No dress rehearsal; getting touch tight to Giroud is essential

On this most holiest of days in the Christian calendar, it is that most precious of things that you and I wish for our beloved Arsenal: three points picked up away from home against Hull City.

Of course the press conferences of both managers were dominated by discussions of the impending FA Cup Final between the two sides, but understandably both wanted to emphasise the importance of today’s match up, ensuring the focus is on three points and not on using it as a dress rehearsal for the final. For Arsene, this game is an opportunity to show the world that his side are masters of the fourth place trophy, so putting another win under our belts as we head towards the end of the season is all important. For Steve Bruce, this is about further cementing his sides Premier League credentials and climbing the table as high as possible, but there will also be an element of “look at us, we can turnover this Arsenal team in the league, so why not in the cup final?”.

Hull currently sit six points clear of relegation and whilst not many are talking about them being dragged into the relegation mire, they are not completely safe from a nervy end to the season, especially with results like the one at Stamford Bridge yesterday evening. So there is certainly motivation for the Tigers, which I suspect we’ll see materialIse in the shape of a quick start and a loud crowd hoping to catch us cold early on. That’s how most teams have outdone this Arsenal side this season and that is why we have to ensure that the first fifteen minutes – if not all Arsenal – are certainly relatively quiet.

At The Emirates Hull lined up with a 3-5-2 formation but were pretty much nullified within a few minutes as Nik Bendtner (remember him? That crazy ol’ Danish Samurai) struck early which meant Hull had to come out and play and as a result made for a more open and expansive game. The fact we only won 2-0 belies the performance that day, as I remember coming away thinking it should have been four or five without reply. But perhaps that is an example of how Hull have managed to look ok defensively for a newly promoted team. They’ve never really been battered by anyone in terms of score lines and I don’t think we’ll be hitting them for six again today.

They also have a totally different strike force of Long and Jelavic who, if I’m completely honest, I’m very glad won’t be making the cup final. Long is a good player and has caused us a few problems over the last few years during his time at West Brom, whilst Jelavic always strikes me as one of those centre forwards that if he’s shown the love by a manager, he’ll replicate in form. He’s a bit like Giroud in that respect. Which provides me with a lovely little segway into talking about how our team will line up today…

Thankfully, Arsene has some decisions to make for today’s game. Gibbs may be out, which would force his hand if Monreal is not fit, but the rest of the back five is obvious. They will need to contend with the running of Long and the goal-hanginess of Jelavic and if they do that, you have to fancy our chances, because without wanted to sound like I got an Easter gift of ‘The Big Book of Football Clichés’ solid defences help you to build winning teams.

The midfield anchor could be either Flamini, Arteta of Kallström, but I suspect we’ll see the Frenchman come in for the Spaniard because Tricky Micky has looked a little tired of late. With Flamini having served his two games suspended, he’ll be bright as a button and an important screen for when the runners from midfield make their way towards our box. The next decisions will be who will play alongside that anchor, which for me should be only one real choice: Aaron Ramsey. He has the offensive and defensive engine needed to compliment both Özil and Giroud and with him in the team there is instantly more pace injected into the side from midfield. It provides that extra man in attack when the front three are looking a little pedestrian. that front three, which I think will consist of Podolski, Cazorla and The Ox, will need to get as close to Giroud for those knock downs as possible, because it’s only when he has teammates around him, that Olivier looks a threat. If he’s isolated alongside a back three that includes the in-form Curtis Davies, then we won’t see too much joy I’m afraid, but if Santi and Podolski get alongside the big Frenchman, then we’ll see an altogether different performance I’ll wager.

What we need to see from Poldi today (assuming he starts, which I think he will after his two goals on Tuesday), is more of that end product that he’s becoming famous for, so moving a bit more centrally and coming closer to Giroud to link up would provide that I think. The Ox has the trickery and pace to get in behind the Hull defenders, so he and Ramsey can be effective runners beyond Giroud, but Santi and Poldi need to have all of the play in front of them, hence why I think they should be tight to our buffon-loving centre forward.

