even after our awful run we were still only 4 points off the top shows how close we were to glory. The fact that players like Hleb and Flamini left also didn’t help in the short term.

Wenger went through his hardest time as Arsenal manager at Christmas, and there were some people calling for his dismissal. A lot of players got slated as well as his transfer policy. He admits that the present is a different story:

“The barometer is confidence and when that seizes up . . . now we are unbeaten for 18 Premier League matches and that leaves with me with a lot of regrets.”

“And I remained faithful to my policy when everyone told me I was heading straight for a brick wall. People reproach me for not having bought Gareth Barry or Xavi Alonso.

“But I am a prisoner of my own policy. Buying Barry or Alonso is killing Alexandre Song, Abou Diaby and Denilson.”

“You can’t do a public job in a big club, not win matches and say they are all imbeciles.”

“The fact that we are remarkably consistent shows we have quality. That is no coincidence.”

This is all very true – but I think he learnt a little more about Arsenal through the hardship. The sigining of Arshavin has made a huge difference, as well as the return from injury of players such as Walcott, Fabregas, Adebayor. Denilson and Song have come on leaps and bounds this season – Song’s performance and goal against Wigan yesterday underlines this fact.

The team is playing as a unit and has been through a lot over the last two years – the experience will only make them stronger and if Wenger keeps them together this youthful team will be one of the best he has produced.

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Wigan 1 – 4 Arsenal Highlights, Arshavin’s Magic!

Wigan Ath 1 – 4 Arsenal: Mido 18, Walcott 61, Silvestre 71, Arshavin 90, Song 90. Highlights at Arsenalist.com.

Arsenal came back from a goal down against Wigan to claim all three points in front of 22000 at the JJB Stadium.

Image courtesy of Paul Holloway

Mido’s early goal gave Wigan the lead, but Walcott equalised after 60 minutes, thanks to Arshavin’s skill in the box. Then Arshavin played a through ball to Fabregas who set up Silvestre to score on the edge of the 6 yard line. 2-1!

Arsenal countered for their 3rd goal – Arshavin picking up a poor clearance on the edge of the box to slot home, and Alex Song of all people dribbled past two Wigan players and into the box before shooting to make it four!

A fantastic result for us – just a pity that Man Utd and Chelsea both scraped wins against Sunderland and Bolton.

Injury Worries

We also lost Djourou to injury which worries me. We are already suffering after losing Gallas and Clichy. Today we ended up with Gibbs and Silvestre playing in defence – as long as we keep winning it isn’t a problem – but defensive instability was the reason we leaked so many goals earlier this season.

Champions League Qualification

Wenger said before the game that the league was the priority for the future, the Champions League and the FA Cup the immediate priority. This victory took us a step closer to Champions League qualification, as well as keeping us on the tails of the top three.

We will miss Arshavin on Wednesday, he showed today how much he has brought to the team, he creates chances and scores goals – but he can still help us in the league and the FA Cup.

Oh and also, Happy St. Totteringham’s Day to you all; Spurs can no longer finish above us in the League, haha.

Arsespeak Man of the Match: Andrey Arshavin

Lineup: Fabianski, Sagna, Toure, Djourou (Silvestre 35), Gibbs, Walcott (Adebayor 68), Denilson (Van Persie 63), Song , Arshavin, Fabregas, Bendtner.

Arsenal 4 – 4 Tottenham Highlights. How did we draw?

Click here to comment on the game..

I returned from watching the North London derby feeling a little deflated, although I have to say it was one of the most exciting Arsenal games I have seen.

There was an electric atmosphere at the Grove, Bentley was abused as you might expect, and there were plenty of goals.

Tottenham scored first, Bentley (who else?) lobbed Almunia from about 40 yards. We couldn’t get the ball down in midfield and we were all over the shop.

The goal provided the usual wake up call, and we pressed back, getting a few good opportunites, with lovely passing moves, Theo and RVP linked up well. Then came our reply on ’37 – Silvestre got a goal from a corner – Gomes got nowhere near the ball, he looked very weak at corners.

