Arsenal v Montpellier – live blog

Arsenal v Montpellier – live blog

Join us today for live blogging of Arsenal v Montpellier in the Champions League, kick off 7.45pm.

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Montpellier preview + thoughts on Henry’s possible return

Montpellier preview + thoughts on Henry’s possible return

Champions League action tonight as we face Montpellier and with the right result(s) we could secure qualification for the knock-out stages.

If Arsenal win and Schalke win we go through, but in order to top the group we’d need a result in Greece against Olympiacos. If the Greeks get a result in Germany, of any kind, it’ll mean that even if we win tonight all three teams have a chance of qualifying from the group, so ideally we’ll be looking for a Schalke victory. It would be fair to say that Greece hasn’t always been the happiest of hunting grounds for us and it’d be a jittery night to say the least.

In terms of team news there’s bad news about Theo Walcott who has a shoulder problem while Andre Santos also misses out. There’s better news about Kieran Gibbs, who is back in contention, while Gervinho also returns to the squad. It’s difficult to know exactly how we’ll line up and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a couple of changes from the team that beat Sp*rs. Although obviously the priority is tonight’s game there’s a trip to Villa at the weekend to consider so we may see a bit of rotation because of that.

I’d have Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right hand side in place of Walcrocked, there’s some suggestion Carl Jenkinson could come in at right back for Bacary Sagna, while if Gibbs, the natural left back, comes back into the team it means the manager has a decision to make about his central-defensive partnership. Per Mertesacker attended yesterday’s press conference with him and Wenger was full of praise for the German, so it looks like one of Koscielny or Vermaelen and given the fact the Belgian wears the armband I think he’ll get the nod.

Tonight’s opponents have no chance of making it through the group stages but Arsene Wenger played down any suggestion they’d just go through the motions tonight:

Not for a second would I think the team will be complacent tomorrow – they will be full of desire to do well and win the game, I am certain of that.

It is important on the back of the T*ttenham game we show another good performance and a resolute attitude, that is at stake for me tomorrow. After, if we produce the quality performance, we will win the game.

Indeed, there’s the danger that a team with nothing to lose might play with the kind of freedom that comes in such a situation, so we can take nothing for granted. Not that we really ought to anyway, especially, as the manager says, when we need to build on Saturday’s game against Sp*rs. Of course it doesn’t come close in terms of intensity but if anything the stakes are higher when it comes to progress in the relevant competition.

A win tonight is crucial, just 1 point from 6 against Schalke has made the group a lot tighter than we would like, so we need to put ourselves in a good position for our final game. If it’s something we don’t have to get something from, all the better, but if we win and Schalke win it’ll take nothing less than three points in Greece to top the group.

In other news, the main story dominating the headlines this morning is the potential return of Thierry Henry in the January window. It’s obvious Arsene is considering it, as he’s been talking up the qualities of the former captain:

Will I sign him again in January? I don’t know. I don’t rule it out. He is sharp. Last year I did it because we lost Gervinho. It was a good connection. This year we lose Gervinho again as they are playing in the Africa Cup of Nations two years in a row.

So we will be confronted with a shortage. Particularly if Chamakh should go. I cannot stand in his way. Then we will be short. He is a communicator. An extrovert. Very intelligent. He can only give good advice to players because he was in their position when he arrived here.

I have to say I’m uneasy about this, to be honest. I think we’re short in the striking department and I get we need cover for the African departures (both Ivory Coast and Morocco take part), but regardless of their international commitments we’re light. Chamakh doesn’t even make the bench for most games, we went into the North London derby without a striker on the bench, and while you can’t argue against the logic that he’s better than what we have and certainly better than nothing, is that where we should be setting the bar?

If we were flat broke and had to make do with former players coming back to do us a favour and tide us over, then fine. But we’re not, and Arsenal’s need for more firepower is an issue for me. At the moment it’s not hugely pressing, the players we have are performing and it’s impossible not to look at Olivier Giroud and be encouraged by his performances. But all it takes is one tweaked ligament, an ankle sprain, a loss of form and/or confidence and all of a sudden we’re struggling.

