Speculating on Gibbs and Chambers’ pinches

Happy Halloween Friday to you. I hope you have something special planned? I know I do. I’m going to work, then I’m going to pick The Management up after her work, then a friend and I are going to the pub to ignore all the pointlessness of this time of year.

Never really been into Halloween, as you can probably already tell, even when I was a kid. Never saw the point in trick-or-treating and couldn’t be arsed with the dressing up. What’s the spooky equivalent of ‘bah-humbug’?

Anyway, thankfully we have The Arsenal to focus our attention on and specifically today, a press conference for Le Boss to give us an update on who’s available, what he thinks of Burnley, and no doubt whether he thinks his team can establish a run of victories in their upcoming games.

Calum Chambers will no doubt be present and I must admit to being more than a little bit jealous of him. After all, he is playing for the club I love and despite the fact that he probably didn’t grow up as an Arsenal fan, when he says that he has to ‘pinch himself’ because of the position he is in (big club, Champions League football, etc) I don’t think there’s anybody who wouldn’t appreciate the position he’s in and wish that they could be in his shoes. I wonder how hard he punches himself. I think he’s probably one of those that wants to be really manly and draw blood, but actually he’s self conscious enough to know that social services might get called in if he gets too exuberant. Let’s not forget that three years ago he was in school. Anyway, He’s shown remarkable adaptability during his short spell at the club and is an example to those that say that Arsène can’t spot a defender. The Manager may still not be 100% on where Chambers’ future full time position lies, but there’s no doubt that the lad is a talent, at which I’d like to point out that I feel mighty old calling a 19-year-old a ‘lad’. But at the ripe old age of (nearly) 32, I’ve probably moved into that territory of being a grown man hero-worshipping somebody who would not have existed when I started secondary school. Let’s deviate away from that thought as quickly as we can and back to the team news for tomorrow, shall we?

Arsène gave one of his standard pre-emptive interviews to the official site, in which he has confirmed that Kieran Gibbs is a doubt for the game, following his limping off on Saturday against Sunderland. It’s nothing any of us wouldn’t have expected, but Gibbs’ record with injuries is well documented, so I hope this is just a bit of cautiousness from the club rather than an absence with no idea of a return. If we’re looking at an extended period on the sidelines then it all gets a bit scary for us defensively. However, I’d like to think in a ‘glass half full’ kind of way and suggest that if the injury was a longer term concern, Arsène would have elaborated a little bit more than he has. By the tone of the interview he game on the dot com, this is a short term injury, so perhaps we can be given some good news in relation to the Anderlecht game on Tuesday.

As for the rest of the squad, there is thankfully no new bumps or bruises, with Sanogo even returning!! Try to contain you’re excited, will you please? I suspect our Postman might be looking at a while with little game time and perhaps even a short-term loan come January, as I can’t really see him breaking through ahead of the more experienced pros in the team.

Gnabry and Diaby are soon to be back and whilst the latter might see the odd sub appearance, I suspect the former will also benefit from a loan. He’s a definite talent, but will probably see his route blocked for now, so let’s get him some experience to come back as a more polished diamond in 2015/16.

I’m sure they’ll be plenty of other snippets and soundbites from Arsène come lunchtime today, so they’ll be plenty of fat to chew in the PM and before the game tomorrow. I’ve started to read what the ‘experts’ are saying about tomorrow’s game and they’re all predicting a relatively comfy afternoon for us. Clearly they’ve never actually seen Arsenal properly this season, because that’s about as likely to happen as me growing wings and joining the X-Men, because we never do anything the easy way. We’ll most likely go one-down from a goal-kick that catches a big gust of wind and bounces off the referees head. To which he’ll turn around and see Wilshere laughing so will send him off. And Arsène to the stands for remonstrating. But perhaps I’m dabbling in a little bit too much hyperbole today, so will leave my wandering imagination there.

In the meantime, you have a good one.

The charm offensive is good

After spending a few days waxing lyrical about the form and effervescence of Alexis Sanchez, it appears everyone is getting involved in the love-in sessions, only this time the power of positive thinking is being spread around the Arsenal camp with players deciding to talk up their own happiness.

Whilst trying to scour the t’internet trying to find scraps of something Arsenal to talk about, I realised that I didn’t have to look beyond the official site yesterday evening, as both Santi and Jack have been talking up their happiness and pride respectively.

