My cup final. Your cup final. Arsenal’s cup final. Make history.

This is it people. Cup final day.

It’s hard to effectively communicate the significance of today to anybody who isn’t a football fan, or even isn’t a fan whose team is in the final, but this is season defining. And I mean that with no sense of hyperbole at all. By 10pm tonight we will have one of two perspectives on how our season has evolved.

First, the bad: We lose to Aston Villa and are looking at a trophy less season in which the only consolation is that we have secured automatic Champions League qualification. It is but scant consolation though, as we know that having waited for so long to get a trophy, then having it delivered to us last year, we have come so near and yet stopped so agonisingly close. The media will portray Arsenal once again as the ‘big occasion bottlers’ and we will take an entire summer of grief from friends, family and randoms online as they dig the knife in even deeper.

But the alternative to this is the good: we win our second FA Cup in as many years. Arsene has delivered another trophy and the team now has a record in which you can say that we are silverware winners on a regular basis. The season is viewed as a success and we go into the summer knowing that one or two top-notch additions will set us up to try to close the gap on Chelski once again. Players who are linked with Arsenal know that they have a pretty good chance of silverware and that strengthens our hand further in negotiations. It’s a perpetual cycle of positivity.

Heck, even the Arsenal Twittersphere might just take a chill pill as a collective and enjoy whatever summer brings.

It is amazing that one game can have so much riding on it, isn’t it? If you think about the Arsenal players, they will have worked their little cottons off from August until May, but ultimately, unless they deliver by close of play today, it will all feel a little bit in vein.

But that’s the beauty of football. That’s what makes the highs so high and the lows so low. If there was another trophy to play for next week and the week after that, we’d be a heck of a lot more blasé about it, wouldn’t we? So would we change it for anything? Nope. I wouldn’t swap all of the nerves in the world today pre-game for not being in this competition and heading over to Wembley early this evening. Because if I did, it would mean my team hasn’t reached this landmark occasion, and I’d probably be out buying furniture polish or doing the Saturday shop in Sainsbury’s. Today’s blog would probably be the start of speculating on transfers and the longer I can go on without talking about that, the better, because it’s not what football is about.

Today is. Cups are. The FA Cup.

Team wise, my pick for the side would be Szczesny in goal, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscienly, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla Ozil, Alexis, Giroud and Walcott. It would be harsh on Rambo but I think Theo offers more of a wide threat on the counter than Aaron does and if Aston Villa sit deeper than expected (many are predicting that they will ‘have a go’ at us today), then Ramsey will inevitably drift centrally and we could see more congestion.

However, I don’t think that will be the team. I think all but Theo will be Arsene’s pick for today and, whilst it wouldn’t be my first choice, if that’s the team that I see on my phone just before kick off, then I’d be happy enough with that too. That’s because for all of the lack of width that Rambo doesn’t offer, what he will offer more than Theo will be defensive cover. He’s not the best defensive player in the world, but his engine is such that it will mean that if Villa try to overload the left hand side of their attack, Bellerin will be supported by the Welshman.

That’s what Villa tried to do against Liverpool and Sherwood might take the view that ‘if it ain’t broke, then Tim Sherwood don’t wanna fix it’ – because you just know he’s the sort of person to be talking about himself in third person, don’t you?

So how will today pan out? No idea, but what I do know – which is what I said on the Arsenal Discussion on Thursday evening on Arsenal Fan TV – is that if Aston Villa sit deep and play a pacey attacking trio of Benteke, Agbonlahor and one other, then it might lead to gaps of space in the midfield as the defence and midfield sit deep and isolate those three. If there are gaps in the middle of the park it should play into Santi and Mesut’s hands, so they will need to have big games today if they get enough time and space on the ball.

It’s also time for Giroud to break his goal scoring duck. He doesn’t need to in order to have a good game, but he’s the sort of player that if he gets one in a cup final – hopefully in the first half – he’ll be a menace throughout the game. Vlaar will no doubt be tasked with keeping him company, so it will be important that both Alexis and Ramsey – assuming it’s him that starts – will be able to pick up balls from Giroud’s close controlled flicks and intricate touches when fed up to him.