I also get the the idea that Thierry can impart wisdom and knowledge to the players at the club presently, but then give him a coaching role or something. Which all sounds like I have something against Henry but I don’t, not at all. However, we have to look at the reality of the situation, he’s 35 years old, the game in England is more physical, more intense and quicker than ever. And like it or not his legs aren’t.

By all means bring him in, reap the benefits of his experience and how he might influence younger players, but not alone. It’s a marvellous, emotional thing, and very difficult for fans to complain about because of Henry’s stature and status at the club. Rightly he’s a legend for the goals he scored and the enjoyable cameo last season, but let’s not kid ourselves that was a period in which everything was sunshine and lollipops because of Thierry. Results were mixed, to say the least.

If we need a striker, and we do, let’s go get a striker. Somebody who can contribute to the team and the squad for the long-term, not just a couple of months at most. If we have someone like Thierry Henry to add further depth to the squad then all well and good, but to some extent it feels like this would be a bit too convenient and rather fudging the issues we have with our squad.

If you can’t see the game later, stuck in work or whatever, there’ll be full live blog coverage, starting around 7pm. 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.

And remember, if you fancy betting on the game, Paddy Power will give you a £20 free bet if you sign up and bet £10. Simply click here to register.

Finally for today, the winner of the signed Robert Pires DVD is Thomas Lemoine, well done to you, I’ll be in touch to get your details.

Whistling men in yellow vans

Whistling men in yellow vans

So here we are, between games, and although we don’t have much time to consider things before tomorrow night’s game with Montpellier, we should take stock a bit.

The win over Sp*rs was fantastic, it was welcome and enjoyable, but now it’s time we make like Housemartins, and Build. The issues we’ve had defensively and offensively drill down deeply into our problems, but the chief one has been lack of consistency, both in terms of performance and results. Now, looking at the fixture list, having played Sp*rs, United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City, with varying degrees of success, we have a run of games from which we should be capable of taking a lot of points.

That’s not to say that the games are easy. Everton away is always tough and West Brom, this season’s surprise package, have shown they’re a very good team and will provide a decent test to anyone. But you look at games like Wigan, Reading (gulp), Swansea at home etc, and think that if we really want to consolidate our position in the top four, at the very least, then these are games from which we should be targeting maximum points.

I strongly believe the talent is there and the front three are beginning to produce on a regular basis now. Podolski, Giroud and Walcott have 22 goals and countless (only because I don’t have time to count them this morning) assists between them. Cazorla, with Wilshere and Arteta behind him, looks capable of producing in any game and while I still think we’ve got issues defensively, some of those will be helped by the fact that Wojciech Szczesny is back in goal. I’ve always said he’s got a lot of work to do to become the goalkeeper he has the potential to be, but he’s got the kind of presence and stature that’s vital and that no other keeper at the club possesses.

But one good win against Sp*rs doesn’t prove anything. I have no doubt that it will instill some confidence and belief, and perhaps the good thing is that players don’t tend to analyse games as closely as we do. If they hang on and scrap out a 1-0 win all they’ll care about is that it’s a win, whereas we might look at defensive lapses or missed chances that might have been costly.

It’s finding consistency that’s been the main issue. The last time we won more than three games in a row was last season, coincidentally after the 5-2 against Sp*rs. We won six on the bounce before slipping up against QPR, so it’s now time to take the positives, take the experience in this team, take the fact that our new signings and attacking options are forging a decent understanding, take the fact that bar one or two injuries (mostly to players you’d expect to be injured anyway) we’ve got a pretty healthy squad, and really kick on.

There’s no reason why a team that can hammer Sp*rs, beat Liverpool at Anfield and come away from City of Manchester stadium with a well-earned point can’t produce in games against ‘lesser’ opposition. Questions about the team’s mentality are more than valid in my opinion but also confusing and difficult to draw any conclusions from. We’ve let leads slip but also come from behind to earn points, so there’s fragility but resilience too.

It will come down to hard work, on the training ground, on the pitch, and if there’s enough of that, coupled with the ability of the players we have, there’s no reason why we can’t go on a decent run in these upcoming fixtures. The fact we can produce such good results is what makes the poor ones so frustrating, so fingers crossed we can step it up a bit over the next few weeks and get some real momentum going.

