Wenger: we’re motivated to improve our defence

After Thomas Vermaelen spoke earlier this week about how criticism of Arsenal’s defence didn’t bother him one bit, Arsene Wenger says that the team can certainly do better in this area.

Speaking at his pre-West Brom press conference, the manager said, “It’s down to numbers. When you conceded goals you have to accept that you have defensive problems. That’s the same for every club. We scored five against Chelsea, this week everybody questions the defence of Chelsea.

“That’s part of our game and when we conceded eight at Man United that was a subject we had to face. I believe we have improved, we have shown in again on Tuesday night but it must be a motivation for us to improve our defensive record, which at the moment is not good.”

If Arsenal win by more than one goal tomorrow they’ll find themselves with a positive goal difference for the first time this season. Obviously the day at Old Trafford had a big impact on that but it’s still a remarkable stat for an Arsenal team ten games into a Premier League.

And Arsene has warned his team there’s is no room for complacency after the epic win against Chelsea during which their not-racist at all captain fell over to set up Arsenal’s fourth goal.

“The last thing that should creep in now is complacency,” he said. “We have come so far, through difficult times, I believe that we have an intelligent group. We need to realise that there is a lot more to achieve for us to come back into a stronger position.”

See Arsene’s full press conference on Arsenal Player

Arsenal v West Brom – stat pack!

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Once again, in association with our good friends at kickoff.co.uk, here’s the stat pack for tomorrow’s game against West Brom.

Simply click the image to enlarge and see the full stat pack.

Arsenal v West Brom stats

FC Dallas star to train with Arsenal

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FC Dallas winger Brek Shea will spend a month training with Arsenal after next month’s international friendlies. The USA international will join up with the Gunners in later this month with the full blessing of coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

An statement from the MLS club read, “The decision to send Shea to train with the Gunners was made after USA head coach Jurgen Klinsmann encouraged his MLS-based players to spend the off-season training overseas to enter January camp in top shape. Affording Brek the opportunity to continue to work on improving his game and measure himself among the best players in the world is something we are all excited about.”

And the player himself told Reuters he was looking forward to working with Arsena Wenger, “To see how he does things … he has had so many young players over the years and turned them into who they became, that experience will be pretty cool.

“Klinsmann has been pushing and wanting us to train in Europe in the off-season and it is good to get that experience. It’s just strictly training,  and hopefully raising my game to another level. I think, obviously I am happy where I am, but I want to, eventually when the time is right, try it out and give it a shot.”

Arsenal have a strong scouting presence in North America with former Gunner Danny Karbassiyoon clocking up air miles as he forges for talent in the MLS and beyond. And Arseblog News is hoping that if he ever does play for us he shows he’s got real pace so we can run the headline: Brek. Fast.

We’re lame like that though.

Arsene: Chelsea win craziest ever

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Arsene Wenger says that Arsenal’s win against Chelsea last weekend was probably the craziest win of the 500 he’s now racked up for the club.

Speaking to Arsenal Player, the manager said, “It would be difficult to imagine a crazier one. Because when you are ten minutes to go, 3-2 up and the game finishes 5-3.

“It shows two aspects of the game and our team. First of all that we can score goals away from home and that we have fantastic mental strength because we were 2-1 down just before half-time, they came back to 3-3 and again we managed to win the game, so there’s something in the team that you feel is very interesting and very positive.

“The spirit that the players have shown in that game is something that you can build on.”

Arsenal face West Brom tomorrow and last season’s game was pretty crazy, but for the wrong reasons. The newly promoted, soon to sack their manager, side went 3-0 up as Arsenal’s defensive frailties were exposed, and despite two late Nasri goals the Gunners dropped points they were expected to take.

Arsene doesn’t believe a repeat is likely, however, saying, “That day we didn’t turn up, overall I feel we are in a completely different state of mind now, we have a desire to do well and I’m convinced we will. I think we have made a big improvement in recent weeks.”

See the full interview with Arsene Wenger on Arsenal Player

Wenger: We have the opportunity to rotate

Arsene Wenger says he is pleased with his centre-back options now that Thomas Vermaelen is back from injury.

For the first time in living memory Arsenal have six possible candidates to choose from in the heart of defence with Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Johan Djourou, Sebastien Squillaci and youngster Ignasi Miquel all also challenging for playing time.

It remains to be seen which pair Wenger selects for this weekend’s clash with West Bromwich Albion, although with the Belgian possessing a left-foot capable of kicking the ball it appears the boss will pair him with either Mertesacker or the ever-improving Koscielny.

Speaking to Arsenal Player, Wenger gleefully hit back at people who suggested Arsenal should have recruited another defender during the summer: “People wanted us to buy a centre-back so much and then suddenly you realise we have plenty.”

Reflecting on the opportunity to rotate players as the season progresses, he continued:

“The balance is vital. In fairness though, I must say that all the three can play with each other. Koscielny and Vermaelen can play together and Mertesacker can play with Vermaelen and Koscielny.

