Ox in the box and Jack the quarterback

If you go down to the Ems today,
You’re sure for a big surprise,
‘Cos Arsène’s worried and running out of his footballer guys,
They’re injured, battered, bruised and sick,
They can’t play very much so this is it,
If you go down to the Ems you’ll be an Arsenal player!

Little ditty there I thought up about ten minutes after I saw Welbeck hobbling off against Scotland last night, having spent the entire game steaming into challenges and scaring the bejeebus out of this here gooner. Honestly, I thought Jack would be the one that we’d have to close our eyes every time he went near a Scottish player, but it was our rampaging Manc-Gooner (‘Mancgoonian?’) up top that turned out to be the most worrisome for you and I, didn’t it?

Despite what Roy said afterwards about him being fine for the weekend, I think I’ll wait until Arsène has his day tomorrow with the ‘who’s fit?’ webpage on the official site. I fully expect Wenger to tell us all that Welbeck came back in a plastic bag and is currently trying to be reassembled by the Top Gear team using sellotape, string and ‘little bit elbow grease’.

With Giroud not fully fit, Walcott still not being afforded too much game time (we should probably be pleased with the sensible approach being adopted), Alexis only probably touching down from his trip to Mars to play a select Martian XI against Chile, we find ourselves unsurprisingly reliant on young mister Welbeck. So it would be good if Roy is right, but how he can make an effective diagnosis about ten minutes after a game is a little beyond me. If he’s going on what Welbeck has told him…well, we all know where that has got us with players like Jack in the past. Young guys just want to play football. They think about the here and now and not the potential to knock a year or two off the tail end of their career by playing through the pain.

Cross everything, will you? I certainly am.

The plus points of the evening have to be the performance of The Ox, who with more displays like that and a few more goals to his game, will probably run Theo very close when it comes to retaining his place in the side. He was one of the stand out performers yesterday and I’m sure it wouldn’t have escaped your attention that the first England goal was born straight out of London Colney. A wee knock from Welbeck to Wilshere, then a sumptuous diagonal pass from Wilshere to the ‘Ox in the box’, resulting in first blood to The Arsenal. Ahem, I mean, England.

When you watch it again you see just how good that goal is from the pass, to the run, to the flicked header in. Replicate that in the Premier League lads, and you’ll have us all purring, because that’s the sort of movement and vision that we’ve been painfully lacking at times this season.

It does make you think about Jack’s future role at The Arsenal though, doesn’t it? I mean, in the last four England games that I’ve seen, he’s been deployed in this sort of quarterback role for England, and he’s flourished. We all know he can travel with the ball and is good over five to 10 metres – Arsène has said so himself – but what I’ve seen whilst he’s been on international duty is a player who also has a fantastic ability to spot a pass. I don’t want to draw comparisons with a guy who now plays for the oil whores, but it was Fabregas who was the last player in an Arsenal shirt that I saw with the ability to spot a run like Jack did yesterday. The thing is, it wasn’t an isolated incident either, as he has found Rooney time and time again over the last four games. In Estonia he put the ball on a plate for the England captain more times than I can count. It’s just a shame Rooney couldn’t finish his dinner on that night.

I said it on Twitter last night and I’m more than happy to reiterate; surely Arsène now has to look at him as a deep lying midfielder? Surely we should be playing Wilshere and Arteta at the base of our midfield, with an all-action number 10 running the length of the pitch to get forward and back? How about we have Alexis as that guy, with Walcott and The Ox either side of Welbeck? Isn’t that just a little bit sexual as a prospect? I think so.

I will wait with eager anticipation on the starting line up on Saturday. We just need to find out who is actually available to play.

