Defenders, injuries, and Arsene’s Gordon Bombay impression

There’s literally nothing going on in the Arsenal world today. Like, nothing, nada, zip, zero, zilch. It makes providing daily musings on all things Arsenal quite a challenge you know. But, I do it because it’s my bit of fun really, so I shouldn’t complain. It’s not like my life is dependent on ensuring that information about Arsenal is syndicated to you regularly, so when there’s nothing on, there’s nothing on. Except, I do actually want there to be something to talk about. Got any ideas?

From an injury point of view I suppose there’s always something to talk about. Hypothesizing on why we have this many injuries, who is injured at the moment and why the club haven’t come out and told us about the latest couple to hit the team – Gibbs and Arteta. The former has been speculatively quoted as six weeks on the sidelines, but the latter is expected to be a shorter injury lay off. Either way, both are quite injury-prone players and with our defence thread-bare as it is, it does leave the decision to have minimal playing staff in that part of the pitch quite baffling. We all know that Gibbs is injury-prone. Likewise too, after Koscienly was carrying a knock from the World Cup we all knew it was only a matter of time. I fully expect Mertesacker to break in half, bursting into flames, whilst an inexperienced fireman throws an unknown liquid on him which turns out to be paraffin against Burnley on Saturday afternoon.

Arteta too is of the age where he should be viewed as squad rotation, not first choice, purely based on his injury record more than his actual ability. Against Sunderland I thought he played very well and kept us ticking over, but I think we’re likely to see a lot more knocks and injuries to him over the next six months, so that we don’t have another option aside for Flamini (or both if we’re looking to cover our ailing defence?) is crazy in the least. And I know crazy. At the in-laws this weekend I was given a salsa called ‘Crazy Fred’s’ and it had scotch bonnets in it. So I’m well versed in the art of the insane.

There is always transfer guff I could speculate on, I suppose, but really? Do we really have to be subjected to the kind of rubbish about Pedro handing in transfer requests so he could join us? He’s a good player but what on earth would we do with another wide forward? Are we stockpiling them for some kind of nuclear footballing holocaust? Or are we going to do some kind of inverted ‘Flying V’ formation that see’s us playing with hardly any defenders any more so we can all just on-rush the opposition straight from any set play, kick-off, corner, etc? Actually, given our reluctance to purchase cover at the back, perhaps I’m on to something there. Arsene Wenger is playing the Emilio Estevez ‘Gordon Bombay':

“Keep swingin’ Charlie and maybe you’ll give the goalie a cold”

I don’t even bother clicking on the links on NewsNow any more. It’s 99% transfer trash and never leads to any real insight. You’d do better trying to learn the art of divination through tea-leaves than use any online media source for your insight into who Arsenal are going to sign.

Anyway, like I said, relatively little on so I’m going pause, reflect, then eat something for my breakfast.

Ciao.

Gift horses for Alexis puts us up and running

You should never look a gift horse in the mouth. So when two come trotting into the stables, you lasso them both and drag them over to you as quickly as possible.

Yesterday’s away victory up in the North East to the Mackems was not comfortable, it was not free-flowing, but it was very welcome. Sunderland contrived to give us two absolute pearlers of defensive errors, the likes of which we’ve seen on a few occasions go against us over the years. The one man who was the grateful recipient of the gifts – Alexis Sanchez – was also the best player on the pitch by a millions miles, so perhaps it was fitting that he was the one who was afforded the luxury of a centre half and goalkeeping blunder, such was his hard work both on and off the ball.

Within a couple of games at the start of the season we could all tell that Alexis would be a hit in England. Fans reward effort almost as much as attainment in this country, so when you have a player who regularly achieves top marks in both, you are always on to a winner. Whilst the papers and pundits today will talk about the game in the context of the Sunderland self-inflicted implosion, I’d like to offer a different school of thought, one which suggests that it was the energetic Chilean also had a role to play in the errors. Last season we did not have a pairing like Alexis and Welbeck to push from the front as high as those two players do, so it is highly likely that we would not have profited from the mistakes of Messieurs Brown and Mannone, come the final whistle. But this season, we have that higher pressing that will lead to mistakes if players don’t have time to react when they receive the ball.

Let’s also recognise that for the first goal, Alexis still had a lot to do as he bore down on Mannone. Picking the ball up just after the halfway line gives you three or four seconds of running before deciding what to do, in which time there is often plenty of room to decide where you’re placing the ball and making a wrong decision. Such was the confidence of our tireless superstar, that he simple ‘dinked’ the ball over Mannone, setting us on the way to a well deserved victory.

