Pride restored, defensive brains too, at least for last night

Well that was a bit more like it, wasn’t it now?

A 2-0 home win, safe passage into the knockout stages confirmed through an assertive performance, plus a bit of confidence restored in the players with whom we all looked at and wondered if they had the collective metal to get us out of this quagmire of poor form that we seemed to have waded in to.

I have to say that that I was less than confident before the game, as I ambled my way into the pub to meet a few fellow Gooners to chew the fat with. As I said yesterday, the home defeat to United hit me harder than I thought, so much so that I didn’t really come into the game expecting the team to give any kind of response o the debacle that was last weekend’s result.

I should have a wee bit more faith. Perhaps.

That game last night was exactly what we all needed to restore a bit of faith in the ability of the team to fulfil its potential. Don’t get me wrong; this was a Dortmund side shy of a few players, not needing anything (having qualified from the group already) from the game and languishing in 16th in the Bundesliga, but you could tell from the way they played that they were still up for taking a British scalp. But not yesterday. Yesterday they came up against an Arsenal side which was wounded from a harsh defeat at the weekend.

It didn’t take us long to assert or dominance and perhaps, having been scoffed at during the pre-match brewskis due to his inclusion in the starting 11, it was only fitting that Yaya Sanogo scored his first proper Arsenal goal within a minute or two of kick off. The ball from Santi was composed and the slide under that Weider-fella chap was as composed as any of us could hope for. Isn’t it nice that the monkey in the room that is Sanogo’s whole ‘no goals’ tag has been consigned to the farcical history from whence it came? If you’re an Arsenal fan then there’s no way you want to see any player toil, so to see him notch his first goal was pleasing for all of us to witness.

The rest of the game ticked along as if it was all part of the Arsenal show. Emilio Martinez was called into action with a good save from that bloke who sounds like he’s from the He-Man movie with Dolf Lungren – Mikataryian of Eternia or something – but that aside, we looked to be in control for most of that first half.

The second half was more of the same, accompanied by the now obligatory Alexis goal having been picked out from a good ball by Santi I believe (I’m starting this blog on the way home from the game so forgive me for the sketchy details) and finished with aplomb. The guy is an absolute beast and one only hopes that our form can pick up in the league; if only to prove justice to his overall play. Like in Football Manager, I am simply running out of superlatives. He scores, he dribbles, he chases, he hassles and harries. He is a joy to behold and is the stand out player this year by a country mile. Lord knows what we’d do if he picks up a knock, but at least he looks robust enough to take a tackle, hold on a second whilst I touch some wood.

There were still frustrations from yesterday though. But these frustrations seemed to be born from our own vexation with the players getting things right rather than wrong. For instance: full backs. Pre-game my compatriots and I had a lengthy conflab as to why we essentially play with four wingers. We recounted the halcyon days of the 90s well drilled defence and how they knew the score when it came to covering one another. The old ‘puppet’ description was given by one, who said that it really isn’t rocket science: one sits, whilst the other one pushes forward. It mitigates risk and ensures you have bodies back for when you are caught on the counter like we were for the second goal at the weekend. So why on earth can’t we do that every week? Who knows. More to the point, if lessons have been learned and we see that moving forward, who cares? If we see the same resolute defending away at West Brom at the weekend, I’ll be happy, as will your good self too I’d imagine.

Midfield also had a positive balance I thought. The Ox marked the occasion of his 100th Arsenal appearance with a very fine display and really was deserving of a goal with that lobbed volley on to the bar in the second half. There was a bit of a debate on Twitter that I was involved in that went on yesterday about where he should be playing and whether that is centrally or wide. I’m not sure we got to any kind of resolution, but one things for sure: The Ox is showing more frequent signs of good performances and with some of the injuries we’ve had this season you can see already how important he’s been for us. With the last thing we need being Walcott rushed back into action too early, it is a bit of a blessing that we have somebody like Alex who can give the manager enough leeway to make Theo’s return a gradual one.

Ramsey too, I thought, was better. He is still not the swashbuckling player that upped his game a few notches last season, but he did everything asked of him yesterday night, the simple things. He was always showing for the ball, his distribution was better and his all round game was sans flicks thankfully. He needs to put together a run of four or five games like that, then the confidence will come and we’ll see the player we’re all craving for.

