Exploit the width against Hull’s formation

Today the good lord Bergkamp could see fit to bless upon us the day of St Totteringham, in which we celebrate the mathematical certainty that Arsenal will finish above the other team in North London in the Premier League. Ideally a draw yesterday coupled with an Arsenal win would have made this weekend just about as good as it can get – given the other event that happened at the weekend that I think i’ll just refuse to acknowledge its existence – but at least we now face Hull tonight with the prospect of all but securing Champions League football for next season. Winning will put us nine clear of Liverpool, 12 clear of Tiny Totts and 13 clear of Southampton.

But we still need to do the business because we want to finish second, maintain momentum and win the FA Cup, which won’t be easy. Hull have picked up a few wins lately to practically all but secure their top flight status for next season and I suspect that they will be a tougher opponent tonight than they might have been about a month ago.

We know them well enough from last season’s FA Cup final and they will want to get a bit of revenge on their home turf. They nearly did that to us on our own patch earlier in the season, when we came within but a few minutes of a 2-1 defeat to them, only for Danny Welbeck to pick up a point for us in the dying embers. It was a performance that was symptomatic of our early season start; we were lethargic, not very cohesive as a unit and conceded some pretty sloppy goals. It was at a period in the season in which we were dropping points like they were going out of fashion and at the time of all of those early season draws I have to admit I could not have envisaged that Arsene and his charges would have been able to turn it around so dramatically. But we must acknowledge their hard work to get us in to this positive position, because if any Arsenal fan would have been told after that Hull game that we’d be on track for second with an FA Cup final, after laughing ironically and then whimpering a little bit, we’d have said you were mad. But you wouldn’t have been mad, you’d have just had one of them crystal ball thingy’s, or a time machine. If you do, can you let me know if we win it at the end of May? Would make my disposition decidedly sunnier for the next few weeks.

Anyway, back to today’s matters and the game we have in store this evening. We know Hull will play with a back three, which is what they did in the cup final and is what we’ll see this evening, as well as a bank of five in midfield and two up top. Steve Harper will continue to creak his way around the goal line, which is an opportunity for us, but Olivier will most likely have his hands full with Dawson the most likely to be grappling with us. That will leave Chester and McShane to keep an eye on Alexis and whoever plays wide right. I know this is a little out of the trend, but I suspect Theo would be perfect for a game like today. His pace up against McShane will see him win every time and if Hull are playing wing backs with Elmohamdy and Brady, they’ll want to get forward more than play a defensive line. It could lead to pockets for our attackers and so I hope Arsene’s thinking is to play Walcott – or even Welbeck – in that wide position rather than Ramsey.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Aaron is playing well, but he likes to drift in field too much and if he plays wide right today that will – in my opinion – play in to Hull’s hands. They will sit Huddlestone deep along with Livermore and probably look to somebody like Meyler to also put in a shift. But it’s all in the centre and the net effect could be a level of congestion that doesn’t help any of our midfielders. Get width, exploit Hull’s formation and pick up the win that keeps us on track for second spot, that’s what I say.

To do that, I think we’ll see Ospina, Bellerin, Monreal, Koscienly, Mertesacker, Coquelin all make up the defensive third of the team. The creativity of Cazorla and Ozil will be retained, whilst I’ve already mentioned my preferred front three. Hull have won their previous two games and whilst I think they’ll stay up, their form at the moment – similar to Leicester – coupled with their still precarious position in the league, makes them a very difficult opponent. Apparently, we’ve won our last four Premier League away games by a one goal margin and if I was a betting man I’d put some cash on a similarly close encounter tonight. But we should have enough to beat the Yorkshire side. They are down the bottom of the league for a reason and we are towards the top for a reason – we win more than we lose and they lose more than they win. So we need to pick up the points. Liverpool have struggled there, Chelski relied on a ‘keeper error there to win them the game a couple of weeks ago, so let’s not be fooled into thinking this will be a stroll on a MOnday evening, but let’s make sure we pick up the points by hook or by crook.

Have a good bank holiday and hopefully let’s see it finished off with three-point loveliness.

