Maintaining momentum before the season definer

And that’s yer lot for another season. 38 games in which we’ve seen highs, as well as experienced some pretty lows, drew to a close yesterday as our league campaign finished with a final three points of 2013/14 against a Norwich team that had clearly had just about all the emotional stuffing knocked out of them when Sunderland were all but mathematically confirmed to have survived the drop by beating West Brom in midweek.

As for us, our season does not quite end just yet as we all know, so the importance of victory and maintaining momentum should probably be recognised, despite my dismissive pre-match blog yesterday. The team showed us that there was no way they were going to be delivering anything else but a professional and controlled game and by all accounts managed to restrict Norwich to a couple of chances throughout the match.

That it was Fabianski who received the nod ahead of Szczesny, who stood in between the sticks to receive the couple of Norwich chances, was just one of a number of debates we had last night with the Goonerholic on the penultimate SG Pod of the season. With much social media whisperings of disappointment that Szczesny didn’t receive the chance to win the Golden Glove (as ‘holic pointed out – most probably hadn’t heard of before yesterday), the same people began murmurings that it would mean the younger of the two Pole’s would get the nod next weekend. Personally I don’t think the appearance of Fabianski will equate to a dead certainty that Szcz will start – life, and certainly Arsene’s thinking, is not that linear – but I do think it was Arsene’s way of giving a Premier League send off to Fabianski. He’s won a lot of people over with his performances this season (when he’s played) and even last season when he came in for Wojciech, but that injury he had which effectively gave Szczesny the chance to regain his place last season, probably spelt the beginning of the end for his time as an Arsenal player.

With the news coming from Camp Sagna (no, he’s not decided to come out of the closet in the most mincing of fashions) that he will most likely not be at the club next season, it was also the Frenchman’s opportunity to call time on his Premier League Arsenal career with a good performance, to which he certainly seemed to do so with an assured display at centre half. There’s no doubt we’ll miss him and his ability to win headers against guys that sometimes seem a foot taller than him. It’s a shame the two parties couldn’t come to agreement but it’s hard not to wish both him and Fabianski all the best in their future careers. Unless they sign for Premier League clubs. Then I want nothing but misery for them.

But the real superlatives of today’s blog have to be reserved for that Welshman Ramsey who scored arguably one of the goals of the season. His right foot rocket hit first time on the volley was a thing of beauty from a player that finishes off his season in exactly the same way that he started it. He has been both the most improved and overall best player of the seasons for me and you can’t help but wonder what might have been if he’d have stayed fit. I mean, think about it: a stonking first half of the season and then missing a third of the season through injury, before returning to the team in the same form as when he left. It’s hard not to think he’d have broken the 20 league goal point if he’d have managed to avoid a spell on the sidelines. If you fancy a cheeky pound on a first goalscorer next weekend, with his form at the moment, you’d be hard pressed to get better value than Rambo right now.

There was even the opportunity for Carl Jenkinson to write a little bit of his own history by popping up with his first ever Arsenal goal and, if you ever want to know what your face would look like if you were to score a goal to Arsenal, just Google or search for a Vine of The Corporal’s yesterday. Great stuff.

Just before I wrap up for the day and start to look towards the FA Cup final, a quick word on Giroud, who also had a good game yesterday by all accounts. He’s a real confidence player if ever there was one and so after another good display against the Canaries, it’s good to know we’ll have a central striker feeling pretty darn good about himself going in to what has essentially become the decider on whether or not our season ticks the ‘met expectations’ or the ‘exceeded expectations’ box on the end of year report. Let’s hope it’s the latter.

That’s it from me today. I’ll see thee in the morrow.

Oh and congrats to City for ‘winning’ the league. Maybe.

End of season: glorious ‘meh’ness

Is there even any point in doing a match preview today? I mean, the game means about as much as a John Terry apology or a politicians promise, so the idea of trying to work out how this afternoons final Premier League game of the season will pan out is as appealing as putting your head into a beehive with your face covered in pollen.

