Last monkey off the back please

After a pretty decent set of results yesterday, seeing both Spuds and Saints duke out a draw and Liverpool fail to score against West Brom away, we come to some proper football today and an opportunity to almost certainly confirm Champions League status against the eventual champions of this season in Chelski.

I think first and foremost we need to make sure the top four is secured. Aspirations on finishing second are all fine and dandy, but we need to make sure we hit our bare minimum target first, then look to win the FA Cup and go into the summer on a high. 

We can’t catch Chelski, but we can lay down a marker for next season, as well as get that Mourinho monkey that is hanging over Arsène’s neck. And no matter what he says about it not being between them, he will be as frustrated as anybody with this record of no victory in 13 attempts. What probably annoys him the most – and it annoys us Arsenal fans too – is that it’s used as the tactical stick to beat Arsène with. For every game that Mourinho has not been defeated against Arsenal with, another aspersion is cast over Le Boss and his ability to counter the ways of the Portuguese one, so a victory today will give everybody more belief that Arsène and Arsenal can go into next season looking to make it a great one.

We know how Chelski will set up today. They will have their standard back five defenders, then Matic in front and probably the same tactic as last weekend, with Zouma also sitting deep. Mourinho will look to be solid defensively and frustrate Arsenal. He will want to give us the ball like he gave United last weekend, then use his creative players to counter or sucker punch us if we commit too many men forward.

That’s what we had to avoid: falling into his trap and playing the game he wants to play. We need to be as defensively resolute as possible and minimise the impact of Hazard in particular. Fabregas will be booed but he won’t be dissuaded and I fully expect Costa to have slurped down some elixir of life and suddenly be 100% fit from the start. 

Our game plan has to be to utilise our skilful players to unlock a stubborn Chelski back line. Giroud will cut a loan figure up top if Alexis and probably Ramsey don’t get closer to him and if ever you need his little flicks and ’round the corner’s to come off, I think it’s a game like today.

I think this will be a very tight match up and when you have games that are probably decided by one goal, you need players with he vision of Mesut Özil to be able to see that eye of a needle pass, just like he did last weekend. Last time he was up against Chelski he was playing through injury and at he time was accused of playing poorly. I hope today he has a point to prove, because I think he and Santi can impact the game possibly more than anybody. When you’ve got players who can operate well in confined spaces and thread quick interchangeable passes in between opponents, you need them to be on song to taste victory, so I hope we see the best of the Spaniard and the German this afternoon.

Defensively I’ve seen talk of a recall for Bellerin, but I don’t think that’s something that Arsène will countenance, as he’ll want the experience of our French full back over the raw pace and enthusiasm of Hector. On the opposite flank there’ll no doubt be a return for Nacho and likewise in goal for Ospina. If Big Per is fit he’ll play but I wouldn’t risk it if there’s any chance he could exacerbate his ankle problem at all. Gabriel is more than capable of doing a decent job and with Le Coq in front and Kos behind him, I’d be happy enough that we’ve got a strong enough team to cope.

I’m never confident going in to games against Chelski, so why break the habit of a lifetime, but I am as desperate as you to see us win. It’s not an impossible feat. They are flawed like every team in the league, it’s just not often that those flaws seem to be exposed, so when we get our chances we simply must take advantage of them.

Come on Arsenal, let’s destroy the last bit of hoodoo that remains over the team, let’s win. 

Making life hard, but doing the job. Just.

Well we don’t half make life hard for ourselves, don’t we? I mean this was a Reading team who were 18th in the Championship, with a season of inconsistent performances, but very little to play for other than this game and so I suppose this was always going to be a little bit more difficult than we’d all hoped it would be. After the game I went for a curry with some of the lads I went to the game with and one Reading fan said to a member of my party that if Reading played with that much effort every week, they’d be chasing down a promotion spot, which pretty much shows how beyond their usual level our opponents were. 

As for us, I think it’s fair to say we were a little below our normal level, as we struggled to find any sort of rhythm. Perhaps that was down to squad selection, as Arsène decided he was going to opt for a wee bit of rotation for the game, replacing Bellerin and Monreal with Debuchy and Gibbs, as well as Welbeck up top. But that was it really, so I don’t think that level of rotation should have affected our fluidity as much as it did. Perhaps it did have an impact though. Take Gibbs for example. I’m always of the opinion that players need a string of games to be able to play at their optimum. We’ve seen that with Monreal and a consequence is that whilst Monreal is getting better and better, Gibbs looks to be suffering on the basis of this display. He looked a bit cumbersome in possession, was a bit better going forward, but was out of position for the Reading goal. 

