Blooding Gnabry the right way

I am so very much looking forward to the media savaging of a Chelski team that is clearly lacking in one department and yet has failed to address this, consequently falling to the sword against one of the best teams in Europe. Perhaps they will be described by the English media as ‘naive’, whilst some of their players will be labelled as ‘flops’ and a single player hoisted out from amongst the crowd to be labelled as a thief by taking wages from the club.

Perhaps not.

Perhaps I should focus a little more on matters closer to my heart, such as the positive noises made by Gnabry on the official site. He’s still in his formative teenage years, but with 14 appearances under his belt he’s admitted it’s been a welcome – albeit big – step for him to get in and amongst the first team squad.

There’s been a lot of people more regularly calling for his inclusion in the first eleven, based on what we’ve seen so far, which shows how highly regarded he is by the fans. And by the manager as well I might add. In Arsene Wenger he has a man who is fiercely loyal to his players, but if he doesn’t have the trust of Le Boss then he wouldn’t have managed to rack up as much game time. He’d probably have been sent out on loan like so many other players around his age, to see if he could ‘cut it’, build him up physically for the demands of the Premier League and hope that he’s a Wilshere in waiting for subsequent seasons.

I’ve often questioned why he hasn’t been able to force his way into the team, particularly on as a sub in more games, but it’s important to recognise that he is still a young player who is capable of mistakes and almost needs to make mistakes in order to learn from them. We don’t have to look too far to see what happens when a very young player gets into the first team and the whole world expects an instant impact. When The Ox first joined us he had a similar trajectory to Gnabry and put in some particularly impressive displays (a great game against Blackburn springs to mind), but last season found form a little bit more hard to come by. Injuries also stunted his development this season and whilst we’ve seen some great performances from him since returning from his cruciate injury, The Ox has still put in some poor performances, like Chelski. It happens. He’s a young player too and we’ll probably get a few more of those over the next year or two, but the important thing is that we see more positive performances than negative ones and I think that is certainly happening with The Ox at the moment.

It’s the same with Serge and that is perhaps why Arsene is so keen to use him sparingly. In fact, had we been able to field a more full-strength side at this stage in the season, there would be few that would be hollering for his inclusion in the first eleven. That he offers something slightly different at a time in which we look like we could do with it – most notably pace – only seeks to enhance the desire to see him play a bigger part. The mind has a very poor way of recalling events, which often means that those players that are not playing are always afforded an extra 25% of awesomeness added to their game as our minds cast back to when we have seen them. For me I am as guilt as the next man, as I mainly recall his impressive display against Swansea and the goal that helped set us on our way to victory as well as winning the penalty against Palace, but I can’t really recall his individual performances thereafter and so my memory is deceiving me into thinking those two performances are the least we can expect if Gnabry starts against Everton.

It’s for that reason that I can understand why Arsene is using him sparingly. He doesn’t want the hype to become too much, yet at the same time he doesn’t want any inevitable mistakes to be magnified, which tends to happen when you have a young player at one of the top clubs in the division, that get most of the attention in the media.

I think he’ll go on to be a great player and the way he is being blooded by Wenger is the right thing to do.

There’s only one other bit of Arsenal news I wanted to touch on today, which is the bit of gossip about Arsenal’s supposed interest in Younes Kaboul. I resisted the temptation to write an entire parody blog about the farcical and spurious attempts at winding us fans up with the Kalou stories that dominated from the gutter press earlier in the week, but this one surely has to be another attempt at getting us to bite, no? I mean, what do we want a shaky, bulbus-headed looking Spud in our squad for? Move along folks, nothing to see there.

Back tomorrow where hopefully Arsene’s got some news for us.

Stoke: the day the title started slipping away?

It was a strange feeling after the full time whistle yesterday, because rather than spiralling into a pit of depression, I felt like some wool had been lifted from my eyes (by the way, apologies if today’s blog seems a bit defeatist) because it feels like that defeat was the marker for which it became clear that we aren’t going to win the league this year. What probably made me feel this way to a greater degree was the fact I had to watch the game in a pub which was showing the Chelski demolition of Fulham.

So whilst we laboured to an utterly uninspiring 1-0 defeat against the Orcs, the Chavs extended their lead at the top of the table by three points. Hell, even Liverpool swatted aside Southampton, so we find ourselves third in the table today and when City play their two games in hand, we will most likely be fourth.

The display from Arsenal yesterday was abject. Far too many players gave a six out of ten and league title contenders simply don’t not turn up to games like we did at the Potteries. Passing went awry, the intensity was non-existent (even after we wet behind) and we looked like each player was running around with lead weights on their feet.

Let’s ignore the dubious penalty decision, because it clearly was dubious, because we simply weren’t good enough anyway to warrant a victory.