Norwich are down. They need a win by 17 goals and as much as we all know that this Arsenal team has mastered the art of mass goal implosion, even the staunchest of Norwich fans will know that they won’t concede probably even half that. So whilst I do think they will be up for the game in front of their own fans, I think we could deal them another crushing blow today, possibly even picking up the win.

Think about it: a shocking Norwich side having to get goals, pushing men forward and leaving a poor defence open and exposed, for Arsenal to take advantage. It could be a delightful day for The Arsenal. Even if it doesn’t mean anything.

Isn’t it lovely to have this though? As meaningless as it is, I’m Mr Kipling-style exceedingly grateful that we’ve wrapped up the bare minimum target of Champions League qualifying before the last game of the season. I have a feeling my emotions are going to be run through the mill enough next weekend, so to have a ‘free’ weekend now, it’s good for everyone who has an emotional stake in Arsenal.

It is a glorious thing to be so ‘meh’ about the last game of the season after so many nail biting ones over the last few years.

I hope Arsene rotates the shizzle out of this team today. I don’t want to see a full strength eleven take to the field, the same eleven that will play in the cup final, I want to see the fringe players and returning from injury players get a run out. Give Vermaelen a game. Try a bit of Jenkinson on the right. See what a Kallström and Wilshere central defensive duo can do. No Özil for me today please, I’m trying to watch my weight. I will take half a pound of Rosicky and perhaps this can be a pressure less enough game for Sanogo to break his duck.

Arsene doesn’t need to play first team Russian roulette today. We have the squad to engage in a bit of the old switcharooing, so we should make use of that, especially in the wake of the FA Cup final. You can bet your bottom dollar that Steve Bruce will be asking a number of his first team players to sit out Hull’s game today, so the same should be said for our boys. We have bigger fish to fry next weekend and none of us want to run low on oil….or something like that…

Anyway, that’ll do, you’ve had enough metaphors and similes for one day so I’ll bid you adieu until tomorrow.

Peace out.

West Brom: Testimonial feel with fourth already secured

Yesterday’s performance at home to West Brom had all the hallmarks of a  testimonial match. The Emirates was bathed in sunshine for the most part of the afternoon and the Arsenal players were afford a relatively pain-free afternoon of football with which to wave off the home support for this season as the last home game came to a close on this seasons proceedings.

It’s hard to argue that the home form hasn’t been anything but pretty good this season. Undefeated in the Premier League throughout, except for the extreme circumstances of the first game of the season against Villa. A shocking Antony Taylor performance aside and we might have seen an unbeaten Arsenal on our home turf this campaign. So whilst the score line only reflects a narrow win, it was a win nonetheless and it was one in which we were comfortable for the most part of yesterday’s game against the Baggies. Indeed, when Giroud nodded home his 22nd goal of the season relatively early on in the match, one did wonder if the floodgates would be crow-barred open and the fans being treated to a cricket score before we head off to Wembley in two weeks time.

That we never managed to penetrate Ben Foster’s goal thereafter probably has more to do with a combination of some good saves from the potential England World Cup stopper, an Arsenal team knowing that this game was fairly meaningless given the security afforded to us after the Everton vs Moneychester City game, as well as the belief from our West Midland opponents that they are probably safe for another season. Barring an Arsenal ‘MEGA COLLAPSE’ against Norwich next week, that’s probably not a wholly unfounded perspective.

It’s difficult to mark too many players out as having really amazing performances yesterday, because it just felt like we had ‘done enough’ to win the game yesterday. In the first half we suffocated West Brom through manipulating possession and only fashioning chances when we had really good passages of play. You could tell from watching the team that they could turn it up a notch if they needed to, but with a big match looming on the horizon, going into tackles full-bloodied would achieve nothing but a potential injury or card resulting in no FA Cup final opportunity for said player. Podolski, Giroud and Ozil all had some chances, whilst Santi blazed over from a well worked effort on the edge of the box, but the name of the game was to retain the ball and we did that with consummate ease in the first half.

