Villa: a reaction is essential

Aston Villa is always a funny game. And by funny I mean in no way ‘ha ha’ funny. Rather, I mean peculiar, because despite having a clearly superior team over the last five to ten years (and beyond but I’ve wiped my memory banks of all except the happy memories beyond ten years ago), we’ve found ourselves unstuck quite a few times against the Midlanders both home and away.

So under normal circumstances I’d look at the Villa team and expect us to win comfortably. However, there are rarely ‘normal’ circumstances with The Arsenal, so I recognise that anything could happen come 3pm this afternoon. Indeed, when you look at the form of the two respective teams, it will be Aston Villa fans who will probably be more buoyant than The Arsenal ones. Having smashed and grabbed three points last weekend against Liverpool and having not conceded in their last three games, Villa sit second in the league and will be full of confidence.

What will be interesting about today’s game is how Villa approach the game. With a few wins and momentum under their belt, as well as a home crowd that will be looking for more points and something to cheer about, you could be forgiven for thinking that Villa will come out and attack Arsenal today. However, Villa got their victory against Anfield by defending deep, leaving little space and hitting on the counter. As the home side, they may feel that the onus is on them to press higher up the pitch, which is what I hope happens today because that will play into our hands.

Against Palace and Leicester, Arsenal struggled with a team sitting deeper, so there wasn’t a lot of space for the attacking players to get in behind. That changed with City, who came out and attacked Arsenal more and made for more success for the pointy end of the team, so a higher pressing Villa team will hopefully mean more of the same.

Regardless of how Villa set up, there needs to be a marked contrast in the lethargy of the performance against Dortmund, which is the least we’ll all expect today. Everything was off in Germany, from the passing, to the pressing and the desire too. We looked like rabbits in headlights. I’ll have none of that today please boys.

The selection choices the manager must make today must be questioned. One would expect him to shuffle his pack slightly in midfield certainly, but Arsène will not want to ruin the confidence of someone like Özil, so I still think he’ll play. I also think he’ll carry on with his captain Arteta and Ramsey too. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to see an unchanged team (minus Bellerin for Chambers) from the one in midweek. Personally, I’d rather see The Ox given a chance in the front three along with Sanchez and Welbeck, which would mean a place on the bench for Özil. Jack’s form dictates that he should still start and Rambo has already scored goals this season, so that’s the main change I’d like to see. I’d be surprised to see it happen though. Arsène has been on the Özil defensive this week, which would be at odds with his rhetoric, so I expect he’ll keep his faith in the German.

I really couldn’t call this one today. I’d like to this that Villa will come out and leave space for our pacey front men, but as we saw against Dortmund, that doesn’t mean we’ll change our style and fire more long balls in behind the Villa back four, so if we play our way out from the back when pressed high again, we’ll be in trouble. But I hope that there is a reaction from the players today. I hope they have been wounded from the Champions League defeat and that they’re massively up for it today.

We shall see.

Up the Arsenal!

The SUPER-AWESOME-MEGA-POSITIVE Arsenal blog!!

By now I’m sure you’re all still feeling from the lacklustre performance of yesterday evening. I know I am. I’m hurting today and I’m sure you and I feel the same.

You’ll know doubt be reading the carnage that will be many a post-match review from journos and bloggers alike. It won’t make for pretty reading I’m sure. After all, we were so many levels of pants, there’s nothing more we can expect than a media and blogger savaging. However, in an unprecedented and hopefully unusual step, the remainder of my blog today will focus purely on positives after the 2-0 defeat to Dortmund in Germany. You don’t need me analysing the game and player performances. There are plenty of other people out there who will do a better job.

So…the positives…here goes…

Not many injuries!!
Yes folks, having gone through every game this season picking up knocks after knock, we finally managed to get through 90 minutes of football with only one player on the pitch getting injured! Get in there!