“No Özil?” I hear you ask and, whilst I think he’ll certainly play a part, with a month out through injury and Le Boss able to call on a number of different players I think we’ll see him eased in from the bench.

This is a game in which we should have enough quality to win, but with the form of the last six weeks only picking up over the last game (and that was only really in the second half), I think we’ll still see an element of fragility about this Arsenal team. I can’t see us coming charging out of the blocks, so I think this will be a cagey affair in the first half, with the need not to be blitzed within the first 30 minutes. Thereafter, the hope is that we see more football like the second half on Tuesday night, which will certainly see us pick up some points if we play like that, so keep your fingers crossed.

Have a Happy Easter Sunday (hopefully).

More twists to come

Well how about that result up on. Merseyside yesterday evening, eh? Don’t think many people saw an Everton side with it all in their own hands, dropping points against a Crystal Palace side that although they are resurgent under the odious Orc-master that is Tony Pulis, are still a mid table side and were discounted as relegation fodder ten games in to the season.

How did you feel about wanting a Pulis side to win? Did it feel a bit like trying to save the life of a person that is covered entirely of bees? With bad breath too? Yeah, that’s how it felt to me too. Imagining that hairless chimp tracksuit bobbing with joy is not something I’d be happy to do too often. But I guess ‘needs must’ at this stage in the season.

What it means for us is that it’s back in our own hands. Which is much more preferable than being in somebody else’s hands because, y’know, they might get all dirty marks on our fourth place trophy. Or it might be in Vito’s hands, which secret a natural lubricant at important moments.

I still think there are more twists to be had and more nails to be eroded before we hit mid May, but with some tough games coming up for Everton, the hope is that they have a couple more slips that will enable us to create a buffer between us and then.

Right now it’s purely and simply about getting this Premier. League done and dusted as quickly as possible so that we can forget the end of it and look towards the future, the summer, some signings of real class and an opportunity to have a proper title challenge next year.

That’s pretty much what Szczesny had to say on the official site yesterday when speaking after the West Ham result. It’s totally not about the performance and all about the end result. If the players bore us to tears with ‘gritty’ (an interesting word usually used in footballing circles to describe a tedious result where a team has scored with pretty much it’s only goal of the game) 1-0 performances then that’s ‘a-ok’ with me.

We shouldn’t be counting our chickens, but as Ben said on the Podcast a few weeks back, we’re ‘kings of the fourth place trophy’ and so whilst the mentality of the players could be questioned at the highest level of the game in terms of a title assault, the players have been here, seen it and done it before in this position so you’d expect them to be able to cope with the pressure.

Let’s roll out all the ‘one game at a time’ cliches though, because the pendulum could easily swing back in the favour of Everton this weekend if we draw or lose to Hull and they can skittle over a pretty average United side.

With it being a bank holiday Easter weekend in Blighty, I wonder if Arsene will be doing his presser today? Perhaps he fancies a day off tomorrow and we’ll get some further info come lunchtime about who’s fit, but with Le Boss already admitting that Özil is back in the squad, we suddenly look a bit more re-enforced than we did just over a week ago. It’s time we started to kick on with those players coming back and secured our league status. Yes folks, the Arsenal garden is starting to look a little greener, isn’t it?

Right, that’s it from me today, so have a good one and I’ll catch thee in the morrow.

A tale of two halves: peanut butter and oranges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up The Arsenal.

West Ham: Let’s blitz the first 25

Right, plenty to get through today, so let’s crack on.

