Problems placing Poldi

Today I want to say some words on Lukas Podolski, because after the game on Wednesday night, it appears as though a fire has been lit under many for his inclusion from the start on a more regular basis.

First and foremost, we must all admit that he gave a much improved performance against Galatasaray, notching up another two goals and putting a little bit more effort than perhaps he has been seen to be doing previously. It’s that kind of hunger to impress that you want to see from the players that don’t get regular matches and I for one was pleased to see some of the rotational players step up.

However, to the doubters in Podolski, I too must admit I have a side of me that is with you. Whilst his performance on Wednesday was markedly improved, there were still times when his movement looked static to me and as much as he comes alive in the final third, when he has the ball in the middle of the park it is usually to quickly redistribute it to somebody else.

He’s certainly a conundrum of a player. Not quite technically brilliant enough for Arsène to keep him in the team, but so lethal in front of goal, that it makes Arsène look silly that he doesn’t play more often. I maintain the opinion that if he was another four inches taller and could hold the ball up, I don’t think we’d have seen as much of Olivier Giroud, as we have done over the last couple of years. I know Giroud brings more than just a tall target man and that his touch and interlinking play with others around him is far better, but having a Podolski with those stronger centre forward attributes would definitely give us a more direct and ‘end product’ type of striker.

But of course he isn’t. Which is why he has been operating out on the left for the most part of his career for Germany and for Arsenal. But the problem he has now, is that his position is being occupied by the Rolls Royce that is Alexis, which means his chances at the club will inevitably be few and far between. Alexis may not necessarily operate in the same zones as Poldi, but that wide left position which has been moulded into a number 10 hybrid at times with Alexis, means that Poldi’s old spot is evolving. Without him.

I think more than anything though, the technical ability of the player is what has cost him his place in the team, especially when you look at someone like Santi. At the start of the season, a few people thought he would be the player that is used less and less, as Özil occupies the number ten role and Alexis operates out wide on the left. But we’re now coming to the midway point in the season and I think I’m right in saying that Cazorla has played more than almost everyone else in the squad. It’s true he may have benefitted from injuries to players like Özil, but his regular inclusion in the side supports the arguments that for Arsène, technique trumps any other kind of attribute that his players must have.

I’ve said it a million times: with Podolski you know exactly what you are getting: end product. Nothing more, nothing less. He is the specialist ‘field goal kicker’ that American Football teams have just to get those field goal points. If you could make rotational subs like in 5-a-side, he’d be an awesome player to bring on every time we get a throw in or corner in the opposition box, then drag off the second a move breaks down, because his end product starts and finishes with his goalscoring.

Which is why I can understand the argument for him being an impact sub. If we need a goal with 20 minutes to go, then we need Podolski, because as long as he gets the space in our around the box, he’ll hit the target. Perhaps this is where I don’t understand Wenger’s thinking, because five, six or seven minutes at the end of a game is hardly enough time for someone like Podolski to make an impact as a sub. If we are all in acknowledgement that we’d be best served with him on the bench coming on in the second half, why isn’t Arsène more ruthless by hooking off any ineffective attacking players sooner? If, after an hour of football, we’re seeing Giroud having ‘one of those days’, then shift Welbeck up top, Alexis out wide right and Poldi on the left, no? Likewise if Welbeck is ineffective, or even the wonder boy Alexis. These guys are all human beings and everyone has an off day, so there’s no shame in admitting it hasn’t worked and trying someone different. That’s where I don’t understand Wenger sometimes.

It has been mentioned to me that perhaps Poldi is a ‘square peg with no round holes’ i.e. He doesn’t have a position that suits him in this Arsenal side. I’m not sure I subscribe to that thinking. Mainly because, as I’ve mentioned, he’s such a specialist player (end product) that he doesn’t specifically need a position I don’t think. Instead, he needs to occupy areas of the final third where he is within range and has space to fashion himself a shot. There’s nobody that can’t argue that had the same chance (the first goal against Galatasaray) fallen to him on the right hand side of the goal, that he wouldn’t have hammered it home, albeit would have been slightly more difficult as he probably would have taken it on his left and so not allowed the ball to roll across his body before striking.

Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t have a specific position, just a skill, that he isn’t getting more games. Actually, re-reading the thinking above, I suppose that is a square peg, but it’s not that there is no round holes, it’s just that there all filled up. And anyway, his peg is so small it would just fall through and not fit anyway. Or something similar like that.

I suppose this is just one long monologue which ultimately comes to the conclusion that if I had the reigns at Arsenal, I probably wouldn’t know what to do with Poldi either, because I’d want him in my team but I’d have nowhere to put him on a permanent basis. The only conclusion I can draw is that we should be using him more. Who knows, perhaps the busy Christmas schedule will see him get more games for the club, I’m looking specifically at that QPR game and thinking that it could be tailor-made for him to start from the beginning.

What’s your view on Poldi?

Confidence boost we all needed

Well that was certainly more fun last night, wasn’t it? A 4-1 win, the game all but over in the first half, a dominant display and some great goals to boot. Can’t ask for much more can you?

Now look, I know that there’s a distinct possibility that because there was no pressure on either side, it played into our hands as the better team. And I know that this was one of the worst Galatasaray teams that have graced this competition for some years. But gosh darn-it, it still feels good to see an Arsenal team sweep aside an opponent with such ease.

From the first minute we looked like we had purpose, poise and in Lukas Podolski, a man with a left foot that you wouldn’t want to play in a game of ‘Death Shot Headers and Volleys’. His goal in the third minute was textbook Poldi and, as we have seen already in his cameo appearances this season, there is no other player you’d rather see in that box with the ball dropping to his feet. He’s not an enigma, he’s blindingly obvious in what he brings to the team: end product. No pressing, no dribbling ability, he can’t beat a man, but he can whip in a cross and he can finish. Boy, can he finish.

To some extent you can see why he should be limited to a substitutes role, but I still think Arsène should give him more than five or 10 minutes in the games that matter. Because really, if we’re all honest, that game never really mattered. We may have halved the goal deficit we were supposed to get to top the group by halftime, but even against a poor Gala team, you’re never going to score six away from home.

Which leaves a tinge of frustration this morning about that Anderlecht result, because we’d have racked up 15 points and looked in a good position, had we not fluffed our lines at home a few weeks back. In hindsight that group was there for the taking and we’ve made life hard for ourselves in the next round by finishing second.

Still, that’s a conversation for another day: next Tuesday no doubt after we learn of our Champions League fate in the next round. For now, we should bask in the glory of victory, most specifically, of some vastly improved performances.

Let’s start with wonder-strike hero Aaron Ramsey, who’s second goal came straight out of the FIFA ‘have a crack’ archives from the Welshman’s left peg. It was a volley of such class that I’ll be astounded if it doesn’t get shortlisted for goal of the competition. Postage stamp too. But that wasn’t his only goal, nor does it sum up his performance, because he was good all over the park yesterday. He was back to Rambo MkII (aka 2013/14 version) and although we can’t really take too many positives from our final Champions League group stage position, we can certainly take heart from his performance.

That’s where yesterday’s game becomes important: the confidence levels. By scoring against Stoke, as well as twice in the game yesterday, I think it will do wonders for his confidence. Arsène has hinted it himself, previously stating that he needs to concentrate on the basics first and then the goals will come. Wenger’s words said to me that Ramsey places a lot of emphasis on goals as a deliverable of how he is performing. If that is the case, then these three goals in a week will be vital for us to see the best from him, so let’s hope he continues his good form on Saturday evening.

The return of Debuchy had an instant impact too. He may have looked shattered on the hour mark, but before that he was the same player that we lost to Moneychester City all those months ago. Getting forward, tracking back, winning headers – Debuchy showed us what we’ve been missing and as long as we keep him, Gibbs, Per and Kos fit and playing together, one hopes that our defensive form will start to pick up. Per had a good game too yesterday which, given how poorly he’s played of late when he hasn’t had Koscienly beside him, this will give him a lot of confidence going into the busy Christmas period.

