The psychology of football and grinding those wins

It’s funny how important the psychology of a football game can change so quickly, almost minute-by-minute, which then affects the dynamics of every single football match. I guess that’s why it’s a sport that demands so much attention from so many people across the globe.

Take yesterday’s game for us against Newcastle, for example, in which we literally saw the clichéd ‘game of two halves’. In the first we had absolutely dominated everything Newcastle. Possession of the ball was ours. Territory in the opposition’s half was almost exclusively Arsenal’s. We found time and space to pick out our players and there was more than one occasion in which we got in behind the Newcastle back four, even before Giroud’s somewhat fortunate opening goal. The big Frenchman said that he anticipated Danny’s flick, which is true, but the fact it scrambled in off his knee didn’t exactly reek of extreme composure. Hey, there’s no way I’m going to do it down any more though, because here is a fine footballer in the purplest of purple patches, which we are profiting on so much right now.

After that first goal and for the rest of that first half we walked all over Newcastle and although I could only listen via the radio, when I watched the full match highlights again afterwards, it was easy to see how dominant we were. The second goal only helped to emphasise the gulf in class and the way in which Giroud held off his man to nod the ball in from a set piece was classic old-skool centre forward stuff. He’s so strong, a real focal point for our team and if he hadn’t have picked up that broken leg, I’m convinced he’d be on 25 goals already this season. He’s up to 17 now and is sure to hit 20 with the way he’s playing, so let’s hope that he stays fit between now and the end of May.

But psychology, oh psychology, how you seem to permeate the minds of Arsenal players more than any other team. Because the second that Newcastle scored, you knew we were in for a bumpy second half. I’d like to say that it was the fact the goal was scored so early that caused us the mental shift we seemed to have, but we conceded against QPR and Crystal Palace in the post 80 minute mark and it had the same effect, so it doesn’t seem to matter when that opponent goal is scored, we seem to become immediately inhibited as a result.

Perhaps I’m doing the team an injustice though, as inevitably we would tire in the second half after a tough trip to the south of France and all the travelling. Arsenal will probably have played about 12 games more than Newcastle this season and when you get to this time of the year it’s always going to show when you have players that are more fatigued than others. When you add to the fact that Newcastle left the pitch to a chorus of boo’s at halftime, there was always going to be a reaction, which is how the game transpired. Sissoko’s finish was decent enough and perhaps there should be questions asked as to why he was given the freedom of the penalty box, because his volleyed shot could have been put under a bit more pressure. It’s interesting because from almost that same position in the first half, Welbeck had drilled a ball wide in a similar build up, so it just shows you how important those fine margins are in football.

So with the deficit halved, the home fans finally finding their voices, we began to rock and it was strange how our confident passing suddenly seemed to go awry. We were the ones that suddenly wanted to give Newcastle time and space. Corners, balls into the box and saves from Ospina seemed to be the order of the day and we just couldn’t find any rhythm. Ball retention became almost negligible and to my mind there was only going to be one result come the end of the game and it wouldn’t be positive for us.

But do you know what, We’re getting good at grinding out these away day wins, aren’t we? Digging in, winning tackles, and with combative players like Coquelin – who took another smash in the face yesterday- we’re looking a lot more like we can hold on to leads. Le Coq wasn’t at his best yesterday, but the back four overall looked good even with the rotation of Chambers and Gabriel in to the team.

I said yesterday that a win would be massive given that United and Liverpool play each other today. So it has transpired, as the Spuds and Southampton both won too, so it means we can watch today’s lunchtime kick off with the comfort of knowing that someone will be dropping points. Strangely, I want it to be Liverpool, because if they lose and we can beat Liverpool at Easter, it will put serious daylight between us and the other top four positions. I know we should dare to dream above us, but to be honest with you, if we could just secure top four as quickly as possible I’d be happy. Let’s get daylight between us and the other teams fighting for it and then hopefully look to wins against Reading and then a possible cup final too. If we get that, then I’d be a happy bunny. But to do that, I think we need to be beating Liverpool in a couple of weeks time – our next match after the international break.

For now, let’s just enjoy the fact we’re comfortably third, the sun is shining in Blighty and our form is magnificent at the moment.

