stern test importantly navigated 

That, like Crystal Palace before it two weeks ago, felt like a big three points yesterday. There will undoubtedly be those that will look at the score line and simply shrug it off with  an “it was only QPR”, but we were made to sweat a bit for those three points, both in the first half and the last ten (if you include injury time.

As I said with my pre-game ramblings in the morning yesterday, QPR will have had the time away to reflect, prepare themselves and get plenty of rest ahead of our visit to West London, where as we’d played two games since they’d even graced a pitch in competitive action. The net effect of that was that the first half saw a leggy-looking Arsenal come up against a pumped Rangers team who popped the ball around well and when they needed to, went direct to Zamora. 

The first half was watched by yours truly on a somewhat dodgy iPhone stream, but even with the slightly blurry yellow and blue images moving around the pitch, I could still see that we struggled for fluency. QPR however, looked to test us with getting the ball out wide and into the box, with Ospina thankfully on hand when Per or Gabriel, then laterly Koscienly (our new signing seems tailor-made for the Arsenal, after picking up a hamstring injury, replacing the injured Brazillian in the first half) dealt with most balls pumped in and around the penalty spot.

I do love it when Arsène remembers to bring the halftime oranges though. They provided an injection of vitamin C and energy and we looked more cohesive in the second half. In the first 45 Green had maybe two saves to make, but in the second we tested him more, almost within the first minute or two. 

So in hindsight today I can look at the game and see that the goal was coming. You just don’t see it at the time on account of all the fear and such. You know how it is.

Olivier was in the right place at the right time and as Gibbs – who looks to have won his place back from Monreal – rushed beyond Alexis in the box, the handsome Frenchman was the beneficiary with a quick swivel and finish. Loved it. Loved it because it was a real poachers goal. The kind that Eduardo or Wrighty used to love scrambling in. He’s on 13 for the season right now and you have to say that on current form he might just hit that 20 goal mark. Having missed a third of a season. How amazing would that be?

Alexis too got on the scoresheet and you have to say that if anyone should score it should be him. He hadn’t tucked one away for a while and even Arsène admitted afterwards that this sort of stuff plays on your mind when it goes on for a while. I am pleased he scored, but I have to say I was surprised he started, because to me he’d looked a little tired. His fatigue tends to manifest itself as misplaced passes or running into blind alleys with the ball, rather than the lack of running, but you could see that happening with increased frequency of late, so I did wonder if Arsène would save him for United. But ultimately, we should all be glad this morning that he didn’t. 

I thought Özil and Coquelin also had good games too. Arsène said all the midfielders had impressive performances but with those two I think it stands out more. That’s because Özil has been under the spotlight and in for criticism this season, so naturally we all want him to succeed, so when he does we’re all keen to emphasise it. As for Coquelin, he’s the archetypal ‘unlikely hero’ story that gets better and better each week. He got into the team with displays of energy and high intensity with the odd big tackle thrown in each game, but I’m starting to see more and more composure become obvious, with the more game time he’s getting. There was one moment – an innocuous one really – where he simply sheparded the ball out for a thrown in without touching the ball. That’s the simple intelligence that you need in a covering midfielder. Staying fit for the rest of the season will surely see him remain in the team – even when Arteta comes back. 

So we keep third, despite the fact everyone around us also won, but it’s one game closer to the end goal of Champions League football. Next week it’s the FA Cup but for now we can relax in the knowledge that we’re looking good, in form and players are still banging goals in.

See you tomorrow.

Ollie’s recapturing of form good for us

Much like Chelski and Tiny Totts are to us all metaphor ally speaking, I have a real pain in my neck this morning, which caused me no amount of irritation when trying to get to sleep last night. Honestly, it’s like Jose Mourinho himself had pulled up a chair and started jabbing me in the back whilst complaining about everything he could possibly complain about. And we all know just how much he can complain.

We’ve still got just over 24 hours before we’ll know who’s starting against QPR in West London tomorrow night, but I expect Le Boss will be on hand to make his usual pre-match assessments on the proceedings at Loftud Road, in today’s press conference. Hopefully he’ll be in more jovial mood than he will have undoubtedly been in before Friday’s presser, but unlike the pundits, I’m pretty sure he will be more than acutely aware of the potential threat that QPR pose. 