Pepe Mel clearly had a bit of an ear bashing in the second half, because the West Brom that appeared after the interval looked a slightly different proposition than the one that trotted around in the sunshine before the interval. They looked a little bit more spritely, had more of a spring in their step and even fashioned a couple of saves from a Szczesny that must have felt he could have set up a deck chair and a light reflecting device to see if he could start on his summer tan early. Indeed, when you look at the end of match stats and see that West Brom managed to rack up 11 attempts on goal, you have to think that eight or nine of those must have come in the second half alone.

We may have spent a little bit more time on the back foot than us fans would have liked the team to, but I never really got the sense that the team couldn’t just up it a bit if they needed to and, whilst the score remained 1-0, there was no real need to. We’ve seen this Arsenal team remain largely in control of all home games against opponents outside of the top six or seven teams and yesterday reflected what we’ve seen all season.

If we want to be challenging for the league next season, we probably just need to make sure we’re a little bit more ruthless against the bigger teams at home, but by-and-large our ability to ensure that there’s a zero against our name on the Emirates big screen has ensured that we’ve been able to dispatch many teams that visit us in North London. When you look back on the form of the Chelski’s and Moneychester City’s that have won the league, they build up long undefeated home records. If we can build our own record of not being defeated at home next season, you sense that we will have a real chance of once again having a go at the league.

So the players waved off the fans after the final whistle – some clearly doing so for the last time – and everyone with an interest in The Arsenal went home happy on this bank holiday Monday.

Now we wait for the big one (because Norwich is even less relevant to us). Wembley.

See you in the morrow.

Don’t be satisfied with where we’re at, but be contented with consistency

I watched yesterday’s game between Everton and Moneychester City with quite some interest, as I’m sure you did too, because the outcome would most definitely have a bearing on our season and also on today’s game as well. The eventual result was one that has afforded us an afternoon in the sunshine watching The Arsenal taking on West Bromwich Albion knowing that the result, short of providing a welcome sign off to the home fans this season, is relatively meaningless.

It will add a little bit of carnival atmosphere to The Emirtaes today methinks, knowing that the bare minimum standard that Arsene Wenger sets has been achieved for what is now the seventeenth season in a row under Arsene Wenger. And whilst I like many other Arsenal fans, facetiously cheer our ‘fourth place trophy’, there is no denying that the consistency of what is now deemed as a ‘bare minimum’ is still being achieved. That we have even got ourselves into this position that we’ve left it until the last couple of games before the end of the season, given that six weeks ago we were all looking at a possible title tilt, should probably just be saved for another blog discussion when the season has ended and the dust has settled.

For now, let’s just be contented with the fact that we have Champions League Football back at the Emirates in 2014/15, hopefully going beyond a two-legged affair in August.

So what should Le Boss be doing with his team selection today then, given that he doesn’t have to field a strong side to secure Champions League football? Should he go all rookie and field a team of squad players, or should he tell the first team to go out there and secure two wins in the final league games of the season to pick up 79 points and look back on this season as a mild improvement on last by way of points tally, if not actual league position?

I’m in favour of a full strength squad today actually, and I think Arsene will provide that to the last home crowd of the season, as a send off and hopefully a continuation of our recent form. The return of Ramsey and Ozil has shown a notable shift in our fortunes and we’ve looked like a team driven by purpose in the last stages of this Premier League campaign. Momentum is everything in football and Wenger is long enough in the tooth to know the importance that two more wins will give to the spring in the step of the team come Cup Final Day. Heck, even the Invincibles great run started the season before we actually went unbeaten, so if ever you want to take your cue from a successful formula, that team would be it.

Our form has been superb of late. Three goals on the last three occasions and, although I’m not usually one to make specific scoreline predictions, I do fancy a win by three clear goals today. Perhaps a 3-0 or a 4-1. Against Newcastle the team got the goals to effectively seal off the first half and then topped up the goal difference in the second, never really getting out of second gear, so I sense that we might see a similar game today. The back four will most likely remain the same barring perhaps a role for Jenkinson to replace the injured Sagna (perhaps an early indicator of what we’ll see next season) and I would have thought Ramsey and Arteta will form the basis of the deeper lying midfield positions. In front of them will be a trio of Cazorla, Ozil and Podolski with Giroud most likely to start-up front.