Diaby’s back!!
He seems to be back and, although he didn’t feature yesterday, he’s sure to have an injury-free season now, right? RIGHT?!

Wenger knows how to make subs before 75 minutes!
He hooked Özil and Rambo off on the hour mark, so maybe he’s realised he’s allowed to do it with more than 15 minutes remaining in a game? Happy days!

We don’t have to play Dortmund away in the group stages any more!!
Last year we smashed and grabbed, this year we just got smashed, but we can be safe in the knowledge that for the remaining five games we definitely won’t have to go to the Westfalenstadion. Get in!

Arsenal are saving money by sharing shinpads!!
Poldi and Mesut shared a pair of pads, which means we’ve saved probably about £7.99, which means there’s more money in the coffers in January for a new centre half!! Come on!!

I got dispensation to drink lots of rum last night!
The performance was such that, due to the extenuating circumstances, I was afforded a free pass to undertake some lovely spiced rum drinking to numb the pain! It was yummy!

We’ve lulled Villa into a false sense of security
There’s no don’t Paul Lambert will have been watching his former team rip us to shreds, probably smiling and thinking “another three points on Saturday, ace”, so hopefully Villa will try and come and stick six past us and give us space to pick them off! Clever Arsène, very clever.

Szczesny’s kit doesn’t look as terrible as the outfield kit!
As a former goalkeeper, I’ve become used to being in between sticks wearing something that a Unicorn shat out of its backside, so I’m pleased for Woj that he doesn’t look like he’s been handed the poo-stick by wearing that monstrosity of a shirt. Although his does look like someone has whacked some hieroglyphics on to it.

Work seems like a welcome distraction
I have a busy few days coming up, which means I’m very pleased for a changed to be able to focus on that and not on Arsenal. Yay me.

Jokes about United can help
Hey, at least we’re in the bloody competition, am I right? Am I right?

The kick up the arse?
We have not played well all season and last night we were finally humbled for it. Maybe that will provide the same wake up call that the Spuds away defeat did two seasons ago. Nay, in the spirit of this mega positive blog, it DEFINITELY will. Definitely. Maybe.

This weekend is a quadruple £13million ‘must be won’ rollover
And if I win it. I’ll give you all £20 so that we can all drink rum together and be merry!

That’s pretty much all I’ve got for today folks. You have a super happy day, I know I will!

Underneath my happy facade, is a sad, sad clown.

High pressing to Mesut’s advantage? Dortmund preview

So apparently the footballing gods are testing Arsène’s ‘threadbare’ rule by conspiring to see how many of our defenders can be injured at any one time, before Arsène loses it and tells Stevie Bould to warm up with a green bib ahead of tonight’s trip to Dortmund.

Our first Champions League group stages appear to have coincided with a bout of plague that is ravaging our back line. Symptoms are varied in each case, but the upshot is that we are looking at definite absences of Debuchy and Monreal, whilst Chambers has picked up a knock but should be ok to play. With Arsène having gambled on having only six first team defenders for four positions, it appears as though normal service has been resumed with regards to his gambles falling flat on their faces.

Of course, the reality of the situation the team has tonight is that there is still a strong enough defence to call upon, with Gibbs returning to action and Chambers slotting in at right back. With Szczesny in the sticks behind them, it’s not as if we are short of first team experience, so my apparent serious concern above is a ‘little bit tongue in cheek’. I just hope we don’t pick up any more bumps or bruises this evening, because we can ill afford any more absences as the games come thick and fast.

As for our midfield, one would assume that Arteta will come in for Flamini, with Ramsey and Wilshere once again playing through the middle behind a front three of Özil, Sanchez and Welbeck. The latter two of that three performed well on Saturday, so I’m hoping that the former – a German international with quite some reputation – can draw on some German inspiration in his home nation. Mesut has been shunted wide in recent weeks and, whilst Arsène has been leaping to the defence of his most expensive bit of shopping, there must be part of him that realises that we need to get Özil into the centre as soon as possible. But with Walcott still a few weeks away and Wilshere having Messi’d the game at the weekend, it’s fairly obvious that he will start through the middle.