So what now? I’m certainly not going to be counting my chickens and telling you that we could feasibly go on a run now. We felt the same after dispatching the same team by the same score line a couple of months back, didn’t we? So whilst I’ll be pleased to see a much needed confidence injection for some players, I have to say that it will mean the square root of naff all if we don’t put Newcastle to the sword. A Newcastle team riding high, after helping us out by ensuring Chelski don’t usurp that ‘Invincibles’ tag last weekend, I must remind you. However, this result was just the tonic that the team need and the returning players need to feed that back to those that stayed at home and transmit that confidence at London Colney when they’re all training together from tomorrow.

I feel good again about Arsenal. But that feeling can be fleeting if we revert to type this season. We have four days to find out.

See you tomorrow.

No pressure, unless you’re a squad player

Gary Neville gave United a bit of a lasting last night, didn’t he? Boy, I wish my football team had stocked up on ‘get out of jail free’ cards at the beginning of the season like United have, because there’s no way they should be sitting pretty third in the league. Not with that average squad. It’s like I said on Twitter yesterday; a damning indictment on the quality of this year’s Premier League, that’s for sure.

Anyway, enough about talking about that lot, let’s talk about our lot, who learnt yesterday that it’s a repeat of the FA Cup final from last year. I’ll be quite honest with you; a home tie against Hull is not quite the ‘glamour of the FA Cup’ narrative that I would have hoped for. An away tie to Blyth Spartans would have been more intriguing, so to get a mid-table Premier League team is just about up there as one of the least exciting matches one could hope for. Naturally, Chelski got their obligatory opportunity to rest players by playing a team from divisions below them, whilst United manager to score themselves Accrington or somebody random like that.

Do you know, the more I think about it, the more I suspect that van Gaal has traded his own neck for a bag full of four leaf clovers. How else can you explain how United are putting together victories with an even worse team than last year?

Anyway, I’m veering off course in my bitterness this morning, so I need to steer myself back towards the holy island of Arsenal on which I usually reside. On which Arsène Wenger is king, queen, prince, emperor, president, prime minister and God.

Le Boss took to the stage to talk about tonight’s game and by all accounts it sounds like it’s a pick’n’mix of first teamers, squad and young players that have been sent out to Turkey, which is good but to my mind not enough. We should not have a single player on the field tonight who could make an impact playing on Saturday in my opinion. So to hear the probably team leaked being one with Mertesacker, Szczesny and Debuchy in, is quite a surprise to me. After all, surely we want these players rested for an all-important game against Newcastle, right? We’re about to go into a heavy Christmas period and we need to be shuffling things around, so why are we wasting players on games that Wenger himself has admitted are practically meanigless?

The only thing I can think of is that Arsène will think that someone like Debuchy will do well to get minutes under his belt in a game where he knows he can pull out of tackles if they look like they could be dangerous ones. Additionally, perhaps he’s thinking that Per and Chambers need to play their way back in to form?

Whatever he’s thinking, I hope he isn’t struck by the same luck we’ve had all season with injuries. We can ill afford another Klendathu (Starship Troopers reference, if you’re interested).

Up top however, is where we currently have plenty of options, so I’m hoping we see something good from our three squad players who aren’t currently getting a look in. A front three of Podolski, Sanogo and Campbell all have a chance of giving Arsène something to think about and I hope they do; with our injury record this season there’s no way that we shouldn’t be trying our hardest to keep these players fresh and match fit by giving them more minutes. But with Arsène’s clear disdain for the rotation game, you can see all three players wanting out (some potentially on loan) come January. So if they can perform tonight then perhaps it will give the manager more cause to throw them in.

I have no idea what team Galatasaray will put out tonight but, if we’re all completely honest with ourselves, do we really care? This game is an opportunity to just watch. We know we aren’t winning the group. We know we aren’t seeing the first team. We know that we don’t normally travel well to these places. As far as I’m concerned, this is a freebie tonight. It’s a chance to watch the Arsenal with the most amount of emotional detachment that a gooner is going to get this season. So in some perverse way, I’m just going to try and enjoy it.

Who knows? We might even get a pleasant surprise with some good performances from players we’re not expecting?