Perhaps too the same can be said of Szczesny and the fact he isn’t playing, because it was his howler that bought Reading back into the game and he has hardly done his campaign for re-election into the first team on a regular basis any good. 

Up top I thought Welbeck had a tough afternoon. He’s a willing runner, but the way in which Reading sat deep at times suggested to me at half time that he was going to endure further frustration after the break. So it would come to pass in abundance after Reading equalised. They say deeper, content to let us have the ball and say ‘come on then, break us down, if you can’. We couldn’t do it enough in regulation time, but we had plenty of chances towards the end. Ramsey danced around the ‘keeper and hit the post, Gabriel saw a header saved onto the bar by Federici and Reading held on to take us to extra time.

The nerves inside the ground were palpable. The atmosphere was one of singing, but apprehensive singing, so it was all kinds of awesome when Alexis scored his second of the day. When you are finding it difficult to overcome a stubborn opponent, you need to have a special player that is the difference and Alexis was that yesterday. He megged Federici in the first half and not to be undone by Szczesny’s shocker in the second half, the Reading ‘Keeper was on hand to let Alexis’ shot slip through his grasp and into the net in extra time. So often cup competitions are ones in which goalies are made heroes. Yesterday was clearly not one of those days. We saw the match out after that, as Reading were clearly mentally and physically shattered by that point, so it ended with the result that we wanted, if not the way in which we wanted it. I’ll take it. I’m sure you’re feeling the same too.

And right now, that’s all that matters. Oh, and I got on the tele too in my yellow Invincibles shirt, so that matters too! 

See y’all tomorrow!

Arsenal cup keyword tagging: concentration and non-complacency

If I was to try to to do the keyword tagging and search engine optmisation of the Arsenal team manifested in physical form today, the one word I would lace throughout any team talk or mindset or thoughts going through each players mind would be: concentration, non-complacency. These are the two things that we must see for the duration of today’s FA Cup semi final against Reading. 

We are the overwhelming favourites today, there can be no doubting that, but we have all experienced the loss of seeing this Arsenal team believing it’s own hype and as a result imploding on a catastrophic scale. When they believe all that is needed is attendance in order to taste the sweetness of victory, we almost always seem to come unstuck, so I hope every player has a mantra in their mind of:

Be professional, treat the opposition with respect, but show why we are a league and 37 places above them.

The key to today’s game has to be to not get beaten by our mentality. I mean no disrespect to Reading, but with Arsenal in the form they are in and Reading in the form they are in, there should only be one result really. But we can roll out as many cup cliches as is needed to ensure that we still do the business this evening, because we’ve seen it before, in the Champions League this season (Monaco), the FA Cup last season (Wigan – although I know ultimately we went through) and against Birmingham in 2011. That was a horrible day because the odds seemed just as stacked against Birmingham as they have been for Reading today. 

Don’t bottle it Arsenal, please, because it feels like two victories in this competition and a continuation of our league form over the next month and a bit will see the entire Arsenal fanbase go in to the summer more excited to see what we can achieve the following season than for a long time.

Last year, we all believed that the winning of the cup was the breaching of the trophy dam that had starved us from trophy watery goodness (I’m sorry for the terrible metaphor, but I’m getting excited now, so I’m obviously all over the place), so another FA Cup trophy this season will have us truly believing this team can kick on. But we still have a lot to do. It starts now and finishes at the end of May. 

Now that the apprehensiveness and caution has been articulated, let’s move on to the fun part, because WE’RE ONE VICTORY AWAY FROM A CUP FINAL!! This is awesome people. This is what we live for and the highs of seeing the Arsenal players lift trophies is exactly what we all tune in or turn up to see. The game this afternoon will not be easy, but we can lay down another important marker and maintain our momentum going into the Chelski game next week with a good win today.

Arsène’s choices are numerous and you have to feel for those that don’t make the squad this afternoon, because there will be some very good players who will have to make do with being suited and booted and that will make them gutted. But for us it shows the enormous level of quality we had and competition that will ensure those that do play are on their toes for every game. The back four will probably remain the same (Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscienly, Monreal), with only a change to the ‘keepers confirmed to take place. Hey, that’s fine by me because right now the difference between Szczesny and Ospina is negligible.