Our opponents this evening have their own injury worries too, so perhaps it is not just us that has the curse of the footballing gods to agonise over, as a number of first team players won’t be rocking up in yellow come 7.45pm. Reus, Hummels, Sahin, Gundogan and Blaszczykowski are all out, so it’s up to Shinji Kagawa to provide the creativity after returning to Dortmund from United in the summer. I remember seeing him against us the first time we were drawn against Dortmund; he was a handful throughout and one of the better players in both games. The question will be whether or not he has bedded back into his new-old team quickly enough, but I think he’s already scored for Dortmund, so I suspect we’ll see a decent performance from him tonight.

We know what test Dortmund will provide to us tonight, having played them for what feels like every season since their sustained return to the Champions League a few years ago. They will look to press us high and reduce the space we have to conduct our short tiki-taka passing style out from the back. But this is a different Arsenal team now. If you press us high up the pitch, it’s not just Theo Walcott or bust for us, so Dortmund will surely be wary of the lightning counter attack that we possess with Welbeck and Alexis. A high line would be delightful to see from my perspective, but surely that would be suicidal from Dortmund, so something has to give. For if they press high from the front, they will need to push their back four high too. Otherwise the space in between the back four and defence would be far too much.

If that does happen, that the back four of Dortmund sit deeper whilst the front players push higher, Mesut Özil has to be ready and up for it tonight. If he’s allowed to roam in that no-mans land between defence and midfield, it will afford him time rarely granted in the Premier League, so he’ll need to capitalise after a poor display against Moneychester City.

So the good news is that, in theory, we have different options to beat Dortmund, either through the pace against a high line, or the space of Özil and Rambo to operate in between the yellow and black defence and midfield. But one things for sure, however we look to overcome Dortmund, tactics alone won’t see us pick up all three points in the Westfalenstadion. We need good performances from nearly all of our players if we want to overcome the German runners up, which means no passengers like there were on Saturday. If we start well, take confidence from our unbeaten run so far, then catch Dortmund on the counter, I fancy some three pointage come 10pm this evening. The team is starting to gel and hopefully the positives from the weekend can be emphasised.

Come on you reds!

We wait on Debuchy; but not on Jack – why squad rotation is important

Morning friend, I hope you are well, recovering from the horrific prospect that after one game against a frankly awful QPR Man United are ‘back’ and ready to win every single game between now and the end of time? I’m certainly fearful of their awesomeness in every position. I mean, how will they ever concede again with the defensive solidity of Blackheart, Jones and Evans in their team? Football will become a boring repetition of 4-0 wins every week between now and the end of existence. Oh, woe is us, for life will never be the same!

Of course, the truth is a lot more palatable to stomach, which is that as the commentators on Sky Sports said yesterday that QPR were the perfect opponents to play at home after a series of poor results in the league. They were abysmal and I’d love to say that I can’t wait until they rock up at The Emirates, but you and I both know they’ll be disciplined, tough to break down and with a ‘keeper that decides to have the game of his life when we play them. It’s how things seem to happen in this universe.

The Arsenal chatter is understandably all about Mathieu Debuchy today, with the variation upon the theme being dependent on how long he will be out for, although the diagnosis from the journos appear to be that it’s ligament damage. Depending on who you believe there looks to be between two to three months out injured, which kind of figures, but there won’t be a better indication of the exact time for a few days I expect. Debuchy himself stated on his Facebook page that it was not a fracture and he was having further medical tests today, so I suspect it will be a pre or post match response from a prompt from Arsene that will give us an idea of his time on the sidelines.