The one sour note of the evening has come once again with the injury to Arteta, who Arsène admitted afterwards that it ‘doesn’t look good’ for the Spaniard. He has been a vital player for us when fit, but therein lies the issue and, if we’re all honest with each other, it’s only going to get worse as he gets older. We need to start thinking about an effective replacement, of which I don’t think many see Flamini as that, so Arsène needs to have his plans in place soon if we’re going to get something out of this season.

So that’s that as far as the Champions League is concerned. Sure, there’s another game, but I really don’t expect to see Anderlecht pick up anything away to Dortmund in a couple of weeks time, so I hope Arsène throws the game in Turkey and focuses all of his attention on our league form. We simply have to start putting together a run of victories. No more draws. No more defeats. The league is well and truly beyond us now, but all of the teams fighting for Champions League spots aren’t, so Arsène needs to get his eyes on the prize of third and go for it.

Happy Thursday unto thee I say.

Injuries abating, history fears not

So, Le Boss hath spoken, decreeing that we have no new injury concerns ahead of this weekend’s massive game against United. In fact, the injury situation doesn’t seem as terrifying as it has been over the past month, as players are beginning to return. As usual with The Arsenal, players are returning in all of the positions that we are currently well stocked in but hey, beggars, choosers, etc.

It might have only been a brief update to the official site, but it was still welcome to get Arsène’s ‘all clear’ on some players. Arteta, for example, will be needed in the base of that midfield if Flamini’s recent performances are anything to go by. The tenacity and cardiness of our Gallic enforcer still seems to be there in his system, but Flamini seems to have lost positional sense and his ability to find another red (or yellow) shirt of late, so the metronomic movements of Tricky Micky will be welcome for our back four.

We may still see a duet of the Flamster and Arteta just in front of the back four, to provide extra cover against the obvious attacking threat United possess, but at least if a scenario like the one that led to the first Swansea goal two weeks ago happens, we know that Mikel is taking down an oncoming player closer to the centre spot.

The other good news is that Giroud will be back, which will certainly please Aaron Ramsey of all people, who thrived from his hold up play last season. It would be remiss of me to suggest that Rambo is not versatile enough to perform without the big Frenchman, but there’s no doubt he profits from Olivier’s place at the top of the field. It will probably be a few weeks before he’s ready to effectively challenge Welbeck for a starting spot, but just seeing him in the squad will be a welcome boost, not least because it will push poor old Sanogo further down the pecking list. I feel for the fella, but he’s not at Arsenal level yet and without games he never will be, so Arsène needs to January loan his ass to another club. Preferably in the Premier League. After all, he only needs to watch Match of the Day to do his scouting. Plus, we’ll save a few pounds on travel expenses if he stays in this country. No need for booking flights for any of Steve Rowley’s crew then, you see.

Anyway, back to the team and thankfully both Kos and Debuchy are out and about running. Arsène still thinks it’s three weeks but the fact that Kos is actually alive is pleasing to hear. We’ve had both Vermaelen and Rosicky in recent past disappear for injuries expected to be a couple of weeks, only to see them gone for an entire season, so I’m sure you’ll join me in breathing a huge sigh of relief there. The sooner we can get the first choice back four together, the better, as far as I’m concerned.

What was interesting about yesterday’s update, I thought, was that there was no mention of Welbeck. Perhaps that’s because there was no need to. After all, Woy said he was fine and if Arsène doesn’t even feel the need to mention it, surely it’s a non-story, right? RIGHT?? I hope so. But the trouble with supporting this club is that usually ‘surprises’ don’t fall into the ‘nice’ category. They usually fall into the ‘dropped your car keys into a poo-encrusted toilet so now you have to since when you dip your hand in there’ category. I’m trying to stay positive. Welbeck will be fit. If I have to avoid three-drained manhole covers all day between now and the game tomorrow evening I will. I’ll do it I tells ya!

