Podolski seemingly on the verge as clubs agree fee

136

A deal for Germany and FC Kolkn striker Lukas Podolski seems to be near completion as reports emerged of the clubs having agreed a £10.9 million fee. Last week there had been rumours of “Poldi” having agreed personal terms – and this now seems to be in the region of £100,000 a week.

After those quotes from Per Mertesacker came out over the last few days, a deal always seemed likely.

Podolski is just 26, but has 95 caps for Germany (scoring 43 goals), and has a very decent 110 goals in 282 career club games. The one blemish on his CV is the years he spent in the wilderness at Bayern Munich, where personality clashes, and formation and coaching changes saw him play mostly from the bench.

The great thing about the possibility of Podolski joining us is his versatility. For Joachim Löw’s Germany, he has performed consistently playing wide in a 4-3-3, and at Koln he has scored regularly as a central striker.

Clearly given our 4-3-3 / 4-5-1 hybrid, players like Chamakh or Park aren’t much use unless Van Persie isn’t starting, so having a player who can play alongside him would be fantastic.

Ozyakup comes close to fulfilling Champions League dream

Amidst all the belief, hope and, ultimately, pride in valiant defeat last night, the fact that a promising 19 year old midfielder came perilously close to making his Champions League debut for the club against seven times winners AC Milan went largely unnoticed.

Oguzhan Ozyakup, a Dutch born youngster who recently switched his international allegiance to Turkey, was sent to warm up on several occasions and looked poised to be coming on at one stage before Arsene Wenger changed his mind.

In normal circumstances, Ozyakup wouldn’t have been anywhere near the matchday squad but, with a midfield casualty list containing no fewer than seven first-team players, he was called upon to make up the numbers.

He has certainly enjoyed a proficient season to date, often starring for the Reserve team as either a deep lying or, increasingly, an attacking midfielder, creating numerous chances for others and finding the net five times himself. Extremely comfortable on the ball and possessing pinpoint passing accuracy, Ozyakup made his first team debut against Shrewsbury in the Carling Cup earlier this season and added to that with another cameo against Bolton in the following round.

Wenger, has, however, hitherto been reluctant to deploy him on the big stage. Ozyakup was left unused on the bench in the final group game this season, a dead rubber away to Olympiacos, and was similarly neglected yesterday, suggesting that a loan spell is likely to be required before he is to make further inroads on the first-team picture.

Just a year ago Ozyakup was sat watching from the stands as Arsenal beat Barcelona at Emirates Stadium in the Last 16 of the Champions League. Last night he got a step closer to the action, but the final step, to actually make it onto the pitch, will be the biggest task of all.

There is something of a chasm between Reserve football and loan spells in England’s lower leagues. Fellow midfielder Chuks Aneke recently returned from a loan spell at League One Stevenage where he struggled to impose himself and Ozyakup will be wary of similar pitfalls, having previously stressed that he will not leave Arsenal on a temporary basis until he finds the right club to go to.

At stages last season it appeared Ozyakup was close to an exit from the club, as he deliberated on signing a new contract, but eventually agreed a new deal and his confidence has been reflected in his subsequent displays at second string level.

He will be all too aware, though, that this is only the beginning and much effort will be required to make the step up.

UEFA charges Wenger. Again

Arsene Wenger has been charged with ‘improper conduct’ by UEFA for comments he made about, and possibly to, referee Damir Skomina after Arsenal’s 3-0 win over AC Milan last night.

Wenger was unhappy that every time a Milan player fell over, Skomina fell for it and gave a free kick, saying in his post-game press conference, “I was not happy with the referee tonight because I felt he gave many free kicks in the middle of the park. Every time [Milan’s players] went down a free kick was given to them, and they sensed that very quickly and used it very well.”

Sky Italia reported from the touchline at the final whistle that the Slovenian referee actually ran off down the tunnel at the final whistle, shrieking “DON’T TOUCH ME! DON’T TOUCH ME!” as Wenger tried to speak to him about his performance.

What a drama queen. Still, this is no surprise as Wenger and UEFA have been uneasy bedfellows for some time. This season the boss served a 76 game touchline ban for being pissed off that Robin van Persie was sent off for nothing in a meaningless game against some lower level European side … oh wait, it was against UEFA’s favourites, Barcelona and we were going through at that point.

