absence makes the heart grow fonder

Happy Saturday to you fellow Goonerite. It’s an interesting one because as we hit the last few dregs of the season, Sky and BT Sport have their grubby mits all over the most important fixtures, which means the chances of seeing Arsenal play a Saturday 3pm kick off is about as likely as Miley Cyrus admitting that she is actually a clone of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. But with clear deficiencies in the cloning process obviously.

There was some interesting news as the working week drew to a close, which included Aaron Ramsey being nominated for the PFA Young Player of the year. It’s great to see his early season exploits have been regarded so highly and, had he stayed fit throughout the season and continued his form, one expects the end of season ceremony would have been more a case of ‘what time do you want me to collect the trophy?’ rather than ‘will I win it’ for the Welshman. His nomination also brings into stark contrast the challenges the team has faced missing in-form and key players for varying periods of time this season.

For example, I have seen a few Gooners (thankfully in the minority) bemoaning the form of Ozil before he was injured, yet some of those very same people are now overjoyed that he is returning to the first team fray, which certainly shows that the old adage of absence making the heart grow fonder a true one. As Gooners we’ve become accustomed to saying to ourselves “yeah but, what if he was fit? Where would we be now?” and whilst it’s a path that is both pointless and maddening, it’s still something we should all be aware of.

Thankfully we have plenty of players returning for this final push on the league and on Thursday Arsene confirmed what he had already said post West Ham: Ozil is fit and raring to go for tomorrow and we appear to miss just Gibbs, Walcott and the eventual return to fitness (albeit most likely to be fleeting) of Abou Diaby. Had there been some magic cream to rub on the wounds of the returning players a month ago we might still be clinging on to a league title aspiration, but such is life and we must accept where we are and what is in front of us.

Kim Kallstrom has had his say on his experience and after some shaky misplaced passes in the first half on Tuesday, I thought he grew into the game well, showing some good upper body strength and above all with Arsene Wenger teams retaining possession is important. He certainly seemed capable in that regard. He thinks his experience will prove important in the next month and whilst I’m inclined to agree with him, I’m not sure how many chances on the field he’ll get to actually play. With Flamini back from suspension I think Arsene has his hierarchy of more defensive minded midfielders and I think Kallstrom is certainly in at number three there. It will be interesting to see what happens at the end of the season. I don’t know if Kallstrom is available on a free transfer or not, but I’d be surprised if Wenger had the interest in making a 31-year-old a permanent offer, so perhaps this is just an opportunity for Kallstrom to market himself in the Premier League as much as possible and try to get a club. Perhaps the fact that he’s playing at Arsenal might be enough to convince a Premier League manager that he’s worth a punt next season, but I’d be surprised if he’s gracing the Emirates in a red jersey come August.Stranger things have happened I suppose.

Arsene has also talked up (as you’d expect) the importance of Giroud recovering his….ahem….mental strength in overcoming his recent transgressions both on and off the field and appeared to be back to his form of earlier in the season against West Ham. He also made an interesting observation about the number of headers Giroud wins from out wide in crossing positions, compared to the number of headers he wins when the ball comes from deep. He’s right of course; it’s interesting to see a player that is so good in the air in one type position not be as good in another. I guess you could say that you have to be a lot more accurate when heading towards a specific part of the goal rather than just winning the ball for it to ping off in any direction. You can’t say it’s a difference between how aggressive he is when he attacks the ball, as to win any header in the first place you have to be aggressive. It’s something I’m sure Giroud is conscious of too.

Personally, I just think that Giroud’s form has been linked to who we are playing as much as his fatigue this season. Every Gooner I meet accepts that he’s a player with limited abilities, so sure it must only be rational to assume that he is therefore a player that we are only likely to see score goals against teams who are also limited in their technical capabilities? If you want to make the difference in big games, you need ‘special’ players. Giroud tries hard, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an Arsenal player that agrees he’s ‘special’. So whilst we can all bemoan a missed chance against Chelski or Liverpool, perhaps we should just accept that from a striking position we’ve got what we essentially paid for, so it’s difficult to be too frustrated with the Frenchman in that regard.

The positive of this, however, is that if this is true, then we can expect Giroud to have a better end to the season than the last month. The next few games include matches from teams that are all in the bottom 10 in the league, where Giroud – like Arsenal this season – is a bit of a flat track bully and has been scoring goals. Providing he stays fit I’d expect him to play all of the remaining five games, with Sanogo only being used if the chips are down. Putting aside the sobering thought that we have a raw 19-year-old as our ‘go-to-guy’, if Giroud can hit some form then at least we could see him get to perhaps 23 or 24 goals.

Anyway, you’ve probably had enough of me for one day, so I’ll take my leave and request that you have a lovely Saturday.

Back with a match preview tomorrow.

A tale of two halves: peanut butter and oranges

I am all about the result right now. Much like the blogs I write, I am a man concerned not with the intricate details, but the end game. That game is one in which three points are everything and anything less than that is like ash in my mouth. Or peanut butter. That stuff is rank.

So ultimately, yeah, I’m pretty happy that just over 72 hours after the players secured our route to the FA Cup final, we managed to overcome a West Ham team that fancied an upset under the North London floodlights.

Three points is everything to Arsenal right now and with the margins thinner than Kate Moss, we can’t afford to be slipping up against mid-table teams, which seemed a very real possibility after that first half display that we witnessed last night.

