Thoughts on City from Benjy

Every time Thierry Henry pauses for dramatic effect. An angels heart skips a beat and one of those Lad accounts on twitter dies. I spent the early part of Sunday afternoon hanging off every word of what the delicious Frenchman had to say. It reminded me of having an new colleague at work. They have a fresh mind; they see things in a different light. Simple things that get over-looked get pointed out. Generally because you haven’t been tainted by the fog of expectation. Or Neil, who fucking continually does stupid things. Do one Neil.

The discussion pre-game was the typical narrative. Arsenal don’t defend, Arsène is tactically naive etc, etc. Insert your preference of choice reader. It does feel like media outlets prepare flash cards that they can quickly whip out depending on the outcome of the game. Opinions and perceptions in football are so instant and definitive. Which generally leads to misinterpretation of the situation or said individual. On several occasions on Sunday we heard the commentary team slip into that -“Vincent Kompany with a rare mistake”. “Arsène Wenger doesn’t usually set his team up like this” They are culprits of going along with the general consensus of football interpretation.

Even our gorgeous hero dropped a clanger before kickoff, or did he? Saying Alex Song is the sort of midfielder Arsenal need.

Disclaimer – Alex Song was ok at kicking a football. We can argue till the cows come home about having him in the current squad. But we were no better defensively with him in the side.

Back to Henry. He’s hedging his bets, he’s playing the game of life. We lose, and he can say *dramatic pause* “see” or “I’m pleased they’ve finally done what we’ve all been clamouring for”. It’s like betting against your team, they lose you win some cash, if they win, you can do a victory dance to Taylor Swift, shake it off. And we all know who the real winner is.

That said, I wonder if Thierry enjoyed his TV debut. I did. I wonder if he thinks he’s made the best choice for his career and brand Thierry. It can be easy, punditry, you don’t have to make any big calls, you can just end up looking very intelligent. Spouting some guff. Anyway, Good Luck, Thierry x

I have to say I’m not entirely convinced the way we set-up to play City was entirely new to Arsène. It was all about the execution. We tried to play the same way against Chelsea earlier on in the season. Unfortunately for us Chelsea have this marvellous player, Eden Hazard. You may of heard of him. The ball-boy kicking magician has attempted and completed the most dribbles this season. Key to breaking down a low block. Aguero has just come back from injury and not fully firing didn’t help their cause. I imagine they will try and fill that void in the summer.

I’m really tempted to write we were lucky with the result, but we weren’t. We deserved the victory. To put It in a very simplistic way – I thought we were able to take our chances. If you decide to play the way we did and concede first (i.e. Chelsea) you need to quickly change how you are going to go about things and for many reasons, that isn’t easy.

I’ve always felt Arsène (Emirates years) has been very good at containing issues rather than conquering them. That isn’t a dig at the big man, just the way he goes about things, hence the usual up and down nature to our seasons. Which kind makes this victory even more sweeter. To play a ‘perfect game’ is one thing, but the players have to execute the plan in order to get a result, which is another thing. It was incredible how cohesive we looked. It was exactly how it should be, a strong collective unit with fearsome counter-attacks. Maybe, fearsome isn’t the right word, but we’ll definitely get there.

The most pleasing thing was the framework we gave the entire team to work in. We made it easier for Coquelin to squeeze space between the lines. Coquelin had time, which allows him to anticipate interceptions and give him a perfect view of the whole pitch. Bellerin had enough protection from the resurgent Chamberlain. The young Englishman ploughed up and down the flank allowing the midfield three time to control the midfield areas. Monreal’s stint at centre-half has really appeared to change his outlook. Mertesacker and Koscienly combined perfectly, a pleasant reminder of how good they are together.