And you can’t deny that our victory wasn’t well deserved. We dominated possession for large swathes of the match, we had the most clear-cut chances, plus we looked the more assured defensively. In the first half Welbeck and Cazorla both fizzed shots over and just wide respectively, whilst our midfield of Arteta and Flamini controlled possession with consummate ease. Last season there we’d many of us who bemoaned the double pivote, but having watched a stuttering start to 2014/15 and the 4-1-4-1 formation, it was good for us to go back to basics.

Perhaps Arsène recognised the make-shiftiness of of our back four and realised that they needed a bit more protection. It worked. We were hardly troubled defensively for the whole game and whilst some will argue that it was because we played a wounded animal in Sunderland, that sometimes works against you, as the opponents play with a point to prove. Thankfully from this Gooners perspective, the Black Cats never really showed any of that potential threat that I thought we’d come up against.

Which is just as well really, because our free-flowing football has yet to completely return, based on yesterday’s performance. Passing still went awry, we were still very static and laboured at times, and you can tell that this is an Arsenal team that is struggling to find confidence right now. But it’s a bit of a Catch 22 situation with confidence, because you only get it by winning games, so if winning games requires confidence, perhaps we should just be happy that we’ve managed back-to-back victories and a win in a weeks time against Burnley will see us looking like we’ve put together a bit of a streak to take into the rest of the season.

Some words on individual performances. I thought Monreal and Chambers had a good game, although both were relatively untroubled by a relatively toothless Sunderland side, so perhaps sterner tests are to come. In midfield I though Flamini played well and, one two-footed challenge aside (he does like to throw himself in to those), he was vastly improved in his performance compared to a few weeks ago.

Santi Cazorla didn’t have one of his best games. He’s quite good at pretending to be a rugby kicker, because he does like a skied ball high above the goalposts. He had a few really good chances yesterday and I’m sure he’ll be frustrated at himself for not at least working the ‘keeper.

Up top we had the effervescent Alexis, who’s 10 out of 10 performance I suspect might just become a more regular appearance as he gets to know his teammates each week. What a player we have with him. His tireless running even made me feel fatigued just watching him. He’s a star in the making and his energy does, I think, also rub off on other players. There were times yesterday where I saw Santi running down one of the centre halves after Mannone had distributed a short pass out wide to build from the back, to which I could only muse to myself that it was the infectious effort of Welbeck and Alexis rubbing off on our diminutive Spaniard.

Welbeck was quiet and The Ox showed patches of good play, but he was still a bit loose in some of his passing and with Walcott approaching first team fitness, he will be looking at his place in the team and wondering how long he has in the team. A front three of Alexis, Welbeck and Walcott is a mouth-watering prospect, so let’s hope we see a glimpse of that next weekend.

Another injury, this time to Gibbs, prevented the day from being an overall success and you wonder when we’re going to catch a break. Arsène was obviously non-committal on how bad the injury was, but we’ve seen that kind of limping off all too often with Arsenal players, so I’m fully expecting to hear during the week that we have a three of our first choice back four out until after the international break in a few weeks time. It does feel like we’re cursed at the moment, but it’s exacerbated by our own making, of which I’m bored myself of talking about it, so I’ll move swiftly on.

So what did we ultimately learn from yesterday? Well, I suppose firstly it’s that we’re still not at our best and there should be more we can expect from Arsenal. But it feels like we’re underway in the league now and so what we’ll all be hoping to see in the coming months is a series of wins that puts us in contention for those top four spots.

See you tomorrow.

Nervy about form, but a reaction is needed

Matchday! The bestest day of the week! Today it’s Sunderland away and the best thing about football is that it very quickly offers the chance of redemption, so after a number of really poor performances, the Arsenal players could wash away the bad taste left in the mouth from the home draw to Hull or the smash and grab in Brussels.

I’m oop Norf for today’s game with The Management’s family and if I’m completely honest, whilst I’m excited to be popping along to the game this afternoon, I’m also really apprehensive. There are a lot of factors which could mean that this afternoon is not as enjoyable as I’d hope it could be.

For starters there’s our own form. Sure, we picked up a win in midweek, but we haven’t really kicked into gear all season as yet. Perhaps the Galatasaray game was the only exception, but even the Villa game had some scary moments before the match was effectively over at half time and turned into a testimonial in the second half.