Firstly, the clubs announcement that they’ve received 25,000 tickets for the FA Cup final, which let’s face it, is nothing short of a travesty with 45,000 season ticket holders. I am fortunate enough that I have enough away points not to be affected by a ballot, but this farce is a perpetual joke that the FA consistently deliver to all fans of teams that get to the final of the competition. I’m not a fan of the semi’s being at Wembley, but when you have so few tickets available for supporters, I see it as at least a plus point for most to be able to get to go to Wembley. Will the FA change? Don’t hold your breath. 40,000 tickets going to corporates and fans not affiliated with the club (officially). And people wonder why there appears to be less atmosphere at some of these games…

Anyway, much like the mentality the players must adopt in the wake of an important game under the floodlights of the Emirates, as a collective body of people we must now forget the glitz and glamour of an FA Cup showdown with Hull and force our steely gazes towards the arriving East Londoners. It’s Sam ‘Clobbermesiter’ Allardyce who rolls himself into town today with a gameplan that will be so transparent that, if you were a fly, you’d spent your life trying to get through it only to be stopped by its tedium and invisible force-fieldiness.

My brother is a West Ham fan. Half my family hail from that area and I can assure you, if you didn’t already know, the natives are restless and impatient in that part of the world. They don’t like the brand of football he plays, we don’t like the football he plays, heck, even some of the West Ham players probably don’t like the football he plays. But unfortunately it’s a results business and that is what he’s good at.

Tactically, he’ll set up his side to be difficult to break down, catch us with set pieces and rely on our fatigue and fitness levels after a gruelling 120 minutes at the weekend to see if he can deliver a sucker punch in the latter stages. He practically said so in his press conference yesterday. So if that is his plan, we need to make sure that we’ve delivered enough jabs to the face and torso shots to render any random late left hook as a mere footnote. If it goes to points, we want that technical knock out to be comfortably in our favour.

Apologies for the over indulgence of boxing metaphors, but when you’re up against a manager like ‘Big Sam’, what else can you expect other than a physical battle that will more than likely leave us bruised and bloodied come Wednesday morning. They will play Andy Carroll up front, knock the ball long to him and hope that they can get enough support from the two Noble’s to furnish them with either: a) a scabby goal they can cling on to as we desperately find a way to respond for the majority of the match, or b) a scabby goal later in the game when there’s no time to respond. It’s like being asked which pointy end do you want hammered into your crotch.

The first 25 minutes will be all important tonight. If we start quickly and do to West Ham what Liverpool did to us, we can render the result irrelevant. I know you’re probably thinking ‘yeah right, when was the last time we did that’ and certainly our form doesn’t suggest that we will, but good form has to begin somewhere, so why not tonight?

Under normal circumstances this is a game I’d fancy us to get plenty of joy from. The performance on Boxing Day may have started off slightly sluggishly, but the introduction of Podolski and freshening it up a bit in the second half, swung it in our favour. The problem we have tonight is that ‘freshening up’ isn’t really an option we can draw upon with the depleted squad we have. Chamberlain looked like he needed a leg transplant by the end of the game and Rambo, having just got back from injury, ran himself into the ground until the 113th minute, so quite where we inject some pace from is a bit of a mystery to me.

I suspect Kallstrom might be given his first start in midfield and I’m certainly crossing everything in the hope that Rosicky is back fit. Thankfully we have Gibbs and Giroud who only made extended cameo appearances along with Kallstrom on Saturday, so I’m expecting to see that trio looking a bit more spritely, along with a return of Koscienly to give Per the option of a more mobile partner in the heart of the defence. If all of those players make it for tonight’s game, then hopefully it will have a positive impact and Sam’s ‘wait til they get knackered lads’ tactics will be negated somewhat.

This is one of those ‘take a scabby 1-0′ games if you ask my opinion. We are devoid of pace, we have ailing players and we’re up against a team that’s just had 10 days off. We need to get in, get out, keep the Champions League fourth place race alive and look to another big game on Sunday against Hull. Because if I’m honest with you, I can’t see Everton slipping up against Palace at home tomorrow night, can you?