If it does turn out to be about two months, it puts massive pressure on Chambers until December and with only Bellerin behind him in the pecking order, highlights just how ridiculous it is that Arsene has failed to fully address our overall options at cover in defence. There will be a lot of pressure on the first team defensive players and with our injury record even so far this season looking terrible (I think I saw somebody say that we have picked up an injury in every game this season or something crazy like that), you can almost certainly envisage a time in which we are down to Harry Redknappesque ‘bare bones’ between now and Christmas.

But let’s not get too caught up in the ‘what if’s at the moment, because there is the small matter of our opening Champions League game tomorrow night, a game in which we once again lock horns with Dortmund who themselves appear to have a bit of an injury crisis going on too. More on that tomorrow, but I’m just pleased the game has come ona Tuesday instead of a Wednesday, because I’m still not too sure whether or not I’m happy about a draw against the Champions on our own turf, as I mentioned yesterday. So the quicker I can put that result to the back of my mind the better.

One person who I’m sure will be starting will be Jack Wilshere and, with Arsene singing his praises about answering his critics, his performance on Saturday is exactly why I hope that we get better at using squad rotation this season. My view is that you can’t have the same 11 players playing the best football every game throughout the season. Footballers are human and are prone to off days, as Aaron Ramsey showed at the weekend, so for me it is important that you ensure that players are rotated enough so that they have enough game time under their belts to pick up where others are unable too, which is why seeing jack step up in the absence of a good performance from Ramsey, was so great to see. I love that Jack is one of ours, that he’s an Arsenal youth product and that he’s English, but if I’m honest I just want to see 11 players in an Arsenal shirt playing well and winning matches. That’s what counts and if that means that they all have to come from Venezuela, Bogotá or Singapore, I don’t really care as long as The Arsenal are on top.

So for me, the most important thing about Jack having that game is that we know that he can be relied on to take the game by the scruff of the neck, that he is getting back to somewhere near the player we saw before his numerous injuries set in, that we have a guy who is going to shine. And who can begrudge him a lot of praise after some of the drubbings he’s had from the media about both on and off-field activities. Hopefully we see a another sound game tomorrow night that will require the likes of Paul Scholes to stick it in his pipe and light one up on it.

That’s pretty much it from me for this Monday. You make sure that your world is filled with goodness, which for me, usually means logging on to Arsenal.com every once in a while during the day.

Catch you tomorrow.

The striker issue isn’t black and white

Howdy there you, hope you’re doing hunky doory, if that’s even how you spell that??

Yesterday I had a bit of a ‘life is different to back then’ moment, so I thought I’d bring myself back in to the here and now and reflect on Arsene’s presser yesterday and the Champions League draw, which will once again see us pit our wits against Borussia Dortmund, whilst also taking on Galatasaray and Anderlecht. It’s no surprise that Chelski got a buy into the group stages, but in all fairness we can be pretty happy with our lot given that, the Germans aside, it’s a group that we should be looking to qualify from. It would be nice if we could go through as group winners for a change, so one would expect that the head-to-head against BVB will be a decider on who tops the group. The first game will be at Dortmund in a couple of weeks time, so it’s up to the team to try to replicate the 1-0 victory in Dortmund last season to get us off to a flying start.

In the meantime, there is a game this weekend against Leicester and then the small matter of a home game against the reigning champions, so there’s plenty of time for us to get into our rhythm before the Champions League starts. Not. It’s fair to say that we haven’t exactly hit the ground running as yet, but with the injuries having a part to play in the stuttering beginning to the season (unusual for us as we have tended to always start strongly and fade away towards the end of campaigns), we need to start clicking into gear and doing so quickly. That comes with matches, with new players being able to bed in and with established players finding their form, so this weekend’s game against newly promoted opposition represents a chance to lay down a marker. More on suspected team line ups tomorrow, but Arsene did confirm that both Arteta and Gibbs will continue to be missing until after the International break, which will mean Monreal and the Flamster continue to deputise.