So, finally, before I wrap up for the day I thought I’d give you a little ‘heads up’. I am terrified about tomorrow. I’m terrified because at home, against the poorest United side in my living memory, with the injuries they have, we’ve never had a better chance of picking up three points. Yet I’m terrified because we never seem to get the run of the green against that lot. I think back to 99, when we’ve dicked on United and gone down to a wonder goal after Bergkamp missed a penalty, or two when Owen Hargreaves (of all people! He could barely walk for most of his United career) scored that free kick after we’d outplayed them in their own back garden. Or when Almunia and Diaby’s 50p head caused a 2-1 defeat that I witnessed live in the flesh. Or when Sagna went for a meaningless challenge two seasons ago that cost us three points. Or even last season’s 0-0 bore draw. Every time we come up against United we rarely have the beating of them. We’ve had one win in 14 since 2009. I’ve been a season ticket holder for six years and I’ve never seen us beat United (I was away for the Ramsey goal that got us our only win in that time). That’s why I’m terrified. I’m terrified because of history. Because history is rarely kind to The Arsenal. History against United is the person that unscrews the salt pot so you spill all of your salt on your dinner and can’t enjoy it. That history is one in which I am haunted.

I fear another haunting. I fear us totally dominating and losing. Or drawing. Another draw. Don’t let it happen Arsenal. Please.

Anyway, more of my terror tomorrow. Adios for now.

Feeling overly sensitive, worrying about Saturday

Yesterday I had a wee bit of a Twitter monologue as I commented on the Walcott ‘I’m a fan’ story that appeared on the official site yesterday. It wasn’t so much a rant as it was a musing, that the club hasn’t helped him out with the headline which specifically referenced the term ‘fan’ as if he himself had said it.

Before I elaborate, let me just say I have no issue with Walcott, his contract situation a couple of years back, or him as a person. He seems a perfectly amiable chap.

Instead, my thinking was more along the lines in of ‘the club don’t help the players our – PR wise – sometimes, do they?’, because in the subsequent article that I clicked on, not once did Walcott say ‘I’m a fan now’. He did talk about seeing the game differently, trying to remember the buzz fans get when a player does something special, etc, etc. all positive stuff and I have no issue with it. I just think the club could have chosen their article title a bit better.

Because he’s not a fan, is he? Not in the sense that you and I are a fan. Not in the same way, anyway, I don’t think. I don’t think there are many actual ‘fans’ that are professional footballers these days. I just don’t see it. They are not like us. They earn more money, they do it as a job and they see the changing of clubs like we see the changing of companies in our own working careers.

And hey, I don’t begrudge that, because I had had a number of ‘clubs’ in my working life. But much like I would say I hold an affection for each of the ‘clubs’ I’ve worked for, I have not been loyal enough to stay there since I left university.

Which is why I don’t think the use of the term ‘fan’ did Theo any favours, because my immediate response to seeing the headline was to dismiss the sentiment before I’d even read the article, which is wrong because what was said in the article didn’t reflect the title.

Are the official site looking for some extra clicks for advertising? Who knows. Maybe. After all, the Marketing Team might be tasked with bringing in £x,xxx before the end of the year and maybe a few extra clicks will help drive up the advertising revenues. But it’s not something we’re used to seeing on the official site (click whoring, I would call it), so it’s taken me by surprise somewhat.

Or maybe I’m just being a little too sensitive and should just learn to chill, Winston.

Perhaps I’m just a bit more tightly wound than usual because it feels like there’s more riding on this weekend’s game than there would have been a month ago. After all, we’ve played pretty average so far this season, never really getting into our full flowing rhythm and looking like we could end the season with 25 draws on the board come May. But this game on Saturday represents an opportunity. It’s a chance for us to drink in some much needed confidence if we can overcome United, who are still a very good side, one in which we have an appalling record with over the last five or so years.

It feels like a game like this weekend – should we win it – could be a catalyst for us to final break through the malaise that has been the opening third of the season. We need something. Some kind of NOS fuel injection or whatever similar metaphor you can think up in your head. Which is why I’m so tightly wound, because I fear the spiral of the team if we once again succumb to what is fast looking like a United team with more injuries than Ryan Shawcross could count to. Although admittedly that’s just double figures.

We need a win this weekend. And on home soil too, to give the fans a lift, so I’m naturally exceedingly nervous.

