Excited NLD countdown, with ridiculous optimism for 2015

With the countdown to the North London Derby (NLD) now well underway, the speculation on team line-up has never been so intriguing, from what I can see online and with people I speak to in real life. Us Gooners are collectively salivating over the possible options and, for the first time since I don’t know when, there’s genuine excitement.

The club itself has gone relatively quiet over the last 24 hours, but if that just means that there is an area of focus and intensity amongst the players ahead of this big clash, then all the better. There are a few that I speak to about this who dismiss the Spuds and the form they are in, but to my mind it would be naive not to see them as a team just in form as we are. Certainly results-wise, anyway, as they’ve been picking up 2-1s for what seems like half a season.

But whilst their form has been steady and consistent, ours has been a bit more sparkling than late, which I am hoping means our star burns more brighter on Saturday than theirs.

Let’s make now mistake about it here, Saturday’s kick off will be an extremely difficult one, regardless of how much more impressive we’ve looked. The confidence factor will help us to start the game positively I’m sure of it, but after 20 minutes it will settle into the type of NLD that we’ve seen many times before. There will be goals, but we have to minimise the chances of that by remaining difficult to beat. I doubt Arsène will play the way we did against City, but if it was me then I’d be seriously tempted to frustrate and hit on the counter.

I hope that we see Coquelin in feisty form. If he continues his trajectory and rise of importance in the first team, he’ll be occupying similar positions on the pitch to Erikson, so to give him a bit of tough love by making it hard for him will nullify their forward line a lot I think.

But here I am, getting all excited and starting to think about line ups and opponents, yet I still have three days of work (and subsequent blogging) ahead of me! That’s indicative of the excitement of this game I guess. I woke up this morning to have my cereal and Yakult, with the tune ‘One nil, to The Arsenal’ humming in my head, followed by the question: ‘if we pick up three points against that lot, it will be massive’.

And it will be massive. Not only would it put daylight between us and them, it would also mean that we go into a series of ‘winnable’ (touch something wooden – even though I wrote it and you’re just reading it!) games against Leicester, Middlesborough and Crystal Palace with the opportunity to further cement our top four credentials. Arsenal fans have talked about momentum all season, but four wins out of four will have us in the driving seat and with an eye on silverware.

I don’t want to seem like I’m being too presumptuous, but this feels like the start of the run we had in 2013. Remember that? How we were the most in-form team in the country for the duration of a calendar year? That was the followed by the nightmare of 2014 which – massive awesomeness of the FA Cup aside – we fell apart in the 2013/14 league season and started the 2014/15 league campaign in pretty indifferent form.

Hey, if 2015 is brilliant and we win another cup whilst securing Champions League football (maybe we’ll even win the Champions League, eh? Bet that would really get on Adrian Durham’s wick), then I won’t complain. Then if we start off the following season with the form we started off last season too, then all the better, as far as I’m concerned.

I feel like we actually have the nucleus of a side that could potentially challenge for the title. Not this season of course, we’ve left it too late and with too much to do, but who knows about next season. I mean, you may think I’m getting a little ahead of myself, but if we keep this squad together, whilst adding just one quality defensive midfielder, I don’t think there’s any position on the pitch where I wouldn’t be happy with our depth. Right now it looks to my eyes that we have two good players for every position and whilst Flamini is everyone’s cup of tea, he’s still a decent player. Given the infamous ‘deadwood’ we had three years ago, he’s a markedly better option than a Denilson, wouldn’t you say?

So there it is. I’ve set my stall out and I’m proclaiming wildly with the optimism that success brings, that we can have a brilliant finish to this season and have a go at the league next.

Am I crazy?

Transfer-schmansfer, our squad options get me excited

Do you know, in all the commotion and emotions of winning yet another football game and keeping yet another clean sheet, I completely forgot that yesterday was Transfer Deadline Day?

How remiss of me. How terrible that I did not feed the behemoth that is the last day of the January silly season, by counting down the hours like the ludicrously yellow-clad morons at Sky Sports HQ. How evil that I did not give the numerous websites my clicks and hits as they tried frantically to gobble up the last of the heavy traffic before actual football starts to get in the way again for them. I should hang my head in shame.