We all know about Giroud and his long-term absence, so it was not really a surprise when Arsene was once again quizzed about finding a replacement up top. He, as would be expected, extolled the virtues of the talent he already has available in Sanchez, Walcott, Podolski, Campbell and Sanogo. Later on, I think in an interview which wasn’t part of the afternoon presser, he stated that there were too many strikers and he would only look to bring another one in if one went out. Whilst there will be those that will wonder whether that means a potential loan move for the raw Sanogo, or a permanent move for the clearly unflavoured Podolski, I suspect that the comment was designed to explain to the masses that Arsene really isn’t looking for another forward at all. Further evidence to this school of thinking can be found in the words of the BBC’s David Ornstein, who has always been seen as somewhat of an unofficial mouthpiece for the club, as he confirmed that Arsenal are after a centre-half or defensive midfielder.

Whilst my initial reaction to Arsene’s assertion that he has enough strikers and that only ‘top,top top quality’ would do (although I must question this definition given that Gervinho managed two seasons at the club) was to be slightly aggrieved, upon some reflection about the possible options out there, I could kind of understand where Arsene is coming from. Giroud’s injury is certainly a big blow and we will no doubt feel his absence, but his absence is something that we all feel needs to be replaced with somebody for the here and now, and therein lies our problem. There are plenty of names being kicked around amongst arsenal fans, but the reality is that any player coming from any league other than an English one, will need time to bed in, which is time we simply don’t have. Just look at Sanchez; he is still finding his feet, still needing to hone his radar so that he latches on to Ozil passes, etc. Any new player brought in from another league is going to go through the exact same process. So we are effectively back to square one because we don’t address the here and now in terms of finding a goalscorer instantly.

“But what about finding one from the Premier League?” I can almost hear you say, but again, I’m not sure what other options are out there that will be suitable for our style of play and the way Arsene is setting up his team. Remy and Bony are names that come to mind, but both are different to Giroud as strikers, so if at the moment we are looking at finding somebody to fit our existing style, then they won’t work. The truth of the matter is that there aren’t really many Giroud-style replacements out there – certainly not in the Premier League – that you and I would see as worthy upgrades. So it does leave the manager in a bit of a quandary as to what to do. Unless his plan is to change the attacking philosophy, to which I think Tim Stillman put the most eloquently in his blog on Thursday this week over at Arseblog Towers. If the plan to adapt the style is therefore needing to be accelerated, I would have to wonder if, actually, Arsene is right, and we do have enough players up top when Walcott arrives. The only caveat I’d place on this however, is that Walcott is an injury prone forward and if he breaks down again, we’re back to square one, with a lack of pace up top and a reliance on Sanchez to bed in a lot quicker in his debut season.

I don’t really ever pertain to have any answers, I’m just an observer, but what I do know is that we need to start hitting top form soon if we want to win that all-elusive Premier League trophy. I know that in some sense Arsene is right – it’s not always clear cut – not always black and white when it comes to football systems and finding players from other clubs that can fit neatly into the right gaps that Arsenal have in their team. There is a balance to be found and players to fit systems, but just because a player like Remy, for example, looks good in a Newcastle or QPR shirt, doesn’t always mean he’ll automatically fit in at Arsenal and bag 15 goals in the first half of the season.

That’s all from me on that today I’m afraid. Things to do and all of this pondering is giving me a headache. Cheerio folks. until tomorrow.

Arsenal to come with a health warning

Seat of your pants. Skin of your teeth. Edge of your seat.

Being an Arsenal fan should come with a health warning approved by the Chief Medical Officer of the British Government, or something.

Yesterday’s game was far, far too early in the season to be that nerve-wracking, but ultimately let me pepper today’s blog with the fact that we are in the hat for the Champions League and, with our consecutive Champions League entry confirmed for the 17th time, it ensures we remain in Pot 1. Much to the dismay of the Liverpool friendly national media.