Santi talks about how he trains and plays for fun and that’s what allows him to enjoy his life so much, whilst Jack has been telling us about his own inner confidence to get back to former glories after a couple of stop-start seasons chocked with injuries. I’m glad that the players are being more positive about themselves at the moment, because let’s face it, we haven’t been playing too well of late so any potential confidence boost we could get as fans that the team is starting to perform is a welcome one.

The run needs to start now you see. I had a long chat with a friend who is a Burnley fan yesterday and he’s been telling me that he fears us and Chelski the most away from home because of Dych’s insistence on playing a more open and expansive game of football. I certainly hope so because whilst the football hasn’t been as flowing, the results look to be building and it feels to me as if we really need a comprehensive victory to make the Arsenal engine purr. We need that one catalyst to be able to say ‘ok, now we’re up and running, so let’s see how far this team can take us’ and as much as I like my Burnley supporting friend and have no real issues with our weekend opponents, I hope we smash them into the ground on Saturday afternoon.

So hearing the players go on a charm offensive, no matter how obvious and possibly doctored the interviews might be, is a-ok by me at this stage.

Elsewhere there’s…well…not a lot really. The COC was played last night and aside from Bournemouth taking a Premier League scalp, there were no real upsets. League Two Shrewsbury were outdone by Chelski, who I now note are being described as ‘undefeated in all competitions’ Chelski. Good lord I hope someone turns them over in the League soon. It will make the world a better place. Seeing Jose Mourinho smirking his way to the Premier League trophy will be painful enough for the next seven months, but to take away the last bit of bragging rights we have will be all the more painful. And the fans…blimey…they’re already the worst fans in the history of the world, so to throw in an undefeated season will be like some divine power appearing before your very eyes only to tell you the world is going to end about thirty seconds later.

I made the mistake a few years ago that thinking that there can be some kind of karma in football for oil-whoring clubs, then Chelski skanked their way all the way to the Champions League final before winning it, so I’ll not make the same mistake and say that they can’t go unbeaten.

This is all too much doom and gloom for a Wednesday morning. How about we just take a second to imagine a front line of Theo, Alexis and Welbeck playing a high line in a league game with Mesut feeding them a platter of delectable through-ball delights?

*Pauses and looks up at the sky for six seconds*

Ahh, that was nice. Can we have some of that please soon Arsène?

Again, relatively short one from me today, but I promise to be more contemplative tomorrow. Or the next day.

You have a good one.

Defenders, injuries, and Arsene’s Gordon Bombay impression

There’s literally nothing going on in the Arsenal world today. Like, nothing, nada, zip, zero, zilch. It makes providing daily musings on all things Arsenal quite a challenge you know. But, I do it because it’s my bit of fun really, so I shouldn’t complain. It’s not like my life is dependent on ensuring that information about Arsenal is syndicated to you regularly, so when there’s nothing on, there’s nothing on. Except, I do actually want there to be something to talk about. Got any ideas?

From an injury point of view I suppose there’s always something to talk about. Hypothesizing on why we have this many injuries, who is injured at the moment and why the club haven’t come out and told us about the latest couple to hit the team – Gibbs and Arteta. The former has been speculatively quoted as six weeks on the sidelines, but the latter is expected to be a shorter injury lay off. Either way, both are quite injury-prone players and with our defence thread-bare as it is, it does leave the decision to have minimal playing staff in that part of the pitch quite baffling. We all know that Gibbs is injury-prone. Likewise too, after Koscienly was carrying a knock from the World Cup we all knew it was only a matter of time. I fully expect Mertesacker to break in half, bursting into flames, whilst an inexperienced fireman throws an unknown liquid on him which turns out to be paraffin against Burnley on Saturday afternoon.

Arteta too is of the age where he should be viewed as squad rotation, not first choice, purely based on his injury record more than his actual ability. Against Sunderland I thought he played very well and kept us ticking over, but I think we’re likely to see a lot more knocks and injuries to him over the next six months, so that we don’t have another option aside for Flamini (or both if we’re looking to cover our ailing defence?) is crazy in the least. And I know crazy. At the in-laws this weekend I was given a salsa called ‘Crazy Fred’s’ and it had scotch bonnets in it. So I’m well versed in the art of the insane.