Our attack was the most feeble of the areas of the park. Olivier Giroud looked to be more concerned with complaining every time he was touched and, despite the fact that Charlie Adam should have been sent off from a horrendous stamp on the Frenchman, before and after that incident he was hardly firing us to three points. On a day where our rivals all swept aside lesser opponents with their firepower, it was perhaps telling that ours looked like it had been doused with a bucket of water. I don’t want to labour the already well worn point, but we are clearly a world-class striker shirt of going for the league title this year, which is why every Arsenal fan I speak to is so disappointed at the moment. This feels like it was the year that we should be taking advantage of the instability of our rivals, yet we are discussing the same problems yet again, like some sort of grim Groundhog Day.

It wasn’t all Giroud though, because Podolski was pretty much anonymous, Cazorla was quite, Wilshere misplaced pass after pass and Arteta just didn’t seem like his usual self. Even in defence we looked wobbly at times. I said before yesterday’s game that ‘the feeling’ of nervousness before each game had returned because we are in a title race, yet it feels like a familiar numbness has swept over just as quickly as it arrived. I know we’re only four points from the top of the league, but tell me honestly, do you believe with the next four league games that we have, that we’ll make up ground on the Chavs? I don’t. Like I said at the start of this blog, apologies for sounding defeatist, but yesterday was a game we simply couldn’t afford to drop points given our schedule, yet we rolled over and had our bellies tickled as if it was an end of season game with little to play for but pride. If that was even the case, we didn’t even play for that either.

It’s a sad blog today I’m afraid. I can’t offer any comfort and with every word I type I’m becoming more irritated, so perhaps I should hold my tongue for now, because the players have a week to sort themselves out before what is increasingly becoming our only chance of silverware this season against Everton.

Catch you tomorrow.

Will fatigue make the bubble burst?

Am I wrong for thinking ‘eventually the bubble will burst’ and we’ll drop points, seeing Chelski and Moneychester City slowly disappear into the distance? I know it sounds defeatist, but whilst I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our season so far, there’s still a nagging part of me deep, deep, deep down that refuses to believe we can go all the way this season.

I feel guilt for that. For not having the unwavering belief that after this next week – which again I have horrid nagging thoughts that we will drop points in both games (probably after having dominated them too) – we will see our season-long spot at the top of the league whittled away and then disappear.

Perhaps it’s easier to chase a title, but I prefer staying on top from start to finish. Dear Arsenal, if you could just do that for me, that would be great. Thanks.

Anyway, there’s no point despairing on what will be, we have to live in the now, which is filled with the joys of yesterday’s press conference Arsene did. The grand news is that between now and last Sunday nobody spontaneously combusted and is therefore unavailable for the visit to Anfield tomorrow lunchtime. We hardly have a full compliment as far as the entire first team goes, but our squad has shown it’s strength this season in that we are able to go to Liverpool with the belief that we have a team capable of picking up three points. Heck, Le Boss was even able to offer a day of hope in declaring that Jack could be fit. Of course, if there’s any doubts then he should be saved for United (assuming it goes ahead), but if he’s fit to play, in my mind his form before the kick at home to Coventry was such that he simply must start.

Arsene was also asked about the title race and was his usual diplomatic self, talking about how the game on Monday night was an example of how nobody will run away with the league and it is still there for everybody. I do wonder if he also sees Liverpool in the mix. Most seem to be discounting their challenge, but with the majority of ‘big teams’ still to pitch up in Merseyside, they must still be considered a threat. What will be their undoing will be many more results like West Brom away, as their defensive lapses have cost them at times this season.

Wenger was also asked about regretting not signing Suarez and whether he would go back for him in the summer. It seemed a pretty unequivocal ‘no’ from the manager and I think most of us have assumed that to be the case. With the form he’s exhibited this season, plus the fact he’s just signed a new deal, I’d expect there to be a man mouth release clause of transfer record proportions. So I don’t think that was ever a go-er as soon as the summer window shut last August. As for regrets, why should he have any? There will be those that will countenance that with ‘we should have paid £50million’ but those that do I would politely suggest are those that have fading memories of the players suspension at the start of the season, as well as the fact that even at £40million (plus one) he represented a significant gamble given his chequered past. So personally I am supportive of Arsene and his thought process when it comes to the Uruguayan.

He was also asked about fatigue from the press, probably still scratching their heads as to how Arsenal are still in the title race, given the paucity of options we supposedly have. The problem with that line of thinking, however, is that we’ve had so many injuries throughout the season that people forget how many good players we actually have in the squad. Yes, at times this season the bench has looked thin, but that’s because we’ve had six or seven firs teamers out. If you take that number away from the Chelski team in different positions, do you still have a strong bench? I would question that seriously.