After all, they’ll be fresher than a spring daisy after their eleven or so days off, so I expect them to be a feisty opponent for us to take on. But more on that tomorrow. For now, we just have to be happy that the bad taste in our mouths – like when you have particularly horrible mouthwash that leaves a metallic flavour lingering on your tongue – from the Monaco defeat has been partially rinsed by three points at home to Everton. 

One man who will be particularly happy will be Giroud. His goal against the Toffees has enabled the Monaco performance to not become a ‘thing’. We’ve seen how badly Arsenal players have been affected in the past by ‘things’. Just look at Eduardo and his injury form after leaving us. He was never the same again. So I’m pleased that Giroud got his goal because that will ensure that he is given the self belief to give the first leg of the Monaco game the old Gallic shrug and move on. He’s credited the manager and I think rightly so. It could have been all to easy for Arsène to ‘rest’ Giroud and against a decent opponent like Everton you’re hardly guaranteed a hatful of chances to make amends. But he did and we’ll be in better shape with him feeling better as a result.

The other questions I expect Arsène to be asked tonight is who will be rotated after the game on Sunday? I am quite anxious to see whether Coquelin has found his nose underneath all of the blood that appeared on Sunday, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see that he’s given some recuperation time so he can be ready for the battle against United Monday week. As I’ve said before, rotation is an important part of modern day football, but Arsène will be wary of rotating too much and if his hand is forced into changes through injury to players, I’d expect other players to miss out who might normally have been rotated for this game. 

Still, at least we won’t have to face Joey Barton trying to cheat his way through games trying to get players sent off, so hopefully that doesn’t mean we lose more players to suspension or injury in the immediate future. In fact, we’re due to receive a boost of Ramsey and Flamini today from Arsène, if the rumours are true. That’s probably just as well, because with Arteta, Wilshere and perma-crock Diaby all still out, missing Rambo and the Flamster with Le Coq possibly out too, would probably leave Arsène scratching around searching for Chambersesque square pegs for round holes. 

More on the game tomorrow. For now, I’m going to look like the weirdest man on the Metropolitan Line by shaking my head side-to-side slowly like I’m dramatically disagreeing with somebody in a Hollywood courtroom drama scene from a movie.

Cheerio.

‘Obvious’ klaxons, Giroud’s award and Welbeck’s form an issue for Theo

It’s all rather quiet on this Tuesday morn, which is lovely given that there’s a big game tomorrow and no doubt Arsène’s presser at some stage today, so we’ll get an update on who’s available.

We’ve already had Arsène’s thoughts ahead of the visit of Monaco, in which he really goes out on a limb, describing the game as ’50:50′ in terms of our likelihood of success. Wow Arsène, mind those splinters buddy!

Champions League games are always cagey affairs when you get to the knockout stages of the competition though, so I can see why he’s trying hard not to give the Monaco team any motivation ahead of the tie, but it should be one we should be looking to win over two legs. I was at The Emirates Cup in August and we looked leggy and lethargic and the difference even then was a Falcao header. With him now firmly established in the Manchester United dugout as one of the coaching staff, Monaco have lost a massive asset, but will still be a threat so Arsène is right to be cautious. More to come on Monaco tomorrow though.

The other news is that Olivier Giroud is up for a fans player award by the PFA. Ok, so it’s only for February, but with goals and solid displays under his belt for the whole month, it will be a good confidence booster if he wins it. And let’s face it, we have the largest football fan community online at Arsenal, so I’d expect us to vote in our handsome Frenchman with consummate ease.

The hope is that he wins it and the subsequent confidence boost will propel him to being even better than he has been of late. His form is sparkling and with each game that he scores, I remain convinced that he will hit the 20 goal mark for the season, which would be quite some feat indeed given his lengthy absence last year.