As for other factors in Saturday’s game, it probably hasn’t escaped your attention that Mike Dean will be refereeing our weekend game against the red Mancs. Nothing, and I mean literally nothing, is good about having that guy referee. He is a blister on the game as far as I’m concerned. As much as I’d love the idea of him being the pantomime villain in that ‘celebration’ that he made when the Spuds scored against us at The Emirates a couple of seasons ago, in my heart of hearts I know that it’s probably unlikely he was actually celebrating. That doesn’t stop him giving United absolutely everything on Saturday, to which I’ll probably cry foul come the end of the game, but for now I just have to contend with a disliking for a guy who probably isn’t a complete hater of Arsenal. Hopefully he can prove us all wrong by giving us 55-60% of decisions as the home team. That’s what you normally accept as a fan, whether your team is at home, or away.

Anyway, enough conspiracy theories for one day, let’s just sit quietly and wait patiently for Arsène to give us the good news. He’s holding open trials for spots in the team on Friday and everyone’s welcome.

Internationals helping the fringe players; the reality of online opinions

I know it was ‘only’ Gibraltar, but I thought it was really interesting that Poldi played – and well by the sounds of it – for Germany last night. He’s only started one league game for us this season and that was in the uninspiring defeat at home to Southampton. From what I hear he was deployed on the left and clocked up a couple of assists (one from an own goal), so although it’s painfully obvious that Arsene doesn’t fancy him as a first teamer any more, he has shown once again at international level that he can do it.

I don’t know if you’ve been the same as me, but I’ve been looking so much at Theo getting some game time and that being beneficial for the team, that I haven’t really paid much attention to the fact that there are a number of other fringe players at the club, for whom this international break is a much welcome opportunity to get some minutes under their belt. Just take Rosicky and Campbell for example. I believe Rosicky will most probably start this weekend, whilst the dotcom site confirmed that Joel got 86 minutes under his belt. I hope Le Boss has ordered some tapes or some kind of modern equivalent (series of 30 second Vine’s to patch together?) to watch the performances of the players, because I really think that e should be looking at mixing it up a bit after what we’ve seen so far this season. After all, it can’t get much worse, can it?

Actually, it probably could, because half of the draws we’ve had this season could have turned into defeats.

Anyway, the games that these players will get will at least give them a chance to regain a bit of competitiveness and hopefully when they return back to the manager (fingers cross not broken) he will see that he has options and that he doesn’t need to run the same players into the ground week-in, week-out.

Of course, Alexis scored last night, but that’s becoming as frequent as minor delays on the Circle Line, so I’m becoming quite blasé about it now. It’s a nice feeling.

One other thing I wanted to touch on – having flicked through the official site this morning – is the poll that the club ran on who should be our first choice striker when Giroud is fully fit and fighting again. To my surprise, our handsome Frenchman got the largest proportion of the votes with 32%. Hold on a second, isn’t this the Giroud that we all lambast for his lack kof chance conversion? Isn’t this the Giroud who looks like he’s running through treacle and has an annoying habit which involves an Ali-G-esque flicky hand? Huh, turns out that he’s not as hated amongst the fan base as some corners of the world would suggest.

Shows you, Twitter, shows you real good. Or, perhaps it shows, as I have experienced over the last couple of years of being on social media sites and speaking to gooners pre-game, that most people actually have a more moderate view of players, and probably that those that are so extreme on Twitter are in fact a minority. That’s probably why when you see protests seemingly gathering pace about the manager online, rarely do they translate to anything substantial on matchday’s. People are happy to be vocal from behind a keyboard – hey, I’m just as guilty sometimes – but when all is said and done when they’re at the ground they just want to support the team and see us get a result. The last protest I saw at the ground involved a bedsheet and about 25 people. Hardly a vocal majority. Which is probably why the Giroud online poll shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it has. After all, Giroud may not be as quality as Sanchez or Suarez, but having seen how Sanchez can operate just as effectively alongside Welbeck, there are probably a lot of people thinking ‘hmm, I wonder how successful Sanchez will be if he had someone strong like Giroud to win flick-on’s, hold up the ball and release him into space?’.

For what it’s worth, I still think our best front three contains Sanchez, Welbeck and Walcott, mainly because with that pace you can always frighten teams, but I can certainly see that Giroud will provide us a different option. And not just from the bench either. There will come a time when the opponents that we have will sit deep and we might have to play the ugly side of the game, with balls up to a burly centre forward in a crowded box and, as much as Welbeck has a good go at that, you have to think that Olivier would be better, so Arsene can shuffle his pack accordingly with his attacking options over the coming months it seems.