We shall see.

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

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

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

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

I should have a wee bit more faith. Perhaps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thursday unto thee I say.

Dortmund: a chance for redemption of sorts

Hello there. I’m back after a short sabbatical from both Arsenal and football. No Twitter, few blogs and certainly no TV related to Arsenal since Saturday’s debacle. I literally went into media lockdown until the next game which, thankfully (or not depending on the way we’re playing at the moment), is this evening as we entertain Borussia Dortmund at home.

I’ve got to be honest with you kids; the United game hit me hard. Hit me harder than I thought it would actually. The predictability. The inevitability. The feeling of painful DeJa Vu. All the errors, all the worst of this modern day Arsenal side (which I class as the post Invincible’s period), it was all there to see. I could probably go on and on about our failings, but the most redeeming thing about football when you play the number of games we play this season, is that you are never far away from righting the wrongs. From atoning from the sins. So between now and Christmas Arsenal have an opportunity to atone their pants off. Starting by beating Dortmund tonight.

And it has to be a win tonight. Because I haven’t been reading many football sites, I’m not sure if a point is enough to progress, but even if it is, I don’t care. I want this Arsenal team to sweep aside the ills of its current season plight and begin afresh with a big scalp. If that starts in the Champions League, then so be it, because we need something and soon.

Arsène Wenger is a well paid man and this is what he is well paid for. Results. He has been negligent this season in his acquisition of enough results in all competitions, but he has the chance to bring people like myself back into ‘Happy Street’ by going on a run. Come on Arsène, it’s what you have done before, so is there life in the old dog?

As for the team news, well, we’re a bit like The Rocket pub on Holloway Road with about an hour to go before kick off on a Saturday lunchtime. One-in, one-out. The return of Koscienly is great to hear – especially as he comes into the squad – but his return is tempered by the fact that we have to rely on 19-year-old Martinez in the sticks against Dortmund again, as Szczesny is out. Hopefully it is just a short-term injury that will see him return at the weekend.

Actually, we’re nothing like the Rocket, because we’re more like ‘one-in, three-out’, with Wilshere and Walcott all sitting on the sidelines again. Who knows, maybe we’ll get to see Theo for more than ten minutes before the end of the season, eh? Wouldn’t that be nice?

Still, at least we’ve got Welbeck to offer the pace up front, which…what? He’s a doubt too you say? Well isn’t that just a delight? Still, at least we’ve got Sanogo to not score any goals up front tonight, because we can’t rely on Giroud due to his ineligibility. Seriously, only Arsenal could be gripped in the midst of an injury crisis, and a player who could slot in back to the team can’t make it because he isn’t registered. I don’t blame the club at all in this instance; how on earth were they to know he’d heal extra quick from a broken leg? I’m more exacerbated by the fact that we finally – after what seems like a decade of ‘three-weeks away’ players suffering ‘little bit setback’s, we get one returning from injury early and he can’t even play!?!?

Do you think Arsène Wenger smashed a black cat crossing his path, with a mirror whilst walking across three drains, after the 2005 cup final? Because it feels like it after the perpetual bad luck we constantly seem to face.

Dortmund have their own problems too mind, with Reus out until January and league form which belies their actual quality, shown by the fact they’ve absolutely walked this Champions League group. Klopp is still adored by the yellow army, who are sure to be in fine voice this evening, so I do wonder what the Dortmund mentality will be tonight. They are almost tailor-made to sucker-punch us this evening. A counter-attacking side, who don’t have to come out, because they’ve already qualified? Against a side who were toothless at the weekend and done over by two counter-attacking goals from three chances in a whole match at the weekend just gone? It’s a horror story whose predictability will strike fear into every Gooner watching from anywhere in the world tonight.

I fear how low this Arsenal team can go if we lose tonight. I fear that our season could be one for which even the perennial fight for fourth is over before Christmas. We’re not winning games, we have a seemingly endless list of injuries and, I’m sorry, but we have a manager that has dented my confidence in him so much I’m not sure if he can recover.