Arsene is right to pick out Benteke as a threat and as I was speaking about with the guys from Arsenal Fan TV and Moh who pointed this out, the worry is if Benteke has seen what Gomis did to us for Swansea at The Emirates, that deep ball to the back post to nod beyond our keeper. I think Villa will try that a few times and so whoever goes in goal  – and I think that’s why Szczesny should start (think West Ham away for why – he claimed crosses all day) – will need to be commanding. If Villa try that tactic and the ‘keeper plucks the ball out of the air three or four times, they quickly stop it and we’ll have seen a major aerial challenge nullified. But if they get joy with a couple, we could see an entire evening of it, which none of us want to see, do we?

I have already experienced the pain of losing to a midlands team in a cup final in 2011. I don’t particularly want to feel that pain again. Arsenal players need to let go of any inhibitions they might have. They need to play the game we know they are capable of and they need to take that next step on to proving that they are ready to challenge the oil whoring elite of this country with another trophy in the cabinet.

It doesn’t matter if you’re at Wembley. It doesn’t matter if you’re in England. If you are a gooner, then today you and I will be channelling the same spirit of success through to the players. They need every single one of us. Those in the stadium, those shouting at the TV, those listening in on radio and those watching through a live feed. Every man, woman, boy, girl and pet needs to be there for the team in spirit body and mind.

Come on you rip roaring reds.

Up the Arsenal.

FA Cup countdown begins – an analysis of Arsenal’s key decisions

It’s Friday, the week has nearly met its maker, but more importantly we’re less than 24 hours until FA Cup final Matchday.

Much like when Arsène said that he still gets the same buzz as last year and every other time we’ve won a trophy under his tenure, the cup tomorrow feels as exciting and new as it did last year. I feel as nervous as I did last year and I didn’t get much sleep last night so I expect it’ll be the same again.

You know how when you’re a kid the prospect of Christmas is so exciting you can’t get to sleep? Then, as you get older, it becomes less exciting to wake up early in the morning to scramble downstairs? Well I don’t know if you feel the same as me, but as I’ve gotten older the reverse has happened with The Arsenal. Each time we get to the eve of an event like tomorrow’s, I feel more excited than I did last time. Christmas has well and truly been usurped by The Arsenal. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Yesterday I did ‘The Arsenal Discussion’ with Giles and Robbie from Arsenal Fan TV, and it’s pleasing to see so many other people who have the same experiences as me. I’m not alone in the week-long run up to the cup and that is somewhat comforting. However, as Tim Stillman said in his excellent blog that I read yesterday about cup highs and lows (sorry, on the iPhone typing this so no link. Just visit Arseblog and have a look), by the time I’m walking up Wembley Way it will feel like I’m the only person going through this, so I’ll become insular and sullen until a five goal advantage has been established, or the whistle blows and we’ve been declared victorious. Of course defeat will merely continue my melancholy for the following week at least.

One of the key themes for yesterday’s discussion was on how Villa would set up, with the congregation of assembled Gooners not quite 100% sure how Tim will approach the game. Does he go with a style to frustrate and counter like Swansea? Or does he opt for a more expansive style by looking to have a go at Arsenal with more creative players pressing higher up the pitch?

Both will have merits as well as drawbacks. A defensive style with bodies behind the ball and looking to counter quickly will work only if Aston Villa’s back line hold firm. It will mean reliance on the pace of N’Zogbia and Agbonlahor to quickly counter with Benteke from deep in their own half, like Montero and Gomis a couple of weeks ago.

Alternatively, Sherwood could – and has suggested he would – play a more attacking brand of football like he did against Liverpool. In that game, Aston Villa concentrated their efforts predominantly on Liverpool’s right hand side, giving Grealish, Delph and Benteke the freedom to drift into that area of the pitch. If Theo starts tomorrow (and I don’t think he will for this reason), then Bellerin won’t get that same level of cover as Ramsey, so Arsène has a decision to make there. I can’t see a way Theo and Rambo get in to the same line up, not with Santi and Mesut fit, so I suspect it will be the Welshman who will be granted the starting journey.