“It gives us a bit of an opportunity to rotate a bit when needed and people are tired.

“Ideally, Vermaelen will play on the left [of the centre-back pair]. But Koscielny can play on the left as well so we have a good potential and balance there. I think that all the three can play at any moment, and we still have Djourou and Squillaci as well.

Arseblog News can’t help but think Arsene may be playing mind games with future opponents, especially as Vermaelen is pictured above playing on the right of Squillaci in training…

SZCZ: FIFA are ‘ridiculous’

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Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny says that FIFA’s omission of Robin van Persie from the Balon d’Or list is ‘ridiculous’ and has hailed the Dutchman as the best striker in the world.

Despite scoring a hundred and seventy-two thousand goals in just four games this season, van Persie has been overlooked by FIFA while the likes of Cream Excema and Wobbly Sneijder make the cut.

“I think it’s ridiculous”, said Woj, “he’s probably got the best goalscoring record at the moment.”

“We know how good he is – even at Chelsea when they equalised late on, we still felt like we were going to go on and win. He just came up with two goals right at the end, and I believe he is at the moment the best striker in the world.”

You won’t find many Arsenal fans disagreeing with either of those sentiments and Arsene Wenger has hailed Robin’s influence on and off the pitch, saying, “He’s a perfect captain not just because he scores goals but because he behaves himself on and off the field.”

He might have had his problems in the past but you just don’t see the Dutchman falling out of nightclubs with his pants hanging down having stolen a car, cut off somebody’s hand to show them he’s not to be messed with as he arranges the importation of 50 kilos of cocaine into the country before running over a gaggle of orphans who are crossing the road to the soup kitchen to get something to eat for the first time in eight days.

Which is a good thing, you have to say.

Arseblog News is also pretty sure that Szczesny called Ashley Cole a tumbling bitch at some point but as nobody heard it we can’t report that.

Promising pair could provide long-term competition for Szczesny

Following the loss of form and, subsequently, the departure of Jens Lehmann during his maiden spell at the club, the Arsenal goalkeeping position became something of a hot topic, with neither Manuel Almunia or Lukasz Fabianski appearing viable candidates to assume the role of first choice in the direct aftermath of his departure.

Wojciech Szczesny eventually provided the answer to that conundrum, with the Polish shot-stopper, who joined the club as a 16 year old following a successful trial in 2006, having to patiently bide his time before, off the back of a hugely-fruitful loan spell at Brentford during the 2009/10 season, he established himself as Arsenal’s number one goalkeeper last campaign and has subsequently made over 40 appearances for the club at senior level.

Prior to his breakthrough, there were growing fears that Szczesny would leave the club owing to a lack of opportunities, but an injury sustained by Fabianski during the warm-up before a game against Manchester City in January presented his compatriot with a chance and it is one that, the odd mistake aside, he has taken with aplomb.

Now, another situation arises in that the club currently possess two highly-promising young goalkeepers in Damian Martinez and Reice Charles-Cook but, given Szczesny’s presence, it appears as if it will be, at this stage at least, difficult for them to make the breakthrough in the long term.

Martinez has made a substantial impression since his move to the club was confirmed early last season. The imposing Argentinian impressed during both FA Youth Cup fixtures last season and has turned out several times for Neil Banfield’s Reserve team this time around. Martinez was rewarded for his progress with a place on the bench for the Carling Cup victory over Shrewsbury in September and is likely to go out on loan later this campaign to bolster his experience of the English game.

Charles-Cook, meanwhile, is only a second-year scholar and is yet to sign his first professional contract at the club, but his reflexes and command of his penalty area have drawn rave reviews. He was particularly impressive for the Reserves during pre-season, and again for the under-18s against Chelsea at Emirates Stadium recently, and will keep goal in the Youth Cup this term.

In terms of their accession to the top, Szczesny is not their only obstacle, but the others certainly appear more passable. Speculation has already begun to generate about whether Fabianski, for all the promise he displayed in the first half of last season, may have to leave in January for regular football, whilst Vito Mannone, despite his stint in the first-team a couple of seasons ago, when he played eight games without defeat, still possesses a tendency for punching the ball in dangerous situations and making avoidable errors.

Manuel Almunia, back from West Ham, will leave when his contract expires at the end of the season, whilst young James Shea has not received much game time during his loan spell at Dagenham & Redbridge. Sean McDermott, the Irish youth international, has improved following his shaky start to life in England, but Charles-Cook, despite being the younger of the two, appears the better prospect.

It may require a touch of fortune, such as the one that benefitted Szczesny, if either Martinez or Charles-Cook are to succeed at the club in the long term, but, such is their rate of progression that it could be the case that, in a few years, Arsenal could have gone from having no outstanding candidates for the number one shirt, to having three.

