Permutations, as St Totteringham’s draws ever nearer

So it appears that it’s not just football in which there are some ‘boring boring’ tactics used, as Floyd Mayweather decided that yesterday he’d rather celebrate the equivalent of a 0-0 to beat Manny Pacquiao by winning on points in what I am reading from people on social media, was more of a snugglefest from the American. I’m sure John Terry was somewhere in his kit to walk around with Mayweather’s belts afterwards.

As for real football, there isn’t really much to get excited about today and I’m certainly not going to even dream of talking about that team eventually lifting the trophy this afternoon. It’s painful enough having to watch them play us twice a season, so that’s one lunchtime kick off Sky Sports can keep to themselves.

The 4pm kick off however, presents an interesting match up, because someone of the Spuds or Moneychester City will be dropping points this afternoon. That’s a good thing. If the Spuds lose today then only a draw on Monday night means that mathematically it will be St Totteringham’s Day celebrations for us all. A defeat will probably mean we’re on the brink of it anyway, because we have a +25 goal difference over that lot down the Seven Sisters Road. Just think about that for a second. 25 Goals. We have a better ratio of goals than them of 25. That’s like quarter of a season’s worth or something.

If the Spuds do win, however, St Totteringham’s Day will have to wait, but it should take us on the verge of securing a top four spot at the very least. That’s also good. Moneychester City will have played two games more than us and any kind of defeat takes the goal tally even closer; they’ve got +34 to our +31 at the moment.

A draw might even be the best result. It would mean that with three matches to play for both Liverpool and the Spuds, we would effectively need a Monday night win to be nine clear of Liverpool and another hefty swing of goal difference in our favour.

But we’re not looking down, we’re only looking up and we should be going for as close to top as possible. Man United did us a favour – well, I suppose it was West Brom that did us the favour – by losing to West Brom and that defeat means second place is well within our grasp. I know you get no prizes for second, but for a change, wouldn’t it be nice to not have to worry about qualifying via a double-header in August? Also, I’m pretty sure that finishing second will have a massive bearing on us being in Pot 2, in which we’ll most likely get a slightly easier group stage (in theory). So whilst there will be no pleasure in being runners-up in a season in which Chelski win the league, that might prove some consolation.

With Aston Villa also picking up wins left, right and centre, we need to maintain our momentum, because they’ll go into the FA Cup final with a spring in their step. I’m hoping that they can win a couple more games, get safe in the Premier League and then take their foot off the gas a little bit, because I don’t want to be facing a Villa team who have got a bit of swagger about them. When they knocked Liverpool out of the last round I was genuinely over the moon because I thought we should be able to cut down a Villa side with whom we’ve already picked up six points and eight goals, but as I see them picking up win after win under Timmy ‘The Gilet’ Sherwood, I worry that they will sweep into Wembley riding high on a wave of confidence that will have us looking a bit worried. Reading managed to contain and at times out play us and there’s no doubt Villa have a better side for this game to be much more difficult, more nervy and more worrisome than even last year’s cup final. Weve got a recent history of being outdone by Villa – especially at home, so I’d probably be more confident if the game was being played at Villa Park!

Still, let’s just be happy that we’re reaching the end of the season and we still have plenty to play for. Prior to last season we were in a cycle which seemed to be forever accepting a battle for fourth, so to have an actual trophy to play for two seasons running is a wonderful thing.

And on that note of positivity, I am going to say my goodbyes to you all. Have a happy Sunday and whatever you do, don’t put yourselves through the torture of watching events in West London unfold this lunchtime. Read a book, or do some chores, it will be much more fulfilling.

Competition stifles the national game in Europe

I tried to watch the Champions League last night, but soon got bored after the two favoured teams to go through pretty much made light work of their opponents, with Porto discovering that beating a Bayern team in the first leg only makes them angry. They should have taken a leaf from our book and had their bellies tickled so they can have a go in the Allianz last night. 

Diego Simeone can’t work out – with all the money we have in our national game – why our teams can’t perform in the latter stages of the competitions. There’s probably not one single factor that contributes towards it, if we’re all honest, no silver bullet or anything else. Arsène has spoken of the fact that there’s only three domestic cups teams can win and so it’s not easy to be one of the three in the whole country, but the odds become even harder when you think about Europe, with greater teams playing in a competition. 