Give Theo a go against an exposed Newcastle defence

Match day today and a 3pm kick off too. That’s two weekend’s in a row. The TV companies obviously have forgotten about Arsenal in the league. Good, hopefully we’ll get more of that. Well, I say good, but I’m actually a little cheesed off about this fixture, because I normally go up north to see the family and get tickets, but because I’ve only got one card with 5 away points and one with four – and I need two tickets – I wasn’t even given the opportunity to buy. I guess that’s what happens when your team gets further in the cup competitions – people want to snaffle up all the away points they can.

Still, I won’t grumble too much, as they are all Arsenal fans and therefore my kindred spirits up in the North East today. Whilst I sit at my office typing away in Uxbridge. Nope, definitely not jealous…

With the pre-match presser taking place on Thursday instead of yesterday as has been the case for much of the season, we have a good idea of who’s fit and who’s not, but who will start? Your guess is as good as mine actually. We’ve got plenty of options, that’s for sure, with Rosicky also returning to a squad with whom it appears Arsene finally feels comfortable enough to undertake rotation. And what’s the result? We have won 13 out of 15. Who’d have thought that competition for places and rotating quality players to keep them as fresh as possible would have such an impact, eh? But as we get to the sharp and pointy end of the season, players all appear to be coming back to fitness at once and so there are some dilemmas to be had for Arsene and his selection.

Firstly, the defence. I think this is one of the easier choices at the moment. Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscienly and Monreal appear to be the preferred choice. The question over whether we go for Gibbs over Monreal must be asked, but the rest are pretty much a shoe-in I would have thought, so that leaves Arsene with little headachiness at the back. Monreal has been in fine form, but I guess Arsene would have to decide whether or not we need more pace going forward to get in behind the Newcastle full backs. I think Monreal would be the wisest option, because I think we have pace in the rest of the team to trouble Newcastle, so on this occasion I’d probably opt for the in-form Spaniard.

In midfield the combative Coquelin will obviously anchor the trio, but does Arsene go for Ramsey, Cazorla, Ozil or Rosicky? After their displays against West Ham and Monaco, I don’t think you can drop Cazorla or Ozil, but Rambo has two in two for goals and was starting to look like his old self. Perhaps there is an argument for inclusion of all three? That would probably mean seeing Ozil out wide on the left again and although I’m sure his form would dictate that we won’t see him perform like he did at the start of the season in that position, I’d still prefer more genuine width and pace out on the attacking flanks. It’s actually a really hard decision and for once I can’t actually profess to have a preference. If you put a gun to my head I’d probably say Ramsey and Cazorla, but that’s just because of the Welshman’s recent goals and Cazorla as the in-form player in the whole team at the moment – Giroud aside. It would be harsh on Mesut, who was brilliant in Monaco, but like I said above, against Newcastle today I think we need genuine pace up top.

Which is why I am hoping that we see Theo start. That may surprise a few, as Theo has frustrated at times and struggled to make an impact on the game against West Ham, but Newcastle are at home and they will look to drive forward with the Geordie home support behind them. That could lead gaps and potentially a higher line, which is where Theo is at his most dangerous, so I hope he starts. But here’s the kicker, because if he does start, then I’d hope Mesut plays. He can see passes that nobody else see’s and if anybody is going to set Theo through bearing down on goal, it’s the German. Decisions! Decisions!

Who does Theo replace? For me it has to be Alexis. He will never stop running and never stop putting in the effort, but he’s looked leggy and has made less of an impact in the last two games. We have an international break in which he will probably play most of the friendly against Brazil at The Emirates, but after that is Liverpool, so I think now is the perfect time to give him a wee rest. We can always bring him on in the second half if we are chasing a goal.

The other two that must play are Giroud and Welbeck for me. Both have shown that they are full of confidence at the moment and Danny made an instant impact against West Ham when he came on last Saturday. Giroud loves a goal against Newcastle and so it would be maad not to have him as the focal point in our attack.

