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Monday, 24 September 2012

Arsenal have the foundations of a title winning side

It is a telling indication of how far this team has progressed when the general consensus from our fans was one of disappointment after coming home from Manchester with just a point from the league champions.

There are numerous positives to be taken, particularly regarding individual performances. Per Mertesacker was supreme in defence, intercepting almost everything that came his way. He really has stamped his authority in the team this season, and the fact he has forced Wenger to keep Koscielny on the bench tells a story on its own. 

In terms of the defence overall, I think a bit of objectiveness is needed to really appreciate their achievements this season. 

BUNDLE!.jpgSo, we were essentially without the three most important members of our back five yesterday; no Szczesny, no Sagna and no Vermaelen, who was ruled out on the day of the match with a bout of flu. In previous years, we would most probably have been doomed. But such is our strength in depth that we kept the £120 million Manchester City strike force at bay for most of the game. Who would have thought that? 

Let's look back at the 0-0 draw at Stoke earlier this season too. We kept a clean sheet against a side even the strongest of defences struggle to keep out, without our first choice 'keeper or our right back! 

Credit must be given to Steve Bould, but at the end of the day it is the players who perform on the pitch, and it is they who deserve the lion share of the plaudits. 

Carl Jenkinson - while still naturally showing signs of inexperience, particularly in his sometimes sloppy passing - has excelled at right back, producing displays that Bacary Sagna would struggle to outdo. 

The Frenchman should not take his return to the first team for granted - the way Jenkinson is going he'll have to earn his place in the starting line up! What most fans love about Jenko is that he really is a Gooner. The fact we sing 'Carl Jenkinson, he's got Arsenal PJs!' shows how much the fans appreciate his commitment and desire. I loved Gary Neville's comment after the City game too:

"I don't know him, but the kid looks like he would run through a brick wall for you."  

His galloping run in the first half, where he seemed destined to lose out to Joleon Lescott, certainly supports this statement. He ran almost the length of the pitch and tenaciously bundled his way past the defender, then intelligently cut the ball back for Lukas Podolski who fired his shot wildly over the bar. 

When Gary Neville compliments you, especially a right back, you know you've done well.

Another positive in terms of our defensive strength this season is Kieran Gibbs. Once tipped as Arsenal's natural replacement for A$hley Cole, the left back has been blighted by injury and has struggled to sustain any concerted period of form. However, this season Gibbs seems to have burgeoned into a proper full back; defensively astute, showing new signs of maturity, and offensively dangerous, acting as an auxiliary attacker to great effect. 

This offers a new dimension tactically to our left hand side. With Podolski/Cazorla deployed here, they will naturally drift inward creating space out wide - which is where Gibbs comes in. We saw glimpses of this against Liverpool - if I remember correctly it was a Cazorla pass which set up the onrushing Gibbs in the box, only to have his shot saved by Pepe Reina. This could be a significant attacking outlet for Arsenal this season, especially with Olivier Giroud’s aerial threat in the box.

Moreover, Podolski’s commendable work rate down the left flank is very important to the side, and something certainly instilled by Steve Bould. His defensive work in the 2-0 win at Anfield was vital, ensuring Gibbs was never left exposed. While his performance against Manchester City was hardly exhilarating, he continued to work hard, protecting his full back.

The foundation of every winning side is a solid defence, and this season Arsenal seem to have exactly that. 


Saturday, 22 September 2012

Arsenal U21s fail to impress ahead of Capital One Cup tie

Terry Burton's reserves side faced West Ham United at their East London Old Ford Sports Ground on Friday, hoping to ensure their preceding result - the 1-1 draw at home to Norwich City - was just a minor blemish in an otherwise 100% start to the season.

However, this was not to be, as West Ham dispatched their Arsenal counterparts 4-1 in what was a disappointing display from the Gunners.

Despite taking the lead after just five minutes through centre back Elton Monteiro's bullet header, Arsenal failed to cope with the relentless pressure from the Hammers and conceded two goals in each half.

Sticking to his promise after the Norwich game, Burton gave starts to those he rested, making eight changes in total. Samir Bihmoutine was handed his first appearance of the season at left back, while Serge Gnabry returned after the knock he received against Olympiakos in the Next Gen Series last week.

Sanchez Watt retained his place upfront, perhaps due to the absence of Chuba Akpom who is in Estonia with England U19s, while Nico Yennaris returned to his berth in defensive midfield. He was partnered by versatile Dutchman Kyle Ebecilio, who has impressed intermittently this season.

Few players shone; there were glimpses of magic from Gnabry, and Hector Bellerin was by all accounts a dangerous attacking threat when he came on after the hour mark.

However, Burton's decision to make such a large reshuffle to the team certainly backfired. The defence lacked organisation and experience while the forward players showed little end product.

The torrential rain may have played a part in what was a disjointed and generally lacklustre performance from Burton's men, however it was the same for both sides.

