A very good day to all Gooners out there. It is a really great feeling, to see your team on a fantastic streak, as Arsenal are in right now. I really can’t remember the last time I was really buzzing. It just translates into your mood, the way the Gunners fare. If they lose, the day is really lousy as lousy can be, but if they win, it can be a really enjoyable day. The last few weeks have been really enjoyable, and Arsenal secured 3 more vital points against Aston Villa on Saturday. Schoolboy stuff.
I couldn’t cover all the post-Everton reaction, because there was very little time between that and the Saturday kickoff. Anyways, here it is.
Aaron Ramsey started after a while on the sidelines. He scuffed a couple of opportunities, but he put in a decent display, and will provide Arsene Wenger a pleasant headache in midfield. Aaron Ramsey said,
It was great, we battled well and it came off,The back four did a wonderful job and kept a good line. As a team I think we kept our composure and looked very solid so overall we are delighted with the win and hopefully we can keep it going.Overall I thought we did very well in the first half an hour and created a few opportunities. Then the crowd started to get behind them and they started to get a few tackles in. It was always going to be a tough place to come and they proved that in the end. But we dealt with it really well and I think we deserved the points in the end. The results definitely went our way on the night and we are carrying on our good form of late. Hopefully we can just continue to do this now until the end of the season. We have proved what we are capable of achieving and how motivated we are to finish third. We are definitely doing that at the moment but we are going about our own business and hopefully we can continue it.
Arsenal’s defence, which has been the talking point for much of the season, has been flawless over the past few games. The centre back of pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen is moulding to be one of the best partnerships in the league. Laurent Koscielny said,
It is not just the four defenders, it is all the team,Robin [van Persie] put in a lot of effort to help us too so all of the team defend and we attack together too. We have to take that into the next game. We have had some difficult periods this season but we have some good players and a good team. In football it changes quickly and in three or four weeks we have won. We need to keep that and the most important thing is to keep in the top four.We know Chelsea had an important game against Manchester City [on Wednesday] and their next game against Tottenham so if they lost and we won it was good for the table,”Wednesday night was good but the most important thing is the next game against Aston Villa. If we win it is very good for us. It is very important, we are very happy but now we want to keep this place. It is important to continue to play well.
Thomas Vermaelen, who scored vital winners against Newcastle and Everton, said,
I am always confident – we keep winning games but we don’t look at Tottenham, we only look at ourselves,We have some difficult games to come. We don’t have to look at other teams because that will keep the focus away from our own performances. That’s the most important thing to keep the focus on ourselves.At the moment we have had some good results against some difficult teams. Everton won against Man City and Tottenham at Goodison Park so it’s a great result to come here and win.We showed a great mentality. We won a lot of duels at the back and that’s why we got the three points.The Champions League is important for us and third place gives you straight qualification into it, while with fourth place you have to play a qualifier,Third place is better but it is not going to be easy there are a few games to play and not easy ones, so let’s focus on ourselves and see how far we can go.
Le Prof, too was full of praise for the central defensive pairing.
They look solid and I think they have a good balance defensively and offensively,They can both play with the ball as well and for us that is very important for the basis of our game. It starts at the back and they have the quality to do that as well. Defensively they are not the tallest but they have a fantastic leap and both of them have good pace. Vermaelen looks like a frustrated centre forward because he has the timing to get into the box as well.
He also said that Kieran Gibbs is a fast improving player.
Because he has been out for a long time, when you start a game you are a bit more cautious,But he slowly becomes himself again and you see that most of the time for a full back with the initiative it takes going forward. Defensively in the challenges he is stronger. I still feel there is more to come from him and from game to game there are improvements there.He was transformed into a full back but the natural [ability] always comes out. It is good because we have a game that is based on that.
Gibbs had got his chance earlier in the season, when Andre Santos got injured against Olympiakos. However, Gibbs, too , got injured and missed a major chunk of the season. He has returned and put in some fine displays at the problematic left-back spot. Another selection headache for Wenger. Does he opt for the experienced Brazilian international, or the young English upstart.
Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger voiced his views on quite a few matters.
AW on the pressure
What you want is improvement from the team, so if this improvement is going in a spectacular way it is great,But it is about finishing the job. We have good ingredients because we are on the same wavelength to play our game, and the spirit in the side is good. Now we must continue our development.I felt we always had a strong spirit, but of course you question it when you are mid-table. That is why I feel this team was maybe under more pressure than any other team, and maybe they have learned from it.It has tested our character, and the response was positive. If you look at all the problems we had over the season and how we responded, the attitude was always right and correct. The end of the season will tell us where we stand but I am very positive that we will fight until the end.
AW on set pieces
We are a bit more dangerous because I feel our runs are better, our combinations are better and overall we look more dangerous,I remember Benayoun scoring from a corner [at Aston Villa in December], which you don’t expect. That brought us two important extra points, and against Everton we again scored from a corner. That goes against the idea that we are not good on set pieces and if you look at the number of points we have taken, it is not fantastic but it is not too bad. Benayoun is a technical player and on the night you are very grateful because you don’t expect him to score a header.
AW on consistency
I believe what is most important at this stage of the season is our consistency and momentum,More than any other result, I believe this is the period which matters most what you do, so we just want to keep our focus on that.You have to focus on how we want to play football, that is the best way to deal with the pressure. In the end you enjoy it and it is a privilege to play games of importance. They become more and more important.There is something in the team because we have been to Liverpool twice [recently] and taken six points.They were points where we not only had to show our footballing qualities but also our mental state. That looks quite positive.
AW on the solidity of the team
It confirms the solidity of the team,Especially when you go to Goodison Park where you know you will be under pressure and the crowd knows the game. To come back having not conceded I am very happy because we have shown signs of mastering situations and not panicking. Especially against a team that is top class on crosses and set-pieces. Usually people would not say Arsenal would not concede in circumstances like that so I am very pleased.
AW on Chelsea v Tottenham
What I want us to continue is our run and not be in a position where you have to look at the other results,That is why I believe that the main focus is on us, not to be obsessed by other results and to just keep going.Of course the players will be aware of what is going on but it is not the last day of the season. We are in a position where what will matter is what we do at three o’clock against Aston Villa. We have to be professional and focus on what is important. What is important is our performance. We are happy and we keep people who love Arsenal happy if we turn up with a top performance. We have regained credit with our fans because we have shown a fantastic attitude and the more we show that, the more we will gain credit. That is the most important thing to do.
AW on Podolski
Nothing is done. No, he has not had a medical,I don’t master the timing [of any announcement] because that does not just rely on us. It could happen soon, it could happen later, I don’t know.It is always a concern [that someone else could come in for him]. The speed in which you do things is important, but at the end of the day it is always the player who makes the decision.It is about how much they want to join you.
AW on summer transfers
We will not be a lot on the market, quantity-wise I mean. Quality-wise, certainly,But the [maximum] number of the squad is 25. We have many players out on loan and we will take a gamble if we find top, top quality of course.But don’t forget we have many players out on loan and we have not had Jack Wilshere or Abou Diaby for the whole season.These players will be back and it means that number and quality-wise we are strong because we are in the position we are in without these players.You want to make me say that last year was bad and I agree with you – last year was terrible for us because we finished on August 31 at 11.55pm and we do not want to repeat that, of course,
AW on Fabrice Muamba
He had big players in front of him and it was very difficult to take them out and put Fabrice in at the time,The second reason is that he is so highly motivated that I felt he was ready to play and needed to play.There always comes a moment in the career of a player that you play him now or you let him go. Because I didn’t play him, I let him go but I knew he would have a career.I let him go for his benefit and he understood that very well. When he was at Birmingham he drove back many times and we had a little chat about how things were going. We felt attached to him because we wanted him absolutely to be successful.Against us, he is always very keen to prove that we made a mistake in letting him go,“He is always outstanding against us and I hope he will do that again soon.Today we are in a better mood than one week ago. I am not a medical specialist and do not know if he will play football again, but the most important thing is that he recovers completely. Afterwards hopefully we will have the joy of seeing him on the football pitch again.