Elsewhere, there’s more talk of Theo Walcott’s contract and what might happen with him. Arsene has been quite bullish in recent weeks about wanting him to stay and how the club will try to make that happen, but it all feels and sounds very familiar. How we’ve got to this point is a long and complicated story. It’s not simply a case of the club not giving him what he wants, it comes from both sides and neither of them have covered each other in glory.

I think we needed to be pragmatic and from a footballing point of view we are. We’re playing Walcott, Walcott is performing and producing like we know he’s capable of when he finds some form. Whether it’s just good form, whether he’s extra motivated to show Arsenal he’s worthy of more or if there’s a touch of the Flamini to the whole thing, I don’t think it really matters at this point. Arsene says he won’t be sold in January regardless of what happens, and that’s pragmatic too. I’ve said before that this situation could have played out a lot differently, with a lot more bitterness and recrimination, and thankfully expediency ruled the day.

Personally, while I can see the ‘pay him what he wants’ argument, I think it’s easy to forget that as exciting as Theo has been at times, Arsenal fans have shown him a great deal of patience. Far more than other players have been granted, and if it feels a bit like that’s being thrown back our faces, I guess that’s the modern footballer for you. But people’s judgement of players exists very much in the here and now and it doesn’t suit to remember the development, hard work and faith put in him to allow him to get to this point in his career.

So if we’re being pragmatic now, and using the player well, then we also need to be pragmatic about the situation as a whole, and it’d be a huge surprise to me if he were to sign a new deal. That means looking at how we replace him. Do we buy? Do we promote Oxlade-Chamberlain? Do we use Gervinho more on the right hand side? At the very least this is something the manager and his staff need to be considering in the long-term. Players come, players go, but how you deal with departures is much more important than the departure itself. We shall see.

As Arseblog News told you at the weekend, Emmanuel Frimpong has joined Charlton on loan until January. It’s an important spell for him, he’s got to start producing on the pitch in a big way, and even then I’d have my doubts that it’ll be enough to secure a future with us.

Finally, for today, if you want to win a DVD signed by Robert Pires, I suggest you go here right away and enter the dreamy competition.

Till tomorrow.

Tactics Column: Theo Walcott is Arsenal’s striker on the wing

Tactics Column: Theo Walcott is Arsenal’s striker on the wing

Speed has always been the greatest virtue of Theo Walcott’s game but waiting for the rest of his game to catch up, has required a large dose of patience. During one training session for England, before the 2010 World Cup, coach Fabio Capello halted training every time Theo Walcott made a run inside. Walcott did it out of habit; for Arsenal, allowed the freedom to get into positions where he could be most dangerous. For Capello it was different. He felt that Walcott’s pace would be less useful where space was was most congested on the pitch and each time he darted infield, Capello would instantly blow his whistle.

In his book, Theo: Growing Up Fast, Walcott admitted that he was “confused” by Capello’s instructions; that curbing those instincts was not his game. He has always been destined for, in his head, to play upfront and when he signed for Arsenal, and given the chance to develop under the tutelage of Theirry Henry, the design was set in motion. Arsene Wenger has always promised his winger that a striking berth would only be a matter of time and despite encouraging words in public, he has quietly been waiting for the right moment. And that moment might have arrived on Saturday when Arsenal defeated Tottenham Hotspur 5-2, in the North London Derby.

Theo Walcott was instrumental in Arsenal’s demolition of their closest rivals. Every time he received the ball out wide, his delivery was threatening even if didn’t always find his target and his directness, whether taking on the full-back or drifting inside, encapsulated the urgency of Arsenal’s play. And at the end of the match, he was given his chance to lead the line and duly delivered with a goal of his own. Wenger praised the increasing maturity of Theo Walcott’s all-round game: “He is a different type of player, he can play up front and he can also play up front with Giroud. He has found a good mixture of positional play on the wing now, and he is difficult to stop.”