Sluggish in possession, devoid of pace in any areas of the pitch (apart from Sagna, who I thought was excellent tonight, sign him up please…), we started as if we’d played and finished the FA Cup semi final about half an hour before we actually kicked off. As if it was some cruel Sunday league under-12s ‘double header’ that was going down. My compatriot for the evening, Billy and I, were at a bit of a loss to explain the lethargy if I’m honest. Arsene had rotated a number of players and rested Gibbs for Vermaelen, Ramsey for Kallstrom and Rosicky for The Ox, yet we still never really looked remotely fresh. Perhaps the general malaise of our other Premier League performances had clouded the weekend’s exploits and exuberance of the team?

Whatever it was, it didn’t feel very ‘Arsenal’ and as West Ham pressed us slightly higher (clearly with the mandate to try and grind us down after our difficult cup tie against Wigan), whilst looking to hit Carroll as often as possible when in possession, we looked devoid of any spark to set us going. So when the West Ham goal came first, the apprehension in the stands was palpable, with many a contorted face wondering whether this season would sink further into the mire. As Billy and I turned our necks towards the big screen to relive the pain, it occurred to me for a fleeting second that Giroud’s flicked miss only a short while earlier when put through from Santi, had been our only real chance of the game and could possibly have been the last at that rate.

Sometimes though, when you’re not playing well, you need just a little flash of brilliance. So step forward that man Lukas Podolski. He is an absolute enigma. Put him inside the box with the ball at his feet and you could bet your house, wife, dog and kids on him. But anywhere else on the park he looks lost at times. If there was the ability to freeze play, bring him on as a specialist player – like a kicker in American Football – and put him in a dangerous position, he’d be worth a billion bucks. But as an all round footballer he leaves a lot to be desired.

Still, right now I wouldn’t change him for anyone, because it’s clinical finishers like that who make the difference in top flight football. Had the score remained at 1-0 going in to the interval, who knows how it might have affected the teams mentality, yet his timely finish just before halftime enabled the team to regroup, tuck in to some half time oranges and come out firing in the second half.

And boy did those oranges work. The team that trotted out to the field for that second half looked totally different to the one that we have become used to during the last few weeks. There was more zip about the play and almost instantly you could see that the passing had more purpose to it. If the first half had been an exhibition of our mental fragility, the second half was an example of the teams testicular fortitude, because they released the ball quicker when in possession, they fashioned a chance almost immediate with Giroud cutting in behind the left back and central defender and they seemed like a team determined to show they could replicate some of that early season swagger.

A Cazorla cut infield and snap shot fizzed the post, a Podolski free-kick stung the palms of Adrian, all precluded the second goal and, as much as Podolski remains a mystery to us, to too does Giroud. The goal he scored last night was more reminiscent to the type of control and finish we’ve seen Suarez tuck away this season, so to see our much maligned centre forward tucking it home with his weaker football was, well it was a surprise and a half I can tell you.

After that we looked more comfortable, the passing remained assured and we fashioned more chances. Giroud, in particular, suddenly looked like he could retain possession when it was knocked up to him. Perhaps being dropped against Wigan was his Szczesny moment from a couple of seasons back? We can certainly hope so and if the threat of rotating with a raw 19 year old and potentially losing your cup final place in a months time, is the jolt he needs to get back to his pre-Christmas ways, then I’m all for it.

The game was secured ten minutes from time with a fantastic finish from Podolski, but the header down from Ramsey on the edge of the box was what excited me, because it was perfectly weighted for Lukas to roll his man and smash the ball home.

It’s amazing what a difference a day makes. Arsenal pick up three points to arrest a worrying winless streak, Arsene confirms that players are returning including Özil for the weekend, plus we have a bank holiday weekend and a dress rehearsal for the cup final coming up on Sunday. Happy Days.

I hope the players are feeling on top of the world today. I hope the win last night was the catalyst to us returning to our form that saw us to the top of the league and I hope that three points on Sunday will put us in the strongest possible position to secure top four.

Up The Arsenal.

Blog rising to a crescendo. (And I meant the full stop there for dramatic effect)

Nervous?

I’m nervous. But I guess that comes with the territory when so much season salvation relies on the outcome of one particular football match. It’s crazy actually, because even if we navigate today’s tricky fixture against Wigan, we still have more nail biting to look forward to in the form of a cup final, which we’ve shown we can implode against even the most relegation-foddery of opponents. So to be this way for a semi final seems a little over the top. But it’s because we’re expected to win today that it makes it more nervous. Had Moneychester City steered past Wigan in the last round, we’d be hopeful, but the expectation wouldn’t have been as high and as a result I’m not sure I’d be as nervous as I am typing today’s thoughts out for you.

Still, life could be worse, I mean, I could be rocking a pair of well worn Spliffy jeans like some sort of early nineties throwback. Or I could be made entirely of lead, which really wouldn’t be too conducive to any kind of movement. I’d also probably be an inanimate object incapable of any kind of emotion too, so y’know, swings and roundabouts and all of that jazz.

Anyway, I guess all of this pre-amble is merely an unnecessarily long prologue to today’s blog, mainly because I don’t really have any kind of inkling as to how today will evolve. Well, actually, that’s not quite true: I know exactly how my day will develop up until about 5.05pm, but beyond that I am a mere passenger being carried along the East Australian Current (“The EAC dude”) that Nemo’s dad hitches a ride when he’s trying to find him in that cartoon by Disney that I forget the name it’s called. I am hopeful that I – and by proxy as an Arsenal fan, you – will arrive at our destination (safe passage to the FA Cup Final), but who knows what kind of ensnarement might befall us by the time we get to 8pm this evening (dodgy defending? Own goals? Penalties?).