The problem we have, as so many have already pointed out just about everywhere that I read, is that we’re too predictable with the way we set up. Allardyce is one of those men that studies the opponents rigorously and where their weaknesses are, so coupled with the extra rest his team have been afforded, he’ll really fancy an upset tonight. Dealing with Carroll will be the biggest challenge, but up against big men this season I’ve been impressed at how we’ve managed to deal with the pressure. I think to Spuds and Villa away and how both teams set up to get balls into the box to the front man, which were routinely hammered away by the Per/Kos axis. That’s why Koscienly’s re-introduction into the team could prove to be pivotal. There’s reasons to be cheerful, given that he was snapped by the club in training yesterday, but thankfully Arsene has admitted he will remain cautious on playing him unless he’s 100%. We need Per and Kos to be fit for the rest of the season. If we want to replicate ‘gritty Arsenal 2013′, built on a solid foundation and an ability not to concede goals, it is those two where it starts so I hope he makes his way back in to the team lineup from the start.

This West Ham team will pose us some troubles tonight I fear. But the hope, however, is that our need is greater than a team that should now be more than comfortably clear of a relegation dogfight, so I’m hoping on a West Ham team that is already planning their Maldives getaway in June.

How about this for some positivity? What price could you put on the team being reborn after the confidence boost of knowing you’re in a cup final? What if the knowledge that reinforcements are being shipped in like it’s our turn next to roll the dice in a footballing real-life version of ‘Risk‘, as Özil and Gnabry appear on the horizon ready for their part to play? Arsene himself seemed a little bit chipper about returning players yesterday, so let us hope that our nightmare form which has seen us not win a game (in normal time!) since what feels like 2008, is starting to dissipate and be replaced by an end of season charge to the top four.

Catch you tomorrow.

No time for happy reflection, there’s still one more big job to do

We learned our FA Cup final fate yesterday with Hull’s dismissal of a plucky Sheffield United in the second of the semi-finals at Wembley in the Sunday sunshine yesterday. So now both sets of fans can happily proclaim that we’re definitely going to Wembley for real this time.

Post game emotions on Saturday evening seemed quite muted as I walked along Wembley Way. Indeed, from some of the sombre faces that I came across before I departed on the Met Line home had an air of glumness to the result, such was the hope that there would be demons banished against Championship Wigan. Personally, in 12 months time if this match is to be played again in similar circumstances, I suspect we’ll be talking about Premier League Wigan and so the gloss would not have been as sanded down as it appeared to have been because we only beat a Championship team. But there you go.

After more than 24 hours worth of reflection I’m just happy we’re there and the fact that the final has now been moved back until after the league has finished by the FA is a good thing too. It will ensure that all eyes can be fixed on what I think has become an extremely difficult task to remain in the top four this season.

It’s difficult because Everton are playing well and the Spuds aren’t quite out of it yet. Everton’s somewhat fortunate goal against Sunderland on Saturday may have felt like the rub of the green is there’s, but they had other chances to put Sunderland away and with Crystal Palace heading to Goodison this midweek, I don’t fancy that Tony Pulis will do us any favours. That means that the margins are now almost nil for us in my opinion. Our league form has been nothing short of woeful and the main element of hope we can take from the weekends result is that the players will rock up to London Colney today with a spring in their step because they have a final to look forward to in the merry month of May. Certainly the performance won’t have helped alleviate our nerves ahead of a very important game tomorrow.

Make no mistake about it, tomorrow will be desperately hard, and if you don’t believe that already yourself then I’d ask you to consider a few things. Firstly, West Ham are playing with no pressure, having pretty much secured their survival with a couple of good wins and were unlucky to fall victim to refereeing incompetence against Liverpool last weekend. That’s a Liverpool team that unfortunately is going to go on and win this year’s Premier League I’m afraid.

