Good day, Gooners, across the world.
This is completely unrelated to Arsenal, but yesterday we witnessed a sporting miracle, when Sachin Tendulkar scored his 100th century in international cricket. His career has spanned over 22 years and he has carried the weight of expectations of a billion countrymen, and he remains the humblest man you can find. A bit like Ryan Giggs for football. A salute to the Little Master.
Back to football then. Of course, a long weekend awaits, with Arsenal not in action, thanks to the FA Cup involvement of Everton, who host Sunderland. Liverpool host Stoke, who haven’t won at Anfield, for, god know’s how long, while Chelsea and Sp*rs host Leicester and Bolton respectively.
Arsenal fans are certainly hoping Leicester can do a Birmingham and take Chelsea to a replay, and add to their growing list of fixtures, while Sunderland can frustrate Everton and do the same. Speaking of growing fixture lists, the draw for the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals have been made.
Chelsea, who trounced Napoli, to qualify, drew Benfica. It might look like an easy draw at first, but remember Benfica were equally responsible as Basel to oust Manchester United. Basel’s slayers Bayern Munich face Marseille, who surprisingly knocked 2010 winners Inter Milan. AC Milan vs Barcelona is clearly the round of the tie, while APOEL Nicosia will experience some great nights in their history as they host Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid. Come to think of it, had we beaten AC Milan, we would again be facing Barcelona for the 3rd season running. No one would want that, really.
Coming back to Arsenal, youngsters Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson have all spoken about the camaraderie in the team.
I think it’s gone really well in terms of bedding in with the boys and into the squad,Not so much as a first-team regular as obviously as I am still young and there are lot of good players around me doing really well. I just feel part of the squad now, am really comfortable with all of the lads, the fans and feel a massive part of it. Maybe not so much now but I can see myself being a part of Arsenal’s future. That is where I would like to be anyway and I am going to work as hard as I can to make sure I achieve that. Obviously it is a big step up from League One last year. With the boss bringing me here in the first place that gave me confidence. He thought I had some ability so to have his trust gives me a bit of confidence and you can work on that. I have belief in myself as well but I know I still have a lot of hard work to do. There are just little things in your game that you don’t maybe know when you are younger and you might not see in League One. You make mistakes and you get punished for them in the Premier League. You are always learning and it has been a good education so far.
I have only been at Charlton before, but the team spirit here is fantastic,Everyone gets on, which is quite rare in football. Often you have cliques of people or people who argue all the time, but we all get on well here.That is a big thing and it boosts the morale of the team. We are all friends, which helps on the pitch because you have that faith and trust in one another.A lot of us younger ones hang out and do stuff together. I spend a lot of time with Chamberlain in particular, just hanging out and going for dinner and that sort of thing,I love a bit of FIFA. Who is the best one? That’s a silly question, isn’t it! The boys are alright, but on my day I think I am definitely up there. I am still in my family home, so a lot of the time I will drive down to Alex’s house and we will just chill and play some FIFA.We have to rest up a lot of the time, so we normally just chill and watch films. I am quite into Prison Break, so we have watched a lot of that.We can’t be running around in theme parks and that sort of thing. We have a round of golf now and then. Normally we tend to take it easy, but that suits me fine.
You can see how much it means to the fans and we need to continue that now to keep the atmosphere going,When the Emirates is like that, other teams can’t play because it is too difficult. We feel like we have a lot more power when the atmosphere is kicking like that.It’s just been a great turnaround. We took a lot of stick a few weeks back, especially after the defeats in Milan and the FA Cup, but everyone has come together and shown a real [resolve] to turn the season around.I think that was the case after my first game back,We were playing a few days later away at Sunderland and I realised then that I wasn’t ready to play again so soon. I thought that something would happen because I hadn’t recovered quickly enough.I was better for it [missing the Sunderland game] because I came back in for the next game against Tottenham and now I feel like I can recover quicker and play consecutively.