Or not. Perhaps I should avoid lacing this blog with any more sarcasm, before I create a ‘lowest form of wit’ vacuum, or something. Anyway, I don’t buy that statement – never had – because sarcasm can be quite amusing, I must say.

So yesterday passed with a whimper rather than a bang at The Emirates, the lone Sky Sports reporter inside the Arsenal ground cutting a solitary figure, as he kicked his heels knowing that nothing would be forthcoming this evening. Poor diddums.

Apparently, having got up and seen the papers this morning, the whole day seemed a bit of a blow-out as far as the top teams are concerned. We’d done our business already, Liverpool and United were quiet and the Spuds decided that Aaron Lennon wasn’t worth keeping on the books. Chelski signed that guy who’s hair looks like it is interchangeable with the Incredible Hulk’s (Lou Ferigno version), but that’s about it. Good. I hope nobody got the ratings they were hoping because the bigger clubs stayed away from the party.

Arsène decided to have his a week earlier, which suits me down to the ground. We picked up the necessary depth, so it’s clear now what we have and where we need to get to before the end of the season. We have an emerging Coquelin in the only position with which we’ve struggled all season, plus at least Arsène isn’t freezing out Flamini by never playing him. We might all think he’s not at the level we need at the club, but he’s a decent squad player and so by keeping him ticking over with game time, Arsène is doing the right thing in my opinion, because an injury or suspension to Coquelin means that the Flamster will be called upon again.

As would be expected after a number of positive results in January, the mood on the official website is buoyant, with Giroud, Walcott and Bellerin all getting a mention, as well as big Per explaining about how the Southampton loss was a ‘wake up call’ for the players. There’s no doubt we’ve seen a marked improvement since that lacklustre display, but whilst many will question why it took us until the first game of 2015 to get that kick in the knickers needed, I’m just pleased that we have seen a reaction. We’ve looked very controlled and composed as a team unit since that display and whilst Debuchy has been robbed of regular football, the rest of the first choice back four have been so much better than that day. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact we’ve been able to rest Koscienly’s aching limbs, playing only once a week, but the form of Nacho and Hector over the last couple of games suggests to me that it’s more to do with a settled back four rather than anything else. Quite what that means when the cup competitions and league games all collide at the same time is probably a pondering for another day. But you’d hope that the confidence in the team will help to give the rotated players a bit more of an edge. I supposed the trick for Arsène will be to rotate, but not too heavily, from a game-by-game perspective. Wholesale team changes could disrupt the sturdiness that has been built in the team from the back. But I’m sure he’ll be aware of when certain players need to be rested. One thing I think he believes he has right now, is confidence that the squad players can perform. I’ve been wondering a lot lately if he’s historically not rotated players because he doesn’t really have 100% confidence in them. Yet when you look at the quality of the squad at the moment, it’s hard to see what the best team is, which is a good thing in my mind. If Arsène has faith in 20 players as opposed to 12, he’ll rotate more and they’ll be fresher, which means we get the best out of the team over a longer period. I think he finally has that faith.

It will be interesting to see what he does against the Spuds next weekend. Does he play Özil and Santi? Does Welbeck come back into the team because he will track back more? Or is the raw pace enough to frighten the Spuds to play deep and give our midfielders licence to roam? There are so many permutations, I think I could probably spend all week guessing and counter-guessing myself. But that’s exactly what we want as fans, because that means that the players are in form, they are playing well and there are at least 16 that deserve to play. Just look at Rosicky. How does Arsène get him into the team on Saturday lunchtime?

I’m starting to get excited about what this season may bring. It may have taken over five months, but I’m starting to get really excited.

Catch you tomorrow.

Le boss in fine fettle and the club in form; what we all want, right?

Arsene took on the press yesterday and, as expected I suppose given our form and the announcement of a signing to talk about in the shape of Gabriel, he was in quite a jovial mood. I must say, it is much more preferable to me when everyone is a little bit more happier. I think there are some Arsenal fans out there in the world who seem to thrive on misery in some sort of footballing masochistic mindset, because some people only seem to get a thrill when we’re failing. But me, I like it when things are rosy in our garden. I like it when Arsene can have a joke with the press about giving them his address so they can send another signing his way if he is an ‘exceptional talent’.