As for our own fatigue, the response from Arsene was bullish enough, maintaining that – more long-term injuries aside – we have the physical ability to cope with a hectic schedule over the coming months. It’s a little bit of a tired cliché (excuse the pun), but when a team is winning games, tired legs don’t seem to feel as tired. Adrenalin and momentum can get you a long way in football and we’ve shown just how strong we can be throughout this season, so I believe Arsene when he says the side are ready for it.

We’ll certainly find out this weekend.

Catch you tomorrow with a match preview.

The hyperbole affects us all, and not in a good way

I have to congratulate Sky and the media for their very clever manipulation of a day in which, if we’re honest, most of us probably wouldn’t have given two hoots about under any other normal circumstances. The yellow ‘BREAKING NEWS’ effect that the satellite broadcaster smothers all over its website, television channel and presenters, creates a chain reaction of hyperbole and panic amongst supporters who are desperate for their team to take action and build ‘hope’. I talked about it yesterday and there will be some – like Crystal Palace for example – who will feel as though they are surely destined to remain in the top flight as a result of their acquisitions yesterday.

Unfortunately football is not a simple equation and, as such, a signing or two (or three, or four, etc etc) does not provide you with the formula for instant success. So it is the same with The Arsenal. There were so many of us expecting a striker to come in, yet only the loan arrival of Kim Kallstrom was confirmed by the club on deadline day. The 31 year-old Swede was a natural reaction to the loss of a number of players in midfield and I can understand why the club went out and bought him. He will provide cover for Arteta and Flamini and I would imagine will only be used relatively sparingly. I’ll spare the ‘Championship Manager 2005/6′ jokes from you – you’ve probably already seen them on your timeline.

I am disappointed that we didn’t sign a striker as cover this window. I didn’t actually ever believe we would, but as rumours flew around the Sky Sports News Centre about failed loan bids for Kalou (bullet dodged), Klose and even Cisse, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was information fed to the press from the club to make it seem like they were trying (“hey, guys, we tried you know? But clubs weren’t willing to let go and we could let find the right quality”) to bring someone in, or whether or not it did become a desperate supermarket style trolley dash.

Like I said; I’d made my peace that we weren’t going to sign anyone earlier in the transfer window, so I was kind of ok with it until yesterday, because we’ve got through this season and done quite well. But there were a few things that just haven’t sat right with me. Firstly, Arsene mentioned as soon as we lost Theo that we were short up top and probably need to strengthen. Secondly, we’ve managed to react to a problem in midfield within about 48 hours, in the same way we reacted last season to Gibbs’ injury by bringing in Monreal. But thirdly, and probably most damaging from a fan belief perspective, we thought that perhaps the tide was turning in respect of the way in which the club handles transfers. Many believed that the Özil signing meant there was no more shopping in the ‘Everyday Value’ section, but a desire to walk along the ‘Taste the Difference’ aisle and bring on board the players needed to ‘kick us on’ to the next level and have a good to for the league.

Rightly or wrongly, yesterday’s attempt – and failure – to bring on board a central attacking striker, showed more that we still have transfer policies that aren’t quite befitting of a club that always professes to do things the right way and questions will be asked from Arsenal fans everywhere if we are yet again going to be faced with a summer of frustration as Dick Law and co. are given the run around by the inability to act swiftly and decisively.

There’s another consequence of yesterday that I wanted to draw your attention to: in-fighting amongst Arsenal fans. There aren’t many issues that can further strengthen the battle lines and pit Gooners against each other more than a transfer window. If you are reading this, and you are an Arsenal supporter, I feel like I have an instant connection with you – regardless of where you come from, who you are and what you do with your life. You’re a Gooner and that’s a-ok with me. I will always respect your opinion on all things Arsenal and I hope you will do the same with me. I won’t pick a fight with you if you say something I don’t like.And if you say something on Twitter that I don’t like, I might disagree, but I won’t abuse or ‘troll’ you. So when other Arsenal fans are rounding on people because they have said something about a possible transfer, it saddens and angers me that they then get abuse. There’s a fine line between banter and being rude and yesterday I witnessed that when somebody decided to turn on GoonerDave66 because he said he’d heard something about a possible signing. I’m not a fan of those people who use the transfer window to try and win some sort of popularity contest, but you only have to have a read of Dave’s timeline to see he isn’t one of those. Or read his blogs. Or, y’know, actually pop down to The Tolly on a match day and meet the fella. And do you know what, if you wandered into the Tolly and asked if you could chat with him he’d put his arm round you and want nothing more than to have a proper chat about all things Arsenal. Isn’t that why we all talk to each other anyway on social media? To make friends, talk Arsenal and share common ground? To me, it feels like the ground becomes mighty uneven during transfer windows, which is why I’m glad it’s now closed.

I’ll catch you tomorrow with a match preview.

Hope is what fans want; an injury free season is what I want

I wake up this morning feeling ever so slightly under the weather, a little bit tired and achy. I know how the squad and Arsene must feel on this deadliest of deadline days.