Some people have put it down to mentality, to English teams not being strong enough to cope with multiple competitions, or even to the fact that teams on the continent play a different brand to us over here. I think that has something to do with it. We play at a higher intensity, more physicality and referees who are happy to have the game as robust as it is. But I think more than anything else it’s the competition that the English teams face that makes it harder for them to progress.

If Arsenal play Monaco on a Wednesday night, you can be damn sure that Monaco have had an easy couple of fixtures sitting either side of them, because their league isn’t as competitive. Or, they’d have played one of the big teams before/after a tie, but not two with a Champions League game wedged in between them. You just don’t get that in the Premier League. You have competition all of the time and that’s the reason we have the most marketable and profitable league in the world. 

By the way, as an aside, I don’t want you thinking we lost our two legged tie against Monaco solely because of the fixtures we had before and after it. There were a multitude of problems with that first leg that have already been analysed so I won’t scratch at a wound that appears to be scabbing and healing over.

Spain, Germany and France are so elitist when it comes to football, that the league is nowhere near as competitive, which allows for teams to – if not fully rotate – certainly mentality wind down before and/or after a Champions League Matchday. So I don’t think there’s anything we can really do. It’s all a bit ‘ying’ and ‘yang’ you see: you want the best league, you might not have the best teams then, because competition will dictate that the elitism of the other leagues will see the top two – possibly three – clubs of the other major leagues having their pick of the best players, as well as the bigger TV rights, ensuring the other clubs remain also-fans in a division where the top two are already decided.

But what about Arsenal news, eh? Well we’re still on slim pickings I’m afraid. There’s talk of a Per Mertesacker minor sprained ankle which will keep him out of Chelski, but as I said yesterday, the ability for Gabriel to slot in as well as he already has means that we should be covered well enough. Let’s just hope it’s not a longer term injury, because despite what people have said about Per this season, I still think our best defensive pairing right now is him and Koscienly. They’ve played together for longer and so have a better understanding of each other’s game, they compliment each other well and Gabriel is still adjusting to the pace and physicality of the league. I think he can still perform well for us this weekend, I just think Per has a lot to offer and isn’t as exposed when he has Koscienly beside him.

John Moss will be the FA Cup final referee, in an I humane level of trolling by the FA, so expect there to be much missing of penalties, obvious fouls and for him to take an age to waddle up to where the ball is after a quick counter attack. Still, it could have been worse, Villa could have been gifted Antony Taylor.

Ha, as I type this, I’ve just past Wembley. See you soon old friend, I am getting used to it being a regular occurrence and I like it.

There’s not really a lot else going on that I fancy talking about to be honest with you. Transfer rumours about Palermo strikers just feel draining. We’ve got a whole summer of this ahead so why start now? I don’t want to click bait anybody, this is just my Arsenal world where I can brain dump whatever’s on my mind, so transfer speculation just wears me thin. 

I’m sure Jose will have plenty to say that will wind me up enough for tomorrow, so I’ll take my leave, wishing you and yours a good day.

Delayed West Ham thoughts: new reportoire

Bit of a delayed post from me today. I booked meself off for a day of rest, relaxation and recuperation with the missus, after running a half marathon yesterday. These ageing limbs certainly can’t do what they did ten years ago, I can tell you.

The after effects of said marathon can also be felt in my own Arsenal musings. Firstly, I ran around Wembley at the halfway stage and boy, it is massive. You do get a sense of perspective when you’re pitch side and I can kinda see why some players could potentially be inhibited by the sheer size of it and the noise when it’s full. I suppose we should be thankful that the players have now experienced it and will not be overawed by it when they play there in a few weeks. 

But the fact I wasn’t able to blog yesterday because I was running, then knackered from the running, means I haven’t really had much chance to compose some thoughts on the West Ham game. I suppose the most important thing is the three points, but aside from the factual, I thought the performance was another ‘different’ one to add to our reportoire. Since just before Christmas we seemed to have developed this fabulous habit of winning games in different styles. There’s the ‘defend the gates’ performance like City away, there’s the ‘swashbuckling’ performance like Villa at home, then there’s the ‘patience is a virtue’ performance like Saturday. West Ham knew that we were in form, but they knew their own limitations and so came to the Emirates to be as compact as possible, which has already worked for some teams this season.