Alexis Sanchez was just as good as he usually is. Just traded his spectacular flair for industry but with the equally dazzling effect. He was like a Jack Russell, chased every ball. Perhaps he didn’t create as much as he’d like, but what did he offer was priceless. His and Chamberlain’s hard work allowed Cazorla, Ramsey and Coquelin complete control over the centre of the park, stifling Man City’s creative spark – David Silva. Whilst the trio we had maintained our attacking threat. The big advantage of playing a deeper 4-3-3 is that Santi becomes a viable out-ball from defence. He has ability to hold, turn and begin the transition. This will probably go down as his greatest performance in his Arsenal career.

The natter before the game was who is the better player, Alexis Sanchez or Sergio Aguero. The funny thing is, it’s Santiago Cazorla.

If you believe it was a tactical masterclass, or a perfect execution of tactics we’ve attempted previously, I don’t think it entirely matters. The performance was a massive achievement. Bask in it, and the potential of this squad.

Ben

Find Wenger’s kidnapper

This country I reside within is beings severely punished at the moment. How else can you explain the ridiculously cold weather that we’re having to endure? I mean really, 2’C? Madness!

I tell you who else is mad: Arsène Wenger, that’s who. I think the present cold snap has frozen his transfer deflector shields, because yesterday he was asked a direct question about a player who doesn’t play for us and is not on the verge of signing, and essentially admitted that if we get the work permit situation sorted the deal can be done.

Who are you and what have you done with Monsieur Wenger? That must be some sort of silicon infused android, because Arsène is normally way more guarded than he was yesterday, so I’m thinking that we have to start a man-hunt for Arsène’s captor. Think about it: defensively resolute against the champions at the weekend, admitting to transfer business that the android himself said was 50-50, then next thing you know he’ll be wearing a baseball cap on the touchline and publicly chastising players in the post-match presser. The evidence was there in his press conference yesterday too, identifying the strikers and singling out Joao Teixeira by the looks of the official site transcript of his conference yesterday. Arsène Wenger. Looking at an opponent and their weaknesses. And looking to nullify them. People: this is not a drill – a mans life could be at stake here!

There’s only one way we can find out if it’s the real Arsène: give him a really long coat with a zip. If he does it up first time, we bullet the evil android in the head and start the search immediately.

There are plenty of suspects. Ivan Gazidis, looking to finally have some control and therefore investing some of his sizabel bonus on the technology to build an Alien-style part human, part machine. Jurgen Klopp, who is looking for an exit from his Dortmund nightmare and has also invested some of his annual chunk of change on developing the technology. Hey, maybe it’s Dick Law, who is fed up with being given the run-around by 18 year-old prospects and has kidnapped Arsène and will never release him, just get ‘Evil Arsène’ to do his dirty work so all he has to do is to turn up and collect a player from the airport.

Clever Dick.

Of course I jest, but the important thing I guess, is that we are making serious moves in the market and we’re doing it almost a week before the transfer trapdoor slams shut until June. I just hope – and suspect it’s the case – that we have other options on standby in case we don’t get the positive response from the Home Office that we’re looking for.

The team news ahead of the weekend has some question marks, but I think I’ll leave the pondering on the eventual line up until Sunday morning, because I suspect a few players will be rotated. Arsène already admitted that Özil would start and with Santi in what Le Boss described as ‘the best form of his career’, it seems strange that our record signing has to contend with FA Cup appearances to show that he can get back into the side. It’s a strange and beautiful situation for Wenger to be in and, if Mesut runs the game on Sunday, it makes it delightfully more difficult for Arsène to choose who starts the following week. I’m sure he’s not worried about that in the slightest though.

He also didn’t seem too fussed about the Coquelin contract situation either, so hopefully that will be wrapped up soon, because we lose quite a few midfielders in the summer and even with Coquelin, we still need another defensive minded midfielder in my opinion. I just hope Le Boss’ confidence that the deal will be done isn’t just a smokescreen like the Flamini situation the first time around that we had him.

There’s plenty more Arsenal stuff that I could be babbling on about today, but I’m running out of time as my Met line train hurtles towards Finchley Road and ‘Nosignalsville’, so I’m afraid I must cut my ramblings short and hope you have a less frost-laden day than I am having.

Out.