We were hoping for a quick start after half time and we got it, RVP was felled and the freekick was swung into the box for Gallas to head in, 2-1 on ’46.

Things were looking up, and we went into cruise control as Ade put Nasri’s stunning chip over the line and made it 3-1.

THIS IS WHERE WE SHOULD HAVE CLOSED THE GAME.

Spurs then went on to get a lucky goal within 3 minutes, Almunia spilled a strong shot from Huddlestone, and Bent picked it up, 3-2 on ’67.

We went back up the other end and scored straight away, Hutton gifted Ade the ball, and he set up RVP for a beautiful goal, everyone went wild, 4-2..

Eboue, Diaby and Song all came on as Theo, RVP and Nasri got a rest. We seemed to relax a little – in the 89th minute Clichy (who was fantastic all night) slipped on the ball, presenting Jenas with an open run on goal, his shot went past Almunia – 4-3.

Now panic set in, and Arsenal looked in disarray, the feeling in the crowd was that we couldn’t hold on, and it was only to true, in stoppage time Modric shot took a deflection off Silvestre, which put it onto the post, it bounced back out perfectly for the onrushing Lennon who easily put it away. The few remaining Spurs fans went mental.

Tonight was very disappointing, there were positives, Denilson had a fantastic second half, and RVP played amazingly, but our defensive mistakes cost us yet again. We were unluck, but all of their goals could have been prevented by more astute defensive work.

Interestingly, two of our goals came from centre backs today – maybe representing how much more of an attacking team we are!

In all, it was an amazing Arsenal performance, but the last 4 minutes where we lost focus cost us 3 points which we thoroughly deserved.

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Fabregas thinks the squad is a little thin

Hello Gooners. Fabregas has been talking to the press about our threadbare squad and our style of play compared to Spain.

He raises some quite worrying points about our potential for this season, but he is positive:

“We have a short squad and we are very young, behind me Denilson and Song play, and they are 20. Walcott is 19 and Nasri is 21. Can you imagine I’m the oldest midfielder? Winning will be tough for us because we are not experienced.

“Last season I scored a lot because I had Rosicky, and Flamini who used to run all over the pitch. Hleb as well, who is like my brother. They have gone now and I feel weird. We are more conservative and strong, but with less touches.”

It seems like Fabregas is all too aware of our problems in the squad, and I think he might feel a little more comfortable with some more experienced players challenging for places. Certainly we are lacking cover in midfield right now. He explained Wenger’s policy to the press:

“Arsene Wenger has crystal clear ideas, there aren’t two like him. He doesn’t want to spend money as he prefers to trust youngsters. His idea is that Walcott can’t develop if you sign Cristiano [Ronaldo].”

He was questioned about his differing roles for club and country – the fact that he isn’t an automatic starter for Spain was mentioned:

“To me it is not an issue because I’m aware I’m young, I play differently and must adapt. I’m not an attacker that plays with his back to goal because I haven’t got the body neither the agility to do it. I need to watch what’s happening because I’m not quick neither agile. I rely on my passes and my vision.

“Nowadays we play in 5-4-1 with Spain and at Arsenal it’s always 4-4-2. At Arsenal I can move, do what I think I must do. The gaffer doesn’t make me to do anything. I feel free. With Spain it is different, you touch the ball, make lots of controls. There (in England) it’s more about counter attacks and going as quickly as possible in front of the goal.

“I know who I am. I notice a change when I’m with Spain but it’s normal – I don’t play (in La Liga) and people don’t see me. I am 21 and have so much to learn. I feel so important in England, but you should remain humble when you play football.”

When he plays for Spain he obviously feels like a young boy with a lot to learn, and at Arsenal I think he has some responsibility resting on his shoulders. Maybe it isn’t so good for him to have to be the main player in the squad at such a young age.

On scoring the last gasp header against Sunderland:

“It’s rare because I’m used to scoring set pieces including corners, and I’m not good at headers. But I’d like to improve because a midfielder that can head the ball is more efficient.

“Most of all I must improve defensively. I always want to attack, to score, to deliver, it’s my dream.”