If you think about it, it was working too, because had Giroud not leathered the ball home in stoppage time then it probably could have caused the team to try a little bit to hard to force the issue in front of goal. That first goal allowed for a big sigh of relief and aside from a ten minute window in the second half, the game felt relatively comfortable, looking back on it with that glorious thing called hindsight. 

About four or five weeks ago I looked at our fixtures and asserted that we were in a period of the season that could see us put together a good run that builds momentum. You can’t really argue that the manager and the players have done anything else other than exactly what has been asked of them. Both league and domestic cup form have got us to a point where people are starting to talk about the ridiculous notion of a league title assault. It’s fanciful in the extreme but totally welcome for us and although I don’t think we will pick up that league trophy, if we won all of our remaining games I think we’d get close. I still don’t think we’d win the league even with a max points haul, but if we’re within three points or so come the end of the season, you’d have to argue that it’s been a successful one given the start. Of course, the FA Cup needs to be won too! 

The return to form of Rambo was nice to see too, wasn’t it? He was his old effervescent self and capped a good performance with a fine team goal. Unlike Theo, Ramsey will give his manager one heck of a selection headache tomorrow night, because picking three from Coquelin, Cazorla, Özil and even Rosicky, isn’t exactly easy. But better that than wandering around London Colney looking to find any stray midfielders that have working limbs, so I’m sure Arsène is happy with his dilemma.

We’ll probably get some team news today ahead of the Monaco game, but mentally I’ve already written it off, so as far as I’m concerned we should probably rotate a bit and see if we can make the end of the season a successful one from our home travails more than anything else. Monaco are not a great team but they caught us on a very bad day and in the Champions League you don’t get the chance to redeem yourself – hardly ever – in the second leg if you’ve fudged the first.

I just hope we can keep the momentum of the team going by winning the game and going in to the Newcastle performance with confidence.

Back tomorrow.

An arm around the shoulder or slap around the chops?

Arsene faced the media yesterday and, probably as you’d expect, he was reasonably defiant after an appalling game in midweek. He didn’t rule us out of a ‘miracle’ as Big Per has put it, but equally he didn’t retract some of the criticism for the team from Wednesday. It’s the right thing to do, because they all need to know and be reminded of how poor we were, if nothing else than to fuel the fire in their bellies to pick up more wins over the coming weeks and months.

I really hope we do get a response. I hope we get a response of anger, rage and destruction over an inconsistent Everton team, but one that will be riding high after going through in the Europa League. Is it still called that? Or have they reverted back to calling it what it should always have been called, the UEFA Cup? I don’t know. I don’t want to know. I just want Arsenal to pick up three points tomorrow.

Hopefully we can do that and with the news that we have no fresh injury concerns to speak of, it seems as though Arsene has a choice of players that he can pick for his starting eleven. In his presser yesterday he did say that we will have to rotate, certainly with a game against QPR to come in midweek, so I think there might be one or two players given some bench time. You’d like to think it was because of their poor performance, but he can’t drop the whole team, so who should he opt for?

This is a mini debate I had on Twitter and a couple of people made some really good points. You could take the hard line against the players and completely rotate. Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Cazorla, Ozil, Alexis, Giroud all had particularly poor games and could in theory be replaced by Szczesny, Chambers, Gabriel, Rosicky, Walcott and Akpom, but I doubt we’ll see that many changes. For one thing large-scale changes usually lead to a disjointed approach to a game. Players may train with each other a lot, but they haven’t all got the actual live game experience of playing together under their belts, so it’s usually too much to ask. This is especially the case against a decent Premier League Team like Everton. If we’re lining up in the cup against a team like Brighton, or Walsall for example, you can afford to rotate on a larger basis and expect the quality of the squad to shine through. But Everton are too good to take that chance.

So who gets dropped? This is where you have to put your trust in the manager, because I think it becomes about assessing who needs the motivation, and who needs the arm around the shoulder. For example, I would think a player like Alexis would just be more pumped to prove a manager wrong if he was dropped. But I suspect dropping Giroud could see a fragile confidence fall even lower if he isn’t asked to play himself in to form. So I think he’ll be given another chance for a reprieve. I know that sounds a little bit like we’d be mollycoddling a professional athlete who should be able to motivate himself rather than need a kiss and a cuddle every time he has a bad game, but football is as much about winning psychological battles as much as anything else sometimes, so the best managers in the world are the ones that know when an arm round the shoulder is better than a slap around the chops.