Le Boss told the assembled hacks that Gabriel was ready, fit and will go straight into the squad, which is lovely to hear and something that will be a great boost to the squad as a whole. He may not speak enough English yet, but his fellow Spaniard’s in the team will give him enough support and I suspect that if we can get ourselves a comfortable lead on Sunday (which I don’t think will happen by the way; I suspect Villa will be hard to break down and it will be a tighter game than the pundits are suggesting, but more on that tomorrow), we might see Gabriel as a sub appearance to ease him in to the team.

The only downer that you could possibly have on the presser yesterday was the confirmation from Arsene that Alexis is unlikely to be risked. He’s picked up a knock and as a result I think Wenger will play the cautious game. It’s a sensible option and one that is made all the easier for the boss by the form of other players, as well as the fact that we have somebody like Rosicky who, in my opinion, deserves another run in the team after the Brighton game. Of course, the options are such now, that Rosicky may not even start, and with Ozil back you wonder if it will be a combination of Santi/Ozil or Santi/Rosicky for that left wing position. My preference would be Rosicky out wide left because I think the best players who are in the best form need to play and Santi is in the best form so he has to play centrally. Ozil out wide left hasn’t worked as much, but Rosicky has more experience in that position, so I’d give him the nod. But second guessing Arsene is like trying to break the Enigma machine, so I’ll not bother trying with that just yet.

Welbeck, Jack and the Ox are still out, but with the sheer volume of quality players we have at the moment – something Arsene confirmed when he spoke yesterday when replying to whether there would be any more signings – means that we have plenty of options to cater for our massive injury list. You just watch: now that we seem to have found solutions to the troubled positions that have been rocked by injury, we’ll end up having the whole squad fit and players getting unhappy because they’re not playing as much. I guess we’d all rather have that than the other end of the spectrum though, i.e. no players fit so we go back to putting square pegs in round holes!

I do wonder with the Welbeck situation, whether Arsene is being ‘ultra cautious’ because he has other players that he wants to play who are in form over recent weeks, hence why he won’t be featured this weekend. Arsene has said that in the past he’s told the press that a player is injured, or has a ‘little bit knock’ of varying degrees, but with the form post Moneychester City and Brighton, Welbeck doesn’t just walk straight in to this team. It saves his, as well as Arsene, a job of fitting players in if one is a bit ‘short’. I know I’m going all conspiracy theory-esque on you now, but it just seems convenient that Welbeck is back on Monday and, after Rosicky will have played the last few games back-to-back, Arsene might then have a get out by saying ‘look, he is 34 and he cannot play every week, so I have to be able to rest him’. I know, I know, I’m getting way to hypothetical here – especially if Rosicky doesn’t play tomorrow – but given that I saw somebody on Twitter speak about how they had met Welbeck and he’d said he is fit, it feels like Arsene is keeping players back to save their own face as he tries to fit in so many talented footballers into his matchday squad.

But hey, I’ve wanted this for so long (squad rotation) so please don’t mistake my comments as a literary bashing at the manager- they’re really not supposed to be. If you’re going to have a big squad of talented footballers, you’re also going to have a lot of bruised egos when they’re not playing, so the best thing to do is to protect them in the public eye and I’m sure they will appreciate that too. So I say ‘bravo’ to Arsene. It feels like his mindset is shifting and he’s starting to manage the fitness of the players better; rotating them on a regular basis, keeping the competition for places realistic and at the same time ensuring that the infamous ‘red zone’ is this evil thing that is way off into the distance somewhere.

We’re in good spirits right now. A win tomorrow will give us yet more momentum and with a trip to Spudsville on the horizon, it will be good to see that we are in the kind of ‘positive spiral’ that could help us to put on a show and potential collect three points at our nearest and certainly not dearest rivals.

Until tomorrow.

It’s finally happened (in more ways than one)

It’s finally happened. After waiting for so long, Arsenal announced the signing of Gabriel from Villareal for the now standard princely sum of “undisclosed fee”.