We are not playing well and going forward we were quite toothless on Wednesday and on Saturday too. If we are going to win the game today, we can’t afford to be so lethargic in our passing. Our good football is about movement. It’s about pulling teams apart by quick interchanges of possession and willing runners. It’s not about static sideways balls from one side of the pitch to another via three midfielders all in a line. The only way we will win today is if there is energy in the performance.

And that’s the second reason why I’m nervous, because I think we’ll see a Sunderland side with a lot of energy today. They will have spent a whole week stewing on an 8-0 performance and so their players will be pumped today. They will be running their arses off in front of their home fans and so if we are not at it from the first second, I think we’ll be in trouble. Where we were appalling last season was when teams blitzed us in the first 15 minutes. It wouldn’t surprise me if Poyet tells his players to do the same. The first opening exchanges of today’s game might just require us to dig deep and play well defensively. Which leads me to the third reason why I am worried about today…

Defensively we had nothing to do against Hull and we still were masters of our own downfall with the second goal. Forget the first, that was an anomaly and should have been a foul, but there can be no excuses for the second goal. Likewise in midweek, with what felt to me like a carbon copy of the second Hull goal (caught under the flight of a ball and opposition player nods beyond the ‘keeper), we can’t really have any complaints. Today Sunderland will be looking to exploit our defensive frailties by testing our back four with balls in to Fletcher through the channels, most likely delivered by either Wickham or Buckley, or through set pieces from Larsson or Johnson.

If Arsène chooses to field the same side as he did on Wednesday, with Monreal in the heart of the defence, I fear what the repercussions will be. Monreal is not a centre half and so I have no beef with him, but more I have beef with the boss if he continues to choose him. I hope Arsène sees sense and puts Chambers in the heart of the back four, bringing Bellerin in at right back, because I think that gives us more balance than the team that played in the Champions League. Bellerin was impressive against Hull and I certainly think he deserves another shot at playing against a Sunderland side that might give us a bit more space going forward.

Which leads me to trying to finish up today’s match preview blog by being a bit more positive. Defensively Sunderland have the same problems with lack of numbers that we do, and whilst they will be massively up for this game today, they are still the same side that conceded eight against Southampton. If Sunderland aim to come at us and catch us off guard by pressing higher up the pitch, it will give room for Welbeck and Alexis to do their thang. Alexis was awesome against Anderlecht and another performance like that will most likely go a long way in giving us the win. Bellerin might also profit from Sunderland pushing forward, because he did look good going forward against Hull and he is very rapid so he might get a bit of green grass to run into today. If he does, he’ll need the support of the midfield runners like Ramsey and the vision of Cazorla, to support him in finding an outlet in our final third.

The blueprint for our struggles this season has been when teams have sat back and let us pass ourselves to death. I’m not sure Sunderland will do that today. They might do, I could be wrong, but I think their fans will get on their backs if they set themselves up for a draw at home. So them coming at us like Villa did could end up being a blessing.

Keep those fingers crossed Gooners!

Get out of Birthday Jail Card used

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you tomorrow.

 

What’s wrong with defence? No silver bullet

Do you feel like we dodged a bullet by avoiding Balotelli and plumping instead for Welbeck? After Danny notched his fifth of the season, whilst Mad Mario failed repeatedly to get off the mark yesterday, it’s impossible not to breathe a sigh of relief, because I’ll be honest and say I thought he’d have been a great signing at The Arsenal.

Thankfully though we have found ourselves a couple of forwards in Alexis and Welbeck, who look every bit the success so far, so we can only hope that they continue their good run of scoring over the coming months. Because let’s face it, with the rate at which we’re conceding goals, we’re going to need them to keep banging them in just to stay close to the hunt for a top four spot. Which is what leads me to my central point of discussion today:

What has happened to our defence?

This season already we’ve conceded 11 goals in the league. In just eight games. That’s nearly a goal and a half each match and the contrast between the team this season and the one that made a fabulous habit of clean sheets last season is marked. I don’t have a ‘run rate’ of when we’d conceded our 11th goal in the league last season, but I’d expect to find out that we were near the halfway mark in the season when we did. Two goals against Leicester, Everton, Chelski, Dortmund and Hull. The list is mounting and it’s filling me with more trepidation than anything else.

Last seasons success was built on a miserly approach to football matches. We were pragmatic in our play: stay strong and hard to break down at the back, get the lead and never look like giving it away, which was the blueprint for a very good season until March when the injuries and lack of pace up top kicked in. It was the sharp end of the team that derailed our title charge in 13/14, but it’s the defence that has in my opinion, already destroyed our hopes of a first league title in 11 years.