Another interesting point flagged yesterday was the goalkeeping situation, in which again everyone was divided, but I stand firmly in the Szczesny camp. I don’t know if he’s the long-term solution any more, but Ospina continues to raise doubts in my mind, regardless of the fact he’s been playing regularly and has done ok for us.

I just think Szcseny is the better ‘keeper overall. I think he can be more commanding in the box and yes, whilst he does have a rick or two in his game, I also think he’s more likely to have an outstanding performance than the Colombian. And as I said yesterday on the debate, if Villa are going to look to take advantage of Benteke’s obvious aerial threat, who do you think is best positioned to snuff out any danger by repeatedly coming to collect balls placed deep in to the back post? Wojciech did that all day long against West Ham back in December, but I haven’t seen Ospina from image his area as much as yet, so for me it’s difficult to argue a case for him.

Anyway, why not have a listen for yourself before the game (again, apologies for no link), by having a virtual wander over to Arsenal Fan TV on YouTube and searching for ‘The Arsenal Discussion’.

I’ll see you tomorrow!

Will this week drag on?

We’re on a countdown to a cup final week this weekend, which has been made a little easier thanks to the Bank Holiday in England, because it means a shorter working week. The day off also enabled me to fill my Monday with all manner of things to do, which meant I didn’t have to see a selection of people in West London gathering for some sort of event in which most of the world couldn’t give a monkey about, so at least that was something.

And anyway, today we can spend more time thinking Bout the truly greatest ever league triumph, as this day in 1989 was one in whic Arsenal pipped Liverpool to a league title in the most dramatic of fashion. People talk about the over-hyped Sky Sports era’s Moneychester City first title win a few seasons ago, but they didn’t have to go away from home and win by a two goal margin at the other team at the top of the league, so any real football fan who was alive for both of those seasons – and even those that have retrospectively seen the footage and heard the stories – will know what truly was the greatest ever league campaign (Invincibles aside).

But I digress, because we’re supposed to be looking forward, ahead to a week of excitement before a final curtain raiser.

It’s a bit of a weird week actually, because for most people the season is over, but for us there is still one final hurrah. I’d probably normally be doing a breakdown of our season as a whole and then each individual unit of the team, but with such a big game in the offing it’s very difficult to put any kind of context right now. It’s almost a bit sad really; our whole season now feels like it will be defined by whether we can beat Aston Villa at Wembley on Saturday evening. It shouldn’t really come down to one game determining the mood of a club, but I suppose that is the fine margins by which success in football is built. 

What it may mean is that this week feels like one hell of a drag, as we all have our own respective lives to lead, before we can truly start to salivate at the prospect of another FA Cup. It’s probably going to be an even longer wait for Theo and Jack, as they try and work out Le Boss’ thinking for the final during various training drills and practice sessions at London Colney. Theo was undoubtedly superb against West Brom and will surely be giving food for thought for Arsène, but both he and Jack will have worked with the manager long enough to know that nothing is guaranteed in his team. Last season Arsène gave Sanogo a cup semi final on Wembley turf, which surprised everyone, but he reverted to type in the final by sticking with Giroud. The striking debate is one which will most likely be one of the more contentious talking points during the week, but whilst I would be a fan of seeing Theo from the start, I would prefer it to be as a wide player with Giroud up top.

Theo has shown what he’s about by scoring a hat trick, but it’s easy to forget that he’s had other opportunities to play as a centre forward and it hasn’t always worked out. It’s true we play a different style when he is playing as a centre forward, because the emphasis is not on a central striker to hold up play and bring midfielders and wide men in as runners beyond like Giroud does, so I wonder if that will count against Theo. after all, Arsène loves what Rambo brings to the team and when you’ve got a striker who will look to run in behind defenders as opposed to holding the ball up to bring box-to-boxers in to play from midfield, to my untrained eyes it means you have a decision to make as a manager: Ramsey or Walcott. I don’t think Arsène will pick both.