When I say ‘finally happened’, it has a few meanings of course. Firstly, given our general knowledge about the transfer for about a week now, it was finally announced after Villareal had confirmed it, Joel Campbell had made his switch and Gabriel himself had said goodbye to the Villareal fans. He seems to have had quite a bit of affection given to him, especially as he’s only been at the club for 18 months, so hopefully this bodes well for him from an Arsenal fan perspective. It does make you chuckle that Arsenal left it until yesterday to announce, eeking out this to get maximum excitement tinged with frustration. Then a little bit more teasing with the ‘check out Instagram account for Gabriel’s number’. Crafty PR Devils. I’ll not begrudge them that though, especially as a marketer myself, and especially because we know how much stick the club gets when bad news is dealt. So let’s just smile and be happy that we have our man.

‘Finally happened’ also relates to the fact that after searching for a centre half since Thomas Vermaelen departed the Arsenal shores for sunnier climes, we got that additional centre half we’ve all been craving. We now have somebody who can (we hope) come in when Koscienly starts to creek and, by the sounds of it, has similar attributes to our established Frenchman. Let’s all bear in mind, however, that Koscienly needed a year to ‘bed in’ to the team too before he started to become the player we all know and love today. So we need to appreciate that as Gabriel adapts to the league, he’ll make one or two mistakes. The hope is that his character shines through and he doesn’t wilt as his Arsenal career progresses.

So we have our man. We have a centre half and in Calum Chambers, a perfect young up-and-comer, who can deputise for both Per and/or Kos as well as partner Gabriel if we did suffer a crisis in central defence. It’s interesting that Arsène has fixed this glaring hole in our squad, but did not do so last January with a striker signing, but perhaps that was because he had big plans in the summer? A £12million outlay (guessing figures here as I’ve seen no specific definitive one from all sources) on Gabriel would suggest that he’ll probably not venture in to the market for a centre half in the summer, so perhaps in hindsight you could say that whilst we were damaged by not signing a Giroud squad replacement last January, perhaps it was for the ‘long-term’ best? We did sign Alexis after all.

So here we are then. An issue resolved. Who’d a thunk it? Not only that though, but I’m looking at our squad on paper (dangerous at the best of times I know) and I’m thinking that we’re almost there. The most obvious position that you’d say we need another body is in that holding midfield role, but in terms of January, there’s probably few out here who would sell for anything less than double time. There will be those that will advocate the ‘pay anything for a Schneiderlin now’ approach, but with Coquelin improving every game, where’s the logic there when you can more easily prize someone like that away in June if Southampton don’t make the Champions League?

Nope, I think we’re done with our business this January and all-in-all, I’m quite pleased with the fact we’ve acted. Sure, Gabriel could be a Squillaci-in-waiting, but let’s not forget that Squillaci was a relatively cheap signing. In general, when you pay over £10-12million for a player, they do tend to be half decent. So let’s have more faith than trepidation with this one.

Whether he’ll make it in to the match day squad on Sunday is something the manager will have to ponder. It’s getting to the stage where our squad is so stocked with good players, that there are very good ones that aren’t even making the bench, so perhaps he’ll sit out for now. I guess it depends if Chambers o Bellerin start on the right at the weekend. But that’s for another days blogging I think.

A quick word on Joel Campbell, whose contract extension and loan signing was quietly slipped in to the press release about Gabriel. Clearly Wenger has seen something in Joel and told him to go out to Spain, play more football and push himself back in to the first team next season. It’s a shrewd moe from Arsène that makes Arsenal’s hand very strong. Perhaps too, it has been further influenced by Walcott and the contract situation. With Walcott’s expiring in summer 2016 like Campbell’s was, we could potentially be losing him if he plays silly-buggers with the club, so by signing a long term deal with Arsenal, Theo will know that Arsène and Arsenal have another option to call on, which makes his hand weaker in trying to maximise his wage demand options. I’d be interested to see how Walcott reacts to that for the remainder of the season.