AW on being favorites
We are favourites because we are in third, but being favourite never meant a lot,We must just put every effort in to do it.As soon as you ease off, things change quickly. We have tricky fixtures and how well we finish depends on our attitude. If we keep our attitude, we have a chance.
AW on Abou Diaby
Diaby is available again, but he should be in the group next week,I don’t want to take any gamble on him now. Apart from that it will be the same squad as at Everton.He can be massive for us, but at the moment we have had so many setbacks with him that we don’t want to take a gamble. He needs another game [for the reserves], and then he will be ready.
AW on Jack Wilshere
Wilshere is back with the ball and for us that is a huge step,The work we do with the ball is always quite demanding.Today we can say if all goes well now in three weeks he will be back with the squad. Then another two weeks to get fit. I don’t have to hold him back yet because at the moment he suffers a lot for fitness. But after three weeks we’ll have to.I think he will play this season if he has no setbacks now. His last scan was positive, so he should be capable to play.
That’s a decision fortunately I don’t have to make,I will only intervene if I believe medically he is at risk. He is an England player and if he has played some games before the end of the season it is a possibility [for him to go to Euro 2012]. If he has not played at all before the end of the season I don’t think it’s realistic.The next three weeks will decide how well he progresses. We have gone for a very cautious attitude with him. We will not force him into training with any pain. So we might have to be slower than expected. If all goes well he will be back in full training in three weeks. But that is not sure yet.The Olympics destroys the start of season for us,If Wilshere could play I would rather he went to the Euros than the Olympics. It depends how well he will develop.
AW on next season
Let’s see how we finish. We have big games coming up,If we maintain consistency until the end of the season we can think like that.If we don’t drop any more points I would say we can come to that conclusion. With nine games to go, we’ve got five at home and four away. It all depends on how we finish.
AW on Thomas Vermaelen
That is why people love him and respect him,Somewhere as well you must give us some credit. We took him from Ajax, when nobody knew about him and he became a player. So it is give and give. Then you have a happy marriage.I was always clear he was part of the team you build for tomorrow, no matter what happens at the end of the season. That is still true today. We don’t know what happens at the end of the season but Vermaelen has the class to play for Arsenal so you want him to sign for a long contract. The fact he did it made me very happy.
AW on the image of the game
The common image by football is always that you do not behave well, because when one guy out of a thousand does something silly, in another job they are not in the newspapers,But in our job, because it is a public job, people speak about it. You have a tendency to put everyone in the same bracket.Overall I feel that it is extremely sad what happened to Fabrice, but the only positive is that it looks like he is recovering well. Also, the image that football has given is quite positive.
AW on time wasting
It [time wasting] is basically most of the time from goalkeepers and we have to see how that can be stopped,I do not say we are more innocent than any other team – it is human that a goalkeeper tries to gain time when his team is leading away from home, especially in stadiums where they are not supposed to win.The rule has been created to speed the game up. At the start when the ball went out, you always used to have to take the goal kick from the side it went out, so to gain time it was said that anywhere on the line can be used. Maybe there is a way of thinking [to change that]. We have to think about it.
Phew, that was a load of Wengerisms. Moving on, Benik Afobe has been loaned to Championship side Reading, who are aiming to make a comeback into the Premier League, and currently lie 2nd. Also, Nico Yennaris has moved to Notts County, also on loan, as part of his football education.
Ahead of the Aston Villa game, Bacary Sagna told why he feels the run-in is going to be hard, and that the Villa game would be vital.
The Villa game is massive,Tottenham are just one point behind us, but we were 12 points behind them in February. We are here now and we deserve to be here, but we have to give even more.We can’t think about ‘what if?’ – we just have to give our best and look after our team, not [concentrate] on the others.Villa have very good players, like Charles N’Zogbia and Gabriel Agbonlahor. We know they can bring us problems. But we must focus on ourselves and make sure we play.There are no easy games,Even if everyone thought we would win at Everton, we were struggling. It was a hard game physically and mentally as well because it is never easy to win away.We can’t anticipate the games. When Villa came to us in the FA Cup they were 2-0 up, so it is a warning. We know they have good players, and can play good football. But we are at home and we need to impose ourselves.
