Aston Villa v Arsenal – live blog

Aston Villa v Arsenal – live blog

Join us today for live blogging of Aston Villa v Arsenal in the Premier League, kick off 5.30.

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Aston Villa preview and Emirates thoughts

Aston Villa preview and Emirates thoughts

Good morning, a two pronged blog this morning, football and finance, everybody’s two favourite things.

It’s a trip to Villa Park this evening as we look to build on the last two results, and in particular the one against Montpellier which came with a clean sheet. Last season’s trip there was tricky enough, it took a late Yossi Benayoun goal to take the three points, and although Villa haven’t been great this season, not forgetting manager Paul Lambert is banned from the touchline for this one, I expect another difficult game.

Arsene Wenger is looking for his team to put together a decent run of results:

We had a bit of a difficult period, hopefully now we can come back and show consistency. With what is going on in the Premier League, it looks like the team that can show that quality has a chance. So if we are able to show consistency now we have an opportunity to come back on the top teams.

With a game on Wednesday against Everton I do wonder if the manager might rotate a little bit. There was some talk of Bacary Sagna being rested for the game in midweek so perhaps Carl Jenkinson could come in at right back, and watching the manager’s pre-game press conference he spoke about the need to use Jack Wilshere carefully.

Jack himself says it’ll be Christmas before he’s back to his best but can he, this early in his comeback, do three games in a week? It’s a stretch to think so, in which case the boss will have to look at Aaron Ramsey or Francis Coquelin to fill the gap. As good as Jack is we can’t make the same mistake again and play him fatigued. The responsibility here is as much with the player as the manager, he’s got to be conscious of his own limits too and although he’ll want to play every minute of every game – because he’s that kind of guy – he needs to be sensible.

Up front I can see Gervinho come in on the right hand side in place of Oxlade-Chamberlain who wasn’t great against Montpellier. There’s the argument that he might need a run of games to find some form, and personally I’d give him another go, but I suspect Arsene will play the Ivorian, hope we can get on top of the game, and look to rest people later in the day.

We weren’t at our best on Wednesday night, particularly in the first half, but showed enough to see off opponents who we were expected to beat. The same is true of today. While taking nothing for granted, this is a game we have to be targetting three points from. Things are (hopefully) looking a bit more solid at the back with Szczesny providing a measure of calm that Mannone didn’t, and with the players up front clicking and forging a real understanding, the components are there to do just that.

Villa got beaten 5-0 by Man City last week, you can be sure they’ll be looking to react to that and toughen up at the back. But it’s down to us, how we approach this game and if we do things right then I think we’re more than capable of taking three points.

Meanwhile, as I’m sure you’ve read by now, Arsenal have signed a massive new deal with Emirates to extend their shirt sponsorship until the end of the 2018/19 season. Although the stadium naming rights have also been extended until 2028, it’s still a significant increase in income – from £5.5m a season to £30m a season. To me it looks like a very good deal.

The reality was we were absolutely hamstrung by the deals done with Emirates and Nike in order to get the up-front cash to pay for the building of the stadium. It’s left us hobbled as others have reaped in huge deals as the Premier League has grown in stature, but then we knew that was likely to happen when we made those deals.

I think the club themselves will admit that they’ve been slow to really grasp the importance of commercial income – as outlined in this Q&A from earlier in the year with Tom Fox and Mark Gonnella – but there can be no doubt this is big step forward and shows that the team tasked with improving things are starting to make a real impact. As usual, the timeline of @SwissRamble is worth a look for this thoughts and the bottom line, as he puts it, is:

 This is higher than every other club with the exception of Manchester United’s Chevrolet deal (£45m).

At the very least it means that the need (as opposed to the desire) to sell a top player each season for financial reasons is negated. If we had £30m coming in this summer we probably could have taken a harder stance with someone like van Persie. As it was £24m was too good to turn down, now it’s not so cut and dried. When you consider also that the kit manufacturer deal is up for renewal, and in this market that could bring in another substantial amount of money per season (interestingly Ivan Gazidis referred to Nike in the past tense a number of times yesterday), it means that the commercial side of things can start to have a real impact on the football.

And for me this is the crucial thing: the move to stadium was to help us compete with the biggest clubs in Europe. 22,000 extra seats, increased corporate facilities and all the trappings of the new stadium were supposed to launch Arsenal into a different league, so to speak. But the reality is that we moved into the stadium not long after a team full of stars went a full season unbeaten, and as yet the new place hasn’t had a team which fully matches the plush new surroundings.