Tis a happy day. We seem to be building a bit of momentum, players have returned to the squad, new players have been added to improve the quality. We might even see one or two happy people on Twitter. Heck I’m going to go all out: EVERYONE ON TWITTER WILL BE HAPPY!!!

Let’s see how log it lasts. :-)

Cheerio for now.

Squad form leading to rotation for Arsène?

Do you think that Arsenal deliberately hold on to transfer announcements, just to troll the entire Arsenal supporting social media world? Feels like it, doesn’t it? So perhaps it should come as no surprise that we’re all still waiting on the Gabriel Paulista announcement (as I type), because Arsenal are masters of the ‘shall we? Shall we? Naaaah, let’s give those transfer-salivating keyboard warriors another day, just for kicks’ school of thought.

What I find works in this situation is to see the funny side of life and, let’s be honest, it is funny how the club leave it until the last second. After all, we already know Joel Campbell has signed for Villareal on loan until the end of the season, because he’s already been pictured in training wearing the colours! Not to mention the social media images of him signing a deal with the yellow submarines. One does have to now question whether we’ll ever see him back at the club. He’s 21, he’s got Welbeck, Walcott, Giroud, Alexis, The Ox and probably Cazorla ahead of him for the front three positions, as well as no real history of making it in the Premier League. The very fact that Sanogo was seen as more important to stay in the league, shows how far down the pecking order Campbell is, so I find it hard to believe that Arsène will bring him back into the team come the summer.

He’s shown glimpses of the quality we all know he possesses, but his Arsenal career does feel a little bit Velarian to me, so I wonder if Villareal have a clause to buy at the end of the season. We shall see.

As for us, the competition for places once Gabriel is announced, suddenly looks rather intense. The Ox has been quoted on the official site as being pleased to see the depth of Ramsey, Walcott and Özil back, but with all of these players now approaching full fitness, Arsène has one heck of a job picking his first eleven. It’s a dilemma that he has to wrestle with, but the most important thing from my perspective as a fan, is that those players that do get in take their chance. That’s what we all want to see. I want to be able to make an “ooooh, harsh that Rosicky hasn’t make the first eleven this week after last weekend’s performance” comment, or ponder how he fits Özil and Cazorla into the team. I want to see the freshness of legs and rotation of players; not because we have nobody else, but because the players that haven’t been playing are getting their chances and taking them.

The season before last we saw how competition caused Szczesny to up his game to stay in the team. Now, for the first time in a while, you can say that the same effect appears to be happening in pockets all over the park. Ospina has wrestled control of the gloves (for now), Monreal has done enough to keep his place (again, for now), Cazorla is proving that a price tag means little if you are in form, The Ox is taking hold of the wide right position and hasn’t let Walcott put together a run of games and when Welbeck comes back, Giroud will have some competition to keep him on his toes. I’m sure you’re the same as me in relation to ‘bedding-in’ periods for overseas players, but at least Gabriel Paulista will give some initial ‘food for thought’ in relation to Mertesacker and Koscienly.

Let’s not even forget that we have Debuchy and Wilshere missing from the team, as well as Podolski and Sanogo who have gone out on loan because they were never getting near the first eleven!

I know that all is not 100% rosy in the garden. I know we’ve struggled at times this season, but with four wins on the bounce, as well as confidence visibly returning to the team and an air of swagger, I feel like there are many more reasons to be cheerful about our chances this season than ever before.

Weirdly enough, I hope Arsène doesn’t find a settled XI,because when we’ve had that in recent seasons we’ve come-a-cropper because players have been run into the ground. I am a firm believer that players need regular game time of sorts to keep them able to perform at the highest level. Just look at how Carl Jenkinson has performed for West Ham. When squad players aren’t given regular chances, they become a bit match-rusty. So when they are needed through injury or suspension, they have three or four games of looking a little ropey. By keeping players ‘topped up’, like we’ve been seeing at the moment with the rotation, players like Rosicky and Walcott can perform to the highest standard. To get to the latter stages of multiple competitions, you need to have a squad of form players, so it’s good to be able to see a different man-of-the-match display each weekend at the moment.