That man Welbeck has also had his say on the Champions League, talking up our desire to go far in the competition which aside from the fact that ‘state the obvious’ klaxons appear to be sounding all over the place at the moment, is the sentiment and the attitude we need. No talk of advancing and who we might face in the next round, just respect for our opposition we’ve currently got and the professionalism to do the job, home and away.

You’ll all be acutely aware of the shattering feeling that Alex gave us when knocking us out of the competition after we conceded a late goal against PSV a few years back I’m sure. We need no repeat of that upset and if it means the players and coaching staff have to make obvious statements about the game then so be it.

Welbeck himself has also looked good since returning, actually, so much so that there aren’t many people calling for an instant return for Walcott. Given that we’d have chewed each other’s arms off to have him available this time last year, that’s quite a turnaround and it’s the high intensity pressing that Welbeck and Alexis give us – as well as their end product (which in Danny’s case has been assisting in build ups rather than actual goals) – that has meant Theo is an increasingly bit-part player at the moment. The long-term future for him is something that can be debated for another day, but I don’t see him being wheeled out in the immediate future and that’s a positive testament to how well Welbeck is playing, especially when you consider that Theo is scoring plenty of goals when he’s given the chance.

So we’re in a good place right now. There are plenty of form players, we’re winning games and we currently sit third in the league, which is ideally where we want to finish. We have a big European night tomorrow, with which victory be a healthy margin would help to foster yet more belief and confidence in the team, as well as the possibility of That Dutch Bloke being a longer term injury to United. He’ll develop some sort of miracle recovery time so that he can play us in about 13 days time, but for now let’s all just keep ourselves content in the knowledge that all is looking roadt in the Arsenal garden.

See you tomorrow.

Mourinho’s propaganda, Arsenal’s form & a happy week

I usually avoid any kind of football topics that aren’t Arsenal related, but after seeing Jose Mourinho’s less than subtle attempt to have more air time to push through his own personal agenda through the medium of Sky Sports’ Goals on Sunday, I feel compelled to say something through my own soapbox platform, which is this here blog.

I’m presuming of course that the whole world recognised his whole purpose of going on that show was to perpetuate his own lines of malcontent, but the brazen way in which he tried to use Sky whilst also denouncing the treatment of his own team by the media, was rather rich I have to say. For somebody who uses all forms of media to try and carry his own propaganda so vehemently, you’d think he would be a little bit more accepting of how the British media companies work? Actually, scratch that, because he clearly does. After all, that’s why he probably patched a call directly to Sky Sports bigwigs on Saturday evening, to which both parties would have been more than happy. Jose gets to spout his rubbish on a well known show, Sky Sports get the big names on their sofa.

It all feels very dirty. Mourinho is essentially a slightly tanned ‘Arry Redknapp. Only he’s probably the next rung up the ladder because he’s done it abroad and won a few more trophies. He’s got as much class as a fake tanned, Essex based hairdresser with a brilliant white Bentley.

Anyway, I should probably stop there, because not only does that do a disservice to fake tanned, Essex-based hairdressers, but also the fact I’m even talking about the most horrendous football club in the history of the world in Chelski – and yes, I include even the Spuds in that – means that I’m giving up time away from the greatest club in the world.

All-in-all, for what we’re looking at for the remainder of our season, this weekend didn’t really go too badly, did it? We rode our luck but ultimately had the points secured on Saturday, whilst Tiny Totts, Southampton and Man United all dropped points. With Liverpool at home to Man City next weekend, if we can pick up another win against Everton on Sunday at lunchtime, I fancy we’ll be in poll position for third and certainly a heavy favourite for Champions League qualification in one form or another.

We’re hitting form at exactly the right time. People can say that so are Liverpool and Totteringham are too, but with my admittedly completely biased specs on, we’re the better of all of the teams in that Champions League race and I think we’re playing the better football too. Perhaps this last weekend wasn’t a perfect example of us at our sparkling best, but that being the case, we went 89 minutes without being massively troubled against a Crystal Palace side that Alan Pardew had said had played their best football since he arrived. Let’s not forget that Pardew has managed his team against both the Spuds and Liverpool at home.