This money, and future deals, must be invested in the team. That’s what it’s for. To buy better players, to help us keep our best players, and to create a squad of players who can truly compete for the Premier League and Champions League each season. We’re hanging on by our finger nails this season already and it’s November.

There’s money in the bank already, perhaps not as much as some suggest but there’s definitely cash there to spend on players. We will have more coming, some of the Emirates cash will be made available early, and as such we need to use it. I understand why, in recent seasons, we’ve had to be cautious. It’s been frustrating at times but I understand it.

Now though, these deals which have been a millstone are no longer dragging us down. This desire to be one of Europe’s big boys can only be achieved by properly investing in the squad. And if we increase our chances of winning, as well as being able to compete better in terms of wages, we become more attractive to new players, exciting players. Our existing players, the ones who make their names here, won’t see the grass as greener elsewhere, and, most importantly of all, a better team means fans are happier and you don’t see swathes of empty seats like we did on Wednesday against Montpellier for what was a crucial Champions League game.

Clearly we can’t throw caution to the wind and throw money about like other clubs whose pockets are deeper than a teenage poem (man), but there is now the opportunity to build on what I think is a pretty good core of players and add to it in a way that will make them even better. We’ve had to make do for long enough, thanks to this new deal and others that will follow, we need to flex our muscles a bit now and show that we’re serious about wanting to compete right till the end of each season.

For further reading – Andrew Allen wrote a transcript of the post-press conference chat with Ivan Gazidis. It’s long but well worth your time, adding some real detail to what’s already known.

Right, back to football and there’ll be full live blog coverage of the Villa game, starting around 5.30pm. That means up to the second text updates which you can follow on your browser, tablet, phone etc. It’s newly optimised for mobile too, so check back shortly for another post with all the information and team news, or simply bookmark the default live blog page and updates will begin automatically.

We’ll also be sending important updates, goals, red cards, half-time etc, directly to Twitter from inside the live blog.

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That’s it, breakfast time. Come on you reds who will probably be wearing yellow!

Major deal set to be announced + Arsecast 256

Major deal set to be announced + Arsecast 256

Morning all,

welcome to Friday, another week has flown by, we’ve got a busy few days of football ahead and two away games to contend with. Starting with Villa tomorrow, then there’s a trip to Merseyside to take on Everton in midweek. Arsene Wenger held his pre-Villa press conference yesterday and beyond confirming that Abou Diaby is still 3-4 weeks away (he’s hobbling up an down escalator in terms of his career), there aren’t any new injuries or knocks to be concerned about.

There are some “tired” legs, which is to be expected, and Theo Walcott will again miss out with the shoulder problem he picked up against Sp*rs, but other than that we seem in relatively good shape. Kieran Gibbs and Gervinho could well start tomorrow at Villa, which leaves the manager with a decision to make in terms of his centre-halves, but with the amount of football we have to play over the next few weeks there’s plenty to go around.

Of the two games we play this week you have to look at Villa as the least difficult and, if there’s going to be some rotation, you get the feeling it might be for this one. Anyway, we’ll have a proper look at that game tomorrow, the only downside of course is that it’s one of those late evening kick-offs. I’m sure our record in these games isn’t that bad but I just really dislike this kick off time. Oh well, first world problems, eh?

Meanwhile, and away from the pitch to an extent, comes the news that Arsenal are to make a ‘significant’ announcement this morning with regards a commercial/sponsorship deal. There’s a media briefing today at noon at which all will be revealed and there’s speculation that it could a new kit deal or a shirt sponsorship arrangement.

We’ve heard a lot recently about 2014 and you can’t have any discussion about Arsenal’s finances and income without the touching on the fact we’ve been relatively hamstrung by our commercial deals. In order to raise the finance for the new stadium we locked ourselves into up-front deals which, by now, look pitiful compared to the ones other clubs are enjoying. It was a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, in a way, but that was the reality of the situation we founds ourselves in. And it’s impossible to argue that it hasn’t impacted us in terms of how we’ve had to operate.

In his most recent dissection of our finances, Swiss Ramble pointed to the fact that without player sales we’d be making a loss. Manchester United and Liverpool both earn way more from their shirt sponsorship deals than we do, but hopefully today’s announcement will go some way to evening things out a bit. I can’t go into the details but I’m told the increase in revenue is substantial, to say the least, and based on that the need to move players on and cash in on them should be very much negated.