Will Arsène settle on a first XI? Probably. But until that happens, I will continue to hope that he’s struck a balance, that we’ll see more rotation between now and the end of the season and that a blueprint for modern day Arsenal can be found.

Entertaining Boro, chuckling at Nayim

Yesterday we learnt our fate in the FA Cup and after a brief sojourn down to the south coast, it’s more home comforts, after a home draw against Middlesborough was announced.

Given all of the teams that still remain in the competition, it could have been easier, especially as Boro are playing well and look like they could be fighting for promotion to the Premier League this season. But equally we could have seen an away tie to Manchester United or Liverpool, so I’m not going to be too disappointed. Ultimately, with the quality that we have in our side, we should be able to progress to the sixth round.

When you look at the team’s in the pot for the fifth round there are few that should really have us quaking. United and Stoke (away) would probably be the exception, but that’s only because of our own terrible records against those teams, rather than any real measure of their actual quality. One just hopes that we can navigate our way past Boro with more ease than Moneyschester City did. So there’s definitely a worry there for us.

I just hope we don’t get shafted with another shabby kick off time. I’d love to see a good, old-fashioned, 3pm FA Cup tie this season, but after so many of the ‘big’ teams were knocked out, it feels almost inevitable that we’ll get one of the Friday, two Sunday’s or Monday night kick off. The TV companies can wax lyrical about the ‘magic of the FA Cup, but I’m pretty sure they’ll look at what ratings they can get, rather than showing a ‘romantic’ tie like Derby County versus Reading. But maybe I’ll be surprised. Maybe.

That’s the main talking point from yesterday, as the Gabriel Paulista deal still appears to be working through the motions before it’s all officially announced, with a couple of ex-pros like Nayim coming out and saying they’re not quite sure whether he is of sufficient quality for The Arsenal. I have to say that did make me chuckle when I read that headline on Sky Sports. Nayim. That ex-Spurs player. Passing judgement on why a Villareal player won’t work in Arsenal’s style. Maybe he watches Arsenal a lot, eh? Or maybe, just maybe, Sky needed somebody for a soundbite that will stir up debate. I think it’s called ‘Talkshiting tactics’ or something like that.

Well, whatever it is, I’ll pay it no more mind. Let’s just say that it’s always difficult to work out whether a player is going to be brilliant or turgid based when they’ve come from overseas. Koscienly was a nobody from the lower leagues that many thought would struggle after his first season. Look at him now. Equally, Mario Balotelli was a proven quality player in the Premier League and Serie A, yet he’s still waiting patiently for his first Premier League goal. We’ll just see if Gabriel can show us a few glimpses of his quality this season, then assess his effectiveness this time next year, eh?

The other rumour knocking around yesterday (and Sunday too I think) was that of Asier Illarramendi, who I think Ben quite fancies a bit of. The rumours are a of a summer move, which would probably make sense given the contract situation of two of our holding midfielders, but not knowing enough about the guy I can’t really tell you if he’s a significant improvement on Schneiderlin, so I can’t even tell you which I’d prefer. However, I am aware of his reputation and if he hasn’t been getting in to the Real Madrid team this season, then a deal could probably be brokered a lot easier than a hostile response from Southampton, which we’d inevitably get if we went hard for Schneiderlin. We wait with bated breath until the summer i suspect.

Catch you later, baked potayter.

Shocks, Gabriel and a tactical overview of Brighton

Well what a weekend of FA Cup football we have witnessed, eh? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this, with a host of ‘big’ teams crashing out to supposed inferior opposition. And at home too.

Chelski, Spuds and City were all sent packing and the form team and surprise package this season – Southampton – also suffered at the hands of the new South London based Messiah Alan Pardew. With a little help from some Arsenal connections past and present in Sanogo and Chamakh. I’m pleased for Sanogo and if he uses this as a platform to kick on and score plenty of goals for Palace, then it can only be a good thing for us. Maybe, just maybe, that thing that Wenger sees in Yaya that none of us feel like we’ve witnessed to date, will emerge…

All of these upsets and we haven’t even mentioned the fact that the Gabriel Paulista deal is essentially done and dusted. He was pictured waving goodbye to the crowd at Villareal’s home game against Levante and it looks like he was presented with a Yellow Submarine trophy. He’s obviously held in good regards by the fans and one hopes that we’ve got ourselves quite some player who can challenge Kos and Per.