I think Cesc is possibly the best player at Arsenal, without him we don’t tick, but he needs to feel that the club is matching his ambitions, and losing players like Hleb and Flamini has obviously affected him.

He doesn’t know if we can win the league this year with our current squad and that worries me.

Wenger – changes and ‘Champions League focus’ – pre-Porto

Arsene Wenger spoke on a large range of issues in the press conference ahead of the Champions League game against Porto.

It has been widely expected that there will be changes in the line-up that lost to Hull City, but a knee-jerk reaction will not be the correct one.

The BBC has the video of Arsene Wenger’s pre-match press conference.

Wenger said there would be changes:

“There will be changes, certainly,” the Arsenal manager said. “I will see how many, but there will be changes.

“There were enough ingredients (in the Hull game) to make me physically sick.

“What we delivered was not good enough and we know that. I believe that is more down to the mental side than anything technical.”

“What is important now is to recover and prepare for the next game,”

He then calmed speculation that the changes were being made as punishment through demotion to the bench:

“Punishment? No, you know sometimes you make changes because you consider the other team, you consider the balance of your team, sometimes because one player is not at his best,”

“If a player or two do not play tomorrow it is not a punishment, it is just because of a rotation in the side. You cannot play every single game with the same 11 players.”

“I believe the goal we conceded where we are less guilty is the corner against Hull because it was a well-taken chance,” he said. “[Hull’s Daniel] Cousin is very tall and very good in the air. It was a perfect header and that can happen to anybody.

“You gain experience through the games. At the back is where we have experience because you cannot say with Clichy and Sagna and Kolo and Gallas that we lack experience. Will Kolo play in midfield? No, not at all.

“As for Vela, it’s difficult to go into any individual case. I believe Carlos Vela is a player of the squad and the whole squad will be used over the season. You cannot go from one team to the other and change 11 players because we just lost one game.

“I believe what is happening is that players have shown quality behind the first team and that is very interesting for the future of the Club.”

On the last CL game against Dynamo Kiev he defended the team:

“The side we played against Dynamo Kiev was very young. Theo Walcott is 19, Alexandre Song is 21, Denilson is 20 and even Cesc Fabregas is only 21,”

“It is not easy to win away in the Champions League with such a lack of experience.”

“This group is tougher than in previous years. It is definitely the most even group we have had because there are no easy games.

“That makes the match with Porto more important. We know in the Champions League you qualify with 10 points, so if we win our home games we are through.

“If we can do well, then the other teams will take all the points off each other and that is why I think even draws from our away games could prove good results because all the teams will drop points.

“There is no obvious weakest team, so every game will be very important and we will have to be at a high level for every game.”

He believes that we need to regain a ‘Champions League focus’ for every game:

“I believe the Champions League is a different game,”

“We have learned from the Hull match that you need a Champions League focus in every game.

“If we are guilty of something it is that we couldn’t get our focus to the right level to take our chances.

“The analysis of the game shows that we had enough opportunities to win. On the other hand, they made 100 per cent of the few chances they had. So credit to them and damage to us.

“You have not to make too much of it. We lost a game we did not want to lose but we have enough strength inside the Club and inside the team to deal with that. It can happen but it cannot be repeated.

“I don’t think we needed to be woken up but it was a big disappointment because we felt that we had enough quality to win the game.”

On injuries the main news is that Nasri is back:

“Song has still not recovered, I had him on the bench on Saturday but he did not feel comfortable and he had a little setback.

“Nasri is fit and is in the squad.”

Gallas echoed Wenger’s comments talking about how he wants to prepare:

“What we delivered against Hull was not good enough, we know that, so the important thing now is not how many games we can lose this season, but preparing well for Tuesday night.”

All in all you can tell that the team are very dissappointed about the Hull result. Losing at home is never pleasant, and especially not against teams like Hull.

It is very, very worrying that we have lost for a second time this season to ‘smaller teams’, and that we conceded from a corner yet again – we look extremely weak when defending set pieces.

All I can hope is that the team can recover and be back to their best for the Porto match, or we will be in trouble in the CL, and pressure will build from the media and fans.