Arsenal hear me on Bielik; what does defensive strengthening mean for Chambers?

It appears I must have some sort of political sway at Arsenal HQ, because after my plea for the Bielik deal to be announced, low and behold the young fella turns up on the official site as a confirmed signing.

I do find it interesting that young plays – boys really – that come from other clubs are given the same ‘new signing’ treatment that big money players in their prime get. Yesterday we had pictures, and official announcement and whilst there hasn’t been any kind of interview or comments from the 17-year-old yet, it wouldn’t surprise me if we don’t see those over the coming days.

Perhaps part of it is driven by the clear lust of fans like me wanting to see that a deal has been done for supposedly one of the hottest young prospects in Europe in his age group. At 6ft 2′ and still only 17, there’s room for Krystian to be a big player in more ways than one at the club, but I do wonder what pressure it puts him under now that the deal is done. After all, Jack Wilshere came from the youth ranks, et was not afforded any kind of fanfare when he signed his professional terms with the club at 16.

I think it’s probably unlikely that Bielik will be in with the first team straight away, despite what Arsène says, so he’ll probably go into our youth setup. So what will the relationship be with the younger players who are probably earning less than him, yet still have the same goal: to make it in to the first team? Will he have to endure extra knocks in training, or in under-21 games? Or will he play under-18 football for the remainder of this season? All is to be revealed, obviously, but I guess what I’m getting at here is that his path to glory may be more difficult because of the very nature of his arrival; a £2.5million price tag for a young superstar whose bones still probably haven’t stopped growing.

Maybe I need to think less about this sort of stuff. After all, Aaron Ramsey arrived at Arsenal for double that fee at 17 and look where he has managed to get to. Sure, that was a road that had his bumps, much like Bielik’s will surely have along the way, but if his character is strong like Ramsey’s, then we’ll have quite a player on our hands I’m sure.

He does look a little like an even henchman from a Batman movie. Don’t know if that’s just me or not…

There’s not really masses going on in terms of news today. There’s quite a bit of chatter about Gabriel Paulista, but as I rarely watch Spanish football and haven’t seen Villareal even once this season, I can’t really give you an informed opinion I’m afraid. If said player does arrive though, one would assume that he’d be looking to get more game time than that of a fourth choice centre half, so you’d expect Chambers to play that role as deputy to the deputy centre half. With Bellerin impressing at right back, he might find his game time limited, but given the number of games he’s already played this season, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. He’s shown he is a very good defender, one for the future, but we’ve relied on him too much and we need him to develop in a way that he isn’t run into the ground by the time he hits 21. Confidence plays such a massive part in football and we don’t want his dented.

So perhaps we’ll see Chambers alternating defensive responsibilities with Bellerin over the next three months, which will be good for both players, as they know that there is competition in the team but equally they have a chance to play more games. Much like we don’t want to throw Bellerin in all of the time, we can alternate his frequency of appearances in the first team.

This all goes to show that all of this juggling, when you have such a big squad, isn’t as easy as it looks I suppose. You have to balance between the hear and now and the future of the club when you’re in a position like Arsenal. We need to give young players enough exposure to the first team so they grow into first team regulars, but at the same time not too much exposure so that their careers are – as Arsène would say – ‘killed’.

Who’d be a football manager, eh?

Arsène does Mel, Jenks stories are false and agreeing with Walcott (to a point)

Morning you lot, I hope you’re enjoying your Wednesday and are just happy that we’re slowly but surely making our way through this working week. All’s still quiet on the Western front, which means no signings announced, not even a 17-year-old who the club has confirmed has had a medical.

I mean what’s going on here with Bielik? Is he still in school and hasn’t secured a note from his parents yet? Has somebody kidnapped him and are waiting on Arsenal to pay up to a kings ransom for his release? Arsène Wenger is not Mel Gibson people. He may have that kind of money, but he just doesn’t look good in a kilt with blue and white facepaint. Plus I’m pretty sure he’s not a raving anti-Semite either.