Obviously we’ll have to wait until the full announcement is made, we’ll have all the details for you over an Arseblog News as soon as we have them, but it looks as if one commercial deal could have a big impact on the footballing side of things. There’s more money for the manager (to not spend, I know! I know!), both in terms of signings and being able to compete better with the top teams in terms of wages – although there’s still a school of thought that it’s not really how much we spend on wages but how we spend that’s the big issue. Still, it’s a move forward and that’s something that should impact us in a very positive way.

Elsewhere, there’s some more stuff from Arsene Wenger this morning, urging Theo Walcott to make a commitment to Arsenal but at this point I’m kind of tired of Theo Walcott and his contract. It’s good that he’s playing well but that’s about as far as it goes, really. There are those who say that Walcott has proven himself in the last few weeks with some excellent stats, assists, goals etc, but surely Arsene Wenger and Arsenal’s offer is based on what they’ve seen over the last 6 years, not the last 6 weeks.

At the start of the season there was mild indifference towards the idea of Walcott leaving, now it’s crucial he doesn’t. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, I guess, but it’s also worth remembering that Arsenal have been trying to tie down Walcott to a new deal since last summer (2011) and while some of the ‘fault’ lies with the club, it takes two to tango.

Finally for today, and with all due credit to whoever dug this up in the first place, check out this goal from George Graham in 1970 against Liverpoool. Remind you of anything?

Right then, time for this week’s Arsecast and with me to discuss the 5-2 win over Sp*rs, Champions League qualification, Thierry Henry and more are Andrew Allen and Gareth Parker. There’s also a rake of breaking news throughout.

Also, there’s your chance to a cashmere scarf from our friends at Savile Rogue and the winner of last week’s slipper socks competition. And remember, you can get 10% off any order from Savile Rogue by using the code ARSEBLOG12 at checkout.

You can subscribe to the Arsecast on iTunes by clicking here. Or if you want to subscribe directly to the feed URL you can do so too (this is a much better way to do it as you don’t experience the delays from iTunes). To download this week’s Arsecast directly – click here 23mb MP3) or you can listen directly below without leaving this very page.

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Right then, that’s your lot for this morning. I suspect it’s going to be a busy day. Back tomorrow with a full preview of the Villa game and comment on what’s going down later on.

Till then.

With a nod to John McClane

With a nod to John McClane

Victory over Spurs. Qualification for the knockout round of the Champions League. A pair of two goal leads that have remained chaste. Without wishing to jinx anything, I think this week is proof positive that our problems are solved forever. I kid of course. The last four or five years have followed a seemingly endless pattern and at the moment, we appear to be on the incline of the trend.

A big defeat leaves us reeling, our confidence deserts us for a few games and we play within ourselves for 3-4 matches. A scrapped out win, a couple of unconvincing draws and possibly another defeat are thrown into the mix. Then we produce a big result, the confidence slowly returns, the team start to show signs of a pleasing synergy until…..well, then another significant defeat hits us and so we begin the cycle again. But let us not be too cynical this week, because there have been some big positives aside from the 6 points collated.

Most pleasing about Saturday were the signs that webs of understanding are being weaved. The front four looked as symbiotic as they have at any point this season. Walcott, Cazorla and Podolski buzzed pleasingly behind queen bee Giroud. To emphasise the point, Walcott, Podolski, Cazorla and Giroud all scored classic “centre forward” goals inside the penalty area. But Podolski, Walcott and Cazorla were also able to conjure up assists with near classical wing play.

For these reasons the likes of Poldi and Theo needn’t obsess too much about how centrally they figure in the formation graphic. So long as the understanding is good between the attacking players, they will all get chances in the centre. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Ljungberg and Pires never allowed their status as wide players to prevent them from foraging for nuts and berries in the penalty area.

The manager spoke about a greater sense of shared responsibility in attack with van Persie having rowed, rowed, rowed his boat cuntily down the stream. This time last year he had scored 13 of our 25 goals in the league. So far this season, no one player has more than four of our 23. Podolski, Cazorla and Giroud have four each, Gervinho and Walcott 3 apiece. That suggests that the manager’s vision is coming to fruition in that area.

With a centre forward like Giroud it makes sense to have a wide option feeding him. Walcott has tossed 31 crosses into the opposition penalty area in the last two Premier League matches. Only 3 have found an Arsenal player, but crossing tends to be a hopeful exercise anyway, and shouldn’t be relied upon as a staple tactic. Crossing success rates are generally low.