Anyway, enough of my own insecurities, because it’s not proving too therapeutic to re-read them on the blog. Just getting me more nervous. Shall we talk about Danny Welbeck? Hopefully he is fully fit, because he’ll be a very important player on Saturday. One suspects that of all the players looking to prove a point, he’d be front and centre when it comes to wanting to get one over on his former employers. Tricky Micky Arteta’s been kicking his heels at the training ground this week, and having very little to do, he thought he’d tell the official site how Welbeck is tailor made for The Arsenal.

Micky tells us that it is the technical element of Welbeck’s game that has surprised him and, whilst I have noticed the effervescent running and ‘chase-em down’ attitude of Welbeck as a positive, the technical ability of the lad must be something that is also important for a player to quickly adapt to life at The Arsenal. After all, the pace in which the game is played, the importance of quick interchange of possession, is all-important in Arsène’s world. So you can see why he’s found it easier to settle in.

He also looks stronger than I remember seeing him beind at United. He holds up the ball better and is better in the air than I thought. The fact he’s only 24, plus that he is still getting to know his teammates, all bodes well from my perspective. Let’s just hope he’s fit for Saturday. Otherwise it’s Sanogo time. We all saw how that worked out against Leicester, so let’s keep those fingers crossed for ‘Welbz’. We’ll find out soon enough, as Arsène is sure to give an update to the dotcom later this afternoon.

Anyway, enough of my jibber-jabber, I’ll leave you in peace. Have a good’un.

Ox in the box and Jack the quarterback

If you go down to the Ems today,
You’re sure for a big surprise,
‘Cos Arsène’s worried and running out of his footballer guys,
They’re injured, battered, bruised and sick,
They can’t play very much so this is it,
If you go down to the Ems you’ll be an Arsenal player!

Little ditty there I thought up about ten minutes after I saw Welbeck hobbling off against Scotland last night, having spent the entire game steaming into challenges and scaring the bejeebus out of this here gooner. Honestly, I thought Jack would be the one that we’d have to close our eyes every time he went near a Scottish player, but it was our rampaging Manc-Gooner (‘Mancgoonian?’) up top that turned out to be the most worrisome for you and I, didn’t it?

Despite what Roy said afterwards about him being fine for the weekend, I think I’ll wait until Arsène has his day tomorrow with the ‘who’s fit?’ webpage on the official site. I fully expect Wenger to tell us all that Welbeck came back in a plastic bag and is currently trying to be reassembled by the Top Gear team using sellotape, string and ‘little bit elbow grease’.

With Giroud not fully fit, Walcott still not being afforded too much game time (we should probably be pleased with the sensible approach being adopted), Alexis only probably touching down from his trip to Mars to play a select Martian XI against Chile, we find ourselves unsurprisingly reliant on young mister Welbeck. So it would be good if Roy is right, but how he can make an effective diagnosis about ten minutes after a game is a little beyond me. If he’s going on what Welbeck has told him…well, we all know where that has got us with players like Jack in the past. Young guys just want to play football. They think about the here and now and not the potential to knock a year or two off the tail end of their career by playing through the pain.

Cross everything, will you? I certainly am.

The plus points of the evening have to be the performance of The Ox, who with more displays like that and a few more goals to his game, will probably run Theo very close when it comes to retaining his place in the side. He was one of the stand out performers yesterday and I’m sure it wouldn’t have escaped your attention that the first England goal was born straight out of London Colney. A wee knock from Welbeck to Wilshere, then a sumptuous diagonal pass from Wilshere to the ‘Ox in the box’, resulting in first blood to The Arsenal. Ahem, I mean, England.

When you watch it again you see just how good that goal is from the pass, to the run, to the flicked header in. Replicate that in the Premier League lads, and you’ll have us all purring, because that’s the sort of movement and vision that we’ve been painfully lacking at times this season.

It does make you think about Jack’s future role at The Arsenal though, doesn’t it? I mean, in the last four England games that I’ve seen, he’s been deployed in this sort of quarterback role for England, and he’s flourished. We all know he can travel with the ball and is good over five to 10 metres – Arsène has said so himself – but what I’ve seen whilst he’s been on international duty is a player who also has a fantastic ability to spot a pass. I don’t want to draw comparisons with a guy who now plays for the oil whores, but it was Fabregas who was the last player in an Arsenal shirt that I saw with the ability to spot a run like Jack did yesterday. The thing is, it wasn’t an isolated incident either, as he has found Rooney time and time again over the last four games. In Estonia he put the ball on a plate for the England captain more times than I can count. It’s just a shame Rooney couldn’t finish his dinner on that night.