But by golly, we don’t half make it hard for ourselves, don’t we? With no away goal to speak of from the first leg (unlike in most previous seasons), it made the mathematics of yesterday evening really quite simple: win and score goals. Le Boss named the same side that started the game against Everton and in the first fifteen minutes you could tell that the home comforts of The Emirates made the team happier than when on Merseyside last weekend. We popped the ball around quite well, controlled position in the early stages and I thought that it was a patient and probing display. For about thirty minutes. Thereafter, it was almost as if a nervous button was pressed by both fans and players alike, and Besiktas grew into the game a little more.

On Twitter I described Besiktas as essentially a ‘Turkish Crystal Palace’, as their game plan appeared to be to frustrate Arsenal, ensure as many black shirts sat in and around the edge of their own penalty box rarely venturing forward with any numbers to attack. As was the way with teams from overseas they liked an occasional nudge, but fell to the floor when touched, epitomised no better than in the second half with a really quite farcical semi rollie-pollie action from one of the Turkish players. Unfortunately we had an abysmal referee, who I’ll come to shortly, so the theatrics were tolerated more frequently than they should have been.

But anyway, the Turkish Crystal Palace, which is probably doing a little bit of a disservice to our opponents. After that first 30 in which they frustrated, there were signs of a good passing team that were clearly set up with a game plan to counter, which if I’m honest could have worked had Debuchy been pulled up on his clear foul inside the box in that first half. Lucky boy. Well, temporarily lucky boy, as we were to find out in the second half as perhaps some karma came back to haunt him for being sent off for a perfectly good tackle in the middle of the pitch with 20 minutes to go.

That sending off made for a very nervy finish to the game, but not as nervy as it would have been had Alexis not got his scoring tally off the mark with a smart finish in the dying embers of the first half. The excellent Wilshere’s exchange with Cazorla (I think) on the edge of the Beisktas box almost found Jack, but he let the ball run for the newbie, who slid the ball underneath the ‘keeper. It was just rewards for a first half in which we’d dominated pretty much all stats.

In fact, given how nervous you and I were throughout yesterday’s match, you do wonder why on earth our opponents failed to muster a shot on target in the entire game. I guess it shows that whilst situations often appear fraught with worry at the time, from a neutrals perspective Arsenal were rarely troubled in defence, to which we have to give credit to the back five. There were some balls over the top that perhaps a better midfield maestro would have found Demba Ba more accurately with, but the limitations of the Turkish Cup winners were clear to see.

Defensively, I thought the two stand out players were our full backs. Debuchy looks like he had been playing at the club for five years, whilst on the other side, Monreal has been a solid performer since called upon in the first weekend of the season. To have a player like that waiting I the wings when Gibbs is out of action is fantastic and Nacho’s performances have left few of us lamenting Gibbs’ broken body so far this season.

In midfield, I thought Jack was brilliant, at the heart of everything we did well with his all-action style. I’ve seen a few people comment that the shackles were released with Ramsey being absent which I think I’ve commented on before, but rather than get into any ‘they can’t play together’ debate today, I think I’ll just focus on the returning to his old self – even if only one game so far – for our Jack.

Unfortunately, that’s where the stand out performances finish, because in the final third I thought we were pretty poor, as in that defensive midfield role that the Flamster occupied. I don’t know whether or not he’s quite match-fit enough yet, but Flamini gave the ball away carelessly a number of times and he didn’t seem to win as many tackles as he normally does. He did win some tackles – he always does – but it appears to me that if he’s not getting carded he’s obviously not feeling himself, which was the case yesterday. Hopefully he’ll have a good game at the weekend to arrest any concerns that he’s already peaked in his career and is now in the descent.

I thought Özil had a quiet game and, perhaps it’s still because he is finding his rhythm again or perhaps because he has been deployed on the left a couple of times already this season, but he flitted in and out of the game. As did Santi. He was anonymous at Everton and I’m starting to get worried about his form. He’s often deployed in that position out wide on the left, which isn’t his best, but he does go very quiet for large swathes of the game and I feel like I’m noticing it more and more.