Secondly, we will probably be in a bit of a mess in terms of ‘tired legs’ tomorrow. We’ve looked leggy and lethargic after a week off recently, so how we’ll perform when the players have just gone through 120 minutes of intensity (regardless of the opponent and their technical ability, the players still had to go through a mentally draining game with penalties at the end) is anyone’s guess. Last season we absolutely blitzed a Wigan team that had won the FA Cup during the weekend previously and that game had them fighting for their lives. But you could see then after about an hour how absolutely shattered they were. That’s what I fear for us.

Arsene has not rotated enough this season and injuries have forced his hand at the moment, so we know that there will be a large chunk of the players that played against Wigan, also being asked to step in against West Ham.

It’s not just tomorrow that we need to look at though, is it? At the weekend upcoming we face a dress reversal of the cup final when the players travel up to the Yorkshire and Humberside region to face Hull in what will be another game that we cannot lose. I believe we have to win all of our remaining five games to get that fourth spot. The way things are falling for Everton I can only see them dropping points in perhaps one game of their remaining five, which means we have to win all of ours and that includes a trip to Hull in which I can see them wanting to put a marker down for the FA Cup, as well as an away game on the final day of the season in which I’m almost certain Norwich’s Premier League status will rely on.

There’s also talk of a few more knocks picked up from Saturday’s game, which wouldn’t surprise me, as would a special request from the club to bring in any former player still living as extra bodies to cover some of the spaces we have available in our squad with our injury list. Arsene will no doubt give us the low down on who’s available at some stage today, so kiss any lucky rabbits feet you have, avoid three drain manhole covers and search the fresh Spring fields for all the four leaf clovers there are available. More on the game tomorrow and possible starting line ups as well.

For now, enjoy the sunny day, the thoughts of the final and the hope of ending an intolerable trophy drought that we’ve been beaten with for the last nine years.

When the moderates start turning…

I don’t think I’ve seen the tide of support for the manager so quickly dissipate as I’ve seen these last few days. There’s always been a hardcore following of people who have been firmly entrenched in the now well known “Wenger Out” school of thought, but this weekend just gone by seems to have pulled many moderate Arsenal fans into a school of thought which is pondering life after Arsene and also questioning his ability to motivate the team.

Those moderate Gooners questioning – and I include myself in this – do so with a heavy heart as it’s uncomfortable to see a man with which we thought could do no went at some stage, seemingly void of the spark needed to drive the team forward. You only had to look at the limp way in which the team approached the game to see that there didn’t seem to be the heart there.

For me, what makes it worse, is that it feels as if Arsene is clutching at straws a bit, trying frantically to find a reason as to why his team has seriously under-performed this season. He’s trying to find reasons that don’t lead back to him and I think, in his heart of hearts, he knows that they are not there.

What’s more worrying for me is what lies ahead. If the players cannot be motivated for a massive game like Sunday’s, then a tricky run-in over the next month may turn out to be calamitous. Yesterday I read Arsene’s comments about the FA Cup being a different competition and therefore maybe that is a good thing and it really worried me. He’s like the alcoholic saying to himself that one more drink won’t affect his rehab. How on earth does the type of competition affect how a team should set up? How does it affect the mentality of the players? Is he saying that perhaps the players are a little worn down by the Premier League? Because that doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence if you ignore the opportunity of an FA Cup trophy and just look at our fourth place trophy. His comments on the official site sounded to me like a man very much clutching at straws.

This saddens me. I never thought I would not have enough faith in Arsene to deliver what’s needed as I do now. I want to extract those negative thoughts out of my brain and put them in a compost bin round the side of my grandmothers house where I will never realistically go to. But I can’t and the net effect is that I see the end looking like it is in sight for someone who is undoubtedly one of our greatest ever managers. Nobody can deny that, nor can they take it away, but right now it feels like a chapter is closing.

My wife has family up in the North East and I speak to her uncle all the time about football. He’s a mad passionate Newcastle fan and I remember talking to him about Bobby Robson when he left Newcastle. His response was to tell me that all Newcastle fans love him, but he went on a few too many years, as football evolved and he couldn’t cope. I see a repeat happening at the moment.