I said it on Twitter last night and I’m more than happy to reiterate; surely Arsène now has to look at him as a deep lying midfielder? Surely we should be playing Wilshere and Arteta at the base of our midfield, with an all-action number 10 running the length of the pitch to get forward and back? How about we have Alexis as that guy, with Walcott and The Ox either side of Welbeck? Isn’t that just a little bit sexual as a prospect? I think so.

I will wait with eager anticipation on the starting line up on Saturday. We just need to find out who is actually available to play.

As for other factors in Saturday’s game, it probably hasn’t escaped your attention that Mike Dean will be refereeing our weekend game against the red Mancs. Nothing, and I mean literally nothing, is good about having that guy referee. He is a blister on the game as far as I’m concerned. As much as I’d love the idea of him being the pantomime villain in that ‘celebration’ that he made when the Spuds scored against us at The Emirates a couple of seasons ago, in my heart of hearts I know that it’s probably unlikely he was actually celebrating. That doesn’t stop him giving United absolutely everything on Saturday, to which I’ll probably cry foul come the end of the game, but for now I just have to contend with a disliking for a guy who probably isn’t a complete hater of Arsenal. Hopefully he can prove us all wrong by giving us 55-60% of decisions as the home team. That’s what you normally accept as a fan, whether your team is at home, or away.

Anyway, enough conspiracy theories for one day, let’s just sit quietly and wait patiently for Arsène to give us the good news. He’s holding open trials for spots in the team on Friday and everyone’s welcome.

Arteta’s importance; attack more important than defence

I know there is a round of pointless friendlies today and tomorrow, but short of wanting our players just to come back in one piece, I’m back to caring little about what happens. Especially this evening. If there’s nothing else on I’ll more than likely flick the TV across to the home of the interminable Andy Townsend, but only for the Arsenal players on show, because he really is one of the worst commentators out there. When you add Adrian Chiles to the punditry team, you know times are hard and desperate.

So, with the lack of interest in international football thankfully returning to my mood, I’m already looking at Saturday’s game in which I think it has more significance than ever given our recent form. After five or six games in the season I looked at this match up as a bit of a ‘meh’ in comparison to other rival teams at the top of the division. But as our form has deteriorated and our injuries have exacerbated, I find myself becoming more and more concerned with the granular details of the match up.

For example: Mikel Arteta. Is he fit or isn’t he fit. I see to recall Arsène saying something about coming back after the international break. If he is available, we can only see his return as a welcome one. With him screening the back four we look a better outfit. I don’t want to put two and two together to make 968, but we cruised against Anderlecht until his withdrawal and, with Flamini venturing forward against Swansea, there was no Spanish Captain to top Barrow in his tracks further up the field.

As couple of years ago I wrote a blog about appreciating Arteta more, as after six months of him at the club, I begun to question his contribution. The blog was one in which I appreciated how he kept us ticking over. I’m not a very good stat man, but it feels like we have more control when in possession when he is in the team. That’s not to say we’re not prone to lapses with him in the side, but merely that I believe our probabilities greatly increase in favour of being more secure defensively when he plays.

So finding out that he is fit on Thursday when Arsène announces the squad situation will be a small win and confidence boost that I’m looking for on the eve of this big game.

The other thought that has been swirling around in my mind over the last 24 hours is the old ‘attack vs defence’ debate that will inevitably gather momentum as the week wears on. Namely, who’s is worse off defensively, or better off offensively. It’s a tough one, but with Arsenal tinted specs on your have to say we should be better in both departments, because our injury woes defensively don’t seem as bad (plenty of time for us to find out from Arsène that our players have burst into balls of flame whilst on international duty) as theirs and in attack, we have the in-form player of the moment in Alexis.