I’ll be glad when it’s all over, I can tell you, because the hyperbole of 31st January and 31st August is only ever enjoyed by the media, surely? They lap up the clicks, hits and traffic to their websites, TV and radio stations from news-hungry fans just desperate to be granted that most priceless of things: hope.

Hope is why people get so exciting with signings. A new player represents the unknown, a chance to imagine the impact and success they might have with ones team as they dream of climbing the table or, if already at the summit, ‘kicking on’ and winning the title

That’s where we are folks. We are at/near the summit and are hoping for an Arshavin-esque player to rock up and give us that extra 10% to see us really have a go for the league. Fans already know about the existing players in their team. They already know what this guy can do, or how capable that guy is, so existing players don’t provide the same level of hope that new ones do. I understand that. But personally, I have approached this window with less desperation of any news of hope than ever before. Sure, I’ve talked a of signings on the blog, the Pod and to my mates in the real world, but it’s all been a bit ‘meh’ to me, because what has felt more important is ‘the next game’. I’d have taken a penny less January for three points against Southampton and again against Palace this weekend.

Speaking of Palace this weekend, Le Boss has taken to the Official Site to give us an update on injured players and unsurprisingly like all season, we have plenty of players out. Do you mind indulging the ‘little boy inside me’ for a minute?

It. Just. Isn’t. Fair.

We have what is perceived to be the smallest squad out of the three teams fighting for the league, yet we seem to be by far and away the most unlucky when it comes to being struck by injury. Moneychester City may have lost Aguero and everyone is talking about it, but how about being deprived of one of your star performers this season for what will probably be two months by the time Rambo gets back? Or how about losing last seasons top goalscorer for effectively three quarters of the season? Or why not lose the best finisher at the club for three months? Or last seasons tiny little Spaniard being out for a couple of months?

It feels like the football Gods are against us sometimes, yet are quite happy to let oil whoring football mercs not only remain relatively injury free for most of their star players, but also getting the run of the green.

I know, I know, it’s churlish to make such ‘woe is me’ commentary, but I did ask politely for you to indulge my inner tantrum, so you’re as guilt as I for reading.

This weekend we’ll be missing Jack, Ramsey and Flamini, but will be boosted by the return of Rosicky, so I guess there is something to take heart in. Arsene has said he wants to strengthen and made all the right noises about signings, but I’d be surprised if we did sign anybody at this stage. I can’t tell you why, but it does all feel a bit ‘Demba Ba’ at the moment, so I think we’ll probably end up keeping our powder dry until the summer. Is that the right thing to do? Probably not considering we’re an injury away from relying on Bendtner all season, but we are merely spectators in this whole scene, not allowed to stray near the actors or the stage.

If someone were to offer me some magic beans in place of any signings that kept footballers injury-free for the whole season, I’d bite their hand off, spit the hand out and hand the beans to every Arsenal footballer. We don’t need new signings, we need a fully fit squad.

Anyway, back tomorrow with some thoughts on the fallout from deadline day, plus some further musings about Palace on Sunday.

Peace out.

No Spud favours as Dick Law does Peter Sellers

Weellllll……it was always going to be a stretch to expect the Spuds weren’t going to lube up, bend over and ‘make eyes’ at Moneychester City, wasn’t it? I mean, even with a Gooner in charge, they are still The Spuds.

Mind you, on a day where the Middle East owned football lottery winners announced losses of over £150million, yet still able to publicly declare that they are adhering to the farce that is Financial Fair Play, a result like this isn’t shocking. The blue half of Manchester are claiming that they have sold ‘intellectual property rights’ worth millions to businesses sounds like a twenty-first century footballing equivalent of The Emperors New Clothes, but it doesn’t matter, because we’re still within touching distance as only a point separates us and them.

At least there was a silver lining on yesterday’s fixtures, as West Ham were able to bring out the hypocrite in Jose by parking the bus at Stamford Bridge yesterday. Of course he was not amused, but as Mr Hansen rightly pointed out on Match Of The Day in the evening, he didn’t seem to mind being on the other side of the coin at Old Trafford and The Emirates.

Anyway, enough of that, as our thoughts are rightly turning to this weekend’s home game against Palace, which has now become the most obvious of ‘must wins’. On Monday the two sets of Oil Whores go head-to-head in a battle of the all mighty pound which, regardless of the result, will be good for us as it will see somebody drop points. Obviously a draw would be the best result there, but we’ll come to that on Monday methinks.