I hope he does. I want to say I was wrong in May as we lift a trophy and have turned around our season to finish third. But right now, I just don’t believe it’s possible, so I’m not hopeful for tonight.

Like I said at the beginning of the blog, United hit me harder than I thought. Football can always have a quick turn around and I could be loving Arsène again within months, but I don’t see it right now. Sorry.

C

Anderlecht: no complacency

Regardless of the disappointing (but ultimately successful) performance against Anderlecht a couple of weeks ago, tonight is a game that we should for all intents and purposes, be looking at building an assailable lead with a nice bumper goal margin against Anderlecht at home.

We may still be a little short defensively, but the Belgian champions showed that whilst their effort could be praised on home soil, their ability was limited. That our match came down to the dying seconds in Brussels was more down to our own performance than the performance of our hosts.

So tonight I am hoping that we see an Arsenal team well prepared, high on confidence, fluent going forward and no complacency defensively. We’ve got a good platform to build on. Back-to-back clean sheets in the Premier League – albeit against poor opposition – will instil a belief into players like Nacho Monreal and with Per improving with each game too, one hopes that The Arsenal can get the job done with plenty of time to spare tonight.

If we can pick up three points, then a Dortmund victory over Galatasaray will effectively render the group sewn up for both the Germans and us. I suspect that Dortmund will beat the Turks this evening and also dispatch Anderlecht in the next game, so whilst I understand the pressing desire for us to win the group and not inevitably face Bayern Munich or Barcelona, I don’t think there’s much we can do about it. I’m a fan of getting the group qualification sorted and then focusing on league and domestic cup travails, so if we do progress this evening I hope Arsène rotates in the final two games.

Who knows? He may just rotate tonight with one eye on the visit to the Liberty Stadium on Sunday afternoon. I’d be surprised if he did, because we’ve already nearly had our noses bloodied by a team perceived to be Champions League minnows, so to see a Capital One Cup style side rock out at The Emirates this evening would be a big surprise.

So I suspect we’ll see very little rotation from Saturday’s win against Burnley. He may decide to give Ramsey an outing instead of the mediocre Flamini (said statement of ‘mediocrity’ based purely on his performance at the weekend, rather than his overall ability), but I still expect to see Arteta, Cazorla, Welbeck, The Ox and man of the moment Alexis. Cazorla didn’t have the greatest of games at the weekend and will need to find that form of his first season to regain a longer-term position in the team. With Rosicky and Podolski chomping at the bit to get game time, not to mention Joel Campbell’s impressive cameos to date, there are a variety of different positions that could be taken from Santi and other players used in. And with the season as long as it is, Arsène must surely be looking at the competition in his squad and wondering if there is a bit of merit in rotation for games like this.

Perhaps I am being a little too dismissive of Anderlecht though. Here I am talking about qualification, rotation of players with a view to the weekend, as well as patronising comments like ‘minnows’. That is probably the exact level of mental complacency that nearly cost us last time out in this competition and as I sat on my sofa cursing the lacklustre effort of the players that evening, I should perhaps take a leaf from my own book (or blog), and show a little more respect.

Tonight we need to be on our game from the off. A clean sheet, a few goals and qualification from the group by the time the News at Ten comes on will be a massive confidence boost for the team. It would mean four wins on the trot and only one goal conceded and with the chance to make it five before the international break, would feel like our season is finally not spluttering before the turn of the year.

Jack looks set to miss out, which is a shame, whilst Francis Coquelin looks to have had his marching orders with a one-month loan spell at Charlton confirmed by the club. It’s a strange one because I’ve always rated Le Coq, but clearly Arsène just doesn’t fancy him. I think that one day it might just come back to haunt him as I think the guy has a very good career ahead of him. But we’ll just have to wait and see.

Will Alexis once again prove to be our talisman? Weirdly, I hope not, because I want to see other players step up to the mark. As much as I’m getting to love Alexis more and more with each second he spends in an Arsenal shirt on the pitch, I do worry that there could be an unhealthy over-reliance on him, and we all know how worrying that is when you look at one guy to carry the hopes of the team and fans on his shoulders. It happened before with That Dutch Bloke and when all was not quite right at the club during that era, the players just looked to find him as often as possible. What we want is the same team ethic that was fostered in the Post-That Dutch Bloke era which, to be fair to the team, I think we have. We certainly have the players that are capable. Ramsey showed it last season, Walcott the season before, plus we have Welbeck, The Ox and let’s not forget our mercurial German, Mesut Özil.