As always though, Wenger was quick to add a caveat and that Walcott is only as good as his team-mates around him. “He finished as a centre forward [against Tottenham] and scored a goal,” Wenger told Arsenal.com. “But when you play with the midfield we have – Wilshere, Cazorla, Arteta – they will find you in any position if you move well.”

And that’s the key point to Theo Walcott playing well, whether it’s up front or on the flanks. Walcott must be indebted to some degree, the role Bacary Sagna has played liberating him and in a sense, allowing him to play as a striker. It’s the same job Kieran Gibbs did earlier in the season when playing with Lukas Podolski. Their energy getting up the pitch and their tactical-nous, gives the freedom to the wide players – who are like strikers in Arsene’s system – to move with freedom. Certainly, one only has to look at how Podolski’s fortunes have fared while Gibbs has been absent.

Of course, Walcott’s improved maturity has had just as much part to play to play in his recent good performances. His touch is full of confidence now: just re-watch his control in the build up to Arsenal’s fourth against Tottenham. And his movement is less predictable and a much maligned part of his game, his dribbling, looks more purposeful. Theo Walcott has scored nine goals now, including three against Reading without the same security behind him – but that game, characterised by abandon, makes it difficult to draw too many judgements from.

It’s apt that Wenger points to the important of his team-mates when evaluating Walcott’s credentials to play as a centre-forward because as a poacher, which is what his style would translate to if he makes that move, it depends entirely on the support he has behind him. Ultimately, that would be the main sticking point too, if he was to play as a number 9 regularly. Because not many teams play with a poacher these days and as such, central strikers need to possess other all-round skills if they are to survive there. Wenger indicates that Walcott doesn’t yet have those skills – to hold up play and bring others in the game – and one wonders whether he ever will. In this formation, the 4-2-3-1, Walcott is unlikely to get the chance to lead the line from the start but there is scope he will in a 4-4-2with Olivier Giroud or Podolski.

Nevertheless, Arsenal-Tottenham, showed the burgeoning relationship he has with Giroud and looking at where he mainly touched the ball, one can say Walcott was essentially playing as a striker – albeit one very wide. He was the highest player on the pitch and with the team’s centre-forward also acting as a pivot; it allows him to feed off Giroud’s knock-downs, as he did for Cazorla’s goal. Walcott’s crossing is more intelligent now too and looks like a result of work on the training ground.

Ultimately, though, Walcott might have to accept Capello was right, even if he doesn’t quite understand. The limited space on the field these days mean his pace might be more deadly, starting wide. If Arsenal pass the ball well, then room will always be created for him to run into, more so than where the space is more congested centrally.

Walcott’s role model might be Thierry Henry or Michael Owen and he might look at Javier Hernandez as the type of player he’d like to be. But a more realistic archetype of what type of player he could become might be goalscoring wide-forwards such as Cristiano Ronaldo or David Villa. It’s as Sir Alex Ferguson once said: “When forwards attack from wide to inside, they are far more dangerous. It’s funny when I see centre-forwards starting off in the middle against their markers and then going away from goal. Strikers going inside are far more dangerous, I think. When Henry played as a striker, and sometimes when Wayne [Rooney] does, they try to escape and create space by drifting from the centre to wide positions, when that actually makes them less dangerous.” Walcott would do well to heed to such words of wisdom.

Competition: win a DVD signed by Robert Pires

Competition: win a DVD signed by Robert Pires

Last week, Robert Pires was in the Armoury to sign copies of the new ‘Arsenal Greatest Premier League Games’ DVD.

The DVD brings together the very best Arsenal action from the Premier League era, with more than 60 matches from the past 20 years featured across three discs, including the title successes of 1997/98 and 2001/02 and the unforgettable 2003/04 ‘Invincibles’ season.

‘Arsenal Greatest Premier League Games’ is on sale now in all official Club stores, priced at £15 and we’ve got an exclusive copy signed by Robert Pires himself to give away. To be in with a chance of winning, just answer this question:

Robert Pires scored his first Arsenal goal against a) Sp*rs b) Sunderland c) Lazio

Answers to competition@arseblog.com before 7am on Wednesday 21st, November. Winner announced on Wednesday morning’s blog.