Anyway, whoever has taken Bielik and is playing ‘keep-away’ with him from Dick Law, can you give Dick his Bielik back now please? Remember how much he cried when you did the same thing with Campbell? Nobody wants a weeping Dick.

If you read the transfer talk the gutter press hash together worse than a Mondeo/Volvo estate ‘cut-and-shut’, you’ll possibly have read that Arsène has ‘slapped’ a price tag of £12million on Carl Jenkinson to ward off his East London suitors. Quite why Arsène needs to denigrate Carl by physically sticking a label on him is beyond me, but putting aside some quite funny visual imagery of Le Boss as a used car dealer based in a London Colney showroom, I suspect that this story is nothing more than hypothesising mischief making from the red-tops. Jenkinson has had a good season, Arsenal are down a first team right back, plus I’ve seen David Sullivan respond to a few West Ham fans on Twitter in the last few months about how the Jenkinson loan deal should probably be made permanent.

We know Arsène is a pragmatist and I would be very surprised if he decided to cut the loan short and throw in the towel so early in Jenkinson’s career. As long as you show willing and effort, Arsène always gives longer than most managers for his young players. Just look at how long Senderos was given before Wenger decided he was a busted flush. So I suspect they’ll be no decision made until the summer, whereby Arsène will take a call. One wonders if, now that Bellerin appears to be being used as the right back of choice, we won’t see him improve to a point at which he’s had 20 games under his belt by the end of the season and has improved in a similar way in which Coquelin has improved with game time over the last few weeks. If that is the case, then I expect Arsène to have his plans influenced on the future of Jenkinson, but if Bellerin isn’t able to step up in the coming months Arsène still has the option of sending him out on loan and bringing Jenkinson back into the fold to fight with Debuchy for a place in the team.

The only other stories that appear to have come out over the last 24 hours appear to be from both Walcott and Giroud, the latter of which has said that he models himself on Schevchenko, Jean Pierre Papin (what a player he was) and of course Thierry Henry. Ollie: if you could take a few pinches of each of those players’ footballing essence and sprinkle it over your maple and pecan crunch in the morning, that would be a-ok with me. Just try to avoid the Headbutty, will ya?

He’s shown an efficiency in front of goal this season that I think has been lacking in previous seasons. Last year he did well, but he was always slightly lacking in that ruthlessness to be one of the best in the league, I felt. I don’t know whether or not it’s got anything to do with the competition he’s now got, but he seems to have suddenly become a lot more effective in front of goal. When he’s been fit and not suspended that is.

Perhaps the same that pushed Szczesny to up his game last season, has also pushed Giroud to up his game too? The arrival of Welbeck would suggest his position is not 100% guaranteed and with the manager faced with other options like Theo and Alexis who could also (in theory) play through the middle, Giroud is probably looking at his situation as more precarious than it’s ever been.

It’s why I can kind of understand what Walcott is talking about when he mentions that our squad is probably better attacking-wise than he’s ever seen it. When Walcott arrived we had some amazing players, but they were the cream of the crop and once you got beyond the first two or three forwards, I always felt that we weren’t as strong in squad depth as we are today. There’s more competition for places today and as a result we might just be seeing the value of competition as it pushes players to be at their best, or fear losing their place.

Just a thought and a theory. What’s yours?

An unsung hero

I wanted to spend a little bit of time today to talk a of an unsung hero. A player who has been an almost ever-present in the Arsenal team this season, yet rarely do I take to social media and see his name mentioned.

I’m sure the manager has referenced him before at some stage over the last month or two, but I have rarely done so when writing post-match blogs or general musings, so I thought I’d take a wee bit of time today to appreciate the value and contribution that he adds not just to the squad, but this season to the first team too.