As for the Geordies, they’re missing a few key players, so today represents a good opportunity for three points for us. Spitty McGhee won’t play up front as he continues to serve his suspension for releasing all of his salivary anger on Johnny Evans, whilst Coloccini was carded last weekend against Everton, which means their captain is out too. Stephen Taylor, Dummet and Haidara are out through injury, as well as the fouliest player in the team Tiote and the pace of Rolando Aarons all miss out. It all feels very ‘Arsenaly’ for the Magpies, so I certainly have plenty of sympathy for them. On paper, you’d expect a comfortable victory for us, but with the trip to Monaco possibly taking it’s toll on those that traveled, I think that evens the contest a little. They’ve still got some danger men though, like Mo Sissoko and Sami Ameobi is an unpredictable player to say the least – just ask the Spuds.

For us it’s about settling the game down because there is always a wave of optimism in Newcastle when they kick off. But provided we are strong defensively and give them nothing to shout about in the first 15 minutes, then the crowd will quieten down and the cheers will turn to jeers, if we don’t concede or better still score early. But a goal for the home team will get the crowd up for it and make it more of an uncomfortable afternoon, so I am hoping that our back four can hit a third clean sheet in a row.

We have nine league games to go. After today it will be just three of our final eight away from home and if we bag three points today it means we can watch the Liverpool vs United game with a degree of comfort. But we have to be up for it today. As always. Come on Arsenal!

Delayed West Ham thoughts: new reportoire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back tomorrow.

how big a factor will fatigue be? 

It’s West Ham today and I have to say, I am intrigued as to who Arsène picks in the first XI come 3pm. 

It’s an interesting dilemma that he faces; on the one hand he’ll have confidence-high players who will be on top of the world after breaking the hoo-doo that enveloped the team when visiting Manchester in seasons past, but he’ll also be Mindful of that ill-fated ‘red zone’ that often preys on the most brittle of hamstrings and calfs. 

My hope is that he opts to keep the team fresh above anything else. West Ham have been away to Dubai for a couple of weeks and will have completely recharged their aching limbs, so I’m expecting them to come at us all guns – or hammers – blazing from quite early in the game.

The advantage we have is the number of injuries and unavailable players they seem to have amassed. No Reid or Tompkins at the back and with Jenkinson unavailable due to the terms of his loan, Allardyce will have some major reshuffling to do with his back five. Hopefully that plays into our hands, but as annoying as he is, Fat Sam can certainly set his team up tactically well enough to make life frustrating for us.

That’s why the forward line will be so important today, but also the supportng cast that sit behind them, I’m specifically thinking about the full backs. I don’t expect we’ll see a swashbuckling 3-5-2 or 4-2-4 from West Ham, so having players with that little bit more going forward must take priority over anything else I think, which is why I hope we see Gibbs and Bellerin start. Both are better going forward than Nacho and Calum and have extra pace too, so I’d give them a run out, despite the fact it would be harsh on Monreal.

It’s also because of the way that West Ham will play, that I think we’ll also not see Theo, because his primary assets of pace and playing off the shoulder of the last man will be left rather redundant against a team who will sit deep and look to take advantage of set plays. 

So for me it’s got to be a front three of Alexis, Giroud and Welbeck. There’s pace enough the either side of Giroud and Welbeck is a slightly better technical player than Walcott I think. 

Sitting behind them id love to fit in Rosicky somewhere, but how can you drop Mesut or Santi in the form they are in? You can’t and I don’t think Wenger will. A unless Tomas changes his entire game overnight and wakes up a ball winning defensive-minded player, it’ll be Coquelin behind the Spaniard and German, with Per and Kos sitting behind him.

I think we win this game if we approach it in the right way and aren’t lethargic with our play. West Ham aren’t in the best of form and we know all too well what problems occur when a squad is decimated with injuries. But the only niggling factor that could impact the game will be who is not quite 100% in terms of fitness, because West Ham will be and we have to be ready for it.

We need to maintain momentum to keep up the feelgood factor at the moment. The weather is getting warmer, we have an FA Cup semi final to look forward to and are in a good position in the league, but we need to keep it up.

Come on Arsenal, let’s knock back another three points.

all is well

Liverpool and Chelski out, City all but gone against Barca and Arsenal remain the only hope for British success in the Champions League.

How did that happen?