Permutations, as St Totteringham’s draws ever nearer

So it appears that it’s not just football in which there are some ‘boring boring’ tactics used, as Floyd Mayweather decided that yesterday he’d rather celebrate the equivalent of a 0-0 to beat Manny Pacquiao by winning on points in what I am reading from people on social media, was more of a snugglefest from the American. I’m sure John Terry was somewhere in his kit to walk around with Mayweather’s belts afterwards.

As for real football, there isn’t really much to get excited about today and I’m certainly not going to even dream of talking about that team eventually lifting the trophy this afternoon. It’s painful enough having to watch them play us twice a season, so that’s one lunchtime kick off Sky Sports can keep to themselves.

The 4pm kick off however, presents an interesting match up, because someone of the Spuds or Moneychester City will be dropping points this afternoon. That’s a good thing. If the Spuds lose today then only a draw on Monday night means that mathematically it will be St Totteringham’s Day celebrations for us all. A defeat will probably mean we’re on the brink of it anyway, because we have a +25 goal difference over that lot down the Seven Sisters Road. Just think about that for a second. 25 Goals. We have a better ratio of goals than them of 25. That’s like quarter of a season’s worth or something.

If the Spuds do win, however, St Totteringham’s Day will have to wait, but it should take us on the verge of securing a top four spot at the very least. That’s also good. Moneychester City will have played two games more than us and any kind of defeat takes the goal tally even closer; they’ve got +34 to our +31 at the moment.

A draw might even be the best result. It would mean that with three matches to play for both Liverpool and the Spuds, we would effectively need a Monday night win to be nine clear of Liverpool and another hefty swing of goal difference in our favour.

But we’re not looking down, we’re only looking up and we should be going for as close to top as possible. Man United did us a favour – well, I suppose it was West Brom that did us the favour – by losing to West Brom and that defeat means second place is well within our grasp. I know you get no prizes for second, but for a change, wouldn’t it be nice to not have to worry about qualifying via a double-header in August? Also, I’m pretty sure that finishing second will have a massive bearing on us being in Pot 2, in which we’ll most likely get a slightly easier group stage (in theory). So whilst there will be no pleasure in being runners-up in a season in which Chelski win the league, that might prove some consolation.

With Aston Villa also picking up wins left, right and centre, we need to maintain our momentum, because they’ll go into the FA Cup final with a spring in their step. I’m hoping that they can win a couple more games, get safe in the Premier League and then take their foot off the gas a little bit, because I don’t want to be facing a Villa team who have got a bit of swagger about them. When they knocked Liverpool out of the last round I was genuinely over the moon because I thought we should be able to cut down a Villa side with whom we’ve already picked up six points and eight goals, but as I see them picking up win after win under Timmy ‘The Gilet’ Sherwood, I worry that they will sweep into Wembley riding high on a wave of confidence that will have us looking a bit worried. Reading managed to contain and at times out play us and there’s no doubt Villa have a better side for this game to be much more difficult, more nervy and more worrisome than even last year’s cup final. Weve got a recent history of being outdone by Villa – especially at home, so I’d probably be more confident if the game was being played at Villa Park!

Still, let’s just be happy that we’re reaching the end of the season and we still have plenty to play for. Prior to last season we were in a cycle which seemed to be forever accepting a battle for fourth, so to have an actual trophy to play for two seasons running is a wonderful thing.

And on that note of positivity, I am going to say my goodbyes to you all. Have a happy Sunday and whatever you do, don’t put yourselves through the torture of watching events in West London unfold this lunchtime. Read a book, or do some chores, it will be much more fulfilling.

desert of arsenal nothingness and ‘keeper speculation

So here we are folks, standing in the middle of metaphorical desert of football nothingness, with the oasis of Arsenal delight miles and miles away in the distance. It’ll take us at least until Monday to get to it, so I hope everyone has bough provisions?

I have, thanks to Arsène, who spoke at his pre-match press conference and in doing so has allowed me to feast on some content with which to read, review and think about.