If only he could do the same with our defensive options, eh?

Injuries, rotation, tactics: dammed if you do/don’t?

Blimey, it’s colder in London this morning than a shoulder that Arsène would give you, after asking him why he didn’t buy a centre half in the summer.

Still, at least we’re not staring down the barrel of a Champions League gun this morning, or ruing the miss of a penalty that cost us qualification against a team who two years ago I’d have asked you if it wasn’t an alcoholic liquor of some kind.

Yesterday on Twitter I said that Arsène’s pre-match presser can’t come quickly enough, because at least we’d get to look ahead at the weekend’s game, rather than look back at the midweek debacle. At least Chelski and Moneychester City did their level best not to make us feel so bad by diluting our failures with their own. I didn’t watch any of the games (why would I?), but I wish I’d have been in a place where I could have seen the post match dissection of both fixtures. I wonder if there was as much of a savaging as we got on Tuesday? Was Merse present?

Anyway, we can all engage in that lovely bit of Schadenfreude at least for this week, chuckling away at our fellow English Champions League entrants this year. Nobody in this country made it out of Matchday 4 with an real semblance of success. I can take solace in that. Glass half full and all that jazz. I’m sure you know how I feel. You know you do.

But we have to look forward and selfishly (we wouldn’t have it any other way, would we?) we have to look at ourselves and what is going wrong at The Arsenal. There will be plenty of time to look at those other teams around us – barring Chelski – and be thankful that everyone is buggering up their season, but at the moment a little bit of inward soul searching needs to happen at The Arsenal. The form of players like Flamini, Mertesacker and probably most notably (because of his superb displays last season) Ramsey, are all being questioned and at the moment the only person that is answering is a diminutive Chilean who this time last year was probably waking up to a Spanish sunrise. We’re not playing well and everyone is looking for answers. But rarely do we ever get any. There doesn’t seem to be anyone that I have seen that can effectively articulate why we seem to have dipped so dramatically compared to last season. Sure, there are eloquent people who write excellent blogs with tactical analysis of how we have played, but nobody has a time machine to go back and test their theories by replaying games by trying different things like I used to do for Championship Manager back in the late 90s. Until someone invents that real-life DeLorean, everything will be speculative.

Take me, for example. As I was walking towards the Tube station this morning, I began to ponder why we look so different this season, compared to last. We have not lost players through transfers, only injuries, but the team still feels like it should have the requisite quality to be able to successfully dispatch some of the teams we’ve played this season. So what is it? I’m probably not qualified or knowledgeable to give you chapter and verse on the tactical nuances of Arsenal, version 2.014/15, so please forgive some humble assumptions or out loud musings on potential causes. Feel free to dismiss or add your own input. As I say, it’s only ever going to be a hypothesis, with no real ability to test the thoughts until Doc Brown comes knocking at my door.

It’s easy to say injuries have cost us and, invariably, they have had an impact. But the reason for our stuttering so far is not a linear equation that can be solved by adding Laurent Koscienly back into the team to instantly transforming us back into Arsenal version 2.013/14, because we had Koscienly earlier in the season and we were still shipping silly goals. We were doing it when Debuchy, Per, Kos and Gibbs were our back four and it seems a widely accepted view that swapping Debuchy for Sagna was an acceptable ‘like-for-like’. There’s no doubt we should improve with that back four back together in December – fingers crossed – but I don’t think it’s injuries alone that have caused our doddery season to date.

Or is it because of the injuries we’ve had, we haven’t been able to put together an eleven that get to know each other, who therefore can put together a run? Again, this might be something worth considering, but as a person who has often question why Arsène hasn’t rotated more, how can I merrily type away that we need a consistency of our first team in order to foster that winning mentality and put together a run in the league? It’s inevitable that even if you can put together a team that is unbreakable in terms of impact injuries, eventually through over-playing them they will break down and you will have to dip into your squad to find players to fill in who haven’t had any chance to build up any kind of form.