It’s Nacho Monreal who is the subject of my thoughts today. Bought in just under two years ago, he’s had an interesting time at The Arsenal to say the least. £8million for a left back, when Kieran Gibbs was clearly first choice at the time (albeit injured when we signed Nacho), seemed like a lot of money for a player with whom would nominally be a substitute or used in rotation. It’s unlike Arsène to go out and spunk a wedge of cash that big on a fella with whom he’s unlikely to see develop as a youngster and eventually overtake the man currently holding down that position. That’s the sort of signing that Arsène likes to spend that kind of money on. Yet here was an established Spanish international who was coming in for competition with Gibbs and along with the previous signings of Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud, was at an age where he was mature enough to see himself as a first team regular and not an up-and-coming contender.

Last season was a difficult one for Nacho I thought, because he had bedded in to the team having signed in the previous January, but found his playing time more limited by the continued fitness of Gibbs. Nacho’s role in the team was constricted to that of the archetypal squad player: playing in FA Cup games, the occasional league games and often coming on as a sub, interestingly enough quite often not for Gibbs, but as a more forward-lying left sided midfielder.

I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t think Nacho would get as much game time as he has this season and if you’d have asked me in the summer which first team players would start to angle for a move come January, I’d have put Podolski, Nacho and Cazorla as the key men. Obviously we know about Santi’s sparkling form and Poldi has left for distant shores, but Nacho has been this season’s surprise package for me. We’ve found out something about our Spaniard that we did not know before this season: he has versatility.

Just think about the positions he’s played since joining Arsenal; left back, left midfield/wing, plus this season at centre half and do you know what? I think he’s done well in the most part in all positions. Let’s not forget that he’d never played as a centre half before in his career, yet this season he’s been asked to step in to one of the most physical leagues in the world. He isn’t the most physically imposing player in the league, yet he’s been going toe-to-toe with Premier League strikers, most of whom are big physical presences or lightning quick. Or sometimes both.

Yet I can only think of one or two occasions in which he has looked slightly out of place at centre half. Sure, we have been shocking defensively at times this season, but I don’t recall it being because of Nacho’s individual errors, or poor positioning. Perhaps that’s because we’ve lacked protection at the back by our midfielders? Certainly when you look at the protection afforded the back four on Sunday, it makes you wonder how much more solid we could have been, had we been able to field better defensive minded players to screen the back four during those weeks in which Nacho was a regular at centre back. The game at Moneychester City has shown the Arsenal players that defending can be so much more easier for the back four if there is more protection and less space for playmakers to pick up the ball in pockets of space and play balls in behind defenders.

So on to that game at the weekend, in which Monreal reassumed his more favoured role of left back and was quite different to when we played at the Etihad last season, where many saw him as one of the weakest links in the chain that day. He didn’t have the greatest of games, but I seem to recall that up until the City game last season, he hadn’t played much football. Asking a player not 100% up to speed and probably not having had the chance to play himself into form, to go to the eventual champions and put on a stellar display, is probably quite a tough ask.

Yet this season he showed what happens when a player is given enough game time. I saw a Monreal who was snapping into tackles early, trying to win the ball quickly from Navas, or the nearest player on that side. I also saw a Monreal who showed that he can be very effective going forward. It was his ‘give and go’ that led to our penalty and first blood being drawn. He had a really good game at the weekend and the fact that Arsène is keeping him in the team ahead of Gibbs is a very telling statement of the form the Spaniard is in.

Much like Santi, Nacho is in the team on merit and I hope he keeps his place, because that means he’s playing well and the chances are so are we. As the season reaches ‘squeaky bum time’, we need as many players hitting top form as possible, so seeing that Arsène is having selection headaches all over the park is exactly what we want as fans.

Keep it up Nacho, keep it up.

Old cliches, new blueprint?

Well that wasn’t quite what we expected yesterday, was it? I mean, victory against the Champions, on their own turf? Ok, who are you and what have you done with the real Arsenal?

I’m still actually quite stunned to be honest with you. Somebody obviously decided that the ‘Big book of footballing certainties’ was torched, because Arsenal away from home to one of the best sides in the country, do not tend to get a result. Like, ever.

But here we are, waking up this morning to the realisation that after years of performances that leave us fans coiling and wincing in pain, we have finally broken the farcical record we have against the Manchester clubs which saw us last winning in Manchester in something like 2007.