The important aspect is that the 3 crosses Theo produced that did hit a teammate have all been dispatched. (Vermaelen’s cross against Montpellier also led to a goal). We shouldn’t be throwing balls into the area all the time, but it shows that, if the delivery is good, we have the players that make it a worthwhile option if required. Arsene seems to pinpoint Giroud’s recent form to him acclimatising to his teammates.

“I always think the guy who is up front has to adjust to the players he plays with. His runs are dictated by what the others behind him are capable of doing. We have players now in midfield, like Wilshere, Cazorla and Arteta, who can find you if you make the right quality of runs.”

But I think his blossoming is just as much to do with his teammates acclimatising to him. I’m minded of the game at Anfield in early September when he cut a frustrated- if hunky- figure; showing early for passes from the centre circle, grappling with a defender and holding play up, only to find no teammate within thirty yards of him. Arsene acknowledged this in part in his post Montpellier press conference,

“Giroud is good when he plays completely on the offside line. Sometimes when he doesn’t get the ball enough he wants to come deep. That is not his game.”

The build-up to Cazorla’s goal against Spurs shows that the penny has dropped and his colleagues have recognised the value in getting closer to him. Wilshere certainly benefited from this with his goal on Wednesday night too. Because Giroud’s teammates now appreciate his hold up play, they are getting closer to him higher up the pitch, where his physicality is more dangerous.

So far as I see it, the main issue upfront is one of depth. To this end, Wenger hasn’t ruled out calling up a sympathetic ex for one last night of passion in the shape of Henry. Putting the romantic appeal of signing Henry to one side, a longer term option surely has to be the priority? Arsene pinpoints the loss of Gervinho and Chamakh as leaving us light upfront. But Gervinho has been a striker by default only and Chamakh hasn’t so much as a solitary minute of league football under his belt this season.

The striker market is likely to be competitive in January. The Manchester clubs look pretty well stocked up there. Other than that, most of our immediate competitors, both on our coat tails and hovering above us, will be looking to add in this area. But we have money. Plenty of it. We need a striker. So let’s buy a Mertesacking striker. Henry should be an absolute last resort. But it is a tough market.

The harsh reality is, we’re left to hoover up the players Madrid, Barca, United, City and Chelsea don’t want / need and that would improve our squad. That’s the position whether people like it or not. But I really would like to think some sort of scouting would take place before settling on Henry. I don’t think that task to be beyond a manager that is paid £7.5m a year. If we do plump for Thierry once more, the suspicion that we’re again prepared to “make do and mend” in a critical area of the pitch will linger.

The midfield is showing growing signs of understanding too I think. This piece from @hazzaboy21 talks about Wilshere’s return and its permutations. The article makes a pertinent point that, at least initially, Wilshere’s return has posed a problem for Arteta. Jack likes to play slightly higher up the pitch than Diaby did early in the season. The upshot has been that Arteta, Arsenal’s umbilical cord, has been cut adrift.

Opposing teams have found joy in sitting a withdrawn striker on Arteta to prevent him from germinating possession from deep. Jack has dovetailed much more effectively with Mikel in the last two games and that understanding will develop further given time. Villas Boas sent Clint Dempsey on at half time to play the withdrawn striker role, but the American was unable to prevent Arteta’s flow with Arsenal sitting deeper, poised like snakes in the grass, waiting to launch counter attacks.

Indeed, when asked about Jack’s goal on Wednesday night, Wenger was keen to emphasise his defensive responsibilities as Arsenal’s pivot, or ‘go between’ midfielder betwixt Arteta and Cazorla, “He should not be too obsessed by that (scoring goals). He defended well, he is the kind of player who has to be a complete midfielder not purely an offensive player.”

We’re in a stage where we play every three or four days now with a seemingly endless cavalcade of tough away matches on the horizon. Rotation will be required and we’re about to see just how much the manager trusts his squad. Hopefully the next time I write to you, another six points will have been greedily gobbled up, the remnants dribbling down our chins. Until then, yippi ki yay Mertesackers. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

Arsenal 2-0 Montpellier: minimum fuss

Arsenal 2-0 Montpellier: minimum fuss

Match ReportPlayer RatingsBy the numbersVideo

What we were looking for post-Sp*rs was a solid, professional performance, a building block, and there’s no doubt we got that last night.