It’s either rapture or dejection: there are no middle paths to take here people. We’re either cup finalists or we’re bottlers on what feels like a never ending road of purgatorial trophy nothingness that we seem destined to tread. The media will have their way with us regarding of the result, we know that, but all the same we hope it’s the ‘plucky Wigan outdone’ headline rather than the ‘giant killers’ script.

I was never a fan of David anyway. Fluked himself a sweet spot against poor old Goliath in a match up that really should have had only one winner.

Again, the fact I have managed to rinse through a number of paragraphs of prose without actually having to delve into tactical analysis, probably shows my apprehension about today’s game all the more. I’m worried because we’ve got injuries. I’m worried because the spark in the team seems to have gone. I’m worried because I fear the players mental fragility if the worst were to happen. What happens if we go behind? What happens if after the first 15 minutes it becomes clear that we look as leggy as we did last weekend against Everton?

Yet there is a common saying from which I am attempting to draw strength from (if you’ve got to this part of the blog without dismissing me as a ‘Ned the Neg’, and no, you probably haven’t heard that phrase anywhere before because I literally just made it up):

It is always darkest before dawn.

Well, it’s pretty effing pitch black if you listen to most Arsenal podcasts, or read any other Arsenal blogs. There isn’t exactly a majority of the fanbase confidently predicting an Arsenal whitewash, which tells me that most of us are in ‘glass half empty’ mode, that’s for sure. So perhaps, just maybe, today is a time for a redeemer in red and white to appear from amongst the confidence rubble and see us over the line in the season. A hero, a star, a saviour, perhaps even coming from the strangest of sources. A man to throw open the curtains and let glorious and warming sunshine wash over us with goals and a victory.

Step forward Olivier Giroud (didn’t expect me to say that, eh?). He’s looked all kinds of toilet for the last couple of months. Not even a fancy toilet. One of those public ones that’s had the plastic white seat ripped from it, smeared in all kinds of bacteria and pubes that I dare not elaborate on, with four walls that have more ‘Sharpie’ inspired profanities that you can shake a permanent marker at. I have much maligned his inability to deliver on many occasions, but wouldn’t it be so very Arsenal, so very Giroud, to bag a winning goal today? It wouldn’t surprise me at all.

But he’s just one potential match winner. Santi, fresh from the newspaper comments about team mentality, has it in him to Ray Parlour the ball from thirty yards and in similar fashion etch his name further into our hearts. Or Rambo, who’s lung busting efforts coupled with some sound goals this season, have seen him propelled to superstar status in our minds.

Who’s fit? Who’s not? Who are Wigan going to play in their team? How should we approach the game? What will the first fifteen minutes of the game look like? All of these questions are ones that I am disinclined to debate and dissect, because right now I am focusing on one thing and one thing alone; preparing my pipes for an early evening of extreme working out. I am going to go – as my wonderful friend and fellow Suburban Goonerite Ben Leeder says – ‘full tropic thunder’ on the game. But not in a negative way, in a ‘if my levels of craziness can help the team team in any way, they’ll get a whole heap of Crazy-Chris today’ way. I’m up for this. And I haven’t even started the first pint of the day.

Today is, to all intents and purposes, a home game for us. London is our town. It houses our club and we will come together to see our team win. There’s estimated to be around 55,000 Arsenal fans today. That’s 5,000 short of the Emirates so we have to make sure it sounds like an Arsenal game.

Sing loud, sing proud, and sing Arsenal.

What are the ‘basics’?

Perhaps in a similar way in which many of us fans have wanted to ‘get this week over and done with’ after last weekends debacle, Arsene’s press conference was brought forward to yesterday, meaning he has more time to prepare the players today. That’s fine by me, because I’ve had enough of reflecting on what’s going wrong at Arsenal, and thankfully the FA Cup tie against Wigan gives us the opportunity to wash our mouths of the slightly bitter taste that the Premier League competition has left us recently.

Of course, the fact that we are in a cup semi final doesn’t banish the lingering thoughts of a funk at the club, which is the very reason why so many Gooners are approaching this game with trepidation tomorrow. Fearing a Championship team is not something we should probably be doing, but our form coupled with the ghosts of 2011 still fresh in the memory seem to remain in our minds eye, as clear as a high definition 46′ plasma screen picture.

What doesn’t help was the news that yet more players could be added to the ‘Inujured XI’ team that the medical department are treating right now. The Ox, Rosicky and Gibbs are all doubts, with Arsene giving The Ox the best chance of return at 50:50. It’s a concerning enough situation that we have so many players out already at a crucial stage of the season, but also brings in to sharp focus every little issue such as the suspension Flamini has for picking up yellow cards. More on the team news and my thoughts of a possible line up tomorrow.

Arsene spoke of the fact we’ll be respecting Wigan tomorrow and, in perhaps an echo of what Szczesny said earlier in the week, I think those words ring very true after what Birmingham did to us. That we are approaching this game with caution can only be a good thing in my opinion. We sauntered up to Wembley in 2011 wondering when we would actually get to lift the trophy, such was the expectation and probably arrogance of both fans and players. But if our more humble approach to the game tomorrow results in greater concentration and eventual success, let’s hope we use that between now and the end of the season.