It strikes me that Arsène is dammed if he does and dammed if he doesn’t. To rotate and risk having to spend time getting lots of players in form all at once through game time, or not to rotate, which may bring an 11 to the boil quicker, but at the risk of broken footballers in the New Year and the falling away of any title challenge (not that I’m convinced we can mount one this season, mind). I’m not trying to excuse the manager here, let me tell you, but I am trying to understand the consequences of certain actions, or trying to understand both sides of his footballing dilemma.

Perhaps the issue is his tinkering? He’s tried different formations against different teams and they either have worked (Galatasaray at home, Villa away), or they haven’t worked (Chelski away, Hull at home). Do we, as fans, want to see this kind of tinkering? Again, it strikes me that we want the best of both worlds, and I include myself in this bracket too. I want Arsenal to have an answer – tactically – to every single team we come up against. If the answer to tactical success is the experimentation of different formations, then why (“get back to playing 4-2-3-1!” and “ditch the 4-1-41!”, etc, etc) am I – and vast swathes of the Arsenal fanbase – getting annoyed when the manager tinkers with the team and it doesn’t work? We’ve all accused Arsène of being tactically negligent at times, but if we found out that he was going through a bit of a teething period whilst he gets the players acquainted with different styles to play during the course of the season, would we all cut him a little bit more slack?

Probably not. Because, and herein lies the nub of my desires and point in this protracted prose, all we want to see is Arsenal winning games. We want the here and now and whilst we’re all happy to make suggestions on rotating players to keep them fit, or changing formations to counter the opposition, ultimately victories negate any kind of desire to see a specific type of football philosophy realised. Arsène Wenger is by far an infallible man. He makes mistakes and he frustrates the hell out of us. But could it be that the pain we’re going through at the moment could actually be beneficial in the long run – formation and tactics-wise?

Don’t know. All I know is we want a win. Then another win. Then another after that. Repeat to fade. When you don’t do that. You’re doing everything wrong. When you do, you’re a genius.

Anyway, like I say, I’m no tactical genius. I’m just an Arsenal fan with no copy of the Metro to read every morning, so I spill my Arsenal thoughts on to this blog. I’ll see you in the morrow for the next ramble.

Galatasaray: eventful

Well that evening was certainly not without event, was it?

In terms of activity it was certainly a hum-dinger of a European night, with goals galore (thankfully almost all for The Arsenal) as well as a sending off and for those of us who didn’t manage to catch the Southampton Capital One Cup game, even a first sight of the Colombian stopper Ospina. Who has a very fitting surname that works well with a slow build up of noise before he takes a free kick or corner. I must say that I approve.

The night started off with trepidation, if I’m honest, because so far this season we’ve seen a lot of huff and puff from the team but the blowing down of the house hasn’t quite happened frequently enough for our liking as fans, wouldn’t you say? The nerves pre-game seemed to be more around whether or not Arsène would persist with what could be called ‘Project 4141′ (although I’m still yet to be convinced there is a massive difference other than personnel to last season), or whether or not he would recognise the impact of a centrally located Mesut Özil or not.

Thankfully for us all, the starting line-up seemed to be pleasing enough for the masses in the Tollington, as Le Boss’ decision to field a midfield of Flamini, Cazorla and Özil had craft, guile and an attacking set up to it to warrant the early domination our play deserved. With the Ox and Sanchez sitting either side of Welbeck we added directness and pace to our side that, right from the off, troubled a clearly inferior Galatasaray team.

Before the game I’d pondered with http://www.twitter.com/educatedgooner whether or not we should really be worried about a Galatasary side notoriously travel sick on their Champions League jaunts; I needed have worried, because the only spark that the Turkish side had came from their vociferous away support, who had decided that Guy Fawkes night would be just over a month early by lobbing flares into the amassed Arsenal fans standing in the beer garden outside.