A question I posed on Twitter yesterday was whether it was more important for our attack to have a good game against United, or our defence. There’s no doubt that this makeshift defence is facing world class players for the first time since they came together, but I still can’t quite manoeuvre my thinking away from the attack, and how it is more important that our front line performs than our defence.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see a playground five-a-side score against Man United, but I think if our front line is firing on all cylinders, we should be able to cope defensively. Believe it or not, I don’t think Monreal has been that bad at the heart of the back four. Chambers has been exposed for pace, but he’s had a good season, and the other three are first team regulars for us anyway. So defensively – assuming United have to field Valencia, Carrick, Smalling and Shaw, we should be seen to have a better back four than theirs. Which means it’s down to our attack and their attack and who will perform better. We have the ace in our pack in Alexis, but is the rest of our hand stronger than United’s? That is something I’m really not sure about. Which is why I think this game on Saturday is won off the strength of the attack rather than defence.

One final thing before I depart for the day: Yaya Sanogo. When are we going to get the guy who seems to tear apart teams for his under-21 side? The guy has a phenomenal record (when fit) at that level, yet looks so out of his depth at Arsenal sometimes that it’s painful to see. Please Arsène, get him out on loan for the rest of the season and let’s see if he can bang in goals in the Premier League. It’s helping nobody having him coming on for five minutes and having the Arsenal fans frustrated at his lack of quality, which could be just due to a lack of experience, if I’m trying to be kind.

See thee tomorrow. When the countdown to United can really begin.

Internationals helping the fringe players; the reality of online opinions

I know it was ‘only’ Gibraltar, but I thought it was really interesting that Poldi played – and well by the sounds of it – for Germany last night. He’s only started one league game for us this season and that was in the uninspiring defeat at home to Southampton. From what I hear he was deployed on the left and clocked up a couple of assists (one from an own goal), so although it’s painfully obvious that Arsene doesn’t fancy him as a first teamer any more, he has shown once again at international level that he can do it.

I don’t know if you’ve been the same as me, but I’ve been looking so much at Theo getting some game time and that being beneficial for the team, that I haven’t really paid much attention to the fact that there are a number of other fringe players at the club, for whom this international break is a much welcome opportunity to get some minutes under their belt. Just take Rosicky and Campbell for example. I believe Rosicky will most probably start this weekend, whilst the dotcom site confirmed that Joel got 86 minutes under his belt. I hope Le Boss has ordered some tapes or some kind of modern equivalent (series of 30 second Vine’s to patch together?) to watch the performances of the players, because I really think that e should be looking at mixing it up a bit after what we’ve seen so far this season. After all, it can’t get much worse, can it?

Actually, it probably could, because half of the draws we’ve had this season could have turned into defeats.

Anyway, the games that these players will get will at least give them a chance to regain a bit of competitiveness and hopefully when they return back to the manager (fingers cross not broken) he will see that he has options and that he doesn’t need to run the same players into the ground week-in, week-out.

Of course, Alexis scored last night, but that’s becoming as frequent as minor delays on the Circle Line, so I’m becoming quite blasé about it now. It’s a nice feeling.

One other thing I wanted to touch on – having flicked through the official site this morning – is the poll that the club ran on who should be our first choice striker when Giroud is fully fit and fighting again. To my surprise, our handsome Frenchman got the largest proportion of the votes with 32%. Hold on a second, isn’t this the Giroud that we all lambast for his lack kof chance conversion? Isn’t this the Giroud who looks like he’s running through treacle and has an annoying habit which involves an Ali-G-esque flicky hand? Huh, turns out that he’s not as hated amongst the fan base as some corners of the world would suggest.

Shows you, Twitter, shows you real good. Or, perhaps it shows, as I have experienced over the last couple of years of being on social media sites and speaking to gooners pre-game, that most people actually have a more moderate view of players, and probably that those that are so extreme on Twitter are in fact a minority. That’s probably why when you see protests seemingly gathering pace about the manager online, rarely do they translate to anything substantial on matchday’s. People are happy to be vocal from behind a keyboard – hey, I’m just as guilty sometimes – but when all is said and done when they’re at the ground they just want to support the team and see us get a result. The last protest I saw at the ground involved a bedsheet and about 25 people. Hardly a vocal majority. Which is probably why the Giroud online poll shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it has. After all, Giroud may not be as quality as Sanchez or Suarez, but having seen how Sanchez can operate just as effectively alongside Welbeck, there are probably a lot of people thinking ‘hmm, I wonder how successful Sanchez will be if he had someone strong like Giroud to win flick-on’s, hold up the ball and release him into space?’.