Midfield will no doubt see Coquelin breaking up the play with his “I love to tackle. Come at me bro” mentality being exactly what we need in a battle, but after that six it becomes a little harder to guess what the manager will do, because he could rotate a number of players. For example, would any of you be surprised to see Welbeck replace Giroud up top? Arsène did it in the game against United and last season’s match up against Wigan saw Sanogo ahead of the Frenchman. I know the circumstances were different on these two occasions – Welbeck having something to prove on his old stomping ground, as well as Giroud suffering on field last season as a result of off field shenanigans, but it wouldn’t be a complete surprise to see that change. Likewise, I don’t know why, but I have a weird feeling he might start Walcott. I can’t really explain why and it feels like the England international has been frozen out since he returned from injuries, but he’s played in all of the cup games bar United and I wonder if Arsène will give him another crack. Especially as he was on the official site talking him up this week, plus the fact the papers have been awash with rumours of him wanting to sign a new deal. Stranger things have happened, you know?

Alexis will play wide left, but if Walcott is wide right, it means one of Ramsey, Cazorla and Özil miss out. Two of the three are FA Cup final goalscorers and the other one is a club record signing. Care to have a stab at who would miss out? I would guess Ramsey. Cazorla has been the most form player of those three and Özil will be perfect at finding pockets of space in between the Reading defence and midfield on that massive Wembley pitch. It would be harsh son the Welshman but that would be my prediction. Which if Rambo was reading this right now he’d probably be delighted with, because everything I predict usually ends up with the opposite happening!

As for Reading, from what I’ve read and heard, they will look to get the ball out wide and play with pace on the wings with McCleary and Robson-Kanu looking to get in behind our full backs and whip balls in to the giant Russian Pogrebniak. It’s why with the pace of Bellerin I would have thought we’ll see him instead of Debuchy, but perhaps there is a recall for the clearly more rapid Kieren Gibbs on the left? It’s an option the manager needs to ponder today.

The other fella to watch out for will be the on loan Chalabah, which sounds more like an Arabian war cry than a professional League footballer, but having spoken to my Burnley mate last weekend (he was on loan from Chelski to Burnley last season), I know that he is apparently a bit of a beast in the defensive midfield role and so might have something to say in this game.

We need to be up for this from the off. If we establish a high tempo possession based game within the first 15 minutes like we did against Liverpool, then I think we’ll be alright. Reading played an almost full strength team in midweek whilst our boys had the week free, so the can be no excuses for any kind of lethargy. Do the business in the first half Arsenal, then let’s finish it off in the second, please.

What did she wear?

Play the game and not the occasion

Today’s game is certainly an interesting one. One the one hand you have an Arsenal team in a rich vein of form, coupled with a Burnley team in 19th position and having scored just 14 goals all season.

But on the other hand you had an Arsenal team that have made a nasty little habit of thinking a match is a foregone conclusion (see Monaco at home for most recent of examples), as well as a Burnley team that have picked up points against both Manchester clubs, the Spuds and Southampton. So much like in any Premier League game, it’s difficult to predict what the outcome of the Turf Moor encounter will be.

First and foremost, Arsène needs to work out who the bloody hell he’s going to start with as his first XI. We all probably have a pretty good idea and, if we’re all honest we’ve all seen enough of the team and the manager to know he’ll opt for a consistent side if he can, but with the squad at the moment it really is a tough one choosing his entire team.

I listened to the excellent Arsecast yesterday and one of the comments that stuck out for me was when discussions turned towards who would be picked. Rather than the usual ‘any man still alive’ train of thought that we all joke about, what with our perpetual injury crisis usually extending from one season to another, talk was focused on the possibility of Arsène selecting his side based on the opposition we’re playing.

The discussion was aimed more at games like Chelski and United away, but outings like this evening should also represent an opportunity to try to play to the oppositions weaknesses. For example, as I said yesterday in the blog, a Spud has told me that Burnley will try to press us hard and catch us cold for the first 15 minutes. If that is true, then perhaps having plenty of pace in the attack will pin them back and create gaps for players like Özil and Cazorla to exploit. A deep lying Burnley defence coupled with a high press Burnley attack, will give the creative players in midfield more licence to influence the game. So perhaps a front three of Alexis, Giroud and Welbeck would be the best option? I’d suggest Theo, but right now he’s too far down the pecking order to suggest he’ll get a start. 

Defensively we’ll have a similar set up as last weekend I would have thought, with the only question mark being whether Laurent Koscienly is definitely 100% fit and able. The good news is that Gabriel looks like a tidy bit of business and so there’s no need to risk our Frenchman at the back. 

Midfield will see Le Coq assume the usual position, but if Wenger does opt for pace in the front three, then one of Özil, Santi or Rambo misses out. 