Arsenal’s very own samba boy, Andre Santos revealed, he was sad that he couldn’t help the team out during a difficult phase of the season.
It was very hard,When I found that I would need an operation it was very hard news to take. I was in the changing room when they told me and I cried.All of the players were trying to comfort me, but I was scared because I’d never been through this before and surgeries are never guaranteed to go 100 per cent well.But everything did go well and I have to thank Doctor Abdala from Sao Paulo and everyone here, Colin Lewin for example, who helped me with my treatment. Also Simon, Tony and Marcos, they were essential for my return.Both Kieran and I were injured at the time. When you can see that the team needs you but there’s nothing you can do about it, well it gives you a sour taste,You want to help but it’s just impossible to do your job. But Arsenal has built a strong family and I believe that the players who filled in, like Ignasi Miquel and Thomas Vermaelen, did a great job.They were disciplined and followed the manager’s instructions very sharply, so I give a lot of credit to them.We’ve got most of the injured players back in action now but we had very good back-up for these players as well,It wasn’t easy for us but now the squad is stable and we’ll do our best to have a great final sprint.“One hundred per cent [a top-three place] is our target, our main objective. It means automatic qualification for the Champions League and that is what we want.
Ivorian winger Gervinho has been somewhat of a question mark this campaign. There have been some flashes of talent, but also of mediocrity, and his first season at the Emirates has been mixed. He talked about working harder to be more clinical in front of goal.
I am happy about my first season but I know I can do better,I have scored and given assists but I also created a few chances that I missed. If I had been more efficient, it would have been even better.I need to work hard at training to become more clinical in front of goal. I’m not worried though.People say that the second season is always better for a foreign player but I don’t think it will be much easier.Every game is tough for me because the level of competition is so high in the Premier League, and every time you have to be at your best.
Captain Vantastic, Robin van Persie has put the Muamba incident into perspective.
I think the whole of football has had a bit of a reality check,We’re all very passionate about this game, and sometimes we are over passionate about winning a game – me as well – but when something like this happens, we realise what’s really important in life, and that’s being healthy. When something like this happens, it puts everything in its place.This has had a big impact on the whole football world because you know it could happen to anyone. He had heart tests with Arsenal, Birmingham and Bolton – but this came out of the blue. He’s a 23 year-old midfielder in the Premier League – that makes him fitter than most. It’s so shocking, but the good thing is it’s made everyone come together, everyone realises ‘that could have been me’ and the support he is getting is great to see. I hear Bolton have been fantastic too, and my dream is that he can play again for them. He deserves it.You saw us all wearing T-shirts for Fabrice Muamba on Saturday, and we’re all thinking of him every day here. We care about him and everyone is hoping he can recover.
He also spoke about the momentum has shifted from Chelsea, to Tottenham, and now firmly with Arsenal.
In the battle for third place the momentum is ours now, we are winning games and the other teams are dropping points,They have tough fixtures coming up too because Chelsea meet Spurs this Saturday. From our point of view, for those two to play each other at this moment is fantastic because we know one of them – or even both of them – will definitely drop points.So we have to win against Villa to take advantage of that. If we have to win ugly, then let’s do that. It’s part of our job too. We have shown great character in the last few weeks, so why not do it every week now?You can see that the mentality has changed lately,Twice we have had to come back from very hard periods this season – at the start of the season after losing at Old Trafford, then recently when we lost to AC Milan and Sunderland.After those two games everyone was thinking this is going from bad to worse, because our next fixtures were Tottenham, Liverpool, Milan, Newcastle and Everton – but we won them all.