It’s a team that would make sense to me. There’s no need for resting players with over ten days to go until the final. Even if the match was in a week’s time it still shouldn’t make too much of a difference. When you’re playing in a high stakes match and you’ve had a week off to prepare, you can’t really have any excuses for fatigue or motivation. So I think we’ll almost certainly see the strongest side possible, with Arsene making use of his three subs on the usual 75 minutes, which will mean exits for Poldi, Mesut and Olivier (you heard it here first!).

As for West Brom, they will probably feel that they’ve done enough to stay up this year and I’d probably agree to that, especially with there now only being one relegation spot that will swallow a team next week. Norwich won’t get any change from Chelski today, which will mean they must beat us on Sunday week and hope Sunderland slip up next week. But with that extra point that West Brom have, they have a degree of security that should ensure that today isn’t life or death, so it wouldn’t surprise me if today’s game has a real ‘end of season’ feeling to it.

Our form is good, the ‘feel good’ spirit seems to have returned to the squad and the players are showing that they’re up for this final push and hopefully the cup final in two weeks time. Things are looking much rosier for The Arsenal right now. Let’s hope they give us a nice send off at lunchtime.

Catch y’all tomorrow.

Can the real football philosophy please stand up

Hello! Me again…How’s it going? Lots of strange, when I say strange I mean frustrating, things have happened to Arsenal in recent weeks and Chris has covered them perfectly. I wouldn’t expect anything less. We’ve finally got nothing to really fight for, so we decide to turn up in typical Arsenal style.

I’ve finally got something to write about, so…It’s okay, you don’t need to say anything. But let’s not pretend you haven’t missed me either (Ed: I missed you Ben, I missed you. Chris)

We witnessed the recurring ‘evolution’ in footballing styles debate after the Champions League semi finals this week and the overreaction that comes with it. You can almost set your alarm clock to it. It’s that regular.

Football goes in cycles and unfortunately for Bayern theirs at the tip top level came to an end – In such emphatic style.

It was interesting what Carlo Ancelotti said after the heavyweight bout:

“Tiki-Taka isn’t dead, football doesn’t die”

– when a different style comes out on top the media decide to slaughter said manager and the style. I remember watching a World Cup finals when I was younger. David Beckham spent the majority of it on his arse, hypothetically speaking. It was claimed all wide-men needed pace, and without it, they are as useful as a chocolate teapot. Poppycock.

Gary Neville optimised the irrational debate Tuesday night on Twitter. To be quite honest I thought he’d had a few extra large sherbets. He came out with something along the lines of “we don’t need any of this tippy tappy stuff…Pace, power, that’s what we [Untied] are all about”.

To be honest, I think he’s just pining for Ronaldo. Get an early night next week Gary…

The downfall to these cycles comes down to a combination of things; A team stamping their mark/philosophy on a game better than the opposition; Also, if either team are in transition. At the highest level it’s all about fine margins. If a certain players quality, or an officiating decision positively or negatively effects the game, it gets the cogs moving and the magic begins.

We saw how the finest margin completely swings a game. Firstly poor defending led to the flood gates opening at the Alianz Arena. Then a ‘Strikers Challenge’ cost Chelsea late on in the second half. I wanted to say just, regarding Bayern and Madrid but Real tore Bayern a new one. Chelsea’s downfall was self inflicted in my opinion. Jose went far too defensive in the both legs and that backed them into a corner. Eventually costing them a route to the final. Mourinho gets a lot of praise for his tactical prowess, but he got that drastically wrong.

I say transition because Jupp Heynckes had Bayern playing absolutely monstrous football last term. The same football that beat Barcelona, the previous champions 7-0 on aggregate. *cough cough* end of a cycle.