More pre-cup build up tomorrow. 

result doesn’t matter, but with Wembley on the horizon, the performance does

I really feel like keeping this blog to one line reading:

“For an analysis of last night’s game, see the Swansea game, only Sunderland didn’t have the killer touch that the team from Wales had”

It felt exactly the same, almost, didn’t it? I mean, you had a team who essentially decided that the perfect blueprint for a minimum point at the Emirates was to sit camped on the edge of their own box and throw as many bodies in front of the ball as possible. The result was a pretty boring game of attack versus defence in which we once again huffed and puffed with little to show from our efforts at the end.

We’ve now gone three games without a win and put in three pretty lacklustre performances, although one thing I will say about yesterday evening’s display is that at least we worked the Sunderland ‘keeper a bit more than we did Fabianski a week and a half ago. A bit like when we played United at home and made DeGea look superb by firing balls down his throat all night, Fabianski was also gifted a a relatively easy time, but yesterday Pantilimon put in quite a good display in between the sticks, knocking balls around the post and getting down to his side well on a few occasions from Giroud, Walcott and Alexis.

Sunderland also had the fortune of the post too, as Billy Jones could have scored an own goal, instead the ball rebounded off the cross-section between post and crossbar. At the time I thought it would only be fair given that Sunderland had come for a point and not really bothered to do anything other than defend.

I sound a little bit bitter about Sunderland’s defensive display, but in truth I can’t really complain as an Arsenal fan, because teams like Sunderland have always come to the Emirates and sat ten bodies behind the ball with one up top hoping to poach an odd goal. We have seen it this season and season’s past. My worry is that team manager’s will have seen those recent couple of home displays and will be thinking that there is clearly a blueprint for playing Arsenal and it’s the blueprint that has existed for many years. We thought that this team was kicking on to the next level, but in order to do that, you need to put games like this to bed against teams that really shouldn’t be sharing the spoils with you.

I worry that Timmy Sherwood watched that game last night with a smile and said to himself: “bit of pace on the counter and better finishers and we can play this style of football and catch Arsenal out”. If there’s a blueprint to frustrate Arsenal and pick us off – which Sunderland did on a couple of occasions with Defoe and Fletcher, you can bet Tim will look to emulate that. We can hope that Aston Villa try to play a more open and expansive style of football, but the reality is that why would you against Arsenal? When you know you can beat them by closing down hard and putting up a strong defensive unit whilst hitting on the break, you’re going to do it and I think that’s exactly what he’s going to do in just over a week’s time. I would.

Perhaps I’m being a bit over the top. Perhaps yesterday’s game was just one in which we knew only a point is really all we need, that’s what Sunderland needed, so we’re pretty much over the line. Only defeat to West Brom and a seven goal swing for Manchester United will see us drop down to fourth spot, so perhaps there was a bit of a motivational block in yesterday’s game? It didn’t feel like it though, did it? It didn’t feel like the players were taking it easy, which in a way almost worries me more, because if that was the case at least we could say “well, the game was almost a dead rubber, so what do we expect? They’ll raise it for the FA Cup final, when the game means something”. I really hope that’s the case, because if we play like we have done in the last few matches, I fear the likes of Benteke and Agbonlahor will be getting a few more counter-attacking successes than Fletcher and Defoe had.

I also thought we’d see some good performances from the players that were rotated back in to the team by Arsene. Gibbs, Wilshere, Ramsey in the middle, I thought did ok, but nothing really too impressive. It must be hard to stake a case for some of them for the FA Cup final. When Theo campaign on I thought he did well and made an impact, getting behind the Sunderland back 10, but his time on the pitch was limited to 20 minutes so he was always going to struggle to get straight in to the swing of the game and make a massive impact. But I thought he did give us a different dimension, he did give Sunderland something to worry about and he did play as a more orthodox wide man, which pulled them apart a little bit. Before that Arsene had gone for Wilshere out wide, rotating often with Ramsey and Ozil and again, much like when Ramsey plays wide right, we became far too central and tried too many intricate balls through a congested area around the Sunderland ‘D’. Playing a central player out wide right doesn’t work Arsene. Give Theo a go on Sunday and see if we have a more natural balance. If we do, you have your answer of what to do for the cup final.