Well, I know we beat City about four years ago at the Etihad, but that victory always felt a little flawed because of the very early sending off of Boyata. But not yesterday’s. Yesterday’s win was fully deserved, meticulously planned and superbly executed by and Arsenal team that was pretty unrecognisable from the fragile team that we’ve seen on numerous occasions this season.

Arsène Wenger set up a team to not get beat. I repeat: Arsène Aenger set up a team to not get beat. Here is the man who we all know prefers to take the line that if we play our way, we’ll win regardless of what the opposition do, who yesterday looked at the opposition and said “nope, we’re going to have to play differently today”, which is exactly what his team did. It paid off. Compact in defence and resolute in keeping our shape, aside from a small spell after halftime which had me reaching for the booze, we controlled the game in a ‘rope-a-dope’ style that is more akin to seeing a Mourinho Chelski perform than Arsène and his charges.

Gary Neville was positively purring all yesterday, which was great to hear instead of the usual embarrassing list of issues that usually gets (correctly) labelled at the team. The defence will get the plaudits today I’m sure, but as Souness pointed out after the game, it was the responsible actions of a disciplined midfield that ensured that Koscienly and Mertesacker were not massively stretched throughout the 94 minutes. Aaron Ramsey went ‘back to basics’ as Arsène has suggested previously. Francis Coquelin was imperious in midfield and snapping into tackles left, right and centre. He won a number of aerial duels yesterday when the ball was pumped long by Joe Hart and it had me wondering when was the last time we had a player who won the first ball like that in a big game?

But Santi deserves his own paragraph. What a performance. Playing centrally is definitely something that is working for him right now. He won tackles, he distributed the ball well, he scored a good penalty, he set up Giroud’s goal and he had a few very fancy dribbles that were mesmerising. He even had time to throw in a little jig when Giroud headed in his free kick. Mesut Özil is a fine player, but he will have to wait some time to get back into the team with the way that Santi is playing right now. Both him and Coquelin have been essential over the last few weeks and whilst the clamour to solve problems is often seen as being something to sort out in the transfer window, the midfield isn’t something that looks like it needs tinkering with at all. I only hope that Coquelin doesn’t just ‘do a Flamini’ with his contract running down at the end of the season. He’s now strung together about five games in which he’s been excellent and he only needs to put together another three or four of those and there won’t be many suggesting he can’t be the answer to our defensive midfield problems.

As for the way we set up yesterday. Doesn’t it feel like the penny has finally dropped for this Arsenal team? I know it’s just one game and we could easily pick the penny back up again knowing this Arsenal side, but it feels like they actually ‘get it’. The best teams adapt their styles to nullify the opposition, whilst trying to assert their own style on the game where possible, thereby achieving the required result. Moneychester City wanted an Arsenal team that would try to go all ‘Rocky’ on them and turn a football match into a slug fest of ‘you have a go, we’ll have a go’. They wanted us to come at them so we could be picked off. It didn’t happen. Arsène was right post-match when he talked about the importance of getting the first goal. With the way in which we set up, the first goal allowed us to protect what we had, whilst probing for a second in a conservative nature. Had we conceded early, it’s unlikely that we’d have stuck to such a stringent, self-imposed defensive shape. But by striking first we were able to set our stall out for the game and beat the champions on their own home soil.

Is this the blueprint for future games against the best teams? That’s a difficult question to answer. Football is a game of variables and it would be folly to suggest that we can play like that every time we play a big team, home or away. For example, when we play Chelski at home in a few months time, do you think Mourinho will play a more expansive game? Or will he play just like we did yesterday? The answer is obvious, but if we set up exactly the same when we play the Chavs at home, it would probably have ‘bore draw’ written all over it, which would not be what the home support would be wanting to see. So whilst I don’t think we’ll be going back to ‘one nil to the Arsenal’ any time soon, it is pleasing to know that the manager is prepared to be flexible to get the result he wants, by understanding and adapting to the opposition.