We had the last laugh though. Or rather, Danny Welbeck had the last laugh on our behalf, as he noticed up his second, third and fourth goals of the season to claim to match ball and possibly the man-of-the-match award to boot. I say ‘possibly’ based purely on the fact that there were so many good performances:

The Ox
Direct running, pace, trickery and vision, perfectly exemplified by his superb nutmeg for Welbeck’s hat trick.

Alexis Samchez
Tireless running and pace that troubled the Turks all sending. A well taken goal that brings him up to five for the season and all of those media eyebrows after two games without a goal need to be lowered considerably. And slammed into a humble pie for consumption.

Mesut Özil
Another strong display. That’s three in a row people. But you won’t hear that from any of the hacks out there, because that doesn’t fit the media rhetoric, so expect him to be omitted from any commentary. But he was efficient in distribution, busy throughout and just does not lose the ball when he’s on form like that. Like, ever.

Lauren Koscienly
Strong in the air, pacey, composed and, for someone supposedly carrying a knock, is as robust as you’re going to get.

I could go through the whole team, because there wasn’t a single performance that was less than seven out of ten in my book. If you want to be harsh and criticise Szczesny for the sending off, then be my guest, but his replacement looked more than adequate and based on the short showing I saw it will be good for him to get some game time in Europe.

I hope Arsène sticks with what he’s got right now. He may have had it enforced upon him due to injury, but it worked, so I hope he sticks with it. We need all the help we can get with the game at the weekend, so to have the players in buoyant mood leading up to this game can only be a good thing, so let’s hope that the comprehensive victory does wonders for the confidence. Lord knows we’re going to need it on Sunday.

See thee in the morgen.

Formations aren’t the problem, form is

Hello fellow Arsenal supporting friend. I am glad you made it. Shall we converse about the only real team in London worth talking about? Why not, eh? But before we do, I must say, I’m looking forward to the pasting that Chelski receive today from the media after they could muster only a 1-1 draw at home to a Schalke team that are currently languishing towards the bottom of the Bundesliga.

Or how about Moneychester City, whose opponents Bayern managed just three shots less than Dortmund, but who ultimately came away with the same amount of points as us from Germany? I’ve already seen the Metro today, who talk about how City put in a gutsy performance. It would be interesting to see what the response had been had City conceded in first half stoppage time. Media narratives and all that jazz…

That’s not to excuse The Arsenal. We were dreadful and there needs to be a reaction this weekend when we rock up against The Villans in Birmingham. The players have already come out with their apologies, but it’s not that which we seek, it’s victories.

But two wins from seven is hardly title contending form, so Arsenal fan amongst Arsenal fan is currently trying to dissect why we have started so poorly. Injuries? Perhaps. But we have a squad and players with quality enough to put on better displays than we’ve seen. Injuries are part and parcel of the modern game, regardless of the frequency with which they seem to happen to our beloved team. Mathieu Debuchy took to social media yesterday to tell his public that he will find out tomorrow if he needs ankle ligament surgery. One suspects the answer, given the side that he plays for, is almost certainly going to be ‘yes’. That will most likely keep him out until November and the exact problem we didn’t want when the window slammed shut has befallen us earlier than expected. But expected nonetheless.

But I’ve spoken enough over the weeks about the injury curse. Lord knows, you’ve probably read enough from everyone who has something to say about Arsenal, so you don’t need me rabbiting on about it. Instead, I wanted to talk briefly about this change of formation we’re supposed to have had this season.

Now I’m no expert, able to tactically dissect each Arsenal game and offer insight and intelligence that will make you say out loud ‘huh, interesting’, so I can only comment on what I see. There seems to be a general consensus that Arsène has changed the formation of the side this season from last year’s 4-2-3-1 to a 4-1-4-1 formation. This is, according to some, having a detrimental effect on the way in which we play our football. We are being overrun in defensive midfield and we are not looking as fluid as we did this time last year. So this widely held view is that we should ditch 4-1-4-1 and return to the 4-2-3-1 formation.

As I said, I’m no tactical genius, but I don’t really see that our formation has changed at all from last season. Last season we had one player at least dropping deep to cover defensive space (usually Arteta), with one player operating in that all action ‘box-to-box’ role (usually Ramsey) and the creative playmaker in front of them (usually Özil). Then in front of those there was your two wide men and a forward.