On Thursday we got the team news, but yesterday Arsène was asked a range of questions from signing new goalkeepers, to Jose’s jibes, as well as Nigel Pearson’s madness. As usual the old pro answered them with little controversy, but I did like his response to the Pearson metal breakdown, as Arsène showed a bit of solidarity with the Leicester manager. Yes, what Pearson said was bizarre, but some journalists are sensationalist seekers and will only look to poke the hornets nest to see if they get a reaction. I was listening to the radio and the presenters were talking about that particular story and how Pearson’s behaviour was a disgrace, but when you have some journalists goding managers so they can get a soundbite, I do find it a bit rich that the media can then pretend to own the moral high ground. Perhaps such journos that pose the boring questions – ones like “do you need a new ‘keeper?” or “what do you think of Jose’s comments about Arsenal not winning the league and that being ‘boring’?” – should take a look at themselves if they are going to get a bit offended when a manager bites back?

Arsène is clever though. After he was asked what he thought about Jose’s comments, rather than fuel the fire further, he gave a quite perfect response which wasn’t directed at Jose enough as a soundbite but was disguised enough so that everyone knew he thought the Portuguese is disrespectful. Which he is. 

The question on the ‘keepers may have been batted away well enough, but I do wonder if Arsène is considering his summer options, because whilst Ospina has done ok he hasn’t exactly set the world alight. He just hasn’t done anything wrong, rather than make any worldie saves that make us think “yep, there’s a real gem there”. I don’t have anything against the guy and I certainly don’t want to be categorising himself in a class of ‘keeper he is clearly better than, but he feels a bit Almuniaresque to me. When Manuel first started displacing Jens as the number one, he was ‘okay’ in goal. At first many of us had no real problem with him, but he never made those world class saves that you don’t expect somebody to get to. Those are the ‘keepers that are the best; the ones in which you say out loud “how did he get to that?”. That’s what it feels like with Ospina to me. So I wonder if Arsène will decide to stick or twist in the summer? I guess we can worry about that in June after all the proper business has been concluded.

Speaking of which, you’d have thought we had a week off by the official sites reckoning, because there are no real comments from Arsène about our Monday night opponents. Le Boss must surely have spike. About them but I haven’t watched the video yet and so can’t really be sure, but maybe because the game is taking place on Momday he’s thought ‘hey, it’s fine, I’ll do my research on Sunday’. Come on, we’ve all been there with our homework, haven’t we, so let’s let Arsène scribble down his tactics on lined paper on Sunday evening and be done with it. We are in form and maybe he’s earned a weekend of relaxation (although we all know he won’t ), so let’s let him have it, then hopefully go and win on Monday. 

We need a win. We need to finish strongly this season and that is important to ensure momentum going in to next season. Arsène spoke of that yesterday too, as well as the poor start to the season this time around. He’ll be acutely aware that we need to hit the ground running in August if we want to win the league, so finishing strongly this time around will mean more than just a good points tally and potentially automatic qualification. 

Anyway, I’m off to find something to do for the next two days, so I’ll see you soon.

The joke of a Monday trip to Hull; the joke of Arsène having ‘mellowed’

The only positive that exists about an away trip to Hull on a Monday night, is that it gives a Bank Holiday Monday the opportunity to have some excitement in its life, rather than be a day of catching up with chores and the like.

That is it, because for those that are going to the game it’s an absolute pigs ear to be spending most of your bank holiday travelling to. I haven’t been to Hull, but I don’t think I’d be spending my precious time off heading in its direction, let alone to do it at a time in which I’d probably not be getting home until well after midnight. I certainly feel for those of you who are heading that way. May the good Lord Bergkamp grant you swift return with happy memories of three points well won.

Team wise we had Arsène deliver an update via the official site and where as he could easily rattle off 500 words of copy about all of the injuries within the team earlier in the season, yesterday evening’s page was gloriously succinct. 