Incidentally, I’d be surprised if Alexis was dropped, because he’s been one of the stand-out performers this season. But I do wonder if Big Per could be given a temporary Spanish Archer from the starting eleven. Perhaps Ozil too will be given time on the naughty step to think about what he’s done, with the Ox in prime position to take up his spot in the middle of the park.

It’s tough making the right decisions in professional football, but that’s why you’re paid more than I will earn in my lifetime in just a year, so hopefully Le Boss makes the right ones and we win tomorrow. Motivation is  massive part of professional football and knowing when to ‘hairdryer’ it, or when to talk up your team, is what makes the best managers the most successful. It’s not just about picking the team and dropping or playing players, Arsene needs to get them fired up in the right way with his pre-match talk too. Does he leave them to say it and trust they are hurting enough, or does he give them a Churchillian war-cry and send them out to battle? We’ll never know. We’ll only know if what his choice was, actually worked, by the way they perform tomorrow.

The injury news seems quite good too, actually, as Rambo and Flamini start training again and I’d expect with a week under their belts they should be back again for the United game. The Wilshere ‘setback’ is only temporary – so says Arsene – so if it’s just a case of removing some pins from his ankle you’d expect him to be out for a week as the cut they use to get to the pins re-heels. Don’t hold me to that though, as my medical knowledge goes as far as watching Doogie Howser in the earlier nineties with my mum and dad. So probably as much as our medical team then! I kid, I kid…

That’s pretty much all there is for today. I don’t really want to go into an exact line up for tomorrow, as I’ll have nothing to talk about then, so I’ll take my leave and see thee in the ‘morrow.

‘Obvious’ klaxons, Giroud’s award and Welbeck’s form an issue for Theo

It’s all rather quiet on this Tuesday morn, which is lovely given that there’s a big game tomorrow and no doubt Arsène’s presser at some stage today, so we’ll get an update on who’s available.

We’ve already had Arsène’s thoughts ahead of the visit of Monaco, in which he really goes out on a limb, describing the game as ’50:50′ in terms of our likelihood of success. Wow Arsène, mind those splinters buddy!

Champions League games are always cagey affairs when you get to the knockout stages of the competition though, so I can see why he’s trying hard not to give the Monaco team any motivation ahead of the tie, but it should be one we should be looking to win over two legs. I was at The Emirates Cup in August and we looked leggy and lethargic and the difference even then was a Falcao header. With him now firmly established in the Manchester United dugout as one of the coaching staff, Monaco have lost a massive asset, but will still be a threat so Arsène is right to be cautious. More to come on Monaco tomorrow though.

The other news is that Olivier Giroud is up for a fans player award by the PFA. Ok, so it’s only for February, but with goals and solid displays under his belt for the whole month, it will be a good confidence booster if he wins it. And let’s face it, we have the largest football fan community online at Arsenal, so I’d expect us to vote in our handsome Frenchman with consummate ease.

The hope is that he wins it and the subsequent confidence boost will propel him to being even better than he has been of late. His form is sparkling and with each game that he scores, I remain convinced that he will hit the 20 goal mark for the season, which would be quite some feat indeed given his lengthy absence last year.

That man Welbeck has also had his say on the Champions League, talking up our desire to go far in the competition which aside from the fact that ‘state the obvious’ klaxons appear to be sounding all over the place at the moment, is the sentiment and the attitude we need. No talk of advancing and who we might face in the next round, just respect for our opposition we’ve currently got and the professionalism to do the job, home and away.

You’ll all be acutely aware of the shattering feeling that Alex gave us when knocking us out of the competition after we conceded a late goal against PSV a few years back I’m sure. We need no repeat of that upset and if it means the players and coaching staff have to make obvious statements about the game then so be it.