Arsene mentioned that we have to ‘go back to basics’ yesterday again, reiterating his stance from the Everton game and whilst I agree with the sentiment, I’m not really see what that means for a top Premier League side if I’m honest. I mean, if you’re talking about a Sunday league side, then that might mean telling the team to always find a man, go to the nearest player with the ball to give him an option for a short pass, etc. In defence it means lumping the ball into touch when you are in defensive difficulty instead of playing out from the back. For a professional football team, I’m not sure exactly what the ‘basics’ are, but perhaps Arsene is talking about mentally.

Perhaps he’s talking about looking at the teams morale and getting them to do things that don’t require something special. Pressing is something that is very basic and easy to teach anybody, yet that seems to have disappeared from our play of late.

Of course, if the team is running on empty, then I’m not sure how you can achieve your ‘basics’ mentality that you want to instil into the players. Just thinking out loud here, don’t have any answers I’m afraid, but I certainly hope Arsene does.

Maybe ‘the basics’ are a simple case of reminding the players, as Rocky once said, of ‘who they are, what they are and who they represent’, plus ensuring that they are fired up enough to give that extra bit of effort that a cup semi final should demand. You can be damn sure that the Wigan players will do that, so it is imperative that the Arsenal players show infinitely more drive than they did against the Toffees. Maybe when Arsene talks about ‘the basics’ he’s also talking about his own ability to et the team fired up. The perceived lack of energy from the touch line on Sunday has been picked up by a few, so perhaps he knows he has to ensure his role is played by getting some sort of Churchillian message to the starting eleven come 5pm tomorrow.

For me, if you’re talking about basics defensively for a professional football team, you have to look at the way in which the team is set up. Leaving vast gaps of space in between defence and midfield, like the space Naismith occupied last Sunday, would be a basic bit of instruction that the manager would need to consider. With no Flamini available, that means that Arteta has to revert to his last season position where he almost exclusively holds his position in front of the central defenders. He is always the outlet from the back and so will need to forgo any desires to push further forward in pursuit of goal-y happiness.

In terms of attack, the ‘basics’ we need are clear. We need to populate the area around Giroud with players, giving him options for knock downs and runners. Ramsey provides one such individual willing to do that, but with him just returning from injury last weekend, is it too much to ask for him to produce his early season lung-bustingly awesome form? Again, I don’t really have any answers here, just musings I’ve plucked from by cranium.

Not long now until we step into that famous old-new stadium, so let’s hope that the players spend today with clear heads and are building their convictions for what will be a tough game tomorrow.

Laters.

Abject Arsenal are in trouble

Hold on tight, strap yourself in and mentally prepared yourself, because today’s blog isn’t going to be pretty.

Yesterday I sacked off a match preview because, after a night on a Monopoly bar crawl, I couldn’t really be arsed to write anything an hour or so before kick off. Hey, it happens, but the consequences of that are minimal to anybody.

Arsenal must have taken the same approach, because they couldn’t really be arsed yesterday either, the result of which was an all too familiar capitulation in a big game in which we needed to see a spark from the players. We got nothing. Literally nothing from the team. Actually, that’s not quite true, because we did get a fabulous dismally of misplaced passes, lack of pace and creativity and effort across all aspects of the pitch.

Let’s give Everton some credit first though. They hassled, pressed, hurried and looked hungry. They were hungry for a Champions League spot and had a clear line of sight towards what they wanted to get by putting an Arsenal side to the sword that quite frankly looked like they were all practicing for a ‘who can be the least arsed’ competition.

I’m getting tired of this. I think it was Le Grove that said on Twitter last night ‘let’s be honest, did anybody not expect this?’ and I have to echo those sentiments I’m afraid. Nobody does implosion like this Arsenal team. And, by golly, haven’t they had enough practice at it this season?

I’m getting tired people. I’m tired of talking about the same frailties. The defence which looked so solid for so long now looks like a rickety old fence that you could just give a nudge to before it falls over. It offers little protection to Szczesny and the result was a defensive lapse after defensive lapse. We lost 3-0 but there were plenty of other times that we were cut apart and you do have to wonder whether or not we were blinded by Vermaelen’s goals in his first season at the club, because his regression has been staggering over the last two years. He’s been ok filling in for Koscienly in the most part, but he was terrible at times yesterday, ball watching for the first goal, flailing a leg for the second and generally looking like a lost boy.

What makes me sad is that it doesn’t look like the manager can motivate the players any more. How else can you explain a game in which the team had a week off to prepare and yet still looked like they were running through treacle. We can talk about ‘tired lets’ and ‘fatigue’ until the cows come home, but I’ve seen a few teams over the last couple of weekends who have played just as many games as our players and yet they don’t look nearly as lethargic. A week! They had a week to be ready for this?

But herein probably lies the crux of the matter, the main area of focus and root cause of the problem: the manager. We all know he doesn’t look at the opposition and adapt his game to suit. We know he likes to send his players out with their own game plan and to play ‘Arsene’s Way’. But the trouble is, the only teams that could play that way were ones that had the best players in most positions, across the whole park. Intelligent players who had the ability to be given freedom of the park and express themselves. This Arsenal team isn’t good enough to do that. Sure, Arsene can rightly point to injuries and say that with those players fit we’d be challenging, but they’re not fit! So when you haven’t got the best players at your club available, you have to try something different, hence why looking at your opponents and changing your style to suit would make sense in light of so many first choice players being out.

But not Arsene, oh no, he sends his team out with the same instructions, the same expectations, yet expects different results. I believe Einstein famously said that is the very definition of insanity.