As for how we’re shaping up, it was confirmed yesterday that Flamini’s self-imposed exile will run until the Munich game in just under a months time, as he’ll miss out on four matches after his lunge at St. Mary’s. It’s a massive blow at a crucial time and seems to have sparked some rumours of a possible bit for Matuidi from PSG. Not knowing that much about him, other than he was linked with us a couple of years ago, I don’t know whether or not it would be a good signing. But with Arteta not getting younger and Flamini soon to hit 30 this year, Arsene must be preparing to bring in reinforcements in the more defensive-lying roles. We’ve all seen the impact the Flamster has had on our team (when he’s not practicing Mortal Kombat style drop-kicks) and surely Arsene must have realised the benefit of a terrier in the heart of your team. After the Southampton game he said he hoped to have some good news for the press shortly, but I do wonder if we’ll see a similar situation to last season, where we all expected a David Villa-shaped striker to arrive at London Colney, yet we got Nachos. Which, to be fair to Le Boss, has been a fabulous acquisition I think.

It feels like a similar scenario unfolding at the moment. Everyone is expecting the arrival of the man who sounds like he should be an evil character in a B-movie, but I wonder if we’ll actually end up bringing in more defensive signings rather than up top. The noise seemed to reach fever pitch yesterday with multiple outlets and certain we’ll know social media Gooners testifying of Julian’s impending arrival, but I just wonder if we’ll see something different come tomorrow evening. We know how quickly it can happen – Monreal trained with Malaga on deadline day in the morning – yet he had his bags packed and pictures taken by 9pm on 31st January. So we wait and see.

I do keep imagining Dick Law moving from shadowy street to shadowy street in Gelsenkirchen with his eyes shifting side to side, wearing an Inspector Clouseau-esque jacket and a false moustache, asking occasional passers by if there is anyone looking before tip-toeing in a Ministry of
Silly Walks style saunter towards the Schalke stadium. Let’s hope he does a better job finding his man than he did for most of the last couple of transfer windows.

Anyway, that’s enough speculation and conjecture that I can take for one day, I’ll catch you on Friday.

Southampton: was always going to be tough, but we don’t help ourselves

Yesterday’s game is a difficult one for me to pass comment on, given that I was unable to actually watch the action against Southampton, on account of having a rubbish computer that never streams properly. Oh, and being slap-bang in the middle of a shopping centre when the match kicked off, of course.

I did catch pieces of the game on the radio which, by the sounds of it, I tuned in at the right time having missed almost all of the first half. It sounds as if the Arsenal players did the same. Barely any shots registered in anger, some kamikaze defending (Monreal the key culprit by the sounds of it) and a sloppy goal conceded at the back post by Jose Fonte.

The team must have clearly have had a stern talking to for. The manager, ‘angry’ Steve and probably amongst themselves, because the post-halftime oranges did the trick and we were level within three minutes of the restart. Olivier Giroud with a neat finish after Sagna cut back to him inside the six yard box. Minutes later Santi put us ahead and, perhaps this is because we have been used to the team showing that they can close out matches, I thought that we would ‘kick on’ and notch another impressive away win.

But the game was not one that sounded like The Arsenal we have become accustomed to, because Lallana bought Southampton level minutes after that and the match turned into a slug fest. Özil hit the bar, Szczesny kept us in it, Flamini went mad and got himself sent off for a reckless two footed tackle. He does like those (always has throughout his career), does the Flamster, so I must admit I have been expecting him to get a red for a challenge like for some time. In modern football you simply can’t tackle with two feet and this one silly act will see us miss him for all of the big upcoming games. Right when we need him most. The thing is though, isn’t it his terrier and slightly crazy personality on the pitch that makes him what he is? So do we really want him to change into a shrinking violet?

Looking at this from the cold light of day, as well as the fact the we didn’t lose against a tough opponent, I can’t feel as despondent as some of the people that I watched mope their way across my Twitter timeline yesterday. You’re not going to go through the whole season winning eery game and every team experiences tough matches where they’re just not at the races. But the important thing for The Arsenal is that we respond on Sunday against Crystal Palace. If we pick up three points against The Eagles at the weekend then we still set ourselves up in a good position to go back top, because one of City or Chelski will drop points against each other.

There is a sense of disappointment that we’ve essentially wasted an entire half of football where, had we been at the races, we could have put ourselves in a good position to pick up all three points. It’s a worry that we just didn’t click and there have been a few warning signs of late that Arsene will be keen to iron out I’m sure.

One thing a number of people seem to be pointing out, which is the Flamini-Arteta base of our midfield doesn’t see to be working. I could see why Arsene went for it – especially if you’re playing a team that presses high from the front and you need outlets for your midfield to provide to the back four – but we definitely seem to miss a player that can travel with the ball or move it front to back quicker. Rosicky, Wilshere and Rambo all fit that category and so you have to wonder what difference it would have made if all three (or at least one) would have been fit. It sounds ominous that Ramsey had a ‘little setback’ as Arsene declared after the match, but the noises coming from the journos close to the Arsenal camp seem to suggest that it will only be a week or two extra he is out and not one of those six weeks jobs. We just have to wait and see on that one.