I’m not complaining though. Certainly not as much as Chelski players were, apparently, last night. I’ve seen plenty of friends comment on the antics of the West Londoners, but I’m not surprised, a horrible club.

So pardon me for activating schadenfreude mode and having a little Barry Chuckle at a team who have spent the best part of a decade financially doping themselves to the top. Then relying on more slices of luck when they actually won the thing than any team I’ve ever seen in my life.

But matters need to move away from Google searching for player interviews with the words “we can win the quadruple” and towards the wonderful world of The Arsenal. It’s a world of super awesomeness and at this very moment in time is one in which we have an FA Cup semi final to go, plus a run-in for the Premier League where we could see us get third if we can maintain our momentum, starting with West Ham this weekend.

I’m certainly not counting my chickens because there is a lot of winning that needs to be done, but if the best pose or scenario does happen and we finish third and win the FA Cup, all of a sudden this season of inconsistency represents genuine progress. On paper at least. I mean yeah, we haven’t even got close to challenging for the league, but last season was one in which we finished fourth and won the FA Cup, so third and the FA Cup (again, those chickens remain firmly in their coop) would be an improvement that we can all celebrate, especially given the decimation of the squad in the earlier parts of the season.

The positive signs are there though. Arsène has options. The bench has never looked so strong and even back-to-back hammies (Gabriel and The Ox) won’t see our team drastically weakened for the next couple of weeks. I’ve always bemoaned Arsène’s lack of desire to rotate effectively and yes, perhaps he still only does it because we are constantly picking up knocks, but by Jove we’ve now got one heck of a squad for him to call in reinforcements on. 

Every game there’s an argument to be made on the first eleven and coupled with our form at the moment, it means that every player knows they have a chance of playing and knows that they must perform when they are given it. Look at Cazorla. He’s in the form of his life. Özil has got back into the team after injury and looks a different player. I’m not a stats man – reading this rubbish I brain dump on this blog every day will have proven that to you already – but I know what I see and on Monday night Özil battled to win the ball through making tackles three times I counted. I wondered if he’d ever had to make a tackle before he joined The Arsenal. But he’s adapting his game to the English league and showing that he’s more than capable of being a success.

Giroud was the ‘big man on campus’ last season, but this time around he can be dropped for a crucial FA Cup away game to Manchester United. Do you think that thought would have even spent a millisecond in Arsène’s mind if that would have happened a year ago? Not a chance. But now he knows he has to perform, or he’ll find himself a cosy seat next to Theo, who I haven’t even mentioned yet because he’s barely featured all season. 

As usual I have no real underlying message to today’s blog. It’s just my thoughts and feelings as far as Arsenal are concerned right now. The feelings are good. I won’t deny the fragility of those feelings should we trip and stumble at this crucial time of the season, but right now you have to admire the team and the manager, both of whom are doing everything that is asked of them. Winning football matches.

And all is well.

Drinking in success and the different styles in which we adopt now

These are the blogs that I started this site to write. It’s victories like today that make the daily musings and nonsensical ramblings feel glorious in the extreme. Sometimes there’s nothing better than savouring victory against a highly ranked opponent on their own turf. Sometimes you just have to drink it in, savour every drop and let it linger on your tongue like a single Skip from a bag of the prawn cocktail flavoured crisps.

Sure, it wasn’t a cup final and sure, we still have a lot of work to do if we want to win ourselves ‘old big ears’ again for successive seasons, but by jove, if you can’t enjoy a night like last night (once the final whistle has gone, of course), then I pity you.

I enjoyed it. I was down on my knees on the floor in my lounge with my fists clenched in front of me making a half-relieved, half-elated fist rocking movement. The Management, sat behind me wondering how on earth the fortunes of 11 fully grown men could over 250 miles away could have such an impact, simply stared with a smile on her face. She has become a surrogate Gooner and so is also happy for the win, but probably more amused at the clear joy it brought me personally.

This, in some way, has made up for the travesty that took place at The Emirates earlier in the season. United had been dominated that day but gave us two sucker-punches to nick the points when they really shouldn’t have. You cannot say we didn’t deserve to go through last night in the same way in which United didn’t deserve the points from us in November, but the most important thing for me is that we went through.