Essentially, what he said was:

“Everyone’s fit from last weekend. Except Debuchy”

But hey, that’s ok, because in Hector Bellerin we have a player who is even being considered for the bigger games when the Frenchman is fit, so as far as we’re all concerned, it’s all gravy. The fact that Bellerin kept Hazard quiet on that side, as well as mopping up a certain goal, shows how important he and the other rotational squad players have become. We’ve always wanted to be able to say “gosh darn it, another injury but oh well, we have more in stock of that type of player so yay!”, so whilst out more senior right back suffers another frustrating week or two on the sidelines, hopefully our overall performance is not too adversely affected.

There’s a bit of fluff one official site about Arsène mellowing in games in terms of the way he expresses himself, referencing his more vocal approach to games when he was a coach in the French principality. I do find it amusing when I see the old pictures of him smoking on the touch line, or the idea that he would be all Jurgen Klopp shouty and ranty. It’s just not been anything we’ve seen and perhaps we should be thankful that Monaco helped to smooth the edges of the rough diamond that was to become one of our most successful managers. He talks about being mellowed with age, but that’s not really the Arsène Wenger I see on the touch line, do you? If anything, when you compare his demeanour over the last couple of seasons to when he first arrived, he certainly seems like he has got more vocal on the sidelines. I rarely remember seeing him pushing somebody like he did with Mourinho at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season. It’s true that the Portuguese – being possibly the most irritating man that has ever set foot on these British Isles – probably deserved it, but I just don’t think an Arsène of 2002 would have bothered with such histrionics. Mind you, an Arsène of 2002 at this time 13 years ago was about to guide his team to a league and cup double, so I suppose didn’t have too much to worry about because he had by far the best team in the league. When you know you’re the best you can brush off the attempted mind games or stupidity of other managers.

I quite like that Arsène gets frustrated sometimes. He is representing our interests from a management of on-field activities perspective and so I want to see him articulating his displeasure against incorrect decisions or jumped up little Portuguese scumbags. Keep it up Arsène!

Anyway, my trains about to go underground so you have yourself a merry little Friday. 

Evil shall not overcome the Arsenal, momentum must prevail

After Chelski’s win yesterday all but confirmed them as Champions, I’m preferring to look on the positive side of life, rather than accept that evil has prevailed this Premier League season.

For example, when Chelski beat Crystal Palace this weekend (and we know they will with Palace safely tucked away in mid table), there will still be three weeks before the end of the season. Nobody will care by then that the axis of evil that is petro dollar, the world’s most annoying Portuguese (came close with Ronaldo), as well as a team led by a racist tosser of a human, has picked up silverware. In fact, we’ll all have forgotten that the most dislikable team in history are champions.

Secondly, this Chelski team will go down as champions, but nobody will remember anything about this season in five years time. I can live with that.

Thirdly, once the weekend’s results are completed and the plastic chavs have had their crowing in workplaces across London, all eyes will focus on the FA Cup final and the remaining Champions League places. That’ll do for me.

So all-in-all, there are many reasons to be cheerful at the moment. Theo certainly thinks so too. He’s labelled us the best team in the world in 2015. As much as I love the sentiment from him and as much as it’s true we are one of the best teams, if you look at that Monaco result as well as the fact that Barcelona have picked up more points in winning their league, we have to concede that we’re playing second fiddle to the catalan’s at the moment. 

Having said that, we are still the team in form in England, which certainly bodes well for next season if we can maintain our momentum. That’s why the next five league games and one cup final are so important. They are important for the context of morale and the belief that progress has been made – finishing second in the league would certainly suggest that – but also in terms to taking momentum in to next season. Remember 20112/13? We had a brilliant end to the season which secured Champions League football over that lot down the road, but what it also did was build a platform for us to start the following season strongly, which we most certainly did. That’s what we need to do next season and I feel the only way we can carry that momentum into it will be victories over Hull, Swansea, Sunderland and West Brom. If we get that we could even afford a loss at Old Trafford and still finish second. Then we have an FA Cup final to play and if we win that then you have to say he season has been a success.