A quick note on Podolski, who got six minutes of injury time to make an impact, which is no time at all if we’re all completely honest with ourselves. As each match passes, it’s hard not to accept that there is something going on there. His impact for the last twenty minutes of a game has already been telling against West Ham, so why is he being ignored? Perhaps Arsene already has his replacement lined up, as last night he made a vague comment about us maybe surprising a few people over the next couple of days. As always, we seem to be leaving it to the last minute, which does make you wonder if Arsene has decided to emulate ‘Arry now that he’s not in the league. I hope he’s got something up his sleeve, because we’ve seen what a Reyes, Arshavin and Özil can do to the team.

That’s it from me I’m afraid. Like I said – I haven’t properly watched the game yet and so will have to save further thoughts for another time.

Speak tomorrow.

C

Tickets, fixtures and Draxler’s

Welcome to Monday, home of the sucky ‘first day back to work after a weekend of lying in bed’ and master of the ‘too much food and alcohol consumed over the last couple of days, eh?’. It’s a day that, if we’re all honest with each other, could disappear into Tuesday and there wouldn’t be too many taking up arms in defence of it.

In terms of The Arsenal it’s a chance to reflect on the weekends action and, almost inevitably, curse the draw which has seen us pit our wits against Liverpool in the fifth round of the FA Cup on the weekend of the 15/16th February. It will come a week after we go to Anfield in the league and three or four days after we’ve faced Manchester United on the Wednesday. In addition, we’ll only have to wait a few more days before we entertain Bayern at home. That’s one hell of a fixture pile up, folks, but at least we’re in these competitions to have a chance of winning it.

In terms of The Arsenal it’s a chance to reflect on the weekends action and, almost inevitably, curse the draw which has seen us pit our wits against Liverpool in the fifth round of the FA Cup on the weekend of the 15/16th February. It will come a week after we go to Anfield in the league and three or four days after we’ve faced Manchester United on the Wednesday. In addition, we’ll only have to wait a few more days before we entertain Bayern at home. That’s one hell of a fixture pile up, folks, but at least we’re in these competitions to have a chance of winning it.

There will be those that say ‘great, as these big games are why we are in these competitions’ and I see where they are coming from, but we’ve travelled this road before i.e. In all competitions until a certain point, then we fall out of all of them at once. It’s for that reason that I wouldn’t have minded a smaller club wedges in between those tough fixtures. It would have given Arsene the opportunity to rest key players like Giroud who, through Arsene’s own making by not signing a striker, is our only really attacking threat worthy of speaking about. Arsene likes a settled eleven and he’s hardly made his Arsenal career by managing players that are in that fabled ‘red zone’, so for me having a game in which players could be afforded a ‘mini break’ would have been ideal.

Carl Jenkinson was interviewed for the Official Site saying that it is good at the moment because the games aren’t coming as thick and fast as they did over Christmas. He’s right and there certainly is a little bit more rest time than the festive period, but when we get well into February the team will be playing Saturday/Wednesday almost every week. Had we drawn against Coventry on Friday, we’d have faced a replay just before we play Liverpool in the league. As it was, by playing a smaller team at home that we were able to dispatch, we’ve granted the players a week of rest before we travel to Anfield. Now, given the fact that Liverpool are one of the top five teams in the country right now, surely it stands to reason that playing them in the FA Cup will be a more difficult and intense game? It’s not unfeasible to suggest that we could draw against them at home and have to go to a replay, which would mean yet more tough games in February. I know I’m taking a bit of a ‘glass half empty’ approach here, which suggests maybe I’ve read and watched Fever Pitch too many times, but I want us to win something this year and I want it to be as stress-free as possible!

It’s something the lads and I – joined this week by Michael aka Block_5_gooner- talked about in the latest SG Podcast that we did last night, which can be downloaded on iTunes or listened to live – just tap the SG Podcast page at the top navigation bar to see. We also talk about Draxler and a bit of Southampton, as well as ticketing given the fact the Bayern game will now be cup match number eight and therefore cost a season ticket holder yet more cash to form out on. I won’t bore you with the in depth details of what was discussed, but let’s just say that I don’t like the idea of having to shell out another £65 to go and watch The Arsenal, even if it is deferred to the end of the season.

I want a credit system where you can choose how many cup games you have at he start of the season – so you can ‘gamble’ and choose 10 paying a set price (my tickets work out at £40 per game on average), or you can choose none and have just the league games – something I know the BSM have suggested to the club.

