Shocks, Gabriel and a tactical overview of Brighton

Well what a weekend of FA Cup football we have witnessed, eh? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this, with a host of ‘big’ teams crashing out to supposed inferior opposition. And at home too.

Chelski, Spuds and City were all sent packing and the form team and surprise package this season – Southampton – also suffered at the hands of the new South London based Messiah Alan Pardew. With a little help from some Arsenal connections past and present in Sanogo and Chamakh. I’m pleased for Sanogo and if he uses this as a platform to kick on and score plenty of goals for Palace, then it can only be a good thing for us. Maybe, just maybe, that thing that Wenger sees in Yaya that none of us feel like we’ve witnessed to date, will emerge…

All of these upsets and we haven’t even mentioned the fact that the Gabriel Paulista deal is essentially done and dusted. He was pictured waving goodbye to the crowd at Villareal’s home game against Levante and it looks like he was presented with a Yellow Submarine trophy. He’s obviously held in good regards by the fans and one hopes that we’ve got ourselves quite some player who can challenge Kos and Per.

So we find ourselves in spirited moods this morning, but that can only be perpetuated by a victory away to Brighton this afternoon. With so many of the clubs that we would fear falling to the wayside yesterday afternoon, it is important that we don’ fall victim to this extraordinary weekend of cup upsets. Arsene has already fired warning shots in the direction of his team to keep them on their toes and prepared for a battle, to which I think we are almost certainly going to face on the South Coast today, so our players have to be ready and we have to be set up to expose Brighton’s weaknesses.

I suspect that there will be rotation, but it won’t be the kind of rotation that see’s the whole squad being replaced I think, just some of the players who might not have played recently. I think that we might see the return of Szczesny and Chambers to the defensive set up. Nacho Monreal has deserved his starting place and keeping Gibbs out of the side, but I wonder if Arsene will give Gibbs a run out at left back. I’d assume that given Bellerin and The Ox are doubts, that Arsene will possible not risk either, but I think the official site had a picture of Bellerin in training, so he might just start.

Midfield will see the return of Mesut to the team – most likely in place of Santi – and I hope Arsene gives Rosicky a run out too. Although Ramsey has only just come back from injury and needs to play himself back into fitness, so that might force Wenger’s thinking a little bit. He may opt to rotate Coquelin for Flamini, but with the form the youjnger Frenchman’s in, plus the fact that he’s not played a lot of football this season so will hardly be suffering from fatigue, I think he will probably get the nod over the Flamster. Up top we’ll see Giroud and Walcott I’m sure and the question just needs to be asked whether or not Alexis is started. I think Arsene will probably go for our Chilean. He’s not showed any signs of being fatigued and after a week since our last game, will most likely still be fresh.

But if I’m completely honest, I’ve got absolutely no idea how Arsene will set the team up, or who he will use in what position. Which is probably a good thing for our squad rotation purposes. We have options. I’d imagine we’ll have a very strong bench and hopefully that will give the manager – as well as us – some comfort that we have the required firepower to see us into the fifth round. And what an opportunity we’d have of retaining the cup if we do. Sure, there are Manchester United, Liverpool and Stoke still in the competition, plus a West Ham team who look like they’ve really notched up a gear, but I would not fear those teams as much as I’d fear going to Chelski or Moneychester City – despite the win last weekend.

All of this is rather redundant presuming on my part, because we’ll face a Chris Hughton side who will fancy getting some revenge from two years ago. On that day it was an inspired Giroud finish and a Walcott goal that was the difference between the two teams and although we progressed, we were really penned back at times. Brighton’s current league position belies their form. They’ve won four of their last five games and although they established themselves as a passing team under Gus Poyet, they have become a little more direct under Hughton I believe. I haven’t watched much of them, l but it does look as if they set up with a 4-2-3-1 similar to how we play, but whether or not they try to out-pass us is something that I’m pretty confident we won’t see. If Brighton are going to get anything against us they’ll need to move the ball quickly from front to back and probably look to expose any perceived weakness we have – particularly on the right hand side of our defence with either Chambers of Bellerin playing. If I was Hughton I’d be looking at getting my team breaking forward as quickly as possible and putting balls in to our box from the right hand side.