Should we be worried about the result yesterday? Of course not. Should we be a little more concerned about the performance, given what looms on the horizon in terms of silverware? Perhaps. But that’s what Le Boss has to work out how to fix and make sure we’re ready for Wembley.

Sunderland preview: Breaking down a defence again

A lovely midweek game to keep us occupied tonight, how thoughtful of The Arsenal to get so far in the FA Cup and ensure this fixture was moved to a midweek, where we would have something to talk about. And that something appears to be how likely Arsene is to shuffle his deck a little bit against a Sunderland team who need a point to secure their Premier League status for 2015/16.

We need effectively just a point to secure our third place status and automatic qualification to the Champions League next season, so one could be forgiven for thinking this might be like that Champions League game about five years ago when both Porto and Arsenal needed a draw to qualify, so both teams played out one of the most drab 0-0s that ever existed.

However, I suspect Arsenal will want to get the job done today, not least to absolutely guarantee that we can qualify, but also because it helps to continue the momentum going in to the FA Cup in just over a week and a half’s time. Our last couple of games have seen patchy performances and for that reason, I think Arsene will be telling his charges that there needs to be a bit more swagger injected in to the performance tonight.

We need to see the Arsenal of three weeks ago, swashbuckling passing and sweeping movements that leave teams like Hull and Liverpool trailing in our wake, unable to respond to relentless Arsenal pressure and precision passing. We need to see the hunger and desire of the players manifest itself in more than the lacklustre game at home against Swansea just over a week ago. We need to see goals and three points for the home side.

That’s why I can understand why so many Arsenal fans are calling for a bit of rotation this evening. We’ve looked a little unconvincing in the last couple of games and whether that is due to a long season catching up with a few players, or whether it’s because tactically it has not quite worked out (i.e. Ramsey out wide right) I’m not 100% sure, but one thing I do know is that there will be plenty of players who haven’t been making the match day XI who should be chomping at the bit to put on a good show if they are chosen. Players like Wilshere, Gibbs and Walcott all spring to mind immediately and I’d be surprised if two out of those three don’t play tonight. Arsene won’t want to make wholesale changes to the side – it will disrupt the continuity of the team – but he might want to freshen things up a bit and I’m all for that.

We’ll already see Gabriel come in for Laurent Koscienly, who has the flu, so I think Arsene may not opt to rotate any more of his back four. Similarly in midfield, I think he’ll try to keep it looking and feeling like it did at Old Trafford, certainly in the last half an hour. So I wonder if Wilshere will replace Cazorla. If he wants to, he could look at Ramsey centrally with Walcott out wide, but I think he’ll keep Aaron out wide tonight. I don’t think he should, but I can see it happening because I just have a gut feel that one of Walcott or Wilshere miss out. I think Arsene wants to accommodate Rambo somehow and that’s why I don’t think we’ll see both of the England internationals starting, so we’ll either see Walcott out wide right and Rambo in the centre, or Rambo wide right and Wilshere in the centre. I’d personally rather see Ramsey centre, so that would be my preferred option.

Up top will most likely be Giroud and Alexis, particularly because with The Ox and Welbeck out, there doesn’t appear to be too many natural suitors for the role. Theo centrally doesn’t work, we all know that and with Mesut performing so much better at number 10 than out wide left, I hope that Arsene’s experiment with him playing out wide left has been put to bed long ago.