It’s all been a bit doom and gloom so far on today’s blog, so I’ll try to scratch around for some positives, to see if I can’t end today’s ramblings feeling a bit better.

We’ve got a semi final to look forward to. As terrifying as it might be on Saturday, we’re two wins in the FA Cup away from ending ‘Wenger: The trophyless Years’ and that would be amazing. We’ve also got five Premier League games (three at home) against opposition that you’d hope we can get the better of and if we do, with the tricky games Everton have got, you’d hope that we could secure fourth place.

Heck, in two weeks time we could be looking at an FA Cup final on the horizon and an Arsenal team that has wrestled the initiative from Everton in the Premier League to give us the chance to end the season successfully. If we achieve both of those aims this season, I will still see it as a success and we should still view 2013/14 as one in which we moved forward.

I think I’ll leave it there for one day. Have a good one peeps.

Abject Arsenal are in trouble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re on the ropes here people.

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

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

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

Twinges, switcharoo’s and Everton

See Arsenal? See what happens when you leave me to my own devices on a Saturday? I head into the City to engage in a bit of beer-swillingey Monopoly-inspired goodness. I hold you fully accountable for what transpires on this Saturday afternoon.

Mind you, at least Arsene has managed to plug a boredom gap by giving me something to write about whilst I wait for this horrific monstrosity of public transportation (London Double-Decker – I have a deep-seated detestation of all buses going back to my university days reliance on the horrible things) to take me to my destination. Rail replacements…pffffhhhhh.

Anyway, you don’t care about that, so I’ll move my mutterings squarely into the Arsenal topic corner. Arsene took on the press yesterday and was able to talk up the positivity that Rambo’s return (sounds like a film that Sly would make when he realises he’s probably too old to get any other gig) would have on the team. It is a timely boost to the squad, but much like Gnabry and as I mentioned yesterday, Arsene confirmed that he didn’t expect him to be firing on all cylinders for at least another two to three weeks. That’s fine by me. I can handle the ‘he’ll improve on the pitch’ stuff, it’s the seemingly never-ending dreaded ‘three-weeks’ when players are out, that I find difficult to stomach.

I’d expect him to play some part in the latter stages of the game tomorrow, but let’s hope the victory is secured with 20 minutes to go when we can ease him back in, rather than us desperately chasing something against an in-form Everton.

What he will eventually bring to the team is a much needed shot of adrenalin to the team. His all-action energetic style brings feels to me like it brings us a bit more urgency and in addition to his goals, it’s not surprising to see that he’s a fighter in defence as well. We may have to wait a couple of weeks before we see the lung-busting Aaron, but he’ll get there and we’ll profit from it as a team as a result.

The return of Monreal is quite fortuitous too, as it appears Gibbs has a slight ankle twinge (love that word!), so I think Arsene will be happy to give it the old ‘switcharoo’ (that one too!) in at left back. Anyway, more on team squad line up tomorrow, with maybe even some thoughts on Everton too.

I always find the headline grabbers in the press quite amusing at these press conference thingamabobs. After he had his usual presser yesterday, I saw headlines about Arsene talking about ‘six pointers’, little horses and the like, but it was only when I actually watched the press conference that I realised that he didn’t actually say those things at all. He was asked a question by a hack which included the word ‘six pointer’, to which he could either respond ‘yes’ (WENGER SAYS CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GAME A SIX POINTER), or ‘no’ (WENGER DISMISSES EVERTON GAME IMPORTANCE). I know I’m big enough and ugly enough to realise that it’s all part of life’s eclectic and rich tapestry, but it still doesn’t make it any less irksome.