So we have reasons to be cheerful today. We have a big game against Monaco on Wednesday, followed by big matches against Everton, QPR and Man United in the next two weeks. Four wins out of four and we’ll find ourselves looking up rather than down in all competitions.

I’m liking the form of Özil and Giroud in particular at the moment. It was yet another goal for Ollie on Saturday and as I said in a previous blog last week, I think he can hit 20 goals come the season end, a phenomenal achievement by the end of the season given his broken leg. Has the arrival of Welbeck and Alexis to challenge his role as a central striker worked magic in making him ultra competitive to keep his place? I think undoubtedly that must be the case. He’s a classic confidence player. He’s said so himself in not-so-many words, so it’s natural that when you give him your belief as Arsène has, as well as allow him to do what he does best as a target man, the result is goals. Goals then beget goals and you have yourself a self-fulfilling prophecy, because he’ll have more confidence, score more goals, get more confident, etc, etc. the trick will be for him to keep on playing and playing well.

As for Özil, he’s clearly used his time away from the pitch to great effect. I saw one moment on Saturday in which Mesut was up against a Palace player (Puncheon I think), inside our own box, where he used his strength to shepherd the ball out of play for a goal kick. A year ago he’d have been bundled over by the physicality of the opponent he was up against. Not so in Mesut Özil Arsenal version 2.0. He is stronger and a year wiser to this league. He still has superb vision and is showing signs of the form when he first signed for the club, but he’s also regaining his confidence, a prime example of that being the superb flick over the defenders head and perfectly weighted pass to set Alexis away for what should have been goal number three.

Arsène may still be tinkering and rotating his team to find the best blend at the moment, but he’s got a number of players who are making very public ‘well, you can’t drop me’ statements to him based on performances at the moment. Long may that continue.

It’s a happy Monday for us Gooners. Let’s embrace it.

Gritty three points

I don’t know why, but yesterday’s game with Crystal Palace felt like a really big result, in the context of our Premier League season.

There were many people I spoke to during the week who were pretty convinced that we were going to go to Selhurst Park and sweep aside a Palace side who have had a wee bit of resurgence under Alan Pardew, but who have stuttered ever-so-slightly in the immediate past, but I never really believed that the game would be anything other than a challenging 95 minutes (although where the referee worked out those five minutes of injury time was a bit of a mystery to me).

Last season when we played Palace it was anything but plain sailing, but so it was that the home team with their partisan home support, were able to influence the game much more than many would have predicted. Under Pardew you can see that they try to press hard and fast and at times we made it difficult for ourselves with some slack passing of our own, but you can always tell the difference between the top sides and those that languish further down towards the foot of the table. Crystal Palace may not be relegation fodder at this moment in time – nor it must be said do I think they will be come May – but you could tell there was a distinct lack of cutting edge in their forward line.

Pardew is no mug and knew exactly how he could potentially get some joy against our team, targeting Monreal with Zaha’s pace in the first half and looking to get Gayle isolated against Chambers too. In the second half Chambers was run ragged by Bolasie on our right hand side and it was on that side that Palace were able to get the goal they scored in injury time, plus the Murray header off the ball with seconds to go. But again, the fact we were able to take our chances and Palace weren’t able to make the most of the 22 attempts they have, perhaps shows why we are fighting at the top of the league. We have the players to make the difference.

That’s what Welbeck did in forcing the Palace full back to make a challenge on six minutes that led to the penalty we scored. And no Ray Houghton, no Robbie Savage, despite your clear desperation to find fault in decisions given to Arsenal, it was on the line and so is a penalty. Calm down and perhaps stick to playing golf in your retirement from the game.

That cutting edge in the final third means everything, and it was that with which we capitalised through the second goal, a fine through ball from Özil (I think) finding Welbeck and his shot fell kindly to Giroud to tap home. The Frenchman is developing a lovely habit of being in the right place at the right time and is doing it on a fabulously consistent basis at the moment. Long may his form continue.

