So, another season, another stab at the Champions League. The summer transfer window saw little action. As champions I felt the squad was pretty good with a few ‘wonderkids’ ready to step up and get more game time. Alex Kalisse was the subject of a £105m bid from Atletico Madrid but I see him edging out 33-year-old Aaron Ramsey this season so the bid was rejected and a new contract agreed. Fending off interest from other teams was the biggest challenge of the summer as Isaac Adam, Nathanial Cook, John Moore, Mathias Simoncelli, Lucas Digne, Hector Bellerin and Alain Mbia were all targeted by clubs so we had to renew most of their contracts to keep them. The only major transfer in was 18-year-old wonderkid Andres Guerrero from Cruz Azul for £18.75m. He can play D(C), DM, M (C), ST (C) so is an excellent, and useful, prospect to have in the squad. There were £53m worth of transfers out but mostly talented youngsters you I couldn’t find a place in the squad for.
The summer also saw me interviewed for the Barcelona job but for the 2nd time in 2 years they decided to go with someone else. It’s beginning to become quite clear that they don’t like the cut of my jib.
The season started with another trophy as we retained the Community Shield with a 3-0 win over Liverpool. The league campaign started reasonably well with 6 wins in our first 7 games, our only blot coming in a 2-1 defeat away to Chelsea. The run ended when Newcastle beat us 1-0 but so far they have been our only league defeats of the season.
At one point it looked like the title race might be much closer than last season with 6 teams separated by just 5 points after about 15 games but it has stretched out a bit in the last few matches. We currently sit a point ahead of Liverpool with a game in hand and Manchester United are a further 4 points back but they have played two less than us due to their participation in the World Club Championship, again. Although not miles back, none of the teams below United have shown the consistency to make a charge in the second half of the season.
In the League Cup we are into our 3rd successive semi-final after a pretty easy run of fixtures that saw us defeat Brighton, Burnley and West Brom. Swansea await us in the semi and we have an FA Cup 3rd round tie against Scunthorpe coming up pretty soon. I’ve yet to get past the 4th round of the FA Cup so hoping to improve that unimpressive run this season.
Our Champions League group was one full of narrative as I was drawn alongside my old club, Lazio, and my boyhood heroes, Celtic. Atletico Madrid were the 4th team in what looked like a horror group for Celtic. We made heavy weather of the group and put ourselves in trouble by losing 2 of our first 3 matches. A 3-2 defeat to Lazio and a 2-1 defeat to Atletico, both away, sandwiched a comfortable 3-0 home win over The Bhoys. Although we had a lot of work to do we knew we had Atletico and Lazio at home and that made the difference as we beat them 3-0 and 3-2, respectively. We still had to beat Celtic in the final game to win the group as Lazio and Atletico played in Rome to see who would join us in the last 16. Both ourselves and Atletico won 3-0 to wrap up qualification for the knockout rounds.
Even before the draw was made there were not a lot of potential opponents that would worry us. We couldn’t draw Atletico or Chelsea which basically left Napoli and Borussia Dortmund as the teams to avoid, and avoid them we did as we were drawn to play Celta Vigo. Looking at the draw though the next round is likely to be full of the big boys but, if you want to win the cup with the big ears, that’s who you have to beat.
Mathias Simoncelli has been the stand out performer so far this season. As I play 1 through the middle I like to have 2 strikers and rotate them as much as possible with, hopefully, a youngster available in emergencies. Unfortunately Andrew Smith got a bad injury on international duty with England and was out for 4 months and Simoncelli has really stepped up. He’s currently on 30 goals from 23 starts with 22 of those coming from only 16 Premier League starts. He’s bang on course to beat Thierry Henry’s league record of 30 goals in a single season. It is also the Arsenal record for goals in a season within the save and it’s still only December. Smith is close to full fitness but he’s really going to struggle to get anywhere near the pitch.
As always I don’t expect much transfer business in January but, again, plenty of our players and attracting interest from the vultures. Shkodran Mustafi, Daigo Miki (he can go if he wants), Lucas Digne, Andres Guerrero, Adrien Silva, Alex Kalisse, and Simoncelli are all wanted by other clubs so I’ll probably spend most of my time renegotiating contracts again.