As Arsenal waved goodbye to Mikel Arteta at the end of the season, we were also waving goodbye to our captain. Arteta’s retirement now raises the question of which Arsenal star will wear the armband next season with the ambition to lead the team to success.
A year or so ago you would not have given Arsenal FC a snowball’s chance in hell of being able to sign the young centre back Rafael Varane from his current club, as the French international was a regular starter for Real and was drawing rave reviews for his performances in Spain and around Europe.
For some reason, though, Varane has dropped down the pecking order under first Rafa Benitez and now Zinedine Zidane, with Sergio Ramos and Pepe the preferred central defensive pairing and with Nacho starting to get more game time. At 22-years old and with his national team France about to host the Euro 2016 tournament this is hardly ideal for the talented young defender and there are growing reports that he could be moving on in the summer.
Maybe the fact that the ringing endorsement of two Arsenal stars came from TV pundits that used to play for big Premier League rivals of ours should give them a lot more credence. To be honest, Arsenal fans are much more used to hearing some heavy criticism aimed at various Gunners in the press, so it was certainly a surprise.
Maybe Steven Gerrard and Rio Ferdinand were caught up in the excitement of the former Arsenal striker Ian Wright, who was busy dancing around the BT sport studio as Wenger´s men pulled off an amazing Champions League result to seal out progress into the next round.
While the Arsenal squad has been wracked with injury problems, Arsene Wenger has at least had some good news with the England international striker Theo Walcott returning to the squad and Kieran Gibbs and Laurent Koscielny also coming back off the injury list.
Only one of those three returning Gunners is in the starting line up chosen by the bodss though, with the France international centre back completing the strongest possible Arsenal back four alongside Mertesacker, Bellerin and Monreal and with Flamini preferred to Chambers in the holding role in front of them.
Last weekend was just about typical of the way that bad luck can work against Arsenal. Arsene Wenger spoke about the unlucky sequence of events away to West Brom that saw Francis Coquelin pick up a long term injury and his replacement Mikel Arteta have everything that could go wrong for him go wrong before he himself had to go off with an injury.
But at least that bad luck was out of the way and the Gunners could expect to not have it happen again right? Wrong because that first half against Norwich was almost a carbon copy of our last Premier League game. This time it was Laurent Koscielny that had to go off in the first 15 minutes.
The pressure is on Arsenal to win this game and with the home side West Brom having struggled so far in the Premier League this season, you would expect the Gunners to come back to north London with all the points but with Manchester United having scored an early goal away to Watford, there is no room for error.
Arsene Wenger had hinted before the international break that he would be giving the Chile international forward Alexis Sanchez an enforced spell on the sidelines but after it was revealed this week that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would be slightly later to return than was first thought, the boss has little option but to start with Alexis.
The injury news was good for Arsenal this week, with Laurent Koscielny having passed his fitness test on Thursday and training with the squad again yesterday, so Arsene Wenger will be able to name his strongest back four in front of Petr Cech.
And despite Alexis Sanchez having only recently returned from his long haul trip to South America and two full 90 minute games for the Chile national team, I think that Wenger will start him away to Watford today, as the Premier League is a huge priority for the Gunners this season.
The TV pundits were pulling no punches on the Arsenal and Colombia keeper David Ospina last night, with both Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher not only blaming him for the winning goal scored by Swansea but claiming it as proof that Ospina has not got what it takes to be the Arsenal number one.
Arsene Wenger, however, saw things differently and is clearly keen to stand up for his keeper, as his post match comments on the Arsenal website show. The Frenchman instead suggested that it was the Arsenal defenders who were at fault for failing to deal with a situation the boss called an easy one.
It is a shame that it took an Arsenal injury crisis for the young French midfielder Francis Coquelin to get his big chance, with a decent run of games in the first team in his favourite position of deep lying midfielder. But without the Gunners losing the likes of Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey this season, Coquelin may have been moving on.
Arsene Wenger had given the academy graduate a few chances before, 43 of them to be exact, but it is fair to say that he had never impressed enough for the manager to stick with him on a regular basis. Thankfully that has now happened and everyone is feeling the benefits.
Arsenal had a very UNhappy New Years Day at Southampton yesterday, and Wojciech Szczesny must be wishing he had stayed in bed and called in a sickie after his farcical performance which allowed Southampton to score twice to take the points.
Arsene Wenger felt that the Gunners could easily have won the game if it hadn’t been for the Poles errors, and also because the referee should have sent off Florin Gardos when he stopped Alexis Sanchez getting his usual goal. Wenger said on SkySports: “We must give credit to their ‘keeper today, and as well to the referee that he didn’t give them a red card when Sanchez was clean through,”