Arsenal will appeal, UEFA will reject the appeal, ban Wenger for the rest of his life and Michel Platini will sit there with a tub of E45 cream smothered on his tiny cock as he beats himself into a frenzy, the curly wanker.

THE UEFA STATEMENT

UEFA has opened a disciplinary case against Arsenal FC manager Arsène Wenger for improper conduct in relation to last night’s UEFA Champions League round of 16 second-leg match against AC Milan in London.

Arsenal won the match 3-0, but Milan progressed to the quarter-finals on a 4-3 aggregate scoreline.

The case will be dealt with by UEFA’s Control and Disciplinary Body on 29 March.

Mertesacker reveals Podolski is curious

63

Many things are curious.

Curious George, for example, the monkey who was curious and named George. Also, it is curious that Phil Collins has not yet been blasted into space for his crimes against music, humanity, puppies and music.

Another thing that is curious, and by thing I mean person, is Lukasz Podolski. There has been much, rather pointless, speculation about his future in recent weeks. In fact, The Telegraph ran with a story which said ‘Arsenal frustrated as Podolski set to see season out at Cologne’.

OF COURSE HE IS SET TO SEE OUT THE SEASON, THE TRANSFER WINDOW IS CLOSED, YOU FLANGEBRACKETED TWATS.

Ahem. Anyway, Arsenal’s BFG, Per Mertesacker, has revealed some digital discourse between himself and his German colleague. It seems Podolski wants to find out more.

“He has been very interested in the past few weeks, and has sent me a number of text messages,” Mertesacker told Sky. “I’ve told him that this is a great place to work and that Arsenal are an amazing club.

“Nothing has been agreed on yet though, and Lukas hasn’t given me a ring yet. That will all happen in tranquility.”

See, nothing fazes the BFG, que sera, sera as they say in Lower Saxony. And Arsene Wenger was asked last night about this swapping of texts between the players, a journalist perhaps fishing for a juicy tapping up story.

Wenger laughed and said, “I cannot stop Mr Mertesacker sending SMSs. He is free to send SMSs to Mr Podolski.”

Leaving Mr Mertesacker in tranquility to do what he likes. I hope he also sends sinister, threatening SMSs from a pay as you go phone to the Sunderland groundskeeper, but that might be just me.

Bould: I’ve got the best job…management isn’t for me

Steve Bould, Arsenal’s under-18 Academy coach, believes he has the ‘best job in the world’ passing on Arsene Wenger’s football philosophy to the next generation of Gunners and has intimated that a step up to coaching the first team is not on his agenda.

The former centre-back, who spent 11 years at Arsenal as part of the club’s legendary defence, has been tipped by former teammates (including Lee Dixon), fans and the media as a possible successor to Wenger when the Frenchman finally decides to step down. Nevertheless, while accepting his current state of mind could change, Bould made clear that the invasive nature of managing in the Premier League does not currently appeal.

“I think when I was asked back then [in the late nineties] I didn’t even contemplate going into coaching, so you never say never, but I feel management is not for me,” he told the official matchday programme ahead of last night’s win against Milan. “It’s just too intrusive on all aspects of your life.”

“I enjoy what I do. I get a massive satisfaction from seeing my players improve and make careers out of the game. The ultimate is seeing players we have worked for running out of the tunnel playing for our first team.

“I honestly feel I have the best job in the world. Doing what I love, with the facilities and footballing philosophy we have at this club, I have a fantastic job.”

While the top job may not necessarily be on Bould’s agenda, the fact that Pat Rice is due to retire this summer has given rise to the suggestion that he could still move into the Emirates dugout in a coaching capacity.

Many have suggested that as a dyed-in-the-wool defender Bould would be able to pass on some of the tactical intelligence learned on the job alongside the likes of David O’Leary, Tony Adams and Martin Keown.

Accepting that certain values remain the same, Bould made clear that the art of defending has changed so much since his retirement that the old days of stepping up as a unit and flagging for offside are long gone.

“You could not step up with your arm out and scream offside like we used to. That is not an area you can really coach any more. Also, you cannot get away with going to ground or any real aggressive tackling the way we used to nowadays.

“So, while there are some principles that persist, passing on what I used to do as a player has to be adapted.”

It should be an interesting summer at London Colney. Picking a successor to Rice could well be the biggest clue Arsene gives to his own future at the club and a much-anticipated insight into life after he leaves North London.