For what it’s worth, I still think our best front three contains Sanchez, Welbeck and Walcott, mainly because with that pace you can always frighten teams, but I can certainly see that Giroud will provide us a different option. And not just from the bench either. There will come a time when the opponents that we have will sit deep and we might have to play the ugly side of the game, with balls up to a burly centre forward in a crowded box and, as much as Welbeck has a good go at that, you have to think that Olivier would be better, so Arsene can shuffle his pack accordingly with his attacking options over the coming months it seems.

If only he could do the same with our defensive options, eh?

Closing space is essential against Swansea

Swansea away today will be a test, of that I’m sure, which is why I’m more than a little apprehensive of our back four.

It’s not just down to Nacho Monreal that our form and frequency of goals conceded has greatly increased from last season. Per Mertesacker has to step up too and, with Arteta injured today, he needs to demonstrate his leadership abilities by marshalling the defence and keeping the unit tighter together. Also, with Arteta out, it will be incumbent on Matthieu Flamini to drastically improve his form today if we want to stay resolute at the back. Defending is not the sole preserve of the back four; it has to be a team effort that starts from the forward players and works backwards. Thankfully in Welbeck and Alexis we have so players who will press higher up the pitch, but should Santi and Rambo start again in midfield, we need to see more from them from the defensive side as much as the offensive. On Tuesday night the warning signs were there in the first half. There were two or three breaks from Anderlecht players where massive areas of the middle of the park were left free for purple-shirted players to run in to. It simple wasn’t acceptable and I remember see Arteta have a bit of a shouty moment in that first half at his fellow midfielders for not closing the space.

Today we have to be able to be more compact as a team and use our fantastic pace to counter Swansea at lightning speed. We simply must ensure that the area of the park in front of our back four is looked after. In the absence of Arteta, that must mean Flamini, but I’m also looking in the direction of Rambo too. He has to get back to basics and do the simple things first. Win tackles, close down space, distribute the ball to a red shirt effectively. That’s what we need to see from our Welshman. Who knows, maybe the return to Wales and the inevitable booing of a Cardiff boy in Swansea, will give more motivation for Rambo to have a great game. I certainly hope so.

As for the other free spot in the team, I think Arsène will play The Ox again. He was decent enough against Anderlecht and his goal will give him plenty of confidence to take into this game. He’s also more of a willing runner when it comes to tracking back, so I think that will remain in his favour and Arsène will name an unchanged side from Tuesday. Personally, I’d be tempted to put Rosicky in, perhaps over Santi, but I don’t think Arsène is in that frame of mind, so expect to see a grumpy looking Tomas this afternoon on the subs bench.

As for Swansea, they’re two scary players are clearly Bony and Gylfi Sigurdsson. I would say Shelvey as well, but that’s less to do with his play and more to do with his overall appearance. And anyway, he’s suspended today. Sigurdsson is the real gem though. The Swansea team looks to be at its best when he is pulling the strings and he looks like he has a telepathic understanding with Bony. That’s why I think it will be essential that we close down space in front of our back four, because that is where Sigurdsson will look to operate and find those balls for Bony in front of our back four.

Nacho is going to need to be strong too, because Bony will look to play off him as much as possible I’d expect.

I don’t want to come across as too much of a neg this morning, but I simply don’t see us not conceding today, which is why the front three will have to get us at least two goals I think to win the game. My hope is that Swansea are as low on confidence as we are – having not won in six games – but the trouble you have with a big team is that sides like Swansea really get themselves up for games against the top three or four, so you know that they’ll look to come out the blocks quickly and try and stun us into silence.

It’s never been easy playing Swansea and they have a good record against us, but if we think that there’s even the tiniest slither of hope of challenging for the league, this is a game that must be won. Heck, even to get our Champions League aspirations on track, we still need to get a win. We’ve had too many draws already this season so I’m hoping we’ll not be treated to another one today.

Come on Arsenal!