Sunderland will unlikely be going with three strikers like they did against Leicester, so I’m expecting them to flood the midfield with five and probably play Jermaine Defoe as the sole front man, hoping he can catch us on the counter with his pace. But at 32 he’s not as quick as he once was and unless isolated against Per Mertesacker, I’d hope we have enough to cope with the Mackems attack. I have seen Conor Wickham deployed in midfield before and so it wouldn’t surprise me to see him operating as a midfielder-cum-striker when Sunderland do venture forward, but I suspect they’ll come looking for a point like Swansea did and I would be surprised if they didn’t look to sit deep and soak up pressure. The difference between Swansea and Sunderland however, is that Swansea are built to counter a lot better than Sunderland, but also have the confidence of having had their best ever season under Gary Monk. Sunderland are down there and scrapping for their lives – which certainly means they’ll be harder to beat – but they also have a bit more weaknesses to expose as a result and I think that providing we’re not going to fire pot-shots down the throat of Pantillimon all night, we should have enough to score goals against this side.

It’s one of two of our final home games of the season and two wins would take us to a decent points tally and third place, putting us in a good position to go in to the cup final riding high. Come on Arsenal, you can do it!

If’s and but’s on rotation, the league and transfers

A little holiday away from work awaits yours truly here after today’s London grind, so apologies if the timing of the blogs get a little wayward, a bit like a loose Fabregas kick into the centre of a group of players inside a penalty box I suppose.

What a bit of madness that was, eh? But what I think it almost conclusively proves beyond any doubt, is that when you join Chelski you are inserted with an ‘evil serum’ that makes you at leat 25% more dislikable by at least a quarter and in some cases (Diego Costa, John Terry), 100% dislikable.

Oh well, thanks to tomorrow night’s game we can quickly forget about the evil in the world resonating from that part of West London, focusing on the purity of the dominant team in North London. It’s ours don’t you know.

Theo was quoted in the papers yesterday and this morning; saying that there can be no excuse not to challenge next season, that this season perhaps the believe was not quite there but next season with the squad and players we have we simply must challenge. I don’t think you’ll find many Arsenal fans arguing there. What we need is the start from 2013/14 welded together with the finish of 2014/15 and I reckon we’ll be up there. But a lot will depend on the ability to pick your best and most cohesive team and that, in some cases, requires a little bit of luck to avoid injuries for key players. We can all bemoan the hamstring and calf strains that might point to the medical team and/or poor rotation and fatigue of players over a long season, but if somebody decides to Shawcross Alexis, or Martin Taylor Özil, there’s not a lot we can do. Thankfully I believe the squad is capable enough to cover for losses of players from injury for a few games, but mass absences like we saw at the start of the season are not something any team can handle I don’t think, even the evil serum-taking Chelski team of this season. 

So whilst I agree that we need to be fighting better for the title, there’s a big ‘if’ in there depending on injuries.

There’ll be a press conference and some tam news at some stage today, but it will be interesting to hear what the manager might say about rotation. Szczesny perhaps? Gibbs, Gabriel, Wilshere, Walcott, Welbeck maybe? With third all but secured, perhaps you want those players that are desperate to prove themselves so they can get in the final squad and hopefully the first XI, so maybe we’ll get an insight into whether Arsène’s mind is edging towards a bit of rotation. 

Perhaps it is. After all, the team has been playing one game a week for a while and I’m convinced it’s helped with our form for the latter part of the season, so to rotate a little to keep players a bit fresher makes sense in my mind. After West Brom at the weekend we have a full week of recovery and so if Arsène wants to keep his players match sharp then he can do so at the weekend having given a few a rest from Old Trafford and a full week between games.

Anyway, we’ll know soon enough. In the mean time, how about we breathe a sigh of relief that we appear to have finally shaken off the ‘annual transfer saga’ tag that we spent five or so years worrying about, having finally handed it across to Liverpool, who will spend the summer worrying about Raheem’s movements in the off season. I’m not going to laugh, because I still remember what it felt like seeing our players depart, but the unsettling of Sterling could see something of a conversation starter between us and the scousers. Arsène is a known admirer and Theo is in a bit of a contractual dilemma, so if the noises from Camp Walcott are that this might be a difficult deal again, Arsène could decide to cash in. I know it’s not as simple as that and rarely do swap deals materialise, but stranger things have happened in football so you never know.