Given that Özil is afford licence to roam the pitch as he pleases, that Arteta is still sitting at the base of the midfield and that Ramsey’s role he’s been asked to perform, how has our set up in the middle of the park changed at all? Even the front three hasn’t really changed that much in style, just in personnel, with Alexis out wide and Welbeck up top. Özil’s free role has been shifted further forward to accommodate Wilshere, but that hasn’t really changed us that much, has it?

I’m no Arsène apologist – he frustrates the hell out of me with his actions sometimes – but this perception that he is failing tactically because of the change in formation is a misnomer to me. It’s a convenient school of thought for those that want to use the ‘Arsène doesn’t do tactics, that’s why he should go’ brigade, because I don’t think much has changed tactically from last season. Besides, the players who are asked to do the attacking part of the team are given licence to be fluid in their positioning anyway, so saying that we have defined players for each part of the pitch is a fallacy anyway. It’s the fluidity of the side that made us so successful in the first half of last season, to which I remember blogging about at the time, so I’m certainly not going to suggest Arsène goes all Mourinho on us (shuddering at the thought) and asks his players to be very precise in their role in the team. That is not conducive to the attacking and exciting football we can produce.

So if we have a strong squad (except defence), and the formation and style hasn’t changed, then what has goner wrong that has stopped us from clicking just yet? In my opinion, it’s something as simple as form. Mesut is out of it, Ramsey is failing to replicate it from last season and the back two aren’t showing it (we’re conceding at set pieces again and Dortmund’s two goals were preceded by some very laboured defending I must say). Too many players haven’t clicked in to gear and we have to hope they can. And quick.

You can’t train form. You have to play your way through the bad stuff. That’s what turned Rambo into last seasons world beater and is looking like it’s starting to have the desire effect with Wilshere. We just need a few more players to show form and I think we’ll be back on track.

Anyway, that’s just my uninformed opinion, but what’s yours?

Can we make that final step? City preview

Well Mr Matchday, you certainly took your sweet time to arrive, didn’t you? Keeping me waiting like a disgruntled commuter at a National Rail train station wasn’t my idea of fun, but you’re here now, so let’s not bicker and just get on with the rest of our Saturday, shall we?

It’s an early one for us all today, as the fates have conspired to drag us into the horrific world of early kick offs. Look, I have no real problems with the early starts in terms of the teams ability to be ‘up for it’ (it is ridiculous to assume that our players can’t be up for early kick off games based on the travesties of last season), my issue lies purely with the fact that an early start means getting up earlier on a Saturday which is not something I’m overly enamoured with. There’s also the reduction in hours of pre-match amber nectar supping. I like a beer, but I’m not starting my day at 10am with one, so it leaves me with just about enough time for a solitary pint before heading over to the ground.

All this is just the pre-amble to the main event though, so I suppose I shouldn’t be the archetypal moaning Brit and move swiftly on to our own raison d’être, which starts at 12.45pm UK time.

There’s no doubt this is by far and away the most difficult test that The Arsenal will have faced this season. The visit of Moneychester City represents the first litmus test of whether or not we have learned from our recent poor history against any of the top four clubs of seasons past. Last season saw us fail to pick up wins against City, Chelski, Everton and even the ailing Man United, so a marker of whether or not this team has the capability to challenge the top teams will need to be placed today.

I’ve said before that from a points perspective, you can easily win the league as long as you pick up points against the teams lower down the table, which is true if you think about the maths behind the logic. Home and away wins against teams from 8th position in the league downwards gives you 72 points, which is approaching a decent points tally to have a go at the league. But to get over the line you need to have wins against the bigger players not just for those few extra points, but for the psychological boost that big game victories provide. That’s why today is important. It’s not so much about the points, but about the belief that will be instilled in the team, through taking a scalp like Moneychester City.