As for us, we need to use our pace on the flanks to expose Brighton’s defensive frailties. When Theo and Mesut were able to link up for that first game against Sunderland in September last year, Theo had chance after chance by playing high and running in between full back and Wes Brown. We need to see that link up again and I think if Ozil is given time on the ball, he’ll find either Walcott or Alexis in space. One just hopes that Brighton don’t sit too deep, because without a lot of grass to run in to, Walcott has often been negated.

Today we simply must take advantage of the shocks from this weekend and get our spot in the hat of balls for the fifth round. It is by far a forgone conclusion, but there is a huge opportunity of winning the most realistic trophy for us this season, so it is imperative that the players take the chance that they will be given by winning this afternoon.

Come on you reds!

Thoughts on City from Benjy

Every time Thierry Henry pauses for dramatic effect. An angels heart skips a beat and one of those Lad accounts on twitter dies. I spent the early part of Sunday afternoon hanging off every word of what the delicious Frenchman had to say. It reminded me of having an new colleague at work. They have a fresh mind; they see things in a different light. Simple things that get over-looked get pointed out. Generally because you haven’t been tainted by the fog of expectation. Or Neil, who fucking continually does stupid things. Do one Neil.

The discussion pre-game was the typical narrative. Arsenal don’t defend, Arsène is tactically naive etc, etc. Insert your preference of choice reader. It does feel like media outlets prepare flash cards that they can quickly whip out depending on the outcome of the game. Opinions and perceptions in football are so instant and definitive. Which generally leads to misinterpretation of the situation or said individual. On several occasions on Sunday we heard the commentary team slip into that -“Vincent Kompany with a rare mistake”. “Arsène Wenger doesn’t usually set his team up like this” They are culprits of going along with the general consensus of football interpretation.

Even our gorgeous hero dropped a clanger before kickoff, or did he? Saying Alex Song is the sort of midfielder Arsenal need.

Disclaimer – Alex Song was ok at kicking a football. We can argue till the cows come home about having him in the current squad. But we were no better defensively with him in the side.

Back to Henry. He’s hedging his bets, he’s playing the game of life. We lose, and he can say *dramatic pause* “see” or “I’m pleased they’ve finally done what we’ve all been clamouring for”. It’s like betting against your team, they lose you win some cash, if they win, you can do a victory dance to Taylor Swift, shake it off. And we all know who the real winner is.

That said, I wonder if Thierry enjoyed his TV debut. I did. I wonder if he thinks he’s made the best choice for his career and brand Thierry. It can be easy, punditry, you don’t have to make any big calls, you can just end up looking very intelligent. Spouting some guff. Anyway, Good Luck, Thierry x

I have to say I’m not entirely convinced the way we set-up to play City was entirely new to Arsène. It was all about the execution. We tried to play the same way against Chelsea earlier on in the season. Unfortunately for us Chelsea have this marvellous player, Eden Hazard. You may of heard of him. The ball-boy kicking magician has attempted and completed the most dribbles this season. Key to breaking down a low block. Aguero has just come back from injury and not fully firing didn’t help their cause. I imagine they will try and fill that void in the summer.

I’m really tempted to write we were lucky with the result, but we weren’t. We deserved the victory. To put It in a very simplistic way – I thought we were able to take our chances. If you decide to play the way we did and concede first (i.e. Chelsea) you need to quickly change how you are going to go about things and for many reasons, that isn’t easy.

I’ve always felt Arsène (Emirates years) has been very good at containing issues rather than conquering them. That isn’t a dig at the big man, just the way he goes about things, hence the usual up and down nature to our seasons. Which kind makes this victory even more sweeter. To play a ‘perfect game’ is one thing, but the players have to execute the plan in order to get a result, which is another thing. It was incredible how cohesive we looked. It was exactly how it should be, a strong collective unit with fearsome counter-attacks. Maybe, fearsome isn’t the right word, but we’ll definitely get there.

The most pleasing thing was the framework we gave the entire team to work in. We made it easier for Coquelin to squeeze space between the lines. Coquelin had time, which allows him to anticipate interceptions and give him a perfect view of the whole pitch. Bellerin had enough protection from the resurgent Chamberlain. The young Englishman ploughed up and down the