Besides, if Jose is opening the door to Petr Cech joining Arsenal – assuming Arsène’s keen – then Dick’ll probably have to spend most of the summer chasing Jose around London hotels, so his attention might be away from a nippy winger from Liverpool.

One things for sure; with all of these stories beginning to bubble away, you can tell the press are itching for transfer silly season to start.

United review: a better response to previous years

Yesterday’s proverbial ‘game of two halves’ gave us just what we needed – enough to effectively secure third on Wednesday night with one of two outcomes – but more importantly, showed a bit more resilience than I have seen in an Arsenal team at Old Trafford for a long time, FA Cup game a couple of months ago aside. 

I say this because at half time, having been pretty much dominated for the opening 45, I felt resigned once again to the ‘same old story’ in which we lose to United in the league with barely any kind of fightback at all. To me, our defeats of the previous nine years have by-and-large been ones in which we’ve gone down with barely a whimper. We’ve fallen behind and never really looked like getting back in to the game, to which when then concede a second which effectively kills the game off. That’s what happened when I watched from a Barcelona bar about three seasons ago, when Vermaelen was gifting That Dutch Bloke a comfortable start to his United career.

But yesterday, whilst starting in a similar fashion, ended in a way in which I can take comfort in a point gained. We played poorly for an hour and Arsène was unsurprisingly angry at half time, according to Monreal, but we grew back in to the game and dominated the final 30. Pegging a United side back in their own half so they resort to long kicks up field gives you an idea of how in control we were towards the end of the game. That shows progress to me.

We needed that point because, if I’m honest, pre-game I was hoping that we would not fall into a bit of a confidence nose-dive with back-to-back defeats. We’ve avoided that and now, with Sunderland on the horizon on Wednesday, we have the opportunity to get back to winning ways quickly enough.

Performance wise we had a few players who just didn’t get close to clicking. Santi Cazorla was very off-key and in a team where competition for places is so tough, I do wonder if Arsène will have a think about who he plays on Wednesday night, because he was completely nullified by the quick press of Fellaini and Mata and spent more and more of his time in the first hour as another holding midfielder in front of our back four. In the opening minutes of the second half, I genuinely wondered whether Martin Tyler had forgotten any notes on Santi, because he just wasn’t saying his name. I put his performance partially down to his own display – when you’re as good as Cazorla you should be able to create space for yourself with movement – and partially down to the fact that United had clearly realised that if you choke the supply of Özil and Cazorla, you can negate a lot of Arsenal’s flow.

I make suggestions of rotation for Wednesday because when you compare and contrast the performance of Cazorla to Ramsey – again out of position for most of the game – you see a player who would quite happily slot in and play as a central midfield player. As you will no doubt be aware by now, I’m not a fan in the slightest of us playing Ramsey out wide right, but I am a fan of Ramsey and so is Arsène so it’s obvious that he wants to fit him in. But it really surprises me because for a guy so obsessed with the natural balance of his team, his recent formation decisions leave us quite unbalanced, as Ramsey continues to drift in-field all game.

It’s no surprise that it was the last 20 minutes – with the changes of Walcott and Wilshere coming on – that we looked more threatening going forward. Walcott’s width was enough to stretch United who then also had Alexis (who also had a poor game by his standards) on the opposite flank to contend with. This also enabled Ramsey and Wilshere to find more pockets of space and on a couple of occasions the Welshman got in to some good positions, one of which saw him lob the ball over De Gea, only for Rojo to clear over the line.

The goal came through Theo being isolated on the right against Blackett and was a classic example of what Theo gives you: end product. Alright, so he can’t in all honestly claim what was clearly a heavily deflected goal, but he’s the sort of player who gets in to those positions and I think he offers us an option in the squad that others don’t. He may not have shown it as much through his cameo appearances of late, but Theo is a valuable asset and showed it yesterday by being the chief protagonist in rescuing a point for us. 

So we’re nearly there. Almost over the line for a third place finish and that will represent progress. We aren’t going to get second but right now, I’m happy with where we’re at. 

Roll on Wednesday.