The Ox was also a little more quiet than he has been, but he’s still a young lad, so there’s no point chastising a performance. He’s still a dangerous and creative outlet and, had he capped the night off with a goal towards the end when he found space from an Özil cross, we’d probably all be saying something different. Such is how the narrative can shift with goals.

That’s why Alexis’ performance can be viewed as a successful one. Score. Check. Close down and show a willingness to give everything for the team. Check. Demonstrate some good ball control and retention. Check. But there were still sit some instances where you could tell that he wasn’t 100% ready and occasions when his feet were not in tune with the rest of his body. There’s no need to panic though, as it was nowhere near as Gervinhoy as it could have been, so I’ve no doubt as he becomes more aware of his own teammates styles and also now that he is off the mark with a goal, the rest will come.

We did lack a cutting edge in the final third though. For all the gnashing of teeth and exasperation of some sections of the fanbase (I’m guilty of this too I’ll admit) when the Frenchman misses a guilt-edge chance, the next four months will I’m sure provide us all with a clear indication of what he brings to the take, as a focal point of our attacks. Alexis likes to drop deep to collect the ball and as a result it leaves us with no options if we want to move from front to back quickly like we can with Olivier in the team. The result is that unless one of the wide players slots in centrally when Alexis comes deep, we may find it difficult to get ourselves out of bother with longer passes to put us on the front foot. Again, probably another discussion for another day, so I’ll not dwell on it too much.

What the Giroud injury does however, is emphasise that Arsène simply must strengthen within the next five days. We must get a defensive minded midfielder who can play at centre half as an absolute minimum, but now we must be seriously looking at bringing in a player who can play as a focal point in attack. To go into half a season with Sanogo as your main target man is not something you’d expect a team with title aspirations to have. So I would expect Arsène to act. But hey, he rarely does what most of us think is the obvious, so we wait and see what happens.

Before I knock today’s blog on the head, a special mention must go out to the Portuguese, card-happy referee who wrongly dismissed a Besiktas penalty, fell for every soft foul by a Besiktas player, incorrectly sent off Mathieu Debuchy and gave Szczesny a booking for taking an extra five seconds on a goal kick. He did this on the first attempt by Szczesny. Somewhere in London at his home, Julian Speroni will have been laughing his socks off. The only shocker of the day was that a ref so content to book everyone, missed the man who is always booked: Flamini.

And on that bombshell, I shall bid you adieu.

Hoping Besiktas aren’t the first roundabout

I don’t know about you, but in the space of the last 24 hours I’ve suddenly become acutely aware that we could be staring down the barrel of a Europa League game, should the worst befall the team tonight. It’s a feeling that, whilst I have felt before with these Champions League qualifiers like the one against Besiktas, I’ve not felt as ill-at-ease in the preamble to the game.

I don’t know whether or not it’s the news that we could be reliant on Sanogo as our target man for the first half of the season as a result of the Giroud injury, or that Alexis will now have even more pressure on him to play that central striker role, but I approach today’s match preview blog with a feeling of slight trepidation.

Perhaps it’s because of the slow start we’ve had. Counting aside the excellent Community Shield victory against the Oil Whores, we’ve stuttered our way to victory over the car crash that is Palace and two draws against Besiktas and Everton. It feels like we haven’t yet got into our stride and, as a result, I kind of wish this game was coming in a couple of weeks time given its importance. Our season right now feels a little like the old red Ford Sierra Sapphire I used to own. On a cold winters morning, once she had got herself on to the dual carriageway between Hertford and Harlow, she was fine. But switch her on first thing and try and drive off without letting her warm up, and she’d cut out on you once you reached the first roundabout, which is what I’m hoping won’t happen to us tonight. Man, I really hope Besiktas aren’t our first roundabout.