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Arsene: “We need a defensive midfielder”

After the sale of Flamini and Gilberto this summer, Wenger is still searching for a replacement to play the defensive midfield role which these two have in the past.

We have options at the club already, most notably Diaby, who has played the role during pre-season. I have blogged before about Diaby and I think he has talent, but he doesn’t seem to be able to fulfil his potential.

There are other players in the squad, such as Song, who can play in central midfield, but Diaby is the only real option which makes sense.

The problem for me is that last year the squad did not have the strength and depth which is appropriate for title challengers. We have now let two first teamers go, and no-one has replaced them.

Wenger wants to bring in another midfielder, who is more experienced, and this makes the most sense, after Members’ Day he said:

“If we have everybody on board and nobody injured then [OK] but maybe we could do to take one more experienced player.”

This is true – we could manage this season with our current squad if no-one gets injured and use Diaby in central midfield. He is a good player and we have a strong first team. But there is not enough cover for Diaby, and it would be too easy for that to go wrong.

If we really are challenging next year the best option is, as Wenger says, to bring in an experienced player, and then Diaby would be used as back up. That would be the perfect outcome – but if we can’t find the right guy then we may go ahead with a weakened squad.

So keep looking Arsene, I just hope you find the right guy before time runs out!

Gilberto leaving, Diaby in pole position, or a new signing?

Gilberto may be leaving Arsenal for Panathanikos this summer. There has been a lot of speculation over Bert, mainly due to the fact that the whole season he was sidelined in favour of Mathieu Flamini.

Gilberto decided to stay and didn’t kick up a fuss, but acted professionally. He may be offered a new deal by Wenger, but it seems likely that he is going to leave for a fresh start.
Gilberto is reported to have said:

“I am very happy to come to Greece…Panathinaikos is a big club and if an agreement is reached with Arsenal I will be very happy to join you”

I think Gilberto has been a fantastic player for Arsenal, he’s had some ups and downs, but he has been very consistent, and professional in his conduct.

I respect him and if he does leave then good luck to him.

The question is who will fill the hole. The main candidates already at the club are Diaby and Song. Diaby has more experience and is more versatile, although Wenger has already hinted that Song will be used as a centre back next season.

There is always the option of bringing a player in, names such as Yaya Toure of Barcelona have been bartered around, but it seems more likely to me that Wenger will bring one of the younger players up. His transfer dealings may have peaked with the capture of Nasri.

That won’t be popular, but it might pay off.

Who will partner Fabregas next season – Gilberto, Diaby, Ramsey?

The departure of Flamini to AC Milan eariler this summer was undoubtedly a blow for Arsenal FC. Last season he went from being a squad player, to one of the most influential figures in midfield and forged an excellent partnership with Fabregas.

Now he has left the void has to be filled. Gooners were probably hoping Arsenal would sign a new defensive midfielder to partner Cesc, but that’s not likely now, Wenger seems to be focusing more on the wings, which were a problem area for us last season.

In the centre of we have the option of Gilberto or Diaby, and also Song, Denilson or even Ramsey. The best defensive candidates are Gilberto and Diaby.

Gilberto – already having played the role for a few years prior to Flamini’s emergence has the experience and quality. The problem is he looked poor last season when he did get a few chances to impress, and his passing is always up to scratch. He plays a diffferent game to that of Flamini, tending to hold back, whereas Flamini is always in the oppositions faces.

Gilberto would be a sensible choice to start with as a defensive midfielder, but I don’t think he is good enough anymore to warrant a staring place.

Abou Diaby is my choice. He is a strong and fast player, with a lot of height. We used him on the wing last season, and he got a few goals. The main problem with him is that he is inconsistent – and can be lazy.

Diaby has great qualities for the role though, he is defensive, but very good going forward – his pace, passing and ball control mean that he would be a great partner for Cesc, and he is a long term option.

If he can up his work rate and consistency then he could have a chance, I would love to see Wenger try him out next season.

There are other contenders – Denilson, I think isn’t ready for that sort of role. Ramsey – more suited to the wings, and Song – Wenger thinks that he will better used in defence.