There wasn’t a poor performance from an Arsenal player yesterday. I haven’t even mentioned Alexis, who was his usual tireless self, or the two full backs Monreal and Bellerin, who were excellent. Nor have I waxed lyrical over The Ox’s good display. I could probably fill another 1,000 words talking about each individual player, but I’ve only got about five minutes before I lose phone signal, so I’ll wrap it up for today.

It was only three points yesterday and we have to recognise that, but the psychological boost this will give the team will hopefully be massive, so let’s see whether the team can go on a run now.

See you tomorrow.

Anything’s a bonus today

It’s Sunday, the time of prayer in the Christian world, to which I too am offering up some prayers to the football gods for this afternoons game. I am praying for a win or even a draw, because let’s face it, our chances seem slim giving our history, the form of the champions, our patchy form, plus more news that we’ve lost more players to injury this week. Yet more blows to the team.

Yet despite the injury problems, despite the opportunity to address that by signing somebody in January and despite the bookies and most pundits expecting this to be a routine home win today, the good thing about pre-match run ups to the game are that there is still hope.

I still hope that we will turn up and surprise City. I still hope that we can put in a performance more like the one at home to Stoke rather than the one away to Stoke. And I still have hope that Alexis Sanchez will win the battle of the big stars against Sergio Aguero.

In the reversal of this fixture it was Alexis who put us ahead with a stunning volley that was worthy of winning any match, but as usual our defensive fragility came back to haunt us, conceding from a corner allowing an unmarked Demichelis to nod home. City could have had other goals that day and we rode our luck, but a draw was probably a fair result, so given that the oil whores are on home soil today, I would expect to be punished more than we were at home if we defend like we have done at times this season.

The manager has a decision to make on who plays in goal and, whilst Ospina has done nothing wrong, I just wonder if Arsène will bring Szczesny back into the team today. Wojciech has gone on record before to say that sometimes he needs that bit of competition to push him and improve him. Well Woj, now you’ve had it because you’ve lost your place, so what are you going to do? Arsène might just have that in his mind and he might have used a relatively safe game like Stoke at home to scare Wojciech into thinking he could lose his place into the side. So if he starts today, I fancy him to be quite motivated indeed, so I do.

Defence picks itself I think. Back two because we don’t really have any options, with Monreal still playing instead of the returning Gibbs, plus Chambers on the right hand side rather than Bellerin. Hector has done nothing wrong, but he’s a young and inexperienced player who has struggled at times away from home, so I’d be surprised if he was in the team from the start against City.

Midfield and attack is where it gets interesting, because Arsène does have a choice, so I think he’ll find it tough deciding who starts today. I think Coquelin has done enough to retain his place, but the role of the other two midfielders is a tough one. I suspect he’ll start Cazorla from the beginning in the middle, because he’s been so effective of late, but does he go with Ramsey or Rosicky as his box-to-boxer? Or does The Ox get the nod, with Theo wide right and Alexis wide left? That pace would certainly give City something to think about and if they play a high line against us then you have to hope that we can capitalise if both those two are flanking Giroud up top.

One things for sure, if those two do play, we need to get Santi or Özil on the ball as often as possible. They are the two best passers at the club and if we’re going to go direct with pace, then those two need to be given the ball any time we break down a City attack. Ramsey and The Ox’s passing range is not great at all, but Santi and Mesut could drop the ball on a pin head, so you want to see them giving Alexis or Theo the ball from deep.

We also have the option of hitting Giroud with the ball and, with his ability to be such an effective link up man up top, one suspects that the two wide men need to be as close to him as possible for the big Frenchman to have an effective afternoon.

Whatever side we put out, the odds are stacked against us and with all of the teams around us winning yesterday, I don’t hold out much hope. Defeat today isn’t the end of the world, because all of the other teams that visit the Etihad around us will drop points there, if they haven’t done so already, so it’s a strange situation where I’m looking at this game and thinking a single point would be a bonus.

Keep those fingers crossed and let’s hope for some positive news come 6pm.