Gibbs thanks ‘electric’ fans for goal help

Kieran Gibbs paid homage to the combined effort of his teammates and the Arsenal crowd as he reflected on an epic, but ultimately disappointing, night at the Emirates.

Admitting that the Gunners ran out of steam after a heroic first half effort which reaped three goals, the England left-back made clear that the players couldn’t have given any more effort against AC Milan.

“We gave everything in the first half and if anything we ran out of legs a bit in the second,” he told UEFA.com. “We couldn’t give as much as we wanted to and maybe we ran out of steam.

“We had a point to prove. We were hurt by the result in Milan and we wanted to show who we are and restore some pride.

“They defended better in the second half but we had our chances, but in the end they did their job and they’re the ones who will go home happy. It’s probably worse to come so close and not go through. It hurts, but we did ourselves proud.”

Backed to the hilt by a thumping atmosphere from the first whistle, Gibbs also took the time to thank the home support who provided a soundtrack of hope throughout.

“When the stadium is like this, teams struggle against us because it lifts everyone,” said the 22-year-old.

“The place was electric tonight. After the first one went in we could sense that we could get back into it. We have to thank the fans for that because they helped us get our goals. Unfortunately, though, we just fell short.”

It is now six days until the visit of Newcastle United and the opportunity to consolidate top four credentials as the final weeks of the season approach. Let’s hope the vibrant and respectful relationship between fans and players continues…

Rosicky: ‘I’m proud of my team’

Tomas Rosicky says he thought Arsenal were going to achieve the almost-impossible against AC Milan last night, going in 3-0 up at half-time, but says he’s proud of his teammates even though the Gunners couldn’t manage to find the fourth goal.

The Czech midfielder was outstanding again, scoring Arsenal’s second, and providing constant drive and energy. With 45 minutes to find a goal that would bring the game to extra-time, Arsenal found it impossible to break down a Milan side much improved from the first half, even if Robin van Persie’s 59th miss will be a talking point.

“We’re very disappointed,” he said. Sometimes miracles happen and you could see we came very close today. We knew that we had nothing to lose so we just said to each other: ‘Let’s go for it, let’s give our best and we’ll see what happens.’

“When I scored I felt we could score two more because we got an early one which definitely gave us a boost to start with. When we scored another one I really thought we would make it.”

“We said [at half-time] to keep playing the same way,” added the 31-year-old. “You could see in the second half there was a drop because we had given so much in the first half but all the same we had a chance to score the fourth one.

“It’s difficult, though; you can’t blame anyone after tonight’s performance. I’m very proud of my team and what we produced today. We’ve beaten AC Milan 3-0 and we’re going home disappointed. It’s a bit funny. But we blew it in Milan.”

He looked more distraught than anyone at the final whistle but it’s good to hear he’s taking the positives from what was, despite our exit, a restorative night for us in Europe.

Wenger’s proud reaction to Milan win

Some post game comments from Arsene Wenger after tonight’s 3-0 win over AC Milan, when speaking to Sky.

Further thoughts from his press conference to come later (or first thing tomorrow).

On the team

We put in a performance in with fantastic spirit and restored some pride after the first leg. Unfortunately we are out but we had the chances. Overall we keep our winning run going, which is important, but unfortunately we paid the price for a bad first game.

Overall we have given everything, after you can accept the result even if it is disappointing.

On the physical test

We were a bit short with no midfielders at all on the bench, we suffered a little bit when we got tired in the second half, as I hoped to keep the ball better and get them more fatigued.

We knew we had given a lot and had players not used to that level in midfield, like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Some players had knocks, I knew it would be difficult.

Chamberlain was sick last night, so we were not sure if he could play, as he had flu. We checked him in the warm-up, but he was outstanding. Of course to last at that level for 90 minutes is a different game.

On defence

You need to score goals and not concede against a team like that. Our defenders were absolutely outstanding today and we have given everything, that is all you can do.

On van Persie’s chance

I felt he wanted to chip the keeper because he was down, but Abbiati got up very quickly and unfortunately we couldn’t score.

I hoped in the last 15 minutes we could create some dangerous situations in front of goal, unfortunately it didn’t happen, as we didn’t have enough drive anymore.

Report: Arsenal 3-0 AC Milan

Arsenal went out of the Champions League after a brave 3-0 win over AC Milan at the Emirates tonight.

With a four goal deficit to overturn, an early goal would have been very welcome and Laurent Koscielny duly obliged. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain whipped in a great ball, Kos lost his marker and headed into the bottom corner in the 6th minute.