Logic should dictate that I’m less worried about this game. After all, when you compare the teams pound for pound, even with our mounting injury problems we should have enough to overcome a Turkish side that didn’t even win their own domestic league. Factor in the age old adage that both Greek and Turkish sides tend to not travel so well, and you and I should not be concerned with worry about ensuring the team does its job tonight.

But this is Arsenal we’re talking about here folks. This is our Arsenal and we all know that we’re perfectly capable of tripping ourselves up against Slaven Bilic’s charges. Heck, we nearly managed it a week ago in Istanbul, to which only Besiktas’ own profligacy afforded us a draw against an inspired Turkish side. Take anything for granted this evening, and my additional cup credits won’t seem as appealing this season (although I will go to every game possible regardless, I hasten to add).

The threat from the Turks will undoubtedly come from their star striker Demba Ba, who I’m sure will want Arsene to rue the day that he didn’t snap up the Senegalese, but aside from that I’m not going to go all YouTube scout on you and pretend that I know the intimate workings of our opposition. Why would I? Turkish football is hardly something I wax lyrical to you on a weekly basis, so rather than try to pull the wool over your eyes, I figure I’ll base my assessment of the opposition on pure guesswork.

And it is guesswork, because I’ll be very surprised if Besiktas are as open and attacking as they were a week ago. Bilic will know that his team has to do a bit of a Palace on us and frustrate, looking to hit on the counter. We were a minute or so away from an opening day draw against a team that had little interest in venturing outside their own half, so a repeat of that performance and the goals scored (minus the absent Ramsey last minuter) would see us out on goal difference.

Goals will be the key to tonight. It’s kind of the most obvious statements one could make, but I use the plural of the word with much emphasis, because if we can grab a couple of goals within the first half without reply then we should have this game sewn up. It should lead to their heads dropping and may mean that we could pick them off as they elect to counter. But as it stands right now, we are in a precarious position. 1-0 to The Arsenal is a horrible score line to have for any prolonged period of time tonight. Especially if we’re entering the final five to 10 minutes of the game. Remember when we played PSV all those years ago? A single goal from them changed the complexion of the tie from a 2-0 comfortable result, to a 2-1 victory but a knock out on the away goals rule. That’s what we want to avoid tonight.

Our team news is slightly concerning, but when you look at the players we have available, we have to be looking at the side and pleased that our injury problems haven’t stretched too far. The back four look solid with Monreal looking good and the possibility of Koscienly coming in for Chambers, whilst Flamini in front of them will add a bit of yellow-cardiness to proceedings, but also that little bit of bite. Jack will play the box-to-box Ramsey role and, with the Welshman out of the side through suspension, I just wonder if that will give him more freedom to express himself. Jack and Rambo are very similar players in my opinion and I have heard some murmurs from friends about how it’s not outside the realms of possibility that it is because of that, that we have not been as fluid when both of them are in the team.

The front four I’d like to see would include Özil, Sanchez, The Ox and Podolski. With Giroud out injured and none of the above able to effectively act as a target man, I’d like us to try and be a bit more fluid with the front three, interchanging who plays at the top and on the flanks throughout the game. If we move around our players and add that mobility to a side sitting deep, it might just pull open some spaces for Özil to work his magic on. But I don’t think Arsène will do that if I’m honest. I suspect we’ll see Cazorla on the left, The Ox on the right and Sanchez up top. There was a bit of talking up Sanogo as that main front man, but going over his limitations and rawness is like treading on already well-worn ground, so I’ll leave that for now.

Jack described tonight’s game as a ‘cup final’. It’s a clichéd expression that often sees football fans roll their eyes because you just can’t play cup finals every week. So whilst I shall resist the temptation to agree with him, stressing that this could be make or break for the season for us when you consider what could be at stake in terms of transfers and confidence, is something that I cannot emphasise enough.

Come on Arsenal. Do the job, do it well, then let’s get that old Sierra back on the dual carriageway. Or something.

Catch you tomorrow.