Arsene was also asked about whether the morale of the team had been dented by recent displays, to which he admitted we were a little ‘flat’ against Swansea, but that a corner had turned with the City result. I’m sure that did restore a little belief, but the only worry I have is that our belief seems permanently balanced on a knife-edge. We’ve take. Quite a few batterings this season compared to our so-called rivals, so I’m always wary when you hear comments like ‘we’ve turned a corner’. It’s fine to turn a corner, just don’t turn four corners on the same side in quick succession lads, because you’ll end up standing exactly where you were and be doomed to repeat your mistakes. For me, the only time I’ll truly believe that we have ‘turned the corner’ is when a very large milestone has been achieved. I’m sure you know where I’m going with this, but for me it’s all about getting that monkey off our back; delivering silverware.

We have a very real chance to turn a very big corner. I hope Arsene and his team takes it. We all do.

Catch y’all tomorrow.

I don’t like high-stakes Arsenal poker

Hello to you on this Monday, a Monday in which I’m sure many Gooners might be waking up to the sobering image of ‘Stevie Me’ lifting the Premier League trophy, for which the knock on effects will be an army of scousers – most of whom I know having never actually been to Liverpool – will become almost unbearable overnight.

Right now, I’m trying to put the prospect of them picking up their first Premier League trophy out of my mind; not least because it will make the pain of our inevitable capitulation in the league even more unpalatable. What the Liverpool rich vein of form shows is that with a little bit of momentum and confidence, plus fortune with key players avoiding injury for the whole season, can do for an assault on the title.

As for us, the fact I was left deflated having seen Everton get over the line against Fulham, perhaps shows how nervous I am that we’re going to end up buggering up our usual standard position of fourth. As little as a month ago I was thinking ‘hey, even if we fall away this season as we probably will, at least we won’t be embroiled in another race for that fourth-placed trophy’. It probably doesn’t matter that I didn’t say it out loud because the fact I even thought it got the attention of the footballing fates and they must have had a merry ol’ time chuckling away at was to befall my team over the subsequent month.

The reality is that we are well and truly knocking knees against an Everton team that, much like their Mersey rivals, have momentum and a lack of injuries in their squad. Compare that to our one win in five and a team so decimated by injuries that Arsene has hired an army of clairvoyants to see if Cliff Bastin can be coaxed out of retirement from beyond the grave; suddenly the unthinkable has become very thinkable.

Next weekend’s game, despite being a full six days away from happening, has been drawn into the sharpest focus one can imagine. I’m talking beyond 1080p, highest of the highest definition, 3D glasses definition here folks. In classic Arsenal style we’ve waltzed straight through the casino hall, past all the easy-going slot machines and straight into a game behind a velvet curtain for a game of high-stakes poker with nearly all our chips. A win against Everton and we put daylight and potentially get ourselves a little bit more comfortable about the fourth place spot, a defeat keeps the toffees at arms length, a defeat sees us head to Wembley licking our wounds and looking to other teams for inspiration against Everton.

I don’t like high-stakes poker. I wish we’d have stayed in the hall playing that machine which has cascading ten pence pieces. It’s so much more restful on my heart. Plus, we’re with a gambler in Arsene who doesn’t exactly have the best of luck in his gambling ways, I’d point you to the number of times we’ve lost players (Thierry comes immediately to my attention) because he’s gambled on them and it’s failed.

Still, what you can say if you’re supping on your half pint of milk (not me, I hate milk, but you carry on), is that it’s half full and the cause for optimism comes from that second half display on Saturday. Podolski, once again master of end product, was a lucky Hart ricochet off his heel away from winning us the game and had that have gone in we’d not only have even more daylight from the Toffees, but we’d have the confidence to boot. I’ve said on this blog a number of times that I feel like we’re a confidence team and one of extremes – unbeatable or unwatchable depending on whether our confidence is up or not – and so I’m hoping that the players take that second half and see that half pint of milk in its most fullest of milkyness.

Right, that’s it from me, as you’ve probably had enough on my rambling nonsensicalness, plus my overuse of commas, so I’ll take my leave and see thee in the morrow.

Munich: glorious equality?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catch you tomorrow.