The team spirit is there for everyone to see. The last 4 games, Arsenal have fought hard and earned some impressive results. Even Marrouane Chamakh afforded Arsene Wenger a hug, despite being kept out of first team action for so long.
In other news, Martin Keown, was in Beijing to finalize details of the pre-season tour. He spoke about van Persie and the defence.
We have to keep him. We’ve lost of course Fabregas and Nasri last summer. The team has done very well to adjust.It’s interesting to see how he has developed. I was at the club when he came as a young man and I think the captaincy has given him something extra.He’s a real figurehead for the team and we can rely on him to score. He’s our Messi.He scores the goals, which are really important for the team. It would be a backwards step to lose him.I can’t imagine he’d get the same adulation if he went anywhere else – the Arsenal fans love him and they recognise now that we need to get this [contract talks] sorted out.Maybe it’s linked to how successful the team is going to be, but he certainly looks happy at the moment. He’s in great form.
Regarding the defence, I think it has been a problem keeping people fit; we’ve not really had everybody available,If you look at left-back, Santos has come to the club and got injured straight away. Young Kieran Gibbs has been injured also at left-back – it’s nice to see him return. Sagna broke his ankle as well.I think the manager has had real difficulty in those areas. I certainly like Vermaelen and Koscielny, I think those two have massive futures at the club.Koscielny is so nimble in his movement and the way he can transfer his weight. We saw that last year against Barcelona when he played against Messi – that was a good sign for the future.Vermaelen we know about – he’s real leader type, a no-nonsense defender. I think we have the makings of an outstanding defence.We just need those guys fit. What we need also is a little bit more from the people who come in [as back-up]; they need to iron out mistakes.You can’t be fit every week, so you’re only really as strong as your squad. If you’re going to win something that is perhaps an area that needs to be looked at. If you put our best back four out there I think it’s as good as any in the Premier League.
Finally, Arsene Wenger spoke on a host of issues, ranging from 4th spot to the fans.
AW on 4th Spot
It’s too early to say that,I wouldn’t completely rule out Newcastle nor Liverpool. Of course the most obvious battle is between Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal but you have to wait two or three games. There are 10 games to go, but three games ago we were 10 points behind Tottenham. Things can change quickly. You just want to be focused on your next game and give everything.
AW on the team
We had a relentless dynamic in the team [against Newcastle],I think what sums our game up is when Vermaelen scored the goal. We had seven Arsenal players in or around the box, that means only three stayed back and everybody else was throwing everything forward.What stands out is that huge refusal to not win. That stood out throughout the game because in the second half we pinned them back, dominated the game and created chances.You wouldn’t [always] like to leave it until the last minute but the result was just a consequence of the game.
AW on the run-in
[Sometimes] there are games that you think will be difficult but they are slightly easier than expected, and sometimes the easy game is harder than expected,You don’t make any plans. The only thing we know is what is needed from us: to be at our best no matter what people say about the situation.[It is important] to keep your squad available and keep your spirit, togetherness and teamwork at a very high level. Also you must maintain belief and not tighten up. Be relaxed, focused and determined.We have created the momentum, so let’s take care of it,Keep the urgency high, the level of commitment high, then momentum can be an advantage for you.
AW on the pressing game
No [they are not covering more ground] but it is not only about distances, it is about doing it together,It is the timing of doing it [pressing] together that is vital, because you can run even more if you don’t do it together.I believe we put the effort in from the first to the last minute. We don’t look at the result, we just want to win. We are in a battle until the end of the season and that will be at stake every time. You see that even by doing that [working hard off the ball] the games are very tight and that will be requested until the end of the season.I just think that is what the target is,Hard or not, you don’t even have to think about that. We know what is demanded and when you want to win the game you just put the effort in that is requested.
AW on the fans
I always said that the vibes have to come out from the team,When the fans feel that the vibes are right they stand behind the team and support the team. With the recent history of the team having been more positive, the fans have more reason to believe that they can support the team and that they will win the game. But the dynamic always has to come from the team.
That’s it for today, then. Have a good weekend, and enjoy the football.
Jai Arsenal 🙂