Long may our overall form continue too, actually, because we’re stringing together a number of wins that are building some real momentum. With United losing, plus Southampton and Liverpool playing each other today, we find ourselves in third and with a run of matches in the league in which you would expect us to pick plenty of points up from. Victory against Everton next Sunday, followed by an away success to QPR during the midweek after that game, will see us firmly secure a good footing on which to build success in our season. Success for Arsenal would be a trophy and securing Champions League football. We still have a lot to do to get that trophy (I don’t fancy United away I have to say. They will be pants, but they’ve made it an art how they can perpetually skank us in every competition), but if we pick up 12 points from the next four games, I’d wager we’d be halfway there to achieving the Champions League objective.

We’re looking good at the moment. We’re grinding out games when we need to, like today, but we’re also adding the occasional bit of swagger to some of our performances. That’s the Arsenal that we want to see.

Now, bring on Monaco…

Palace: negate the pace out wide and play the more technically gifted

So we’re back in league action today and it’s a tricky game at Selhurst park in which the media seem to be all voting for us as their picks for victories this weekend. It’s nice to know what supposed ‘neutrals’ think when looking at games and who should win, but as usual I’m not as blase about the ease of our victories as the pundits.

Under Alan Pardew Crystal Palace have got more belief and have picked up enough results to suggest that they will be comfortably safe for next season. They’re 13th on 27 points and despite the league being so concertina’d in from the bottom to the middle and from the upper positions (Chelski aside), I think they will be fine, but I still think they will be very pumped for this game. Against Liverpool last weekend they were ahead and then looked to sit back on their lead which was never a good thing with a team of Liverpool’s quality. Pardew recognised that and so today I think they will approach the game with a different game plan. I suspect they will look to be compact defensively and with Jedinak back in their midfield it will provide more stability and cover in front of the back four of Dann and Hangeland. Out wide they’ll have the pace of Gayle and Bolasie and Pardew will probably look to isolate Bolasie and Gayle  against Monreal (assuming he plays) and Bellerin respectively, one because of his lack of pace and the other because of his still relative inexperience at the top flight. If they are to be successful against our defensive line you’d expect their joy to come from those wide positions, so it’s important that both of those wide players are negated somehow today.

So much of football is about timing. We played a Palace side last season away from home in a bit of turmoil as Holloway had just left the club. They battled well and although we had a man sent off and still won the game, it was anything but a comfortable afternoon, so I’m not expecting anything other than that today. In August this year they had the ongoing Pulis issues and despite the fact he wasn’t there they were still set up disciplined enough for us to find it very tough to break down. It was only that last-gasp Ramsey goal that saved our blushes on the opening day. We’ve caught them in a bit of turmoil a couple of times since we’ve played them and finally they seem to be coming into a game against us on their own turf in which they have some stability, so I don’t think we’ll find the going good-to-soft today. Based on the games we’ve had against them since they returned to the Premier League, i’m not expecting anything other than a difficult game today with a side that will try to build from a foundation of defensive stability and try to use the flanks to hit us on the counter. Hopefully that is minimised for the sake of my, and your, health!

For us, the importance will be of the technical players and their ability to unpick the Palace defensive line. If the Eagles do sit deep, then I can only see success for us if Arsene names a team filled with players who are technically more able on the ball and can beat a man. Last season Serge Gnabry had a good game and he is an example of why we will need thata type of player. Had the Ox been fit, i’d think he’d be a shoe-in to start. But his injury means that Arsene has some decisions to make. I suspect given the form of Alexis, Ozil and Santi, they should all play. Perhaps Arsene will go as attacking as he was against Middlesbrough and name a very offensive line up which includes those three, Alexis, Giroud and Welbeck. If Palace do sit deep, then it would make sense to try to overload their capacity to go man-for man in their own half of the field. If he does decide that caution is more prudent, however, then I’d expect to see Welbeck sacrificed in that line up first. Perhaps for Rosicky in midfield, pushing Ozil out to the left and Alexis right. Rosicky is the sort of player that can see that threaded pass better, so in a game of fine margins where there might be a compact Crystal Palace side, that type of player is key.