So why are we so different? What has changed about the back four that was there last year but not this? Barring Sagna, it certainly hasn’t been the personnel. Szczesny, Gibbs, Koscienly and Mertesacker have – by and large – been present for most of this season. They were present for a vast bulk of last season too. We all agree (I think) that Debuchy for Sagna was a very close ‘like-for-like’ and whilst he’s been out for a few weeks, it’s hardly been his absence that has caused us to haemorrhage goals with such frequency, has it? And anyhow, our conceding of goals hasn’t all been down the right hand side of our team, so you can’t really point the finger of blame in the direction where Sagna has been.

Most Arsenal fans I know have also been very happy with Chambers too. So why on earth, when individually the players don’t seem to be playing so badly, are we dropping points quicker than a slippery bar of soap? I don’t really understand it. Sure, I have theories, but there isn’t really any kind of insight or evidence to back up my argument. And in football it is very rare that ongoing issues with a team performance come down to one or two key factors.

I don’t believe, for example, that not having a tough-tackling, ball-winning midfielder would have stopped every goal we’ve conceded from going in. As much as the need exists, I don’t think the role of the fabled ‘DM’ played that much part in the second goal for Hull on Saturday. Had our giant German not been caught under the flight of the ball he might have been able to nod that away from Hernandez.

The same goes with another centre half. Had we have kept Vermaelen in the summer, for example, it would still probably have been Per that was caught under the flight of the ball.

So perhaps it is the form of the players? There’s no doubt that Per and Kos haven’t been as effective as last season. Mertesacker was the chief protagonist for goal number two on Saturday in my opinion, but Koscienly has also been guilty of lapses in concentration, like at Leicester (although whether he should have remained on the pitch after his head injury is another question entirely).

When Szczesny suffered his dip in form a few seasons back, many said it was because he was not in competition from any serious number two, a fact I believe he has even alluded to. Is this the case for our two central defenders? Perhaps there’s something in that you know. Both Per and Kos know that their only real competition is a 19-year-old who had made a handful of first team appearances until last season. Thankfully for us, he has hit the ground running and looked a superb centre half, but we all know that when fit, he will step back on to the subs bench.

It’s all very well looking at the problems defensively when injuries set in, but it’s that element of competition that also plays a part in player form, so by refusing to address the defensive issues in the summer, the manager has also made it doubly hard for himself by not providing enough of a stick with which to nudge the central pairing a little when they aren’t quite at their best.

Again, I don’t think that can be attributed as the single reason as to why we are not looking as resolute at the back as we did last season because let’s face it, Per and Kos are professionals and they will be trying their hardest to remain at the peak of their games. I don’t want to accuse both of a lack of incentive, because I don’t think that’s the case, but I do think that sometimes you need as much stick as carrot in any profession.

So is it the formation? Everyone talks about this 4-1-4-1 formation, and how it is costing us games, but the defensive side of the team hasn’t changed shape-wise. We still have a goalkeeper like last season. We still have a back four. And one of our midfielders still sits more deeper lying than the others. There may be questions around the success of the style and change in approach going forward, but defensively we should be the same as we were last season. As much as I am not a fan of the change in style (although I still remain to be convinced that it is 4-1-4-1. It still looks very similar to last season, but with some players playing in positions less familiar to them e.g. Özil), if you imagine that we were as tight defensively as last season, we’d probably have not conceded against the Spuds, City, Hull and Leicester. That’s 12 points instead of four and puts us just a few off the pace of the runaway leaders Chelski.

So to my mind the change in formation hasn’t really affected us defensively. We’ve just not been as good for some reason.

I really can’t work out why we’re so different. Perhaps there is some sort of training regime defensively that isn’t working? I don’t know why we would change a successful formula from last season though. We found something that worked and the manager would surely not have wanted to tinker with that. Would he?

Maybe it’s the World Cup hangover? But Szczesny and Gibbs didn’t go and Koscienly didn’t play all the the way to the final. Chambers wasn’t in the England squad, so it’s only Debuchy and Mertesacker that you could potentially argue have suffered as a result. But again, Debuchy has looked good individually this season, so what, are we putting our defensive frailty down solely to the German and our vice-captain? I certainly don’t think that is the answer and whilst his form hasn’t been amazing, it’s hardly been Rio Ferdinand-esque off the form Richter scale.

I think ultimately what I’m getting at is that there is no silver bullet to explain why we’re all wobbly defensively this season. It’s a combination of factors that aren’t working and as I said in my blog yesterday, it’s just not clicking at the moment. In a way, I wish it was one single factor, because at least then the club can look to isolate, mitigate and minimise the problem as soon as possible. But with so many factors probably contributing, one suspects that we might go through quite a bit more pain this season before we sort ourselves out.