Welbeck himself has also looked good since returning, actually, so much so that there aren’t many people calling for an instant return for Walcott. Given that we’d have chewed each other’s arms off to have him available this time last year, that’s quite a turnaround and it’s the high intensity pressing that Welbeck and Alexis give us – as well as their end product (which in Danny’s case has been assisting in build ups rather than actual goals) – that has meant Theo is an increasingly bit-part player at the moment. The long-term future for him is something that can be debated for another day, but I don’t see him being wheeled out in the immediate future and that’s a positive testament to how well Welbeck is playing, especially when you consider that Theo is scoring plenty of goals when he’s given the chance.

So we’re in a good place right now. There are plenty of form players, we’re winning games and we currently sit third in the league, which is ideally where we want to finish. We have a big European night tomorrow, with which victory be a healthy margin would help to foster yet more belief and confidence in the team, as well as the possibility of That Dutch Bloke being a longer term injury to United. He’ll develop some sort of miracle recovery time so that he can play us in about 13 days time, but for now let’s all just keep ourselves content in the knowledge that all is looking roadt in the Arsenal garden.

See you tomorrow.

Palace: negate the pace out wide and play the more technically gifted

So we’re back in league action today and it’s a tricky game at Selhurst park in which the media seem to be all voting for us as their picks for victories this weekend. It’s nice to know what supposed ‘neutrals’ think when looking at games and who should win, but as usual I’m not as blase about the ease of our victories as the pundits.

Under Alan Pardew Crystal Palace have got more belief and have picked up enough results to suggest that they will be comfortably safe for next season. They’re 13th on 27 points and despite the league being so concertina’d in from the bottom to the middle and from the upper positions (Chelski aside), I think they will be fine, but I still think they will be very pumped for this game. Against Liverpool last weekend they were ahead and then looked to sit back on their lead which was never a good thing with a team of Liverpool’s quality. Pardew recognised that and so today I think they will approach the game with a different game plan. I suspect they will look to be compact defensively and with Jedinak back in their midfield it will provide more stability and cover in front of the back four of Dann and Hangeland. Out wide they’ll have the pace of Gayle and Bolasie and Pardew will probably look to isolate Bolasie and Gayle  against Monreal (assuming he plays) and Bellerin respectively, one because of his lack of pace and the other because of his still relative inexperience at the top flight. If they are to be successful against our defensive line you’d expect their joy to come from those wide positions, so it’s important that both of those wide players are negated somehow today.

So much of football is about timing. We played a Palace side last season away from home in a bit of turmoil as Holloway had just left the club. They battled well and although we had a man sent off and still won the game, it was anything but a comfortable afternoon, so I’m not expecting anything other than that today. In August this year they had the ongoing Pulis issues and despite the fact he wasn’t there they were still set up disciplined enough for us to find it very tough to break down. It was only that last-gasp Ramsey goal that saved our blushes on the opening day. We’ve caught them in a bit of turmoil a couple of times since we’ve played them and finally they seem to be coming into a game against us on their own turf in which they have some stability, so I don’t think we’ll find the going good-to-soft today. Based on the games we’ve had against them since they returned to the Premier League, i’m not expecting anything other than a difficult game today with a side that will try to build from a foundation of defensive stability and try to use the flanks to hit us on the counter. Hopefully that is minimised for the sake of my, and your, health!

For us, the importance will be of the technical players and their ability to unpick the Palace defensive line. If the Eagles do sit deep, then I can only see success for us if Arsene names a team filled with players who are technically more able on the ball and can beat a man. Last season Serge Gnabry had a good game and he is an example of why we will need thata type of player. Had the Ox been fit, i’d think he’d be a shoe-in to start. But his injury means that Arsene has some decisions to make. I suspect given the form of Alexis, Ozil and Santi, they should all play. Perhaps Arsene will go as attacking as he was against Middlesbrough and name a very offensive line up which includes those three, Alexis, Giroud and Welbeck. If Palace do sit deep, then it would make sense to try to overload their capacity to go man-for man in their own half of the field. If he does decide that caution is more prudent, however, then I’d expect to see Welbeck sacrificed in that line up first. Perhaps for Rosicky in midfield, pushing Ozil out to the left and Alexis right. Rosicky is the sort of player that can see that threaded pass better, so in a game of fine margins where there might be a compact Crystal Palace side, that type of player is key.