Taking a step back and looking at it – it seems strange that Bayern hired a manager who played a style of football they completely destroyed a year before?

I’m not even going to dare to say it was a mistake hiring Pep Guardiola, because it’s PEP GUARDIOLA. The man is a marvel, an innovator. They went unbeaten on route to the title. He has them playing scintillating football blowing teams off the park. What is clear though, he has tried to change them too quickly, which has cost them at the top level.

I imagine when he manages to get all the pieces of his puzzle SHIT WILL GO DOWN. Lewandoski being the first piece. We’ll see a more clinical, complete, Bayern.

The Polish international strengths are his versatility and ability to score goals in a number of ways. You could argue he possess key attributes of Muller, Mandukic and Gotze – that special element Pep’s football needs too really make it purr. Lewandoski can run into channels, slip past defenders. Beat players one-on-one or hold up play in the attacking build-up. He can also score from distance and poach goals inside the box. Also very comfortable in cramped areas.

There’s no way to get away from the fact that Pep hasn’t achieved the same things Heynckes did. But even the most marvellous managers can take time to achieve their goals. That’s the risk you get when hiring a new manager. The task Isn’t as easy as it seems and a bedding in time needs to granted. We’ve seen closer to home with Manchester United, they [SAF] hired a manager who was similar to Sir Alex, rather than a manager who fits the style of football they believed in.

Only time will tell if Guardiola will achieve Über success with Bayern, and if United will turn things around. *whispers* they will…

Granted we are dealing with different variables but Arsenal, please take note and learn from the mistakes of others.

Focusing on Arsenal and carrying on the theme of transition. Looking at the transfer window ahead – Do we (A) fix a style and get players to enhance it, or (B) get players who you can & decide style around them.

It’s something I struggle to decide with. I can see the positives in both concepts. But in the same swing of my preverbal bat It’s something completely out of my control so why bother? BECAUSE I LOVE IT dear reader, so come be hyperthecial with me.

We have a summer of firefighting ahead. I.e. backup goalkeeper, a right-back and possibly a centre half assuming all of the rumours are true. That’s even before we begin the hunt for STRIKER2014 2.0.

I think what’s key this summer is for Arsène to sign the players he thinks will balance the squad, rather than just appeasing the fans making it rain with large sums of money.

He’s in a tricky situation, does he throw money at 2 magnificent players. Or does he fill the squad adequately?

Cheers for reading,

Be happy,

Ben.

No Schadenfreude from me…yet…

I have to say, I am reluctant to go full 100% Schadenfreude this morning after Chelski were humbled at home to Atletico Madrid at Stamford Bridge last night. There were plenty of tweets after the game that I read where Gooners were having very humorous digs at that lot in West London, but with an FA Cup looking on the horizon and with my superstitions nature about how the footballing karma gods really don’t like us very much, I’ll keep my gloatiness to a bare minimum today.

However, y’know, John Terry crying n’that…..

Anyway, if its Arsenal related then it’s what we’re all here for, so let’s start with a little bit of Theo Walcott on a Thursday. He’s been speaking to the official site and has talked up next season for him as he bids to return to the first team as quickly as possible. Although he won’t be there to claim his first bit of silverware if we win the FA Cup, he knows the importance of it to lift the whole squad and club. Amongst all of the excitement of getting FA Cup tickets (sorry to those of you that missed out) and getting to the final for the first time in a while, it’s players like Theo that I must admit I forgot about the impact of his injury has had when we get to the business end of the season. If we do win the FA Cup, will he be able to say that he’s won himself a trophy? After all, he seems a humble sort of chap and certainly not a man in the mould of John ‘Full-Kit W****r’ Terry, so whilst his teammates may possibly be able to parade a cup winners medal, he will not.