I don’t think it will be easy tonight, but I do think we can make it look easy, especially if we score first and early.

Come on you Reds!

Get out of Birthday Jail Card used

Last night Arsène Wenger must have played his invisible ‘Birthday Get Out Of Jail’ card, because after what we all watched in Belgian last night, there are not many people who have a physical or emotional stake in the club that will argue that we didn’t get quite fortunate, by picking up the 2-1 win.

I suppose the counter-argument is that fortune would be a back pass that the ‘keeper shanks into his own net, where as our goals were entirely of our own making through our play, but if you watched the game in the same way I did I’m sure you’d agree too that we were fortunate.

We never ever really got going. Perhaps the warning signs were there early on, when Santi was fed a delightful ball by the stand-out performer Alexis, only for the Spaniard to shin one right into row z. In the opening exchanges of a game you think to yourself as a fan “that’s ok, it’s good we’re getting into those positions, so we’ll get another chance”, but you don’t expect to see the opponent ‘keeper not worked for the vast duration of the game thereafter.

Some way through the second half, it occurred to me that this felt very much like the Hull game, which was a real worry. We were laboured, lacklustre and lethargic all rolled into one and the quick interchanges of passing between players that has typified Arsène Wenger teams done the years just wasn’t there. I pointed out to The Management how static we were part-way through the second half. As if to help me prove my point, I was able to show her six passes in a row that were to players standing still. Successful football teams move into spaces, create gaps, pull teams apart and work at creating openings to fashion chances. I saw none of that for the duration of yesterday’s match from Arsenal players. Paul Merson had said at half time that it was as if none of the Arsenal players wanted the ball. For a change, I agreed with him.

The goal we conceded felt to me as if lessons had clearly not been learnt from the weekend. Another floated ball into the middle, another defender caught under the flight (this time it was Chambers), another half-decent header from a half-decent attacking player. DeJa Vu and Arsenal another goal down to a side that we really should have been out of sight against.

Let’s be honest, I don’t want to seem like I’m being disingenuous to our opponents of the evening, but that was a distinctly average Champions League side that we came across yesterday. You could tell from their build up play and potency in the final third that they were not a side that would trouble 95% of teams in the competition. But they troubled us. They troubled us quite a lot actually.

Midfield was virtually anonymous I have to say. Yes, the defence was at fault for us going behind, but our midfield had an evening to forget. Jack and Rambo hardly impacted the game at all and, whilst he has come back from injury only recently, I hope that it was his lay-off that caused another average display from Ramsey and not a sign of a dip in form. We want to see the Ramsey from last season, not a regression into the player that tried flicks and long passes to the frustration of everybody. Again, let’s put it down to regaining his fitness for now, but I didn’t see any real penetration from the midfield. There are a lot of people in the media world that wonder what Özil does, but without wanting to put an injured player on a pedestal, that is exactly the sort of game we needed him in. I saw about three or four very good forward runs throughout the game in which it only needed a good pass from a player with vision to see, but instead we chose the simple five yard sideways pass and chose to build up play slowly again. Mesut Özil is a great player because he sees those types of passes, and it was that cutting edge from a player with vision that we missed last night.

But for all of this anguish, for all of my assertions in other blogs recently that we have not ‘clicked’, perhaps I should give a smidgen of credit to the players for ultimately securing a vital victory that one hopes is essential in rebuilding what appears to be a fragile level of confidence amongst the players. The goal from Gibbs was an absolute pearler and Lukas Podolski showed exactly what he is – an absolutely deadly finisher – Benjy and Steve had to be virtually broken apart via Whatsapp last night!

So the job is done and the wounds are minor and repairable. But there needs to be a vastly improved performance against Sunderland on Saturday afternoon.

See you tomorrow.