Arsene got out-tactic’d yesterday. Big time. He got shown that unless you have the 11 best players in their position in the league, you ignore the opposition at your peril. Martinez knew the joy Lukaku would get if he played out wide and so put him on the right and told him to wreak havoc. And he did. And there was no response from our manager, who is looking like he is showing his age from a footballing perspective. Modern football has moved on, Arsene, sadly hasn’t.

There’s not one player that started yesterday that can come out of the game with their head held high. The closest one that got to that was Sagna, yet he was guilty of dwindling on the ball too long and conceding possession which led to the third goal.

I don’t want to start singling out players, but after his woeful attempt at trying to look like a centre forward yesterday, I’m finding it hard not to mention a player who is called ‘the lamppost’ by some of the fan-base because when the ball hits him it bounces off in any direction. He was well into double figures of losing the ball when he was hauled off for Sanogo yesterday. Sanogo having that ‘X-Factor’ from the bench that we were looking for of course. Or rather, Sanogo being the only attacking player available because of the managers negligence to strengthen last summer or this winter.

Arsene said after the game that he cannot question the teams spirit. I hope that’s just talk for the papers, because I’m sorry Arsene, but that’s exactly what you should be doing right now. There was precisely 0% spirit in that team yesterday. We could have played for a week and we still wouldn’t have scored. There was a total lack of effort from the first minute until the last and I am just thankful that the Ox and Rambo came on and looked lively, because that will at least give us some home that there is some pace that can be injected into the side.

We’re on the ropes here people.

Heh, wouldn’t you know it, as I’m writing today’s blog my train has stopped outside Wembley Park station, as if to serve as more of a reminder of what lies in store next weekend. The players found it very difficult to motivate themselves for a Champions League spot showdown, so what makes any of us think they’ll be motivated for a cup semi one? Wigan fans, players and management must have been rubbing their hands together with glee having watched that shower of the proverbial yesterday, because now not only are they going into a game with nothing to lose, but they’ll be doing it against a team that looks as strong as a Rich Tea biscuit slam-dunked into a cup of tea.

If we lose next weekend, it will be almost impossible to argue a case for the managers defence, because if all we have to play for come May is another ‘fourth place trophy’, then all you can say is that he is now treading water with this team at best.

That’ll do for today. Perhaps some more thoughts tomorrow.>

Swansea (and our own panic button) show how far away we are

(Stewart) Houston, we have a problem*.

We have a problem of our own making. It was a problem forged in the fires of Stamford Bridge, exacerbated in the supposed comforts of our home, and most certainly entirely of our own making.

Tonight I saw a bang average Swansea team rock up with little to play for, comfy and cosy in mid table, happy to sit on their one real attempt of the first half and wait to see what an emotionally battered Arsenal could do by way of retribution for being given a humbling at the hands of a supposed rival.

Let’s all be clear at this juncture: as much as we believed Chelski and City were our rivals, as the dust settles on this latest setback, I’m sure we can all acknowledge that a title assault was always a long-shot at best. It was a forlorn hope born out of a fantastic initial run at the beginning of the season that was never going to last. You can’t go into a season with a decent – albeit limited – centre forward as your only choice. You can’t go into a season with a squad that, with a few injuries will look threadbare, and expect to come up trumps. And more than anything else, you can’t go into a season where the manager overuses players so that when the new year approaches we are left to lick our wounds because we’ve run players into the ground.

This was an Arsenal performance devoid of any real drive and desire to make amends of their wrongdoings at the weekend. We were lethargic in attack, ponderous in defence and vanilla in midfield. At halftime I turned to Ian and asked where the next goal was coming from. The response? “If I had a gun to my head, I’d say Swansea”. It was a damning indictment of a team that showed no real desire to show the world that there is fight, spirit and that gawd awful ‘mental strength’ that became a parody of Arsene’s teams of three or four years ago.

Today’s blog may sound overly negative, for that I can only apologise (I’m hurting, you see), but as a fan you expect more after a performance like the weekend. I said to Ian during the first half that I’d feel better if we’d have dominated play, forced saves from Vorm and ‘knocked on the door’ to show a response and had been suker-punched with a goal, but after that first half all I can really remember is an early Ox shot that was well parried away. We got nothing as fans. No fight in that first half. But do you know what, I still sang up for The Arsenal, despite the lethargy. Whether the players deserved it is another matter for another day, but I still put my effort in, which was at least partially rewarded in the second half. Two quick goals put a lovely glossy finish on what was a poor performance, but it was probably inevitable that our meandering through the game was punished by Swansea with a typically Arsenal implosion.

Let me ask you a question. Of the following teams, how many do you see fall apart as easily as Arsenal: Chelski, Monechester City, Liverpool, Everton? I’d wager you can’t remember as many times as has happened to The Arsenal. Do you know why? Because we are not capable of consistent success. We are an accident waiting to happen at times and in typical Arsenal fashion we couldn’t hold out against a Swansea team that were dispatched against Everton at the weekend.

I’d love to say that we have an opportunity to readdress the balance against City this weekend but, if we’re all honest with ourselves, does anybody see that happening at the moment?

There’s no point in complaining about individual performances. We know that far too many players gave a 6 out of 10 yesterday, but what was really needed was eight’s and nine’s and we just didn’t look capable. This was in no way near the pain of the weekend, but the end result makes Saturday even more palatable.