Of course, that’s what I’d do, but I suspect Le Boss will have different thoughts, almost certainly ensuring that Özil, Santi and Ramsey all get on to the starting teamsheet. What do I know, eh?

Well I do know that the game will probably most likely not be won by three clear goals. Dyche may have the most technically limited team in the league, but what they lack in application, they make up in perseverance and perspiration. Danny Ings will be trying to continue his ‘in the shop window’ end of season efforts, so could be a threat, whilst George Boyd is the long-haired hippie that will try to trouble us from midfield. 

What we have to do is not to underestimate our opponents. We can be patient and rely in the (hopeful) gulf in class, but we have to play the team and not the occasion, which what I mean by that is try not to let an impassioned home support be given too much to scream about. Keep them quiet, play our game and get the three points. Then, assuming we can do that, hope QPr do us a favour and keep an impossible dream alive.

Come on you reds!

Make my Easter Arsenal, re-write the media narrative

Happy Easter Saturday in which let’s all be completely honest with each other, unless we get a win this lunchtime, won’t make this festive season a fun one.

Liverpool come to town and it’s a Liverpool team in which Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana will no doubt have miraculously recovered from the injuries that conveniently left them out for the duration of the England matches played over the last ten days, but not any Liverpool matches at all. I’m pretty sure if Arsène Wenger tried a similar stunt he’d be metaphorically hauled over the coals by the media, but I guess one of the advantages of ‘Being Liverpool’ is that the media either fall over themselves to edge an unspoken bias about that club, or they completely sweep things under the carpet.

Still, it is what it is and whilst Liverpool will have the collective threat of Sturridge and Sterling to concern us with, at least they are weakened defensively with the absence of Skyrtel. Whether Gerrard would have played is questionable, but in Lucas they have a combative player who is a dirty little scummer, so I’m sure Brendan is happy that he has more than enough to give us an uncomfortable afternoon. And no matter what anyone thinks, it will be uncomfortable for both sides I think, because United at home a fortnight ago aside, Liverpool were in great form and you’d probably say it was almost as good as ours. They’ve been picking up clean sheets and winning on the road and their home form has stabilised too. This is a massive game for them because three points keeps them well in the hunt, so much like we were desperate for a good performance against Monaco away, I think Liverpool might just try to take the same approach against us come 12.45.

For us it’s a chance to continue our momentum, but also put some very real daylight between us and the scousers, so we have to be massively up for it. Our returning players coming back from internationals all appear to be ok and when you look at the form of some, it’s hard not to fancy us from getting something in the game, although I’ll not go as far as pronouncing our victory just yet. Far from it, actually, as I still have the same old big game nerves I usually do.

The manager has an almost entirely fit squad to choose from, so needs to make some serious decisions about who his best XI are, as I’ll be darned if I know. I can have a stab at it, but it’s just as likely to be bailed on as it is a totally different side altogether.

I think Ospina starts in goal, with a back four of Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscienly and Monreal. Three of that four in defence haven’t played any internationals and so would be fresher for today’s challenge. Having said that, Gabriel offers more pace than Per and there are two pacey attacking players in Sturridge and Sterling, so it wouldn’t be unthinkable to see the Brazilian from the start.

Midfield simply has to have Coquelin at its base. Arteta may have returned to action in a friendly against Brentford, but Le Coq has been superb and his ability to break up the play will come in handy when creative players like Coutinho are on the ball. Ahead of him you’d expect to see the form player of the season, Santi Cazorla, whilst Özil’s displays also warrant inclusion I think. 

I’d be surprised if Alexis and Giroud don’t start, but who will get that third spot? Theo may have been unimpressive against Italy, but in games like today, with opponents that are a little bit weaker defensively, I just wonder if this might suit him. Welbeck picked up a knock and The Ox is still injured I believe, so Theo may just find himself given an opening to the first team. If he is, he needs to take it with both hands, which means goals, threat going forward and work rate. 

Whoever is left out, at least we had a mighty strong bench to choose from, with some very good players that won’t even make the squad.

We can’t afford to be timid today. Liverpool may well try to catch us cold by getting at us quickly with a high pressing game, so we have to be able to react, either with our own high press, or containment for the start of the match. The last time we played Liverpool for a Saturday kick off we were smashed to bits and the narrative that seems to have been built is that we don’t prepare properly for early kick off games. We need to re-write that media rhetoric. We need to win on our own soil and move on towards the goal of a top three finish.

Come on The Arsenal!

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!