There is always transfer guff I could speculate on, I suppose, but really? Do we really have to be subjected to the kind of rubbish about Pedro handing in transfer requests so he could join us? He’s a good player but what on earth would we do with another wide forward? Are we stockpiling them for some kind of nuclear footballing holocaust? Or are we going to do some kind of inverted ‘Flying V’ formation that see’s us playing with hardly any defenders any more so we can all just on-rush the opposition straight from any set play, kick-off, corner, etc? Actually, given our reluctance to purchase cover at the back, perhaps I’m on to something there. Arsene Wenger is playing the Emilio Estevez ‘Gordon Bombay':

“Keep swingin’ Charlie and maybe you’ll give the goalie a cold”

I don’t even bother clicking on the links on NewsNow any more. It’s 99% transfer trash and never leads to any real insight. You’d do better trying to learn the art of divination through tea-leaves than use any online media source for your insight into who Arsenal are going to sign.

Anyway, like I said, relatively little on so I’m going pause, reflect, then eat something for my breakfast.

Ciao.

Gift horses for Alexis puts us up and running

You should never look a gift horse in the mouth. So when two come trotting into the stables, you lasso them both and drag them over to you as quickly as possible.

Yesterday’s away victory up in the North East to the Mackems was not comfortable, it was not free-flowing, but it was very welcome. Sunderland contrived to give us two absolute pearlers of defensive errors, the likes of which we’ve seen on a few occasions go against us over the years. The one man who was the grateful recipient of the gifts – Alexis Sanchez – was also the best player on the pitch by a millions miles, so perhaps it was fitting that he was the one who was afforded the luxury of a centre half and goalkeeping blunder, such was his hard work both on and off the ball.

Within a couple of games at the start of the season we could all tell that Alexis would be a hit in England. Fans reward effort almost as much as attainment in this country, so when you have a player who regularly achieves top marks in both, you are always on to a winner. Whilst the papers and pundits today will talk about the game in the context of the Sunderland self-inflicted implosion, I’d like to offer a different school of thought, one which suggests that it was the energetic Chilean also had a role to play in the errors. Last season we did not have a pairing like Alexis and Welbeck to push from the front as high as those two players do, so it is highly likely that we would not have profited from the mistakes of Messieurs Brown and Mannone, come the final whistle. But this season, we have that higher pressing that will lead to mistakes if players don’t have time to react when they receive the ball.

Let’s also recognise that for the first goal, Alexis still had a lot to do as he bore down on Mannone. Picking the ball up just after the halfway line gives you three or four seconds of running before deciding what to do, in which time there is often plenty of room to decide where you’re placing the ball and making a wrong decision. Such was the confidence of our tireless superstar, that he simple ‘dinked’ the ball over Mannone, setting us on the way to a well deserved victory.

And you can’t deny that our victory wasn’t well deserved. We dominated possession for large swathes of the match, we had the most clear-cut chances, plus we looked the more assured defensively. In the first half Welbeck and Cazorla both fizzed shots over and just wide respectively, whilst our midfield of Arteta and Flamini controlled possession with consummate ease. Last season there we’d many of us who bemoaned the double pivote, but having watched a stuttering start to 2014/15 and the 4-1-4-1 formation, it was good for us to go back to basics.

Perhaps Arsène recognised the make-shiftiness of of our back four and realised that they needed a bit more protection. It worked. We were hardly troubled defensively for the whole game and whilst some will argue that it was because we played a wounded animal in Sunderland, that sometimes works against you, as the opponents play with a point to prove. Thankfully from this Gooners perspective, the Black Cats never really showed any of that potential threat that I thought we’d come up against.

Which is just as well really, because our free-flowing football has yet to completely return, based on yesterday’s performance. Passing still went awry, we were still very static and laboured at times, and you can tell that this is an Arsenal team that is struggling to find confidence right now. But it’s a bit of a Catch 22 situation with confidence, because you only get it by winning games, so if winning games requires confidence, perhaps we should just be happy that we’ve managed back-to-back victories and a win in a weeks time against Burnley will see us looking like we’ve put together a bit of a streak to take into the rest of the season.

Some words on individual performances. I thought Monreal and Chambers had a good game, although both were relatively untroubled by a relatively toothless Sunderland side, so perhaps sterner tests are to come. In midfield I though Flamini played well and, one two-footed challenge aside (he does like to throw himself in to those), he was vastly improved in his performance compared to a few weeks ago.

Santi Cazorla didn’t have one of his best games. He’s quite good at pretending to be a rugby kicker, because he does like a skied ball high above the goalposts. He had a few really good chances yesterday and I’m sure he’ll be frustrated at himself for not at least working the ‘keeper.