Arsene needs to have a word with the players and ask them where the drive is going to come from. We’re already in a dogfight for fourth, so there is no way we can afford too many performances like we’ve been having, so we need him to step up and show why he’s paid the REALLY big bucks.

That’s it from me today.

*DISCLAIMER: in no way do I advocate the return of Stewart Houston, I just wanted to make a funny at a time in which there is little to laugh about.

Spirit seems high, the Ox should be deployed high and our Wigan ticket allocation will be high (eventually)

It’s interesting to see the rhetoric amongst a number of the players at the moment, as many that have been interviewed and featured on the official site are talking about taking positives, building on the fact we weren’t beaten in Munich and using it as a springboard to make our season an ultimate success by winning a trophy.

The words echoed by Vermaelen, Fabianski, The Ox and Arteta are all encouraging signs from where I’m sitting, because it tells me that the spirit within the camp is one of a team trying to remain positive. It would be easy to remain a bit melancholy after a cup exit and injury to a valuable player, but rather than hearing the ‘we know we must improve’, or ‘we’re going to work hard to turn our season around’, the narrative is very much locked in a more philosophical approach. I think it says a lot about the maturity and belief the team has. They know just how big these next few weeks are and they know that thy can’t afford to be morose when they have to get back on that horse and charge it towards the winning post.

A trophy – any kind of trophy – would be massive for us this season, as it would effectively allow a reboot of the ‘no trophy for x years’ mob and would also give players the belief that attaining glory is within their grasp. If anyone knows that, it’s tricky Micky, having played for an Everton side that lost a cup final a few years back (although he was injured at the time of the final). He’s right in how big it could be and the hope is that the fact we have a very real chance of success in the FA Cup will prove to be enough of a carrot to carry the momentum and belief of the team through the next five matches. If we win four out of five and draw the other one, we’ll be in with a shout of the league and do you know what? Stranger things have happened.

For me, the one player we can look to for making a difference is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. He was majestic at times on Tuesday and if he’s that unplayable against the Spuds and Chavs, he looks like he could pull anything out of his locker, so I’m hoping for a big few weeks. The return of Rambo may be timely given Mesut’s injury, but it will not be until the end of this second Death Run that he is back to his full self after three months out, so for me the hopes have to be hung on a blossoming Ox.

But where should he be deployed? In the middle charging through the midfield with his direct running at players, or out wide causing havoc on the left or right? Personally, I’d like to see him out wide. Although his two best recent games have been through the middle (Palace and Bayern), the strength and stability we have with Arteta and Flamini means that I think our needs are greater in the flanks. What has been clear over the last few weeks is that we have a lack of pace and direct running in attack when he doesn’t have the ball, so I think it is essential that he is given licence to roam further up the pitch. With Santi now surely to occupy the Özil role for at least the next couple of weeks, I think we’d be better served if he has that outlet in The Ox to feed the ball in between defensive lines to create chances for us.

There’s not really a lot going on at the moment, so that is going to be yer lot from me today, but I’ll leave you with one bit of information I got from somebody who works at Club Wembley. I asked about ticket allocation for the Arsenal vs Wigan cup final and what the likelihood of Arsenal fans getting more tickets for season ticket holders and silver/red members. My contact from work told me that the allocation varies each year but they are over 35,000 tickets allocated to each team and that for last seasons cup final Wigan only use an allocation of 25,000 for the final, so it is unlikely that any more will be taken by Wigan this year. He said that he suspects there will be two sessions of ticket purchases, the first of which will be Arsenal’s allocation, the second being a release of tickets, usually a couple of weeks before the game. So, I suspect that if you’re a season ticket holder, you’ll be very likely to get yourself a ticket, as there are around 40,000 season ticket holders I think. If my back-of-a-fag-packet sums are right, I suspect there will be another 5,000 tickets that would be made available to Arsenal fans, which would probably be silver members. So good news if you’re a silver member, but probably not great news if you’re a red, apologies for that.

Anyway, I’m offski for the day, so I’ll see thee in the morrow.

Munich: glorious equality?

If pride comes before a fall, then Arjen Robben must be the most delusional person on the planet, because if he’s proud of his efforts in falling to the floor every time he is touched then he’s going to get labelled and receive nothing from referees. Let’s hope that happens because yesterday was a shining example of what nobody wants to see in football.

I thought the penalty awarded was softer than a new-born babies hind and the decision not to book him when there was the most obvious dive inside our box was farcical. But then again, we can hardly expect anything else from European referees, can we?

As for The Arsenal, well, I think we can certainly use the word ‘proud’ to define our performance. Up against the best club side in the world, two-down from the first leg, you could be forgiven for thinking that this was a dead rubber and mentally the players might treat it as such. But far from it, I thought we put on a solid and impressive defensive display against a team who’s form has more ‘W’s in it than Porkie Pig trying to say “Well Why Won’t We Win When We Want to?”.

Perhaps there was an element of Bayern trying to keep us at arms length and ensure safer passage to the next round, which inevitably led to a more cautious approach than the battering they gave Wolfsburg at the weekend, but I like to think that’s because they gave us respect because they know what a threat this team can be. After all, we’ve scared them before, so they were always going to fear the second striking of lightning.

As for the side that lined up, Thomas Vermaelen coming in at left back performed admirably I thought, whilst Podolski on the left was an interesting one given that it had seemed as if Arsene was beginning to freeze him out of the side before an inevitable departure in the summer. Thankfully he hasn’t and it was our clinical German that gave us hope on the night with a fine finish at the near post. I don’t buy the ‘Lahm was fouled’ quotes I’ve heard, because I’m pretty sick of seeing players feel even the tiniest bit of contact and falling to their feet. Martinez was a master of that yesterday, yet the emperor of all that is ‘divey’ was of course Robben.

