Friday, 23 November 2012

Good news week?

The last few days have been pretty positive from an Arsenal perspective, starting with an important home win on Wednesday night against Montpellier.

Although the Gunners started slowly, they easily kept a rather toothless French side at bay and piled on the pressure in the second half with two excellent goals from Jack Wilshere and Lukas Podolski. Admittedly, Montpellier do not look the surprise force they were last season; domestically, they're languishing in 14th spot in Ligue 1, and have turned into the whipping boys of Group B. Then again, that might be because we stole the man who scored 25 goals for them last season. Although he didn't manage a goal for us, Olivier Giroud performed well against his old side, and looks to be developing a much better understanding with his teammates. Pleasingly, both Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker were also solid, if not quite imperious, at the back.

That win secures Champions League group stage qualification for a thirteenth straight season, putting us into the knockout rounds and still with an outside chance of topping the group (if we beat Olympiakos away and Montpellier beat Schalke at home on 4 December). Regardless, it's good to have negotiated a safe passage through – unlike Man City, who have floundered once again, finishing bottom of the 'group of death' that is Group D. Chelsea are also struggling to clamber out of Group E – and could face an ignominious exit as the first reigning CL holders ever to fall at the first hurdle in the next campaign. New manager Rafa Benitez certainly faces a baptism of fire. But that's already enough about the Blues, surely the most dislikeable club in the Premier League. They don't even treat their heroes well – Roberto Di Matteo was justifiably a fans' favourite as a player, and let's not forget, delivered an FA cup and a Champions League in about half a season as manager.

The latter is something that still eludes Wenger and looks likely to do so for many years yet, while he hasn't won the former since 2005, and probably won't this year either. But given the Arsenal board's almost total deification of le Professeur, his job still looks one of the safest in football. They do at least seem a bit more willing to give him some funds, as news from the top today is of a £150 million sponsorship deal with Emirates. Ivan Gazidis has stressed that 'the deal is all about football; it's all about giving us the resources to be able to invest in what we put on to the field for our fans'. Although the first £30m instalment doesn't kick in until the end of the season, there is reputedly a large player fund available for the January transfer window. It will be interesting to see if any cash is splashed – Arsenal are in dire need of more strength in depth in key positions.

As the Nike kit deal also expires soon, rumours are that advanced negotiations are ongoing with Adidas to bring in increased revenue from a more lucrative kit manufacturer – another potential windfall. And from a purely sartorial perspective, I'd quite like that change too – it'd be a return to the Arsenal of the late 80s and early 90s, when, alright, we were pretty boring, but we won stuff and looked good doing it. I'd even prefer the bruised banana to the purple striped eyesore that Nike have foisted on us this season. 

Back to more immediate football concerns and there's other good news from the treatment room as Kieran Gibbs is fit and working again, and according to Wenger, Tomas Rosicky 'should be back with us on Monday' to start first team training as he inches back towards full fitness. Last season the Czech played arguably his best football ever in an Arsenal shirt, and proved to be an important part of the team. Where he would fit in the current Arsenal attack I'm not sure, but he is certainly a good option to bring on from the bench and help squad rotation.

Walcott will not make the squad for the Villa game on Saturday, and nor will Andre Santos, but Gervinho is back. Not sure if that counts as good news or not.

It will be a difficult away fixture against a young side who have had a tough run recently, and are fighting for points at the bottom of the table. Their first eleven is not without talent though, and Darren Bent is back in contention for a starting berth. He always carries a threat, but Arsenal should take confidence from two excellent wins on the spin and a decent away record so far this season (only two losses so far, at Old Trafford and Carrow Road – the latter of which was hopefully just a one-off post-CL blip). Also in our favour: Podolski and Giroud look to be in good form, Santi Cazorla is pulling strings again at the heart of the midfield and Jack Wilshere displayed an array of deft touches on Wednesday. He also got a good goal, and seems to be getting back to match sharpness – his reading of the game was markedly improved against Montpellier and fewer passes went awry. Having Szczesny back between the sticks is also a plus. No excuses really, then...