Off late, the form of Theo Walcott has been impressive. The brace against Sp*rs has done him a real world of good. He seems more sharper now, and assisted both goals against Newcastle. He said,
In the first half of that game it wasn’t quite happening for me, but I was still trying – perhaps too hard, really – and I wasn’t hiding,Although we came back to 2-2, part of me wanted the first half to end because of how things had been going for me. You can tell when people aren’t happy, and it’s not nice. But getting those goals was great for me and for the fans – and hopefully I can show a bit more of that than I have lately.I’ve only just turned 23 and people sometimes forget that – players often aren’t breaking into the team until around this age, and I’ve played a lot of games. There’s a lot more to come from me.That night I think my performance had everything it needed in terms of defensive and positional play,” he said. “It’s important to remember that as a winger you need to work hard defensively and maintain the right position while getting up and down the pitch.I got two assists as well – yes, I’ll take the second one! – and everything seemed to work out.
Walcott also couldn’t hide his admiration for Thomas Vermaelen.
[They were] brilliant – really important goals as well,The Newcastle win was massive and he showed that desire to get from defence to attack and latch onto things. He’s an absolute soldier, someone you’d always want in front of you, a real leader who just wants to win.To see him banging in another big goal at Everton was great. I’m happy for him – he had his injury problems last season but he’s one of the best defenders in the world without a doubt.
Post the Aston Villa game, Mikel Arteta, who scored a fantastic free kick right at the death, to put the cherry on top, talked about the spirit within the team.
To be honest I was really surprised with the spirit when I came here – even when we were down it was so good,It is something you rely on because if you start blaming each other and shouting at each other it is not good. This group has always been positive, the manager has always been positive with the players and we have kept at it. We have the talent, we know we have the ability to win games and sometimes it is just about the balance in confidence. We have it all together now.I don’t know, I was just confident,I had my family here as well and I wanted to score for them. Robin takes them really well too and he takes a lot of the free-kicks. When you come to a new club it is not easy. When I was at Everton I used to take all of them and score many goals from free-kicks. But it was nice to score against Villa in that way. When you are winning, life is good and you can see that the fans are enjoying it at the moment. They deserve it as well because they were behind us when things weren’t going right. Hopefully we can finish the season strongly because we have a group of players and staff who really mean business.
Finally, Kieran Gibbs, who scored his second goal of the season, and did a fine little celebration afterwards.
Gibbs on the team
The team is playing really well at the moment, we have found some momentum and we want to keep that going,We are all gelling together well. People don’t realise that we had a lot of signings at the start of the season, and they have settled in really well.We have shown how we have gelled and we are all aware of each other qualities, so we just need to remain consistent.
Gibbs on his celebration
I just said hello to my Grandad [Jim],He passed away when I was nine, about 11 years ago now. He was a scout for Arsenal and a big fan, like the rest of my family. I hope it was a proud moment for them. It was strange to score, but it was about time. I’m not sure how many games I have played now, but it’s always nice to help out the team. I’m just happy to be back playing, we have turned things around dramatically and I’m happy to be part of it.I scored goals for the reserves but hadn’t done much since becoming a left back and getting into the first team. I’m just happy to help the team and it was another good win for us.
Gibbs on seeing out games
The most important thing has been the way we have been winning, making people aware what we are capable of,Whereas in the past we might have lost some of those games due to lack of concentration, we seem to be sealing victories now. We just have this belief at the minute that we are not going to lose a game. We were down against Spurs and Newcastle but we don’t give up now. We have a resilience now that we are not going to lose games. We need to keep that.We would have liked to have played like this all season but we suffered through injuries and a dip in form. That is football.If we can keep this group together, everyone is hungry, we have a group of players who know each other well and they are gelling,” he said. “The new signings have done fantastically well.
Gibbs on Walcott
For me, yes [he is the best winger in the country],Put it this way, I wouldn’t like to be coming up against him.I looked up to him quite a lot when he first came to the club, it is a pleasure and a joy to play with him. He is an outstanding player. He is one of my best friends and a top boy. He is a model pro, takes his work really seriously and is a really nice guy.
That’s a lot of reaction, then guys. I will keep you updated through the week, of course. Have a good one.
Jai Arsenal 🙂