So we start the season with a first team spot up for grabs, we just need to see who takes it.

What do you think – is there anyone I’ve missed – or do you think we should be signing a new central midfielder?

UPDATE 11 JULY 2008: Is Gilberto going? Rumours are he is going to Panathaniakos…

Wenger won’t sign defenders – What does this mean for Arsenal?

Wenger’s recent comments about not needing a defender suggest that he will stick with what we’ve got there. He was talking about Vincent Kompany, the Belgian centre back, he played down the speculation saying:

“I have decided that defenders are no longer necessarily needed for next season.”

So it seems very possible that there will be no signings to bolster our defence.

On the flanks we have the best in the Premiership, Sagna and Clichy, I love them both and they are both world class players who are young, no need to strengthen there.

The main weakness is cover rather than replacement. Senderos and Song were the players who started when Gallas and Toure weren’t availiable last season, and Eboue, Toure, Traore and Hoyte sometimes covered on the flanks. This didn’t work brilliantly last season, and was one of our main problems. I am a big fan of Senderos he can be error prone.

There have also been questions over whether Toure and Gallas are a strong enough partnership.

I think we should strengthen the defence, but Wenger seems to be trusting in what we’ve got. The fact that Song got a new deal, and started so many games at the end of last season, suggests to me that he has put himself above Senderos in the pecking order, and Wenger has hinted that he won’t play Song in midfield.

So we will probably see the same defence lining up in the current season, but expect to see more of Song, and maybe players like Norveidt gettign a few games this season.

I hope that Gallas proves himself as an Arsenal player and captain this season, and that Toure gets his form back. If that happens then Wenger will be proved right, and we will have a top quality back four, with decent coverage.

So in the end I think Wenger’s decision may pay off, but it is a gamble, ideally we need a quality centre back to challenge for a place, many would argue that neither Song or Senderos are good enough.

What do you think?

Gilberto warns players about leaving + Song gets a new deal.

Gilberto, ever the model professional last season, has warned the Arsenal players against leaving the club. This is something I have always empasized, why leave when our current team has such great potential, the players are likely to regret it.

He had this to say about players leaving:

“I don’t know what they have in mind but they should stay a little bit longer, maybe they want to try something different, but they could develop themselves and achieve big things at Arsenal.

“The team is young and getting better. It could be really special if the players all stay. What is important is to keep everyone at the club, for them to stay long-term at the club.

“I haven’t spoken to them since the end of the season but in my opinion Arsenal is still a great, great club and fantastic for any player in the world.

It would be a good thing for them to stay at the club because they know each other very well. They have a better situation than last season and could use the feeling of disappointment as an inspiration for next season.

Well said Bert, you know what you are talking about. A lot of people are suprised with how well Gilberto has taken his demotion to the bench during the last season, and now how he speaks about the club with such passion. This is real devotion if you ask me, and I think Gilberto really wants to make something good at Arsenal, thats why he’s saying this.

Gilberto goes on to make a very rational point about contracts, this is so relevant in the current climate, where everyone seems to be demanding that Arsenal pay players whatever they want.

When you win things you achieve more than anybody else. It follows that you get better contracts and more money,”

“Most of the players who leave miss the club for lots of reasons. The lifestyle at Arsenal is fantastic. You get so well looked after.”

Basically he is saying, you don’t know how good you have it, so stay and make something good of your career, you don’t want to end up like Anelka, who says he regrets leaving Arsenal a lot… 

Looking forward to next season Gilberto wants to stay and help win something with us:

“Next season will be very important for the club and the players. They must win something to keep the ambition of everybody and to maintain the hope of every player.

“If we don’t win anything next year it will be difficult to keep everybody happy. If you don’t see any possibility of winning the title they will change their minds.

“I do want to stay. It depends when I come back if Arsene wants me to stay. I still have one year left on my contract. I’m happy to stay at the club. I will wait until I return to London and pre-season training on 21 July and then I will sit down and talk about it.”

In other contract news, Alex Song has signed a new long term deal with Arsenal, which will prompt people to believe he has a chance at becoming our next defensive midfielder, or a long term option at centre back.

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