Catch ye’ in the morrow.

Something’s not right

Something isn’t quite right at Arsenal at the moment. Most obviously is the number of draws that we’ve already racked up this season. Everton, Leicester, Moneychester City, the Spuds and Hull have all shared the spoils with us and as a result we find ourselves this morning with only 13 points after the first eight games.

If you want to look into the detail you could argue that going away to Everton and Chelski and playing the Spuds and City at home isn’t the easiest of starts, to which I would certainly agree, but the really great teams take advantage of things like being at home and pick up points where needed. Just look at Moneychester City. They dispatched a pretty average Tottenham team that we huffed and puffed against but still laboured to a draw. I know I probably shouldn’t be comparing us to any oil whoring club, but we’ve had aspirations of an assault on the league title previously, especially after our appetites were wetted following an excellent attempt at it last season. So for me personally, to see us now already miles off the two petro-dollar clubs is a pain that I’d rather not have to experience, as a fan.

I tweeted yesterday that I am coming to accept that our fight is not with the two going for the title, it is with the also-rans of Man United, Totteringham and Liverpool. With every performance like yesterday that appears more and more to be the case. We came up against yet another team in Hull that, Like Palace on day one, knew that what they needed to do was sit deeper, defend in numbers and catch us on the counter. And we once again, like the Spuds game, huffed and puffed in the second half with no real drive or guile to unlock an industrious, but not particularly special, Hull team.

When Danny Welbeck scored the equaliser in stoppage time, I was relieved, but Ben and I (my partner in crime for the day) barely even celebrated. Why should you feel like a last minute goal to avoid the first defeat at home in 14 months is a good thing when the opponents have only had four shots on goal in the whole match? It’s like an old fashioned game of Championsship Manager, but we are the real-life example. Teams don’t need to batter us to pick up points at The Emirates, they just need a set piece or two, or a counter attack. That’s what’s wrong at the moment. We concede with the only chances that our opponents get. It happened with Palace on the opening day, it happened against The Spuds, and now it’s happened against Hull.

Yes, Steve Bruce rightly admitted that their first goal probably shouldn’t have been because of the blatant pull by Diame to win an advantage and get through against Szczesny, but the second goal was a comedy of errors from our perspective.

The really weird thing is, from my perspective when thinking back on the game, I don’t think our defence was that bad in the main. Perhaps that was because we spent very little time doing any actual defending, but I thought Monreal coped admirably, that Gibbs looked good going forward and that Bellerin was not over-awed by the occasion. But we seem to have this amazing ability to play half-decent and still look terrible on one or two moments like the Hernandez goal just after half time. It’s weird and I can’t put my finger on it. Do we just switch off? Are we just unlucky? Is there a soft underbelly to this team that you just need to catch at the moment? I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that we will not be getting anywhere near close to the Premier League this season, so let’s start paying more attention to the results of Liverpool, United and the Spuds who, thankfully, all seem to be having their own issues in different areas at the moment.

The first half yesterday actually looked pretty good. We popped the ball around well, Alexis was in sparkling form (he was one of the few that continued that in the second half) and I remarked to Ben at half time that we were unlucky not to be two up and coasting at half time. If The Ox had put away his chance just before Hull scored, we’d probably have been out of sight. But that is the story of yesterday, as we didn’t do enough to put Hull to bed and collect the three points needed to move on to Sunderland next weekend.

The second half was probably the most dire I’ve seen so far this season. After we conceded the early goal we spent five minutes being shell shocked, but after that Hull knew that all they had to do was sit deep, in numbers and waste as much time as possible (Mr East the referee was in no mind to pick up this deliberate tactic) and they would potentially pick up the win. Which they nearly did. It took us until the 86th minute before we even fashioned the first proper chance for the third choice Hull ‘keeper to make and that was a smart header from Alexis. But other than that we had barely mustered a decent ball into the box or a shot in anger. Why we even bother with corners I don’t know, because we are completely redundant whenever the ball is slung into the box. We’d be far better taking the ball short and trying to build from there, because whipping a ball in to an opponents head is hardly worth the trouble we spend. Ben and I joked at one point that we would probably be more likely to concede from one of our corners than score from it.