I thought the gameplan was pretty well executed by Arsenal actually. We clearly wanted to keep it right until half time and see if we could nick one to put the frighteners on Munich. A sort of ‘European Anfield 89′ if you like which, up until Schweinsteiger wasn’t tracked by the central midfield duo and chipped over Fabianski, we had executed well as a defensive unit. Having watched the replays again you do wonder if a Flamster in the side would have seen that runner and tracked him, but let’s not be too harsh, given that Bayern have quality all over the pitch that can hurt you.

Specifically, the Ox was immense yesterday, as he weaved in between and through Bayern player after Bayern player and on a number of occasions was cynically brought down. He is starting to put together a run of games that are making for a very impressive footballing CV of late and the importance of him to our team dynamic and the success of this season can’t be underestimated. He has a fabulous engine, he’s a very good runner at defenders and he has pace. He’s shown an eye for goal and at a time when we seem to be losing players left, right and centre to injury – Özil being the latest with a hamstring injury – if he can replicate performances like last night on a regular basis it will go a long way to demonstrating that this squad is not as week as many would have you believe.

How about our injury problems though, eh? It’s as if Arsene walked into a house of mirrors in the summer armed with nothing but a machete and a twitch. There were some people that we’re arguing once again that this was, in some way or other, the medical teams fault that we keep picking up injuries like this. I don’t see how personally, given that Ramsey, Walcott, Podolski, Cazorla and Özil injuries have all been picked up this season through game time. Sure, you can question the overplaying of players leading to them eventually breaking down, which has some legs to it as an argument (no pun intended). But some of the longer-standing injuries that were picked up were at the beginning of the season. Theo’s first injury was at the beginning of the season and he wasn’t long back before he was injured again, so you can hardly call that overplaying.

I just wonder if the football gods just don’t like us very much. Either that or toiling away and seeing the despair of Gooners amuses them more than fans of other clubs, particularly Chelski who seem to get more fortune than a factory of Chinese cookies.

Anyway, I digress, so I’ll redirect my route back to the game last night. Defensively we were sound, but where we were lacking – yet again – was undoubtedly in the attacking positions. Against a team like Bayern you’re never going to get lots of chances and so it’s hard to be too harsh on the forwards, but I thought Giroud struggled all night. He had trouble holding the ball up and when he did, there was so much space between him and the next yellow shirt that he was on a hiding to nothing for most of the game. Having said that, in the latter stages of the second half he did get a couple of chances, but never really looked like scoring. Games like yesterday aren’t designed for big target men like Olivier, they are designed for pacey forwards who can expose defenders on the counter. Just look at the opening minutes when The Ox found himself running at Dante, only for the funny haired bloke to chop him down in a ‘take one for the team ‘ yellow. Even after that yellow, you suspected that he wouldn’t be tested that much by a pacey attacker for the rest of the game, which is exactly how it transpired.

We’re all disappointed today because we’re out again in the second round, but what these two legs have shown us is the fine margins that separate teams in knock out competition. We were undone at home by a harsh sending off and it was effectively the end of the tie from the moment Szczesny was sent off.

So that’s European football done for the year, to which we turn our attention to purely domestic matters, the smallest of which begin this weekend with a trip along the Seven Sisters Road.

Catch you tomorrow.

Everton: Counter the width from the Toffees, then use right balance in attack to win

Having started the day at 3.30am this morning with a trip to Southend airport to drop the parentals off for their trip to Portugal, there is a very real risk that come the end of the match today at around 2.30pm i’ll have peaked and to coin an Arseneism, be a ‘little bit jaded’, so I hope that a) the Arsenal players fair better than that today, and b) that those that are selected give me something to be pleased about so that I can snooze soundly on my Metropolitan line train home this afternoon.

Everton will be a tough game. We all know that. They were certainly the most expansive opponents we’ve played at The Emirates this season – and I include the Champions League ties in that too (Dortmund were pegged back and sucker punched us earlier in the season and the red card to Szczesny effectively ended any competition against Bayern) – and they will go into this game thinking that they have a really good chance of pipping us to a semi-final showdown against Man City, who I am convinced the winners of today’s tie will face. At least, Everton have picked up plenty of draws at the Emirates in recent past and whilst their record for victories is not great, their ability to give us a good game has always remained constant. If you look at the last six games against Everton in all competitions and there has been three wins for Arsenal and three draws home and away, each of them being by a one goal margin, then looking at the games at The Emirates we’ve seen similar results, with three draws and three wins, only one of which has been by more than a one goal margin.

So history surely precludes that this afternoon’s game against the Toffees will most likely be won by a goal margin, or a draw which for an Everton team who find themselves nine points from fourth, will probably be looking at the FA Cup as their chance for glory rather than sneaking in to one of the top four spots. They will set up to be solid defensively, but they’ll use the flair players of Pienaar and Mirallas to support the man mountain that is Lukaku, who has always been a thorn in our side even if he hasn’t always been on the scoresheet. He got an outing against Everton last weekend and scored from the bench and with Traore injured he will surely be given the nod to start today. The Everton strength from the wings will also be something to pay close attention to. With two very good full backs in Baines and Coleman who like to get forward and support the attacking wide midfielders, Martinez will be encouraging those players to stretch our full backs as much as possible.