But we simply must maintain our form. The players all seem up for it. As Theo alluded to, the competition in the squad is strong at the moment, which means the players are fighting hard to win a place and harder to retain it. That’s the blueprint for a successful modern Premier League squad. Players have to know that the other guy is taking their jersey and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen an Arsenal team that has had that in such abundance before. The Invincibles didn’t. They had eleven of the best players in the world in their position with a few class players in rotation, but we’re able to stay fit, in the main. Today’s game does seem to allow for that as much and so a modern Arsenal team needs to be a squad of 18 or 19 first team outfield players at least. By my reckoning we’ve got more than that. So I’m happy right now.

I think that’s pretty much it from me today. Stay positive in the wake of some dark Premier League times gooners, we can all stick together – us and the fans of 18 other clubs in solidarity – and not let the evil overcome us.

Hull touch, Welbeck settled and more balance needed

I didn’t watch the game between Hull and Liverpool last night, only checking in this morning to find that the scousers end of season collapse is now in full swing, but that was a bit of a touch for us wasn’t it? 

In more ways than one, actually, because victory over Liverpool gives Hull a wee bit of a cushion over the chasing pack, as well as defeat for the Reds leaving them eight points away from us having played a game more. It means that winning our game in hand against Sunderland will almost certainly secure top four for The Arsenal next season and, almost like the teams at the bottom where survival is there bare minimum requirement, ours will have been met for this season. In fact, if results go our way this coming weekend, then victory over Hull away on Monday night could secure us both top four and St Totteringham’s Day too. Wouldn’t that be nice?

I don’t know if you’re feeling the same, but I’m not going to bother watching tonight, because no result is positive. Not really. A win for Chelski means they secure the title at the weekend. A draw means they have to wait a little longer but are essentially there. A defeat will excite the media, but they should still pick up victories against Palace and Liverpool and so it would only serve to extend the beautiful delusion that we could actually win the league.

We can’t. Winning at the weekend might even have had me saying ‘what if?’, but ten points with four to go is not realistically possible I’m afraid. Mathematically yes, but realistically, no.

So we move on with our lives. We still have plenty to play for and occupy our thoughts until May, including the cup final, in which tickets went on sale yesterday. This is the first time we’ve been at the other end of the ground since I’ve been making my way to Wembley. I’m happy to report though, it’s not like it’s been fully successful and therefore this is a bad omen to be in a different part of the ground: we lost to Birmingham whilst in the Northern part of the ground. Maybe the south side will be a positive for us, because we haven’t really played great football in any Wembley match that I’ve watched, so perhaps locating us in the other part of the stadium will mean we can smash Villa 6-0?

No, I don’t believe that either, but as we draw nearer to the game you’ll find me looking out for all kinds of good luck charms or ‘signs’ that is will be a glorious day in Wembley for Arsenal fans. 

Elsewhere in the Arsenal world, Danny Welbeck has been talking to the official site – an interview in which I also read the Evenig Standard’s article on – about how he is settling in and is not 100% happy with his goal contribution. It’s funny actually, because as fans we have – I think, after many years – come around to he idea that it takes a foreign player a season to fully adjust to the style of the Premier League, but also the new team in which they are playing in. But for an English player, the expectation is to hit the ground running and be an instant success. 

There is probably very few of us that take into account the need for an English player to also ‘bed in’ to a new team. Welbeck admits himself that he’s moved from a smaller city in which he knows his way around, his friends, family and the like all close by, to a bigger city witha new environment and new teammates to get to know. At United he’d been there so long, that when Rooney picked up the ball deeper, he probably knew exactly where he was going to make the pass if Welbeck could get in behind. He probably knew the way in which players in the United team passed the ball, the angle of their bodies which gave a ‘tell’ and afforded him an extra half a second to make a move. At Arsenal he has to learn all of these little tricks all over again and he’s probably spent the best part of the season working that out.

Could he have scored more goals? Of course. But his contribution and versatility has meant that he has most certainly been valuable and when you consider that we got the same deal as Liverpool got for Balotelli, you have to be happy that we’ve got ourselves someone like Danny.