Up top we had the effervescent Alexis, who’s 10 out of 10 performance I suspect might just become a more regular appearance as he gets to know his teammates each week. What a player we have with him. His tireless running even made me feel fatigued just watching him. He’s a star in the making and his energy does, I think, also rub off on other players. There were times yesterday where I saw Santi running down one of the centre halves after Mannone had distributed a short pass out wide to build from the back, to which I could only muse to myself that it was the infectious effort of Welbeck and Alexis rubbing off on our diminutive Spaniard.

Welbeck was quiet and The Ox showed patches of good play, but he was still a bit loose in some of his passing and with Walcott approaching first team fitness, he will be looking at his place in the team and wondering how long he has in the team. A front three of Alexis, Welbeck and Walcott is a mouth-watering prospect, so let’s hope we see a glimpse of that next weekend.

Another injury, this time to Gibbs, prevented the day from being an overall success and you wonder when we’re going to catch a break. Arsène was obviously non-committal on how bad the injury was, but we’ve seen that kind of limping off all too often with Arsenal players, so I’m fully expecting to hear during the week that we have a three of our first choice back four out until after the international break in a few weeks time. It does feel like we’re cursed at the moment, but it’s exacerbated by our own making, of which I’m bored myself of talking about it, so I’ll move swiftly on.

So what did we ultimately learn from yesterday? Well, I suppose firstly it’s that we’re still not at our best and there should be more we can expect from Arsenal. But it feels like we’re underway in the league now and so what we’ll all be hoping to see in the coming months is a series of wins that puts us in contention for those top four spots.

See you tomorrow.

Nervy about form, but a reaction is needed

Matchday! The bestest day of the week! Today it’s Sunderland away and the best thing about football is that it very quickly offers the chance of redemption, so after a number of really poor performances, the Arsenal players could wash away the bad taste left in the mouth from the home draw to Hull or the smash and grab in Brussels.

I’m oop Norf for today’s game with The Management’s family and if I’m completely honest, whilst I’m excited to be popping along to the game this afternoon, I’m also really apprehensive. There are a lot of factors which could mean that this afternoon is not as enjoyable as I’d hope it could be.

For starters there’s our own form. Sure, we picked up a win in midweek, but we haven’t really kicked into gear all season as yet. Perhaps the Galatasaray game was the only exception, but even the Villa game had some scary moments before the match was effectively over at half time and turned into a testimonial in the second half.

We are not playing well and going forward we were quite toothless on Wednesday and on Saturday too. If we are going to win the game today, we can’t afford to be so lethargic in our passing. Our good football is about movement. It’s about pulling teams apart by quick interchanges of possession and willing runners. It’s not about static sideways balls from one side of the pitch to another via three midfielders all in a line. The only way we will win today is if there is energy in the performance.

And that’s the second reason why I’m nervous, because I think we’ll see a Sunderland side with a lot of energy today. They will have spent a whole week stewing on an 8-0 performance and so their players will be pumped today. They will be running their arses off in front of their home fans and so if we are not at it from the first second, I think we’ll be in trouble. Where we were appalling last season was when teams blitzed us in the first 15 minutes. It wouldn’t surprise me if Poyet tells his players to do the same. The first opening exchanges of today’s game might just require us to dig deep and play well defensively. Which leads me to the third reason why I am worried about today…

Defensively we had nothing to do against Hull and we still were masters of our own downfall with the second goal. Forget the first, that was an anomaly and should have been a foul, but there can be no excuses for the second goal. Likewise in midweek, with what felt to me like a carbon copy of the second Hull goal (caught under the flight of a ball and opposition player nods beyond the ‘keeper), we can’t really have any complaints. Today Sunderland will be looking to exploit our defensive frailties by testing our back four with balls in to Fletcher through the channels, most likely delivered by either Wickham or Buckley, or through set pieces from Larsson or Johnson.

If Arsène chooses to field the same side as he did on Wednesday, with Monreal in the heart of the defence, I fear what the repercussions will be. Monreal is not a centre half and so I have no beef with him, but more I have beef with the boss if he continues to choose him. I hope Arsène sees sense and puts Chambers in the heart of the back four, bringing Bellerin in at right back, because I think that gives us more balance than the team that played in the Champions League. Bellerin was impressive against Hull and I certainly think he deserves another shot at playing against a Sunderland side that might give us a bit more space going forward.