It feels like the spell has been broken. The curse has been lifted, banished to the deepest, darkest recesses of the corners of the world. It may not have. We may now go on another painful run against big teams, but for now we can all look at last nights game – as well as the one at the Etihad earlier this year – and realise that this team can go away from home and get a result.

And what a result. Victory against United has opened the way for a Wembley semi final against either Bradford or Reading and whilst Arsene rightly pointed out the difficulty of the Wigan game last season, you’d have to be a fool not to fancy our chances of progressing to the finals at this moment in time. We have momentum you see. We’re on a good run of form and are combining different styles of play depending on the team we are up against. We’ve played swashbuckling domination against the likes of Villa, we’ve played gritty and ‘dug in’ in games against Palace and QPR, we’ve been patient in facing a decent Everton side in which we needed to leave it late to secure the points and we’ve soaked up pressure and hit on the counter in games like Moneychester City and Man United last night. Suggestions thata this Arsenal team don’t have different tactics are clearly wide of the mark (and I appreciate that I too have been guilty of suggesting it on this blog a couple of times, I hasten to add).

The manager’s team selection showed that he now feels more confident than ever to rotate his team according to circumstance. Giroud dropping to the bench had us all stunned, but as Arsene admitted after the win, it was a psychological decision based on Welbeck’s desire to make a statement, rather than injury or form. That must also be the case for the goalkeeping situation. On a day in which we must applaud the victorious and pay tribute to the players for breaking their collective duck, i’ll keep any negativity to a minimum, but Szczesny looked a bit wobbly to me. His distribution nearly led to two very promising chances of scoring and his handling didn’t strike me as that of somebody who was on the verge of reclaiming the starting jersey in goal. Ospina certainly won’t be afraid of losing his place against West Ham on Saturday.

But, like I said, I’ll keep the negativity to a minimum. Now is the time for positivity and the back four certainly provided that. Both Koscienly and Big Per were resolute in dealing with the aerial threat of Fellaini and although Rooney got in between them for the United goal, in the main the back two were solid.

Likewise I thought Bellerin did well, although he was probably lucky to stay on the pitch with a slightly rash tackle having been booked by Michael Olivier early on in the game. In those opening stages I did wonder if we’d get a trigger-happy referee with the cards he would show, but the performance of the man in yellow turned out to be another pleasant surprise. Rather than bow to the significant home support for every decision, he stayed firm and got two big calls right – sending off Di Maria for a shirt grab on him and booking Januzaj for a clear dive. Di Maria’s dive was also noted and rightly booked and as I tweeted yesterday, it feels like the veil of injustice appears to have been lifted at Old Trafford finally. Thank heavens for that. Perhaps, like the players who say they no longer fear going to Old Trafford, the referees have the same mindset too? Won’t that make for some good games, if they are reffed equally between two teams? What must Howard Webb be thinking?

In midfield Coquelin picked up yet another man-of-the-match performance but beside him Santi was also pulling the strings. When you have a team that try and press every man as quickly as United tried to do in the first half and in patches in the second, how important is it to have a player like Santi who can retain the ball through his ability to dribble around players and distribute it? It takes a heck of a lot of pressure off the defence and his contribution cannot be overlooked in our return to form since just before Christmas. Play on little Spanish maestro, play on.

Mesut Ozil too had a different type of game. He was less involved in the build up play, but more involved in overall play and won three separate tackles yesterday evening. Those that accuse him of a lack of work rate will have been left scratching their heads at yesterday’s performance and our mercurial German has only done himself more favours with another good display. He’s putting together a string of performances that are showing his quality, regardless of the tired clichés trotted out from Danny Murphy on the BBC that Ozil hasn’t done enough since returning from injury. I’d wager that Danny hasn’t seen much of Ozil in the last few weeks. I have. You have. We know that his performances have been good for a few weeks now.

Up top Welbeck got his reward – nay, his revenge – from Louis van Gaal and the celebration when he scored was majestic. All too often returning players play the ‘respect’ card. Do the fans want it? Not that I know. If you don’t play for Arsenal and you score against Arsenal I don’t really care what you do. You’re the enemy and I look more at why my own team gave you the opportunity to score in the first place. So to see Welbeck celebrate was brilliant. It was clear joy at possibly securing a semi-final place for his new team. And he did. He is progressing and will be walking out at Wembley in a few weeks time. His former teammates, will not.