I suppose what Theo will be more interested in is ensuring that the trophy win fuels the hunger of the whole squad for more. That’s what we’re all after really, isn’t it, after all? We hope that the silverware monkey is cast from our shoulders and locked in a cage in some sort of Dorset based retreats for hairy mammals of that variety. If the opportunity to win the FA Cup is taken this season and we win one of our remaining two games, we want the players to realise that they have picked up a higher points tally than last season and have ended the nine-year itch for cups. That to me, represents moving forward and it will be up to the management of the club to ensure that we can compete not just until early March in the league, but until early May next year too. It will be difficult under increasing pressure from the Oil whores and improving sides around us, but we have the infrastructure and I believe the backbones of a good squad that can do it.

There’s some transfer guff around about Kasper Schmeichel joining the club on a free transfer in the summer, as well as Lars Bender being our number one target – neither of which I would have any real objection to if I’m honest – but it still feels a little too trivial to be thinking about the summer whilst there is still so much at stake for this season. We’re almost at the finishing line now, then we can all start to speculate until the cows come home, swatting up on our YouTube scouting and such, but right now I want to see focus from everyone that has a stake in Arsenal towards picking up three points against West Brom and picking up that FA Cup trophy.

Before I sign off for the day, a quick shout out to the other Suburban Goonerites Ben and Steve, who both appeared on the GoonerGirls Podcast last night. Unfortunately, as Mick Cash and his cronies denied my ability to actually take part in the Podcast, I wasn’t able to make it, but the guys gave a good account of themselves it sounds. Have a listen if you get a spare hour, or you can download to your iPhone/iPad through the Apple store on iTunes.

That’s it from me today. Time to saunter off to another wedding for a bit of booze and food and, err…more booze.

Catch you tomorrow.

Newcastle: a stroll against a team of strollers

George Graham was nicknamed by teammates as ‘stroller’ because of his languid style and approach to games and, after watching Arsenal dispatch one of the poorest teams that have visited the Emirates in some time, it’s hard not to think that most of the Arsenal players could have taken that descriptor for their own performance. I don’t even think we had to get out of second gear. Certainly, Newcastle spent most of the match in neutral, never even pretending to look like they could give a monkeys last night. In fact, the descriptor of ‘strollers’ should probably be applied to their players as well. The only difference was that we upped our game when we needed to.

Hey, at this stage in the season and with that fourth place trophy that Arsene values so high at stake, I like you probably couldn’t have asked for a better game against a team in black and white that played as though they really couldn’t be bothered to muster any kind of end of season fight.

Alan Pardew returned to the Newcastle bench after his histrionics of a month of so back, but it mattered little to a team who if ever there was legitimacy to declare that a team wasn’t ‘playing for the manager’, then this was it. The only player that I think came out of that performance with any kind of confidence in tact would have been Tim Krul, who made a number of very good saves and you have to say based on his performances this season, would probably be well within his right to seem pastures new in the summer.

As for The Arsenal, well, we got what we all wanted and that was a cosy afternoon. As expected, Arsene’s retention of the same eleven players from the game against Hull last week remained, and from the first ten minutes you could see what Newcastle’s game plan was: sit deep and try to frustrate. It took us a while to find our rhythm, but when Özil got in behind their left back Dummet only to see his low cross stopped by Collocini, it felt like it was only a matter of time.

That it came from Koscienly should come as no surprise, having netted the previous two times we’ve played Newcastle (albeit away from home), Kos clearly loves feasting on Magpie despair. Once again though, as the pundits tutted their way through the halftime analysis, you have to wonder about the defensive set up.

We turned the screw for the remainder of the first half – Özil and Ramsey in particularly inspired form – and it was our mercurial German that bagged our second before halftime. As we are becoming used to this season, Giroud failed to tuck away the two bites of the cherry he had when sent through, so Mesut duly obliged the home fans by sliding the ball past the two. Newcastle defenders on the line. The goal itself was offside as Özil was behind the ‘keeper and only one defender, but in real time it happened so quickly that it would be almost impossible for a ‘referees assistant’ to call.