It is for that reason that I hope Arsene opts for Gibbs and Sagna as his starting full backs, along with players who can track back and provide support for overlapping Everton full backs. In the last round against their Mersey rivals, I thought Poldi did a really good job in doing that role and supporting Monreal, as did The Ox on the wide right position, so I hope both players start. Yes, I know Podolski was poor – bordering on anonymous – against Stoke, but few players came out of that game with any credit and we can hardly drop the whole team, can we?

I have no problem with Fabianski starting in goal and continuing his cup place, but in central defence I hope Kos passes his fitness test and plays. It may frustrate Vermaelen, but with someone like Lukaku likely to occupy both defenders, you want the one with the best positional sense plus the best recovery pace, to be there ready in case he shrugs off one with his physical presence and power.

Midfield simply must see Flamini in the heart of the engine room and with jack now confirmed to be out, I’d like to see Rosicky pulling the strings, with Ozil sat in front of them and just behind the striker. I think those three players all add something different (defensive stability and bite; quick movement of the ball from front to back; ability to pick a pass and create opportunities for others) to the side and I think it is the strongest possible line up we could muster at the moment. Up top will be a mystery. Go for Giroud and hope he shrugs off his current funk? Or plump for the unproven kid who put himself about a bit against Skyrtel and Agger a few weeks back. Despite his obvious failings, he does like the comforts of home (on the football pitch anyway!) and is clearly our best player in that position at the moment. If he does play, he’ll need those players in and around him making those runs for his little flicks and hold up play and with Poldi able to ‘shoot on site’ and The Ox with that bit of trickery to get beyond defenders, I think that quartet including Ozil would have the right balance to it to give us the best chance of progression.

Will Arsene do that however? That’s the $64,000 question I guess. I don’t know why he wouldn’t go for his strongest team, because shooting from the halfway line hoping for a glorious three-point finish for a win is always more risky than taking the slam-dunk for two points and a draw, so if I was the man at the helm I’d be looking at throwing everything at today’s game and seeing who’s feeling freshest during the week.

This to me represents our biggest chance of silverware this season and for that reason it simply must be approached in the best possible manner, with the best possible team, to try to get the job done first time. Everton could afford a replay and they would happily take their chances back at Goodison Park too, so I don’t want to see us start tentative, I want to see us quick off the block and getting the ball to the most form creative player at the moment: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Come on Arsenal, I want to get to Wembley. Twice. And win the FA Cup. Any chance of that?

It’s only good for The Ox; Tomas and Big Per commit

The only thing that’s remotely good about this evenings international window is that it means thousands of men everywhere will not be subjected to an evening of horrendous soaps like Coronation Street. Actually, when I think about the prospect of having to watch England labour to a one-nil win against Denmark, a soap marathon wouldn’t be all that bad. Mind you, you’re unlikely to see any branded green pants baring a sports betting brand on in Emmerdale, so I guess every side has pros and cons.

From an Arsenal perspective, this ludicrously wedged set of matches at the business end of the season couldn’t have come at a worse time, after a stinging defeat to Stoke I’m sure Arsene would have preferred to set the team punishments of Magathian proportions, yet instead they can retreat to the luxury and bliss of their national team. The only hope all of us have is that we don’t receive bad news tomorrow or on Friday.

One player who I’ve heard a lot of Gooners talking about positively is The Ox, with a plethora of Podcasts all recently waxing lyrical over his form, and rightly so. He’s been a semblance of positivity in an otherwise relatively uninspiring half a dozen games and his direct running and added goal threat are one of a select few ‘reasons to be cheerful’ at the moment. Tonight will be an opportunity for him to stake a claim as a starter in the England team and, should he enable himself to perform as well as he’s done recently for The Arsenal, he’ll know doubt find himself getting plenty of game time in Brazil.

Of course, now that he’s starting to find some good form, we all await the inevitable injury tonight that will keep him out for the dreaded ‘three weeks’, followed by a ‘little setback’. In many ways, I’m a bitter, bitter man.

I tell you what I’m not bitter about, however, which is the news that the club announced yesterday that both Big Per and Rosicky had signed new contracts with the club. As usual, there’s no length of the contracts discussed, but I wonder if it’s a four-year deal for Per and a two-year one of Tomas. Either way it’s great for the club to see the experienced players committing to the club and it will add more stability to us in the summer. We’ve seen what wholesale changes does to a team in previous summer breaks, so to have these two committed is a good statement from the club. Some might argue the timing has been played in the most PR spun of fashions – particularly after Arsene confirmed that Rosicky would be staying at the club beyond this season a few weeks back – but I personally couldn’t give a monkeys about when it’s announced and for what reason, just that it’s done.

Now all Gooners will be turning their attention to getting Sagna signed up to a longer term deal, but if we’re all honest with ourselves, he’s on his way out in the summer isn’t he? What the two announcements yesterday show is that when both parties are willing, a new deal can be easy peasy, which clearly shows that there is reluctance – perhaps on both sides – to come to an agreement on the French International. You don’t need me to tell you how mental that is, particularly gone the fact that any replacement will have to have some time to bed in at right back, but it is what it is and we’ve seen too many contractual impasses to have the wool pulled over our eyes and not see this as anything but Sagna’s final swan-song as an Arsenal player. I hope we can deliver some silverware as a send off.

Anyway, that’s enough of my rabbiting on, you have a good day now ya’ here!