The Ox was also good in the first half, which is why his hamstring injury was clearly a big blow in the second, but whilst he will be sad waking up today facing the prospect of a few weeks out (hopefully not longer), at least he can be happy in the knowledge that his valuable contribution has directly led to our progression, through his slalom-like run that tee’d up the excellent Nacho in the first half.

What a great day. A fabulous win, a semi-final to look forward to and a hoo-doo undone.

Thank you Arsenal.

stern test importantly navigated 

That, like Crystal Palace before it two weeks ago, felt like a big three points yesterday. There will undoubtedly be those that will look at the score line and simply shrug it off with  an “it was only QPR”, but we were made to sweat a bit for those three points, both in the first half and the last ten (if you include injury time.

As I said with my pre-game ramblings in the morning yesterday, QPR will have had the time away to reflect, prepare themselves and get plenty of rest ahead of our visit to West London, where as we’d played two games since they’d even graced a pitch in competitive action. The net effect of that was that the first half saw a leggy-looking Arsenal come up against a pumped Rangers team who popped the ball around well and when they needed to, went direct to Zamora. 

The first half was watched by yours truly on a somewhat dodgy iPhone stream, but even with the slightly blurry yellow and blue images moving around the pitch, I could still see that we struggled for fluency. QPR however, looked to test us with getting the ball out wide and into the box, with Ospina thankfully on hand when Per or Gabriel, then laterly Koscienly (our new signing seems tailor-made for the Arsenal, after picking up a hamstring injury, replacing the injured Brazillian in the first half) dealt with most balls pumped in and around the penalty spot.

I do love it when Arsène remembers to bring the halftime oranges though. They provided an injection of vitamin C and energy and we looked more cohesive in the second half. In the first 45 Green had maybe two saves to make, but in the second we tested him more, almost within the first minute or two. 

So in hindsight today I can look at the game and see that the goal was coming. You just don’t see it at the time on account of all the fear and such. You know how it is.

Olivier was in the right place at the right time and as Gibbs – who looks to have won his place back from Monreal – rushed beyond Alexis in the box, the handsome Frenchman was the beneficiary with a quick swivel and finish. Loved it. Loved it because it was a real poachers goal. The kind that Eduardo or Wrighty used to love scrambling in. He’s on 13 for the season right now and you have to say that on current form he might just hit that 20 goal mark. Having missed a third of a season. How amazing would that be?

Alexis too got on the scoresheet and you have to say that if anyone should score it should be him. He hadn’t tucked one away for a while and even Arsène admitted afterwards that this sort of stuff plays on your mind when it goes on for a while. I am pleased he scored, but I have to say I was surprised he started, because to me he’d looked a little tired. His fatigue tends to manifest itself as misplaced passes or running into blind alleys with the ball, rather than the lack of running, but you could see that happening with increased frequency of late, so I did wonder if Arsène would save him for United. But ultimately, we should all be glad this morning that he didn’t. 

I thought Özil and Coquelin also had good games too. Arsène said all the midfielders had impressive performances but with those two I think it stands out more. That’s because Özil has been under the spotlight and in for criticism this season, so naturally we all want him to succeed, so when he does we’re all keen to emphasise it. As for Coquelin, he’s the archetypal ‘unlikely hero’ story that gets better and better each week. He got into the team with displays of energy and high intensity with the odd big tackle thrown in each game, but I’m starting to see more and more composure become obvious, with the more game time he’s getting. There was one moment – an innocuous one really – where he simply sheparded the ball out for a thrown in without touching the ball. That’s the simple intelligence that you need in a covering midfielder. Staying fit for the rest of the season will surely see him remain in the team – even when Arteta comes back. 

So we keep third, despite the fact everyone around us also won, but it’s one game closer to the end goal of Champions League football. Next week it’s the FA Cup but for now we can relax in the knowledge that we’re looking good, in form and players are still banging goals in.

See you tomorrow.