Arsène has a litany of options at his disposal to draw upon, which is what also makes this game exciting to blog about this morning, because until those first whispers of the team sheet come in, we have no idea who is in the squad, let alone the starting eleven. I hope Arsène opts for ‘pace, pace, pace’ and we see Welbeck flanked by The Ox and Alexis, but I suspect that Özil or Cazorla might be moved to the left, as I think Arsène wants to include both in his team selection. I’m certainly not in the camp that believes having Özil out wide is conducive to getting the best out of his game, but that appears to be where his temporary home is at the moment, so we’ll all have to accept it. I also seem to be in the minority at the moment regarding Cazorla. I actually don’t believe that the diminutive Spaniard has had the best of starts to the season, flitting in and out of games far too much (an accusation oft levelled at Özil but not his teammate), so I wouldn’t be too worried if the Ox was preferred. I love Santi as a footballer and when he is on song his game is fabulous to watch, but I just feel like he hasn’t hit the form of when he arrived and it’s a shame that we’re not seeing the Santi that we all know can change a match. Perhaps I’m being too harsh.

The midfield also has a plethora of options to choose from, so Arsène’s difficult decisions don’t just stop at the pointy end of the team, as he’ll need to work out who from Ramsey, Arteta, Wilshere, Rosicky and Flamini occupy the two midfield positions if, as expected, both Özil and Cazorla play. I suspect the decision will hinge on how recovered Rambo is from his midweek ankle roll, as I’d think the first two names from that list I’ve just reeled off, will be given priority. It will be another source of irritation for Rosicky, but Arsène isn’t going to drop his captain or last seasons player of the year, so he’ll just have to accept it.

As for our opponents, a Jovetic injury is all I believe they are suffering from, so we know that they will be at almost full strength when they line up against us. Last season they were the free-scoring champions, but I wonder if Pellegrini will be as gung-ho in a match today as his team was at times last season. At The Emirates he needed only a draw realistically to ensure that his team kept on the march to the title. Today’s game is similar in requirements for his team I suspect, i.e. do not lose, so I wonder if he’ll look to try and stay solid defensively whilst catching us on the counter attack.

City will rely on the guile of Silva and Nasri, sure for a spicy reception as always, whilst Dzeko will occupy both Per and Kos at varying times. It’s a team that has threats all over the park, but despite our less than stellar start to the season, I think the openness of today’s game will give our players the chance to express themselves more freely and occupy space that wasn’t afforded to them against Palace or Leicester.

I feel cautiously optimistic about today’s game. Let’s hope it’s not misguided optimism. A win would be a perfect catalyst for a good run against a number of difficult opponents, but I think we have the firepower now to cope with our schedule and demonstrate to the rest of the league that we’re serious title contenders.

Victories against teams like City feels like the final piece in our league title puzzle. That one final step. That’s all we’ve got to overcome.

Come on Arsenal!

Hoping Besiktas aren’t the first roundabout

I don’t know about you, but in the space of the last 24 hours I’ve suddenly become acutely aware that we could be staring down the barrel of a Europa League game, should the worst befall the team tonight. It’s a feeling that, whilst I have felt before with these Champions League qualifiers like the one against Besiktas, I’ve not felt as ill-at-ease in the preamble to the game.

I don’t know whether or not it’s the news that we could be reliant on Sanogo as our target man for the first half of the season as a result of the Giroud injury, or that Alexis will now have even more pressure on him to play that central striker role, but I approach today’s match preview blog with a feeling of slight trepidation.

Perhaps it’s because of the slow start we’ve had. Counting aside the excellent Community Shield victory against the Oil Whores, we’ve stuttered our way to victory over the car crash that is Palace and two draws against Besiktas and Everton. It feels like we haven’t yet got into our stride and, as a result, I kind of wish this game was coming in a couple of weeks time given its importance. Our season right now feels a little like the old red Ford Sierra Sapphire I used to own. On a cold winters morning, once she had got herself on to the dual carriageway between Hertford and Harlow, she was fine. But switch her on first thing and try and drive off without letting her warm up, and she’d cut out on you once you reached the first roundabout, which is what I’m hoping won’t happen to us tonight. Man, I really hope Besiktas aren’t our first roundabout.