Milan looked slow and ponderous, seemingly content to see out the game and to hold onto their first leg lead. But Arsenal, with Rosicky and The Ox driving us forward from midfield looked dangerous all the time.

Rosicky and van Persie should have made more of sloppy Milan play which saw them 2 on 1 but fluffed their lines. The skipper then forced a great save from Abiatti with a curling effort from the edge of the box.

In the 26th minute we got a second. A Walcott run and cross should have been easy for the Milan defence to deal with but Thiago Silva’s feeble clearance fell straight to Rosicky in the area. He took a look, then simply passed it around the defender into the bottom corner, Abiatti’s desperate touch not enough to keep it out.

Arsenal continued to make all the running, and in the 42nd minute Oxlade-Chamberlain surged into the Milan box, found himself obstructed by two defenders and the referee eventually pointed to the spot. Robin van Persie ignored some gamesmanship regarding the placement of the ball to smash home the spot kick to make it 3-0.

We then had a bit of luck just before half-time when we got caught out defensively, El Shaarawy had just Szczesny to beat, albeit from an angle, but he put his shot well wide. When you consider one Milan goal would require Arsenal to get six it was a lucky escape.

The second started well again but it was clear Milan had been given some kind of a bollocking by their boss at half-time and were much improved. They looked more dangerous and kept the ball much better.

We began to give them a lot of space which they didn’t have in the first half but the best chance fell to Robin van Persie. When Abiatti saved from Gervinho, the ball fell to van Persie inside the 6 yard box. When a sidefooted effort would have sufficed he tried a little dink over the keeper which Abiatti read and saved.

It was to prove costly as it was the last real chance that we fashioned. The team began to look tired, Oxlade-Chamberlain was suffering having picked up a hamstring strain early in the half and Milan’s experience began to show through, with ball possession and cunningly winning free kicks off a ref who looked as if he was taking charge of his first ever match.

The visitors should have made the last 15 minutes inconsequential when Nocerino somehow contrived to miss from 3 yards. Seriously, one of the most amazing misses I have ever seen.

We threw on Chamakh for The Ox, Park came on for the injured Walcott but we looked exhausted and just couldn’t find a way to replicate the glories of the first half.

For all that, however, there’s no blame to be apportioned tonight. Certainly not for Robin van Persie despite that miss, and the team in general did themselves and us proud. It was a great effort and while the players will be gutted they’ve gone out, we should recognise the scoreline and the performance.

A case of so near yet so far, the mountain we gave ourselves to climb in the first leg was just too high, but there’s pride restored in the shirt and the Arsenal we’ve seen over the last three games is the Arsenal we all love.

Unlucky lads, now for Newcastle.

Van Persie: I can get better

There is no such thing as the perfect footballer, and while Robin van Persie’s form this season has been little short of sensational, he knows that only too well.

Many players are dragged down by ego, thinking they’re the best thing since sliced bread (coooeeee, how’s life, David Bentley?!), so it’s great to hear the skipper say he can do better and that’s he’s not blinded into self-congratulatory madness by the goals he scores.

Speaking to the Matchday Programme ahead of tonight’s game against Milan, van Persie says he recognises elements of his game which he could improve for the benefit of the team.

I don’t really sit down and reflect on the figures,” he said. “There’s too much else to do, and you can’t dwell on things because there is always room for improvement.

“I lost a couple of balls in the midfield area on Saturday that I shouldn’t have, so I’m more interested in focusing on how to avoid that next time.”

And while many will point to goal scoring records, or the chance of winning the golden boot, van Persie’s focus is well and truly on the collective.

“You always want to get the maximum out of your game – to make assists, to score goals, to be strong on the ball, to combine well with your team-mates and bring all these things together.”

“It’s rare that you can achieve it, but it has to be what you aim for and it’s more important than pursuing one target.”

Frankly, the idea of van Persie getting better than he already is pant wetting, but who are we to argue to argue with him?

Meanwhile, the skipper has backed up Arsene Wenger’s recent praise of Tomas Rosicky by talking about how much enjoys playing with the Czech international.

“I just love playing with him,” he said, “because he’s so quick in his mind, so clever in the way he sees passes and so adept at completing them.”

“He’s just football-clever, and that’s something you can’t pick up later in your career. You either have it or you don’t.”