 

Szczesny and Jenkinson praise ‘solid’ Arsenal

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Following Arsenal’s 0-0 Champions League draw with Marseille last night, both Carl Jenkinson and Wojciech Szczesny spoke about the defensive side of the team’s display.

Despite only scoring one goal against the French side over the two legs, the Gunners kept two clean sheets, neither of which was a surprise to Szczesny. The Polish stopper said, “I’d like to have won 1-0, but if you had told me before the two games against Marseille that we were going to get four points and not concede, I’d have taken it, so I’m pleased with the result.

“We kept a clean sheet, which is all you can ask of a back four. They did well today but I’ve been training with them for a long time and I see the qualities. We looked really solid today; the spirit is really positive in the team.”

While the former Charlton youngster said, “Defensively we were solid and although they did break a few times they didn’t really have many clear-cut opportunities. So defensively it was a good display by us and I think we’ll build on that now.

“I think you’ve got to take the positives. Obviously, Marseille are a good side and we haven’t lost – 0-0 is not a bad result. So, in my eyes, the glass is half full. At the end of the day, we’ve kept our unbeaten run going.”

And Szczesny was also quick to praise the spirit in the Arsenal camp. “We’re very confident going into every single game. There were some tired legs but you expect that. It’s hard to play a big game every three days. And at the moment, every game for us is massive.

“It’s always tough in the Champions League because you get to play against top, top opponents, but I’m confident we can get the results and qualify for the next stage.”

Match Report: Arsenal 0 – 0 Marseille – Fatigue takes its toll

Arsenal continued their unbeaten run in the Champions League this evening, but passed up the chance to seal qualification to the knock-out stages after settling for a 0-0 draw against a much improved Marseille.

Arsene Wenger opted to drop Robin van Persie to the bench after his heroics at Stamford Bridge and handed a Champions League debut to Korean Ju Young Park. While the summer acquisition from Monaco tried his best to get into the game he was in truth an ineffective force in the attacking third having received little service from his teammates.

The Gunners created little throughout the game, Aaron Ramsey having the two best chances of the first half. The Welshman first blazing over from close range, before dallying over a second opportunity and having his shot blocked. Having both looked impressive at the weekend, neither Theo Walcott nor Gervinho could provide any real penetration although the former did force a tidy save from Steve Mandanda in the dying minutes of the first half.

Loic Remy and Andre Ayew looked dangerous for the visitors throughout the match and the energy of the little dwarf Mathieu Valbuena also caused trouble for Carl Jenkinson and Andre Santos on the flanks.

As the game pushed the hour mark it became obvious that the weekend’s exertions were taking their toll with Ramsey and Mikel Arteta looking particularly fatigued. Despite throwing on Robin van Persie for the final thirty minutes and giving both Tomas Rosicky and Andrei Arshavin 15 minutes to work some magic, none was forthcoming. The Dutchman did make one darting run through the Marseille backline, but when offered the opportunity to shoot opted to attempt an audacious lob which was easily saved.

Dominating possession in the final ten minutes it was Didier Deschamps visiting side who looked more likely to win it, on several occasions flashing balls across the box.  Nevertheless, as seemed the state of affairs two weeks ago, with the clock ticking down both sides appeared happy to settle for a point. Unlike in the Stade Velodrome there was no last gasp twist.

Arsenal remain top of Group F with eight points, Marseille stay in second with seven, while Borussia Dortmund move up to third on four points after beating Olympiakos at home this evening.

Van Persie praises Walcott’s ‘Maradona’ goal

Robin van Persie says that Theo Walcott’s goal against Chelsea on Sunday was worthy of the legendary Diego Maradona, but admits he had to watch a replay of the game before realising quite how special his teammate’s goal actually was.

Now, far be it from me to question our wonderful captain, but you have to wonder whether Van Persie has ever watched any footage of Maradona, because I for one don’t remember the little Argentine falling flat on his arse during his mazy run against England in the 1986 World Cup. Nor do I remember him falling on his arse playing for Boca Juniors, Barcelona or Napoli.

Anyway, despite that minor differentiation in opinion/detail, this is what the Dutchman had to say in his programme notes ahead of this evening’s 0-0 draw with Marseille.

“At the time I was running alongside him [Walcott] so I missed half of it. Later on I saw it all and wow! It’s as a Diego Maradona goal – he beat five or six players there.

“He started the movement early and the best image for me was when he was on the floor with five people around him, yet he still managed to go through and score that goal.

“He showed really quick feet, good action with both feet then ‘bang’ with a perfect shot. It was a goal like Maradona used to score. I loved watching it back because to be able to do something like that you have to be a special player and he did it.”

Arseblog News isn’t sure how much Walcott paid Van Persie to say all that, but if he’s happy to keep giving the club captain some dosh from his own savings we think he could be useful in topping up any potential contract offer over the coming months.