So we find ourselves in spirited moods this morning, but that can only be perpetuated by a victory away to Brighton this afternoon. With so many of the clubs that we would fear falling to the wayside yesterday afternoon, it is important that we don’ fall victim to this extraordinary weekend of cup upsets. Arsene has already fired warning shots in the direction of his team to keep them on their toes and prepared for a battle, to which I think we are almost certainly going to face on the South Coast today, so our players have to be ready and we have to be set up to expose Brighton’s weaknesses.

I suspect that there will be rotation, but it won’t be the kind of rotation that see’s the whole squad being replaced I think, just some of the players who might not have played recently. I think that we might see the return of Szczesny and Chambers to the defensive set up. Nacho Monreal has deserved his starting place and keeping Gibbs out of the side, but I wonder if Arsene will give Gibbs a run out at left back. I’d assume that given Bellerin and The Ox are doubts, that Arsene will possible not risk either, but I think the official site had a picture of Bellerin in training, so he might just start.

Midfield will see the return of Mesut to the team – most likely in place of Santi – and I hope Arsene gives Rosicky a run out too. Although Ramsey has only just come back from injury and needs to play himself back into fitness, so that might force Wenger’s thinking a little bit. He may opt to rotate Coquelin for Flamini, but with the form the youjnger Frenchman’s in, plus the fact that he’s not played a lot of football this season so will hardly be suffering from fatigue, I think he will probably get the nod over the Flamster. Up top we’ll see Giroud and Walcott I’m sure and the question just needs to be asked whether or not Alexis is started. I think Arsene will probably go for our Chilean. He’s not showed any signs of being fatigued and after a week since our last game, will most likely still be fresh.

But if I’m completely honest, I’ve got absolutely no idea how Arsene will set the team up, or who he will use in what position. Which is probably a good thing for our squad rotation purposes. We have options. I’d imagine we’ll have a very strong bench and hopefully that will give the manager – as well as us – some comfort that we have the required firepower to see us into the fifth round. And what an opportunity we’d have of retaining the cup if we do. Sure, there are Manchester United, Liverpool and Stoke still in the competition, plus a West Ham team who look like they’ve really notched up a gear, but I would not fear those teams as much as I’d fear going to Chelski or Moneychester City – despite the win last weekend.

All of this is rather redundant presuming on my part, because we’ll face a Chris Hughton side who will fancy getting some revenge from two years ago. On that day it was an inspired Giroud finish and a Walcott goal that was the difference between the two teams and although we progressed, we were really penned back at times. Brighton’s current league position belies their form. They’ve won four of their last five games and although they established themselves as a passing team under Gus Poyet, they have become a little more direct under Hughton I believe. I haven’t watched much of them, l but it does look as if they set up with a 4-2-3-1 similar to how we play, but whether or not they try to out-pass us is something that I’m pretty confident we won’t see. If Brighton are going to get anything against us they’ll need to move the ball quickly from front to back and probably look to expose any perceived weakness we have – particularly on the right hand side of our defence with either Chambers of Bellerin playing. If I was Hughton I’d be looking at getting my team breaking forward as quickly as possible and putting balls in to our box from the right hand side.

As for us, we need to use our pace on the flanks to expose Brighton’s defensive frailties. When Theo and Mesut were able to link up for that first game against Sunderland in September last year, Theo had chance after chance by playing high and running in between full back and Wes Brown. We need to see that link up again and I think if Ozil is given time on the ball, he’ll find either Walcott or Alexis in space. One just hopes that Brighton don’t sit too deep, because without a lot of grass to run in to, Walcott has often been negated.

Today we simply must take advantage of the shocks from this weekend and get our spot in the hat of balls for the fifth round. It is by far a forgone conclusion, but there is a huge opportunity of winning the most realistic trophy for us this season, so it is imperative that the players take the chance that they will be given by winning this afternoon.

Come on you reds!