Logic should dictate that I’m less worried about this game. After all, when you compare the teams pound for pound, even with our mounting injury problems we should have enough to overcome a Turkish side that didn’t even win their own domestic league. Factor in the age old adage that both Greek and Turkish sides tend to not travel so well, and you and I should not be concerned with worry about ensuring the team does its job tonight.

But this is Arsenal we’re talking about here folks. This is our Arsenal and we all know that we’re perfectly capable of tripping ourselves up against Slaven Bilic’s charges. Heck, we nearly managed it a week ago in Istanbul, to which only Besiktas’ own profligacy afforded us a draw against an inspired Turkish side. Take anything for granted this evening, and my additional cup credits won’t seem as appealing this season (although I will go to every game possible regardless, I hasten to add).

The threat from the Turks will undoubtedly come from their star striker Demba Ba, who I’m sure will want Arsene to rue the day that he didn’t snap up the Senegalese, but aside from that I’m not going to go all YouTube scout on you and pretend that I know the intimate workings of our opposition. Why would I? Turkish football is hardly something I wax lyrical to you on a weekly basis, so rather than try to pull the wool over your eyes, I figure I’ll base my assessment of the opposition on pure guesswork.

And it is guesswork, because I’ll be very surprised if Besiktas are as open and attacking as they were a week ago. Bilic will know that his team has to do a bit of a Palace on us and frustrate, looking to hit on the counter. We were a minute or so away from an opening day draw against a team that had little interest in venturing outside their own half, so a repeat of that performance and the goals scored (minus the absent Ramsey last minuter) would see us out on goal difference.

Goals will be the key to tonight. It’s kind of the most obvious statements one could make, but I use the plural of the word with much emphasis, because if we can grab a couple of goals within the first half without reply then we should have this game sewn up. It should lead to their heads dropping and may mean that we could pick them off as they elect to counter. But as it stands right now, we are in a precarious position. 1-0 to The Arsenal is a horrible score line to have for any prolonged period of time tonight. Especially if we’re entering the final five to 10 minutes of the game. Remember when we played PSV all those years ago? A single goal from them changed the complexion of the tie from a 2-0 comfortable result, to a 2-1 victory but a knock out on the away goals rule. That’s what we want to avoid tonight.

Our team news is slightly concerning, but when you look at the players we have available, we have to be looking at the side and pleased that our injury problems haven’t stretched too far. The back four look solid with Monreal looking good and the possibility of Koscienly coming in for Chambers, whilst Flamini in front of them will add a bit of yellow-cardiness to proceedings, but also that little bit of bite. Jack will play the box-to-box Ramsey role and, with the Welshman out of the side through suspension, I just wonder if that will give him more freedom to express himself. Jack and Rambo are very similar players in my opinion and I have heard some murmurs from friends about how it’s not outside the realms of possibility that it is because of that, that we have not been as fluid when both of them are in the team.

The front four I’d like to see would include Özil, Sanchez, The Ox and Podolski. With Giroud out injured and none of the above able to effectively act as a target man, I’d like us to try and be a bit more fluid with the front three, interchanging who plays at the top and on the flanks throughout the game. If we move around our players and add that mobility to a side sitting deep, it might just pull open some spaces for Özil to work his magic on. But I don’t think Arsène will do that if I’m honest. I suspect we’ll see Cazorla on the left, The Ox on the right and Sanchez up top. There was a bit of talking up Sanogo as that main front man, but going over his limitations and rawness is like treading on already well-worn ground, so I’ll leave that for now.

Jack described tonight’s game as a ‘cup final’. It’s a clichéd expression that often sees football fans roll their eyes because you just can’t play cup finals every week. So whilst I shall resist the temptation to agree with him, stressing that this could be make or break for the season for us when you consider what could be at stake in terms of transfers and confidence, is something that I cannot emphasise enough.

Come on Arsenal. Do the job, do it well, then let’s get that old Sierra back on the dual carriageway. Or something.

Catch you tomorrow.