This was the final window of opportunity for some of these youngsters to impress before the League Cup tie against Coventry this Wednesday, but it did not go the way they would have planned.

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Arsenal looking to the future as Jebb and Lipman sign professional contracts

Last week Arsenal fans were greeted by the news that midfielder Jack Jebb had signed professional terms with the club, upon turning seventeen. Just a week later, it was the same outcome for industrious forward Austin Lipman, who will look to continue impressing in Pat Holland's U18 side.

For both, this is just a stepping stone in their embryonic careers. However, after Arsene Wenger's recent comments, there is reason to take considerable encouragement.

After being asked if he thought clubs would continue spending big rather than focusing on promoting youngsters from within, Wenger had this to say about our academy:

"When you look at the quality of the players born in 1995/96/97, the number of good players coming out is absolutely massive" (via @ZPAFC)

This is clearly said with Jebb and Lipman in mind, who are both born in '95. Gedion Zelalem is another outstanding prospect. The athletic midfielder was described as the most talented player in the academy by Swedish star Kris Olsson, despite being born in 1997. Alex Iwobi, nephew of Jay Jay Okocha, has also impressed, as has sixteen year old prolific striker Jordan Brown.

Jebb is considered by many to be one of the most promising players coming through the Arsenal system. Despite some underwhelming performances this season, the midfielder is a superb passer of the ball and possesses tremendous technical ability. He made his debut for Arsenal's U18 side two years ago in the 2-0 defeat to Tottenham, alongside 16 year old forward Chuba Akpom who has, it must be said, left Jebb behind in terms of progress, having distinguished himself as a fixture in Burton's reserve side.

Jebb, on the other hand, is yet to make an appearance in the second string, which will now be his primary target. He imposed himself in the U18 side last year, performing seven times under Steve Bould's tutelage, scoring a well taken free kick against Leicester City in the process.

Lipman has impressed for both club and country and has showed some real signs of progress, scoring an excellent goal last week for Arsenal's U18s against Norwich. His aim for this season will be to establish himself as a fixture in Pat Holland's side, and then possibly think of featuring in the reserves.

The future looks bright.

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Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Arsenal's 2012/13 Champions League Squad | youth round-up

Good afternoon Gooners, sorry for the lack of action over the past week or so. 
Today, Arsenal released their squad for this season's Champions League. The most notable addition is seventeen year old German winger Serge Gnabry, perhaps vindicating rumours he will be fast-tracked into the first team this year. 

Below is the preliminary squad. Please note the so called 'B list' has yet to be confirmed, but will most likely contain the likes of Jack Wilshere, Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin, so refrain from freaking out when you don't see those names below!


1. Wojciech Szczesny, 

21. Lukas Fabianski, 

24. Vito Mannone


3. Bacary Sagna, 

4. Per Mertesacker, 

5. Thomas Vermaelen, 

6. Laurent Koscielny, 

11. Andre Santos, 

18. Seb Squillaci, 

20. Johan Djourou, 

25. Carl Jenkinson, 

28. Kieran Gibbs


2. Abou Diaby, 

7. Tomas Rosicky, 

8. Mikel Arteta, 

15. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, 

16. Aaron Ramsey, 

19. Santi Cazorla, 

23. Andrey Arshavin, 

27. Gervinho, 

47, Serge Gnabry


9. Lukas Podolski, 

12. Olivier Giroud, 

14. Theo Walcott, 

29. Marouane Chamakh

Youth round-up

Over the last week or so there has been lots of snippets of news concerning Arsenal youngsters.

Firstly, sixteen year old striker Chuba Akpom has flown to Germany with Noel Blake's England U19 squad, for a friendly against their national side. He has done well in training, alongside the likes of Raheem Sterling (who played against Arsenal's first team for Liverpool last weekend) and James Ward-Prowse of Southampton, and will be looking to continue his remarkable progress in this fixture.

On Monday night Arsenal's U21 side defeated their Everton counterparts 3-0 at Underhill, with goals from Sanchez Watt (two penalties) and Dutchman Kyle Ebecilio, continuing their 100% start to the season. 

Pat Holland's U18 side beat the same opponent 2-1 at London Colney, coming from behind to deservedly take all three points. Captain Isaac Hayden scored a well taken goal, while winger Tarum Dawkins scored a curling effort after an excellent Arsenal move. 

Moreover, Arsenal have announced a partnership with Inverness, in an attempt to offer our youngsters more first team experience by sending them on loan. Striker Phillip Roberts was first to make the move to Scotland.  

Macedonian U17 'keeper Dejan Iliev was brought in, adding further competition to this position in Pat Holland's U18 side. 

Arsenal's U19 side cruised past Marseille in their first Next Gen match of the campaign, beating the French team 3-0. Goals from Nico Yennaris and Chuba Akpom (x2) cemented an exhilarating performance from Terry Burton's youngsters, who face Olympiacos in Greece next in the competition.