Anyway, the other stuff that seems to be doing the rounds today seems to be yet more conjecture about Arsenal doing a deal for Draxler, with some suggesting that Poldi could be used as a makeweight. I don’t take much credence in that; Podolski showed yesterday just how valuable he is as a goal threat and, with Theo taken away from us for the rest of this season, Arsene would have to be King George style mad to sanction an exit for our loveable German. He will be an essential player in the run in to silverware and I want him banging in more goals like he did on Friday night.

There’s not a lot more really worth pouring over, so I’ll make my peace with Monday, get going into work and see you in the morrow.

Fulham: creativity in confined spaces is key

You can say a lot of things about Arsene, but there’s one ting you cannot contest; he’s good for a soundbite, isn’t he? Yesterday he said stories of Draxler at the training ground were like UFOs – everyone claims to have seen one. Cue tweet after tweet, joke after joke about how Julian Draxler and ET are cousins, Photoshopped images of the Schalke player in a flying saucer, or even the odd Aliens reference. All in the spirit of good fun and hey, if you can’t poke fun at the transfer window then you run the risk of smashing your brown bread on it.

But enough of the tittle-tattle, how about the real stuff on a Saturday. Football! Actual, real-life, old-fashioned, 3pm kick-off Saturday football. Remember those? Well, aside from New Year’s Day, me either. But it’s good to have it back. Even if it won’t last. It’s Fulham wot head their way to North London today, without an injury care in the world to worry about. Rene Mullering-Stan has a full compliment of players to choose from and must decide which of his Cottagers are suitable to grace the Emirates turf to do battle with our boys. He’s spoken about knowing all about The Arsenal, he’s tried to sound vaguely praising in his comments about us being predictable, but that will all be nought but a sideshow if we can bring our ‘A Game’ to the table today.

We should fancy our chances. Fulham are not a team that traditionally travel well, picking up the odd win here and there but historically tending to rely on their home form to sustain their league position. This year they once again find themselves in a relegation dog-fight, currently sitting in 16th and looking precariously over their shoulders. They’ve got some talented players, but the sword of Damocles that eventually fell on top of Martin Jol will remain above Rene’s head until he can find the formula which allows him to strike the delicate balance between too many creative players and too many aged ones. Fulham were pretty woeful at home against Sunderland last weekend, but that performance can’t be used as a barometer of today’s game. The game plan will undoubtedly be different: frustrate, attempt to contain and hope to ‘pinch’ on the counter or by a set piece. They have the quality in players like Berbatov and Taraabt to do us damage, so we need to be very careful about how we approach the first half an hour methinks.

Last season was a pretty rough ride at home against Fulham. 1-0 up and cruising, Arsene and his charges failed to legislate for the ‘Mannone Factor’ as the Italian failed to cover himself in the same glory he obtained with his first start all those years ago at Craven Cottage. We found ourselves 2-1 down in quick succession, pulled our lead back to 3-2 and conceded through a Berbatov penalty I believe to level it at 3-3. Hopefully today the team still have those memories in their heads when they take to the turf.

As for our line up, well, I think it’s a little bit more forced than Arsene would have liked, but he knows he has the quality in his squad to call upon and, with Moneychester City almost certain to dispatch Cardiff at home, the hunger and desire to retain top spot must also be a good fuel to drive the team forward.

Much like Gibbs wasn’t risked when he picked up a knock, I think Monreal will not be used today, whilst the rest of the back five will remain ‘as is’. With Arteta still out injured, the onus of defensive responsibility will reside with Matthieu Flamini and so I suspect we’ll see him partner either Jack Wilshere or Tomas Rosicky. There were some noises yesterday that Jack sat out training, but hopefully that’s just a precaution from Le Boss and the medical team and is nothing too serious. With our number 10 just finding his form at the perfect time, it would feel unjust if he suddenly developed some sort of mystery injury, although no surprising with the season we’ve had.

The other option Arsene could opt for would be to play Tomas further forward in one of the wide roles. Personally I’d prefer to see him a little deeper as his quick movement and forward passing of the ball would work better from a deep lying position, but his form is such that he could probably play wide right or left and still be a big player for us today. But more than anything else with those wide positions, I think we need players that have that little bit if guile and creativity to beat their man, so for that reason I hope Arsene goes for Santi on the left and Gnabry on the right. The Ox is still finding his fitness so I would be surprised to see him start and, whilst Poldi is a great player and the most gifted finisher at the club, I suspect we’ll find a lot white shirts in front of us today with little room for manoeuvre. Fulham will sit deep and try to be defensively strong and when you’ve got players who can work in tight confined spaces as well as Cazorla/Gnabry, they are probably the best option in my opinion. That’s why I would prefer Tomas deeper as well. He’s good at the all-action stuff, he is great at moving the ball back to front quickly, but he’s not someone who can take on and beat a man as much as the other players.

The final two slots should be pretty obvious and Özil and Giroud will be given licence to prowl in and around the Fulham penalty box. It will be interesting to see Ollie line up against another strong and physical presence in Hangeland and, should he be able to keep him busy for the afternoon, hopefully it will create more space for Özil et al to work their magic.