2-0, halftime cup of tea sorted for the players and the second half just needed that third goal to give it the gloss the match deserved, so it was good that Giroud nodded us into a resounding victory after a Mesut Özil cross from the right. It’s always good to see your only real striking option bagging a goal, and I’m pleased for him and his confidence going in to the last couple of games and a final, but up until that point I thought he’d had a particularly poor game. I know it seems to be the done thing to excuse his performances at this end of the season due to the number of games, but we’re now down to one game a week, so I’m not sure he looks knackered any more. He just looks…well…limited. His touch yesterday wasn’t great and in the first half his ball retention was almost non-existence. He does love a creative flick or back heel, but the risk you run when you try these things is looking a bit foolish when you pass it to an opposing player. Unfortunately that seems to happen to Giroud more than anyone else.

Having said that, the goal that he scored was a very well times header that sees him up to 15 league goals this season and 21 in all competitions. For a man that we all recognise to be a limited player, that’s not too bad, it’s just that it’s our only real option and that’s why it’s so frustrating.

For me, the real plus points from yesterday was the performances of Özil and Ramsey, both of whom look like they are in imperious form and have almost instantly injected more creativity, pace and cutting edge to a team that was seriously lacking in it before they both came back from injury. I’m sure those that were quick to comment on Özil’s dip in form earlier this year are clamouring to readdress the balance by praising him on social media and poorly written news articles though…

We’re in good shape at the moment and have an opportunity to secure that top four spot at home next weekend, providing Moneychester City don’t do us a favour on Saturday evening, which I’d be more than happy for them to oblige us on.

Enjoy your Tuesday. May the blessings of St. Totteringham’s Day bring you happiness and much joy. Unless your going into London, in which it will probably be a pain in the buttocks, what with TFL doing their usually monthly walk out.

Fourth in sight, which makes me more nervous about tomorrow

Welly welly well-well, that Everton result yesterday was quite a turn up for the books, wasn’t it? I mean, if we’re all completely truthful with ourselves, none of us probably thought Southampton would give us a leg up towards that fourth place trophy did we?

But they did and we now find ourselves with two home games to guarantee our place at the top table once again, with a game spare with Norwich should we manage to pick up maximum points in our last two home games of the season.

Of course, there should be no forgone conclusions – the visit of Newcastle is not a mere formality – but it does mean that if the players bring their ‘A Game’ to the matches over the next eight days, we’ll be able to fix a steely gaze towards Wembley a little bit sooner than we thought.

We’ve all rolled our eyes when people talk about the ‘fourth place trophy’, but perhaps there is something in the pressure at that level that affects teams who find it difficult to brake through, much as we do to go all the way in a league title assault.

Having said all that, the defeat of Everton yesterday weirdly fills me with more trepidation for tomorrow nights game, particularly given Newcastle’s terrible form. I seem to recall our chase to capture that fourth spot a few seasons back where, with a win against lowly Wigan we’d have put clear daylight between us and the Spuds but, in classic Arsenal fashion, we took the Latics too lightly and fell foul to a Victor Moses inspired team. I know I’m a serial worrier, but tomorrow nights game could have all the hallmarks of history repeating itself if we are not careful. Yes, Newcastle are playing poorly, yes, we have a fuller squad and have started picking up results, but, wouldn’t it be just so very Arsenal if we gave hope to Everton by slipping up tomorrow? That simply cannot be allowed to happen and the players must be able to react.

Of course, it being a Sunday and no Arsenal to sink your teeth into, we’re all being inundated with transfer news of the most spurious variety. Not content with a mischievously vexing rumour about Tom-Freakin’-Cleverley last week, today’s gutter press speculation sees us linked with a ‘meh’ duet of Alex Song and Danny Welbeck. Let’s just hope there is not one iota of truth in any of that, because apart from bringing silly haircuts to the team, you’d hardly say their arrivals would whip Arsenal fans into some kind of footballing delirium before next season starts.

There’s plenty of time to get wound up about ridiculous rumours, so I’d suggest you put on your best ‘la-la-la I’m not listening’ face and get on with your Sunday.

Have a good’un Gooners.

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.