Notice how I haven’t even mentioned Theo yet? I just can’t see how he gets in to the team in a game like today. Palace won’t play a high line, they’ll flood that area of space in front of their own penalty box and Theo just won’t be able to make those runs in behind the defence he likes to do. well, actually he will, but he’d probably find himself too close to Speroni all day I’d expect. I’ve said it enough on this blog that I’m getting bored of my own rhetoric, but Walcott is a player that needs to play where there is plenty of grass to run in to. The games against teams that come out more are perfect and if Palace play the way I think they will today, I don’t see how he will get any joy.

But hey, I’m not the manager, I don’t know what is best for the team so if he does start then perhaps he’ll score and win us the game. As long as that happens, then I’ll be happy and pleased enough to admit i was wrong-diddly-ong.

Fingers crossed we get what we want from the game. They’ve already beaten the Spuds relatively recently so we can’t take anything for granted. If we do win, we then have Monaco midweek, and Everton on Sunday. I said before the Leicester game that we had an opportunity to start turning the proverbial screw in the league with the run of fixtures we have. That can continue today. Nay, it MUST continue today, if we’re going to secure our longer-term Champions League future.

Until tomorrow.

Champions League sorted, now the FA Cup to focus on

Don’t shoot the messenger here, but just before I woke up this morning, I was in Berlin about to watch Arsenal play in the Champions League final. We’d beaten Monaco and Basle and in the semi final we’d played Norman Booth under-11s (they were the best team in my youth league and won every game by about 12 goals) and I was with friends and family about to head into the stadium.

I don’t want to leave you on tenterhooks, but unfortunately my alarm went off so I didn’t even get to find out if we’d won the Champions League, so I can’t give you any predictions on glory or ultimate failure I’m afraid. My subconscious probably timed the dream perfectly so that wouldn’t happen anyway no doubt.

In the real world, the build up to Sunday’s showdown with Middlesborough starts in earnest today and, with Boro flying high in the Championship, as each passing day goes by I am starting to think that the manager could probably afford to rotate his strongest team less and less. There will be those of us that think lower league opposition should be relatively easy to cope with, but teams riding high in the Championship are a different kettle of fish. It’s looking like Middlesborough might get promoted by May, so this tie played in a year’s time would therefore be an all Premier League affair, something to consider.

We also need to recognise what confidence does to a side. Just look at the Spuds. They have strung together a good run of form and with a bunch of okayish-looking players they have suddenly become a bit more of a threat. All because of the confidence that their run of winning games have brought. Now compare that to Middlesborough. If they were a Premier League team near the foot of the table, they certainly wouldn’t have the levels of confidence that they have right now, riding high as the Championship league leaders. So I guess what I’m saying is for the Arsenal players – and manager – to beware of complacency and appreciate what confidence does to teams less technically gifted than our own.

I still think Arsène should rotate and I still believe that with some of our rotated players (Gibbs, Chambers, Welbeck, Rosicky) we should have enough, but there just needs to be an air of caution and concentration surrounding the team.

For what it’s worth, the players are saying the right things. Olivier Giroud is on the official site and is stressing the importance of starting off on the ‘front foot’. A replication of the last rounds excellent start by scoring within the first few minutes will be important.

Whether Olivier plays or not is a question for the manager, but I do wonder if he’ll fancy giving Akpom a shot at the Smoggies on Sunday. Probably not and he’ll probably have to contend with a place on the bench, but it’s clear Arsène feels he’s one for the future and the cameos he’s featured in so far, he’s done ok in. More to come from a player who was supposedly tracked by Dortmund and Liverpool.

I suspect he’ll go on loan eventually. I think the loan window is still open, but I’m not sure for how much longer but with Coquelin and Campbell both getting airtime on the dot com, I’d expect to see Akpom take a similar journey. Coquelin has been talking up his time in Freiburg as pivotal to his career and whilst the official website creates this content for the fans, I do wonder how much of it the players read and therefore the conspiracy theorist in me wonders if this little campaign of talking up the loan players, is a little bit of propaganda to send a message – the right message I hasten to add – to Akpom.

Probably not. This is probably just a classic case of your average Arsenal fan reading waaaay too much into things. We’re pretty good at that as a fan base, by and large.

Anyway, that’s enough from me for one day, I have a game of Marvel Puzzle Quest to catch up on.

Cheery-bye.