I’m pleased Danny got another goal though. Both him and Alexis are already racking up a useful tally, which you’d hope would be good enough for us to be winning games, but with your defence looking more like a grandmother made patchwork quilt, it is always going to be a struggle. It was a good assist from Alexis too. He was probably the man-of-the-match I would imagine. But again, it was too late to mount a proper onslaught and go for the win, so we pick up another draw. Have you noticed how I haven’t even mentioned the midfield? That’s probably because I can’t really recall any of them having a particularly good game. Flamini’s role is fairly standard and he had little to do against a Hull team sitting so deep, but Jack didn’t really manage to replicate the Pirloesque form of his England displays last weekend, so there were no threaded balls for the front players to feast upon in the second half. Santi was good in the first but faded in the second half and The Ox mis-placed a number of simple passes throughout the game. That was where the issue was in the second half I feel. The midfield just didn’t click and looked fairly negated by the deep-lying Hull defence. But if you want to be champions you have to overcome obstacles like deep-lying teams and you have to unpick the lock, so-to-speak. That is something we just don’t seem capable of and it is a worry for me for even the top four spots.

So next weekend we travel up to the North east to play a Sunderland team who will be really pumped and desperate to show their fans that their 8-0 thrashing to Southampton was a one off. Before that there’s the small matter of an away trip to Belgium to play Anderlecht and you have to hope that we can pick up the required win in both of those games to start this run of form that we’re all hoping will see us in to Christmas in one of the top four places. We have players coming back from injury at various times and hopefully they can lift the club, but the run simply must start now. We cannot afford any more of these hitches.

See you tomorrow.

No cup final repeat, let’s start a run

Ahh, that sweet, sweet feeling of a Saturday 3pm kick off. There simply aren’t enough of them these days and I for one am always happen when one comes around.

As for our opponents, it’s a repeat of the cup final in the shape of Hull, but two very different teams from the ones that rocked up at Wembley in May. Hull have made a number of impressive signings in my book, snapping up Hernandez and Diame, whilst Jelavic looks like he’s started to find his goalscoring form. He was cup-tied in May and so we didn’t have to worry about his potential threat in the cup final.

We too are a different side. On paper more potent in attack, but defensively more fragile, today will most likely see an Arsenal side with a new look about it. I think it might even be the first time a back four of Bellerin, Mertesacker, Monreal and Gibbs have ever started together. Two first teamers, one newbie and a full back out of position who admits playing at centre half makes him feel ‘strange’. It’s hardly filling me we comfort, you?

At least in midfield and attack you’d feel we have enough to pick up all three points today. Jack will surely start after two impressive international performances, whilst the decision lies with the manager on who partners him in the more anchored defensive midfield role. Given that Arteta is now back it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s thrust straight back into the team, but with the injury roll call we’ve had so far this season I would also not be averse to seeing the Flamster sitting behind Wilshere.

Santi Cazorla must surely be given a chance in the number 10 ‘free role’, with The Ox on the right and I’d expect Alexis on the left. Welbeck through the middle completes a forward line with enough pace and trickery to cause problems for Hull. And here’s the good thing: Steve Bruce has promised to ‘have a go’ today. If he is true to his word, then that front three might just find plenty of space with which to operate in if Hull press higher up the field, so I’m hoping that Bruce hasn’t fed us a red herring from his pre-match presser.

What we don’t need today is a repeat of the start of the cup final. Hull came out of the blocks quickly and sucker-punched us with two quick goals. We looked punch-drunk and dazed for about ten minutes after that second goal went in, but when we steadied ourselves the dominance and quality kicked in and we were worthy winners in the end. The first 15 minutes will be as important as anything for our back four. If we remain resolute then the confidence at the back will grow and we will begin to assert our dominance going forward. But we have to be strong defensively. It’s a big ask for players like Bellerin and Monreal to be thrown in, but if they show what they are capable of then I would hope we could keep Hull at bay.

After a week of talking – injuries, AGM, ticket prices, etc – it is so jolly nice to get back to the essence of why we’re all interested in this game – the stuff on the pitch that involves a football. This is the first of what a neutral might call a series of ‘winnable games’, but as you and I both know, Arsenal never make things easy and the idea of a run of games in which we experience no heart in mouth moments is a relatively unfamiliar one to us. However, if this team is serious about going for the title (which already feels a long stretch), then this is a game that we need three points from. By hook or by crook.

If we do pick up the win today, then I do feel that it will give us the perfect platform to build some momentum in the run up to Christmas. We may be depleted in numbers, but when you’ve got confidence behind you it always drags you over the line, so we need a bag of it whilst we’re patching up the team right now.

Come on Arsenal, let’s have it!