I’d like to see him play more before the end of the season. But not as a central striker, out wide right, because I’m not sure Aaron is working out there. I actually don’t think he’s playing badly, but his natural instinct to move in field hinders our ability to break with pace and we saw that at the weekend. If Wenger is reluctant to use Theo, I’d like to see Welbeck be given more time, although I’m not sure at who’s expense that should be. Maybe that’s why Arsène is playing Ramsey there; he can’t figure out who to drop and so is not dropping anybody at the moment. It would be strange though, as somebody who is so concerned with the balance of the team, to be playing players who don’t offer the balance on the flanks that we need.

But ours is not to judge, as long as Arsenal are winning football matches, I suppose. 

Just keep winning Arsène!

Sorry Thierry. You’re wrong.

On Sunday it appears that, post the 0-0 stalemate between the forces of good and evil, Thierry Henry took the time to make suggestions that:

A) Arsenal could never win the league with Olivier Giroud

B) Arsenal would need to bring at least another goalkeeper, central defender, central defensive midfielder, before they would be able to realistically compete with Chelski or Moneychester City.

Having not seen the post match ‘analysis’, I am perhaps not 100% appropriate to fully comment, but as this is my blog and you’re somewhat of a captive audience I thought I’d give you some musings anyway.

First and foremost, to Thierry, who has been my hero and still remains one to this day. That status will oat likely not change and although he may say things I disagree with, I cannot help but smile when I hear that chocolatey smooth voice, so please don’t think that any Sky Sports conditioning will put me off the great man.

Having said that, it was surely clear to everybody that he’s been told to crank up his controversy gauge, by perpetuating the standard stock phrases when it comes to Arsenal. Common phrasings that include “they need more leaders”, “they need to be stronger and not be bullied in the middle of the park” and my personal favourite “they need a whole new spine in the team”. I love that phrase because it is symptomatic of the English media and the need for root and branch change every time a team like ours has any kind of set back – no matter how small.

Oh, hello and Smith, how are you? You’re backs still aching? Hmm. And the herbal teas I suggested didn’t work? Ok, let’s put you down on the waiting list for a new back, for that’s the only real option I think we can offer now. Chiropractor? No, no, no, it’s a spinal transplant for you I’m afraid.

I simply can’t abide comments when they are clearly made to drum up some interest down a clearly trodden path and were it not from Thierry, I probably wouldn’t have given the comments a second thought, because I am acutely aware that I am adding fuel to the fire by talking about it – giving Sky exactly want they want.

His points are, as you’ll probably have guessed by now, incorrect by my reckoning. Olivier Giroud, for example, has an excellent scoring record this season and we have suffered the most in the three months out in which he had broken his leg. I’m not going to suggest that his scoring record this season will have continued throughout if he’d have stayed fit, but I think we’d be in a stronger position if he’d have been available for three quarters of the season, as opposed to two thirds of it. 

It’s not all about scoring goals Thierry, you know that, right? That being the case, surely you and everyone else can see what Giroud brings to the team in addition to his goals, no? He’s an excellent link up man and can provide a perfect attacking pivot point to bring others – like Alexis – in to play. His impact during the FA Cup semi final was very obvious in the second half and he has been providing that focal point for two years now.

Can we win the league with him leading the line? Absolutely. Can we win it with him alone like we tried to do last season? Certainly not. We tried it and our lack of squad depth made for painful viewing as we hit March 2014. I hope that was what Thierry was getting at; that we need another like-for-like for when Giroud isn’t available.

Squad depth. That’s what we need in order to win a league. Have we had that for the whole of the season? Nope. Do we have it now? You betcha. Gabriel, Chambers, Bellerin, Coquelin. All players who were not really in contention or in any of our thoughts at the beginning of the season. Chambers, the only player who was in the first team squad in August, was supposed to be our right back cover! But all of those players have kicked on a gear or two and each one has ensured that the Arsenal team that finishes the season is a darn sight stronger than the one that started it.

Do we need a bit more fine-tuning? Of course. But let’s not forget that without the above mentioned players I the side and playing as well as they have done, we suffered an autumnal injury crisis that during one week we had no fewer than 15 first team players injured.

So no, I can’t be having the comments that we need a complete overhaul, because as a fan I feel we’re closer to the best team in the league than we’ve ever been before.

Sorry Thierry, you’re wrong fella.