Notice how I haven’t even mentioned Theo yet? I just can’t see how he gets in to the team in a game like today. Palace won’t play a high line, they’ll flood that area of space in front of their own penalty box and Theo just won’t be able to make those runs in behind the defence he likes to do. well, actually he will, but he’d probably find himself too close to Speroni all day I’d expect. I’ve said it enough on this blog that I’m getting bored of my own rhetoric, but Walcott is a player that needs to play where there is plenty of grass to run in to. The games against teams that come out more are perfect and if Palace play the way I think they will today, I don’t see how he will get any joy.

But hey, I’m not the manager, I don’t know what is best for the team so if he does start then perhaps he’ll score and win us the game. As long as that happens, then I’ll be happy and pleased enough to admit i was wrong-diddly-ong.

Fingers crossed we get what we want from the game. They’ve already beaten the Spuds relatively recently so we can’t take anything for granted. If we do win, we then have Monaco midweek, and Everton on Sunday. I said before the Leicester game that we had an opportunity to start turning the proverbial screw in the league with the run of fixtures we have. That can continue today. Nay, it MUST continue today, if we’re going to secure our longer-term Champions League future.

Until tomorrow.

A door opening for Chambers and Jack?

With the Crystal Palace game about 30 hours away, all of the focus turns back towards the Premier League today with Le Boss’ press conference ahead of the trip to Selhurst Park.

We’ve already had an injury update from the manager, confirming that Ramsey is three days in to a three week rehab programme, as well as doubts over Flamini and Bellerin. The Flamster is probably a loss we can absorb in the squad quite easily, as Coquelin will slot in to his recently acquired position, but Bellerin has established himself as first choice at this moment in time so his injury might be more difficultly felt. Especially as Chambers – whilst very good against Boro – has found it hard going when matched up against pace this season. Or, if I’m going to be a little more positive, I could argue that this kind of opening will give Chambers the opportunity to win his place back in the team. He’s been sitting on the sidelines for a few weeks and I reckon he’d have seen Nacho win his place in the side and will fancy a bit of it, so I’m hoping that this mentality in the squad of fighting for all positions, will have a beneficial effect on players like Chambers.

Still, Palace will surely look to exploit the apparent lack of pace if Hector isn’t available, but more on the actual nuances of the game tomorrow, I think.

Jack will probably see some bench time tomorrow and whilst the loss of Flamini wouldn’t be a like-for-like replacement if he wasn’t fit, at least we have another midfield option, which is good considering that the Ox, Rambo, Arteta and Diaby (!!) are all out and unavailable this weekend. It’s the toe of game where you’d hope we’d see more possession and a player with close control like Wilshere might just be useful for unlocking a resurgent Palace under Pardew.

The other story on the official site saw Arsène talk about the draw as an ‘interesting one’. Not for me it isn’t. It’s a bloody horrible one. Away from home, at a ground where we haven’t won in nine years, against a team in which we have beaten twice since what feels like 1977? Nope, to me that sucks and if I’m honest, I’d rather have had Reading at home and let other teams knock United and Liverpool out so we don’t have to be faced with it. But it is what it is, so we have to overcome them to get through to the next round. Come on Arsenal!

Not really sure what else there is that’s Arsenal related today. As always, I shoot my load too quickly when it comes to blogging, as I do this first thing in the morning whilst heading into work on the tube, so I can’t really tell you about Arsène’s presser, or what he thinks about racist Chelski. Of course, I don’t believe that all Chelski fans are racist, but they seem to have a more chequered history than any other English club. They maybe be irritating, fickle, general scummers because of the team they support, but on the whole I don’t believe they foster a culture of racism within the club or the stadium. How could they? Much like all football teams, their fanbase is a diverse mix of people, from the poorest scrotes to the most affluent of idiotic Chelski morons, but they don’t all get memos before games to bring their white cloaks and pointy white hats.

Perhaps it’s a cultural thing that a small collective have passed on to their offspring, which is contributing to the terrible reputation they have, but there’s not really a lot that club can do in that regard other than the banning orders they’ve already looked to enforce. Well, I guess they could neuter all of those fans, but the European court of human rights would probably have a field day. Even if it is the best thing for the world and the future.

Anyway, I’ve taken up enough of your time for one day, so I’ll take my leave.

Happy Friday.