I’ll be joined from a friend from over the pond today – Daniel Brock – so it will be good to meet a US gooner and show him my world on a fortnightly basis. It’s when you hear stories from overseas fans that you start to realise how lucky you are to have a season ticket.

Catch ya on tha flip side.

How many superstars before harmony is disrupted?

Everyone’s going a bit mental at the moment over this wonder kid Draxler, aren’t they? I mean, he’s hit the back pages of this weeks Mirror, Twitter was going crazy at the prospect of a bid and everyone’s suddenly become a football scout and are extolling his virtues.

I’ll hold my hands up. Even I’ve been sucked in. But like some sort of vortex of transfer speculation, or killer whirlpool, the current was simply too strong for me to swim against. Hence the fact I’m even talking about his potential arrival. I hate the transfer window and the hyperbole, but at the same time I’m like some kind of Puritan with an eye for a bit of flesh, peaking from behind my hands at what earthly delights are available in front of me.

Arsene has said we’re looking for a striker and on this week’s SG pod the lads spoke about Draxler, but the general consensus was ‘not this month’. The worry asserted by the gents, however, is that by the summer everyone and his wife will be sniffing around the German. I know little of his exploits, I must confess, but that’s because I’m a blinkered Arsenal fan that only really ever wants to watch The Arsenal and rarely anything more, unless there’s not anything on TV. Some would say I’m probably not a real football fan. I probably am not. I’m an Arsenal fan and it’s my club that defines me.

But anyway, enough of my faux Shakespearian Henry V style attempt at a rousing monologue, back to Draxler. Much like a lot of people in this world, I’m very much of they ‘gimmie, gimmie, gimmie’ culture that has been bred today; I hear a name, hear multiple people say he’s an amazing player, then immediately want him to bolster the ranks. When that player signs for someone else? Sometimes I’m disappointed, but as every passing day, err, passes, I think I’m learning to realise not to get too hung up about stuff. After all, for every ‘we nearly signed Hazard/Mata/Ronaldo’, there’s always the dodged bullets of players like Niang (remember we were after him, but off he went to Milan and he hasn’t got near the first team) or Ricky Alvarez (the guy that was ‘pinched’ from under our noses by Inter Milan? Haven’t seen that much of him…although I don’t watch that much Italian football), so I’m not too worried at this stage.

Like I’ve said on previous blogs, I’m more concerned with our league form and making sure we put ourselves in a great position to kick on and win the league. Thankfully, it seems the players have that mentality as well. Arseblog highlighted a great example of the togetherness in his blog yesterday in the aftermath of the Villa game, in which Mertesacker was asked about his landmark 100 games and he shrugged it off as another performance, that the win was more important than personal achievement and that it is the way the team performs that should be applauded rather than the successes of the individual. Or he said something along those lines. But it stands to emphasise my point; the team ethos at the moment is one of victory through harmony and that is what is carrying us at the moment.

Here’s a thought: how many £35million+ superstars can you have in one team before there is the potential for that harmony I’ve just spoken of dwindling a bit? It’s a provocative question designed to stimulate debate, but I do wonder what impact it could have. We’ve signed Özil who thankfully doesn’t seem to have an ego, but the reason we’ve been so successful has been because all of the players at the moment are at similar levels of ‘superstardom’ in my opinion. We were all talking about the fact that there wasn’t any single player that the team relied on any more in the summer, which meant that we were finally not living in fear of the dreaded summer-long transfer sagas of pre-seasons past, but could the acquisition of two, three or four superstars result in that harmony eroding away? After all, a superstar often will come with his own ego that needs to be massaged, just look at masseurs Ronaldo, That Dutch Bloke, Rooney, Drogba, Suarez, Ibrahimovich, etc. They all need to feel like they are number one. So how can you stock a team full of those types of players?

I don’t really have the answer here. A counter argument to the ‘too many superstars’ debate is clearly demonstrated in the sky blue Mancunian exhibit A we’re seeing on our screens every week. But that is a formula that has cost £1billion and has delivered an FA Cup and a league in four years. The phrase of throwing enough of the proverbial at a wall to watch at least some of it stick has to run through when you’re talking about that many zeros. We have plenty of zeros, but we’re the equivalent of the son of a well known surgeon; we have plenty of toys, a nice lifestyle and a beautiful house in South Kensington. Manchester City is the equivalent of the son of the Sultan of Brunei; they give their servants the toys that we play with, then ask the servants to fight to the death using only the toys they have provided, for their own viewing pleasure.

I’ve gone off piece slightly here, but my question still stands that I’d love some thoughts on from you: how many superstars do you think this Arsenal team could have before the harmony starts to be disrupted?

Let me know.