Which leads me to trying to finish up today’s match preview blog by being a bit more positive. Defensively Sunderland have the same problems with lack of numbers that we do, and whilst they will be massively up for this game today, they are still the same side that conceded eight against Southampton. If Sunderland aim to come at us and catch us off guard by pressing higher up the pitch, it will give room for Welbeck and Alexis to do their thang. Alexis was awesome against Anderlecht and another performance like that will most likely go a long way in giving us the win. Bellerin might also profit from Sunderland pushing forward, because he did look good going forward against Hull and he is very rapid so he might get a bit of green grass to run into today. If he does, he’ll need the support of the midfield runners like Ramsey and the vision of Cazorla, to support him in finding an outlet in our final third.

The blueprint for our struggles this season has been when teams have sat back and let us pass ourselves to death. I’m not sure Sunderland will do that today. They might do, I could be wrong, but I think their fans will get on their backs if they set themselves up for a draw at home. So them coming at us like Villa did could end up being a blessing.

Keep those fingers crossed Gooners!

Get out of Birthday Jail Card used

Last night Arsène Wenger must have played his invisible ‘Birthday Get Out Of Jail’ card, because after what we all watched in Belgian last night, there are not many people who have a physical or emotional stake in the club that will argue that we didn’t get quite fortunate, by picking up the 2-1 win.

I suppose the counter-argument is that fortune would be a back pass that the ‘keeper shanks into his own net, where as our goals were entirely of our own making through our play, but if you watched the game in the same way I did I’m sure you’d agree too that we were fortunate.

We never ever really got going. Perhaps the warning signs were there early on, when Santi was fed a delightful ball by the stand-out performer Alexis, only for the Spaniard to shin one right into row z. In the opening exchanges of a game you think to yourself as a fan “that’s ok, it’s good we’re getting into those positions, so we’ll get another chance”, but you don’t expect to see the opponent ‘keeper not worked for the vast duration of the game thereafter.

Some way through the second half, it occurred to me that this felt very much like the Hull game, which was a real worry. We were laboured, lacklustre and lethargic all rolled into one and the quick interchanges of passing between players that has typified Arsène Wenger teams done the years just wasn’t there. I pointed out to The Management how static we were part-way through the second half. As if to help me prove my point, I was able to show her six passes in a row that were to players standing still. Successful football teams move into spaces, create gaps, pull teams apart and work at creating openings to fashion chances. I saw none of that for the duration of yesterday’s match from Arsenal players. Paul Merson had said at half time that it was as if none of the Arsenal players wanted the ball. For a change, I agreed with him.

The goal we conceded felt to me as if lessons had clearly not been learnt from the weekend. Another floated ball into the middle, another defender caught under the flight (this time it was Chambers), another half-decent header from a half-decent attacking player. DeJa Vu and Arsenal another goal down to a side that we really should have been out of sight against.

Let’s be honest, I don’t want to seem like I’m being disingenuous to our opponents of the evening, but that was a distinctly average Champions League side that we came across yesterday. You could tell from their build up play and potency in the final third that they were not a side that would trouble 95% of teams in the competition. But they troubled us. They troubled us quite a lot actually.

Midfield was virtually anonymous I have to say. Yes, the defence was at fault for us going behind, but our midfield had an evening to forget. Jack and Rambo hardly impacted the game at all and, whilst he has come back from injury only recently, I hope that it was his lay-off that caused another average display from Ramsey and not a sign of a dip in form. We want to see the Ramsey from last season, not a regression into the player that tried flicks and long passes to the frustration of everybody. Again, let’s put it down to regaining his fitness for now, but I didn’t see any real penetration from the midfield. There are a lot of people in the media world that wonder what Özil does, but without wanting to put an injured player on a pedestal, that is exactly the sort of game we needed him in. I saw about three or four very good forward runs throughout the game in which it only needed a good pass from a player with vision to see, but instead we chose the simple five yard sideways pass and chose to build up play slowly again. Mesut Özil is a great player because he sees those types of passes, and it was that cutting edge from a player with vision that we missed last night.

But for all of this anguish, for all of my assertions in other blogs recently that we have not ‘clicked’, perhaps I should give a smidgen of credit to the players for ultimately securing a vital victory that one hopes is essential in rebuilding what appears to be a fragile level of confidence amongst the players. The goal from Gibbs was an absolute pearler and Lukas Podolski showed exactly what he is – an absolutely deadly finisher – Benjy and Steve had to be virtually broken apart via Whatsapp last night!

So the job is done and the wounds are minor and repairable. But there needs to be a vastly improved performance against Sunderland on Saturday afternoon.

See you tomorrow.