There was just one change from the team that started last Saturday and that was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in for the injured Theo Walcott, pretty much as expected. What was unusual was Arsenal’s sloppiness in possession, particularly in the first 10 minutes or so. Passes were over-hit, under-hit, hit straight into touch and perhaps against better opposition that might have proved more costly. As it was, Montpellier never really looked that threatening and we got away with what was a careless opening to the game.

Although the first half remained scoreless, I thought we grew into the game. Koscielny’s header which crashed back off the bar in the 11th minute was probably the best chance, but Lukas Podolski had a couple of moments where he threatened, a taste of things to come. There was also a wonderful moment when Mertesacker shimmied his way into the box, like a gigantic Lionel Messi, only to have the ball taken from his toes. Boooo!

Montpellier tried to expose us on the break but the one time they did get in behind Wojciech Szczesny was alert and timed his intervention to perfection. We needed an early goal in the second half and that’s exactly what we got. Olivier Giroud headed down Thomas Vermaelen’s cross and Jack Wilshere, ever alert, was there to run on and dink it over the keeper for his first goal in nearly two years. His joy was unconstrained and it was obvious that as much as coming back was a great thing, his first goal since then was something he’d been waiting for.

I thought the goal would settle us down and help us really get on top but we went into our shell for a few minutes. The visitors were restricted to speculative long range efforts (one from about 40 yards out was as ridiculous as it it gets) but really posed no threat at all. And then, well, we saw one of the goals of the season.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain cut inside from the right hand side. The ball came to Podolski, he played it to Giroud who clipped a Bergkampesque pass over the Montpellier defence. The weight, the loft, the delicacy of the pass were all perfect, and Podolski continued his run before thundering a first time volley past Jourdren to make it 2-0. Watching replays you can’t help but be enthused by the finish, particularly the fact that he caught the ball when it was still quite high, but the more you see the pass you more realise how brilliant it was.

What’s interesting is the understanding that’s clearly growing between the two. Podolski later spotted Giroud’s clever run inside the Montpellier defence and picked him out beautifully, only for the keeper to spoil things by making a good save. The rotter. But they’re producing, 13 goals and 8 assists between them in all competitions this season is a very decent return, and the more the play together and get used to to each others games then the better they’ll be.

The match was pretty much done and dusted from there. There were run-outs for Ramsey (who did well), Coquelin and Gervinho, and with Schalke winning at home to Olympiacos it meant that qualification for the knock-out stages was assured for the 13th season in a row. It’s a stat worth noting as those with deeper pockets fall short. Again. Topping the group means going to Greece and getting a win while hoping Schalke drop points to Montpellier, but that’s a bridge we can cross when we come to it.

Afterwards, Arsene said:

We didn’t find our way in the first half, and Montpellier won many 50-50s. Technically we were not completely clean and accurate and I was worried we could be caught on the counter attack. In the end it went well.

Thirteen times in a row we qualified. I’m very proud because it’s not the most glamorous thing, but it’s most difficult to be consistent at our level. It is a credit to the Club, because it is not as easy as it looks. If you look all over Europe, there are not many teams who do it.

From what he said as well it looks as if we’ll take a full squad to Greece to try and finish top, but qualification was the most important thing. The vagaries of the group stages mean you could just as easily draw a top team by finishing second, but for that’s what the Champions League is all about. There aren’t any easy games at this point really, so que sera sera.

Overall, I thought it was just what we needed last night. Although it probably didn’t feel like it, this was a game in which the stakes were very high and we dealt with Montpellier well throughout. Szczesny was, one moment apart, more or less untroubled and did what he had to do with a minimum of fuss. Seeing us keep a clean sheet for only the second time in 16 games was very welcome too.

And I know he’s the player that everybody’s going to talk about this morning but I have to give props to Olivier Giroud. He’s never going to be the kind of striker with lightning pace who streaks in behind, nor is he flashy in and around the box, but he is becoming extremely effective and is a real team player. He might not have scored last night but he got two assists, held the ball up well, and when it was required he got back and put in a shift defensively too.

As Arsene Wenger said, ‘he fights for the team’, and after some difficulties in the first few weeks of his Arsenal career – exacerbated by the ludicrousness of modern football/fans where a player is written off after just a few games – he’s shown why Arsene Wenger splashed out and, frankly, £12.5m looks money very well spent when you see what he brings to the side. The manager says he’ll get better too, I like that.

So, three points, qualification assured, clean sheet, a Jack Wilshere goal and a wonder-strike from Podolski. No complaints.

Next up, Villa.