 

Anderlecht preview: Victory to build momentum

Champions League Matchday 3 sees us make the short trip along the Eurostar to Belgium, where we line up to face Anderlecht tonight. But before I go into some thoughts on the game, a little rant, if I may…

This morning I was up early driving back from the inlaws (Management has broken her wrist and so she is being ferried to and from her work by Senior Management) when I heard full chapter and verse about the “amazing atmosphere at Anfield tonight. The Real Madrid players will have played all over the world, but this will be special” and I wondered ‘is there any other club that enjoys so much hyperbole thrown at it in relation to atmosphere as much as Liverpool?’. I would love to see what Liverpool do differently to us when we’ve entertained Bayern or Barca in the past. I’d wager little. But this media soft-spot for Liverpool is borderline nausea-inducing.

Anyway, moving swiftly on and towards all things Arsenal, who face a tricky – but not insurmountable – away trip to Anderlecht. It’s been made all the more testing by the fact we’re missing both first and second choice ‘keepers, as well as our first choice centre half and right back. It will mean a somewhat unfamiliar and rather raw look about our back five this evening, but even so this is a game that Arsenal really have to be looking at to win tonight.

If it’s true what Arsène says, that 10 points is a minimum target that usually achieves progression into the next stage of the competition, then this is the sort of game that can help to put a foot in the door of the next round. An away win followed by a home victory against the. Belgian champions will leave us with nine points and will probably mean that a draw in our final two games will at least see us progress. Of course we want to win the group, but qualification is the first hurdle to try to overcome. Defeat, or even a draw, will probably mean that we have to beat Dortmund at home and that is by no means a given seeing as we’ve already been beaten by them once this season and defeated last season on home soil.

But let’s not be fooled into thinking that we’ll sweep aside Anderlecht tonight. They will be in the mood for an upset and, having seen Arsenal labour the point on Saturday, I’m sure they will be looking at Hull’s performance and thinking they should be able to get something from the game. We are yet to fully fire on all cylinders in any competition (even against Galatasaray and Villa there were cracks) and that will give enough fuel for their belief.

I’ll confess that I have very little frame of reference when it comes to tonight’s opponents, as the Belgian League is not one that makes my ‘must see’ list. Save for Anthony Van Den Borre (once of Portsmouth) and Stefan Defour (not bad on Football Manager), I know few of their players and am not sure of the style of football the ‘Purple and White’ will produce tonight. But without wanting to be accused of the type of arrogance that is labelled at Wenger when he doesn’t analyse an opponent, I suspect that we’ll see a team that will want to start the game quite tight, keep Arsenal at bay for the first 15 minutes, then up the tempo gradually as they build their confidence.

Of course, because I do little research of note on our opponents, I could be completely wrong and we could see them try to catch us off-guard by coming flying out of the box. Our defeats to Dortmund this season, Chelski and Liverpool last season, we’re built on a foundation of speed and blitzing us in the first 15 minutes, so if Anderlecht do adopt that tactic it could stun us enough to leave us as docile as a sloth. At the weekend after both goals we looked a little shell-shocked for at least ten minutes after each goal, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Anderlecht managed tell his players to adopt the same tactic.

Of course that is not without it’s risks. Last season saw an Arsenal side that could be pressed high from the front to the back without fear our quick counter attacks. This season we have injected notable pace in Welbeck and Alexis and playing a high line to squeeze space between attack and midfield, as well as midfield and defence, would leave a lot of grass for our forward players to play with.

So whilst our back four will have a makeshift feel about it, the attacking side of the team will look a lot more polished, certainly on paper anyway. They may have looked rather lacklustre on Saturday, but the Champions League often brings a more expansive brand of football to it, so you’d hope that we can find more space for midfield and attack in tonight’s game than we did in the Premier League at the weekend.

Although Walcott is back, there’s no way he’d start (I probably should have checked to see if he’s in the squad, but my internet connection on my phone has just gone down as I’ve just entered a tunnel, so I’m out of options there!) tonight after such a lengthy injury, so I think we’ll see Alexis, Welbeck and The Ox as our most forward-lying players, with Santi, Jack and perhaps Arteta playing in the middle of the park. Arsène could go for Ramsey and Wilshere if he thinks that we’ll spend most of the game on the front foot, but with a rather youthful looking defence (Chambers will surely come in for Monreal), I think Arsène will consider giving the captain the nod in the hope that there is more protection for the back four.

Tonight is a game that could prove quite significant. After stuttering at the weekend, victory tonight will ensure we to into this weekend’s game against Sunderland off the back of victory and hopefully some added confidence. We have a run of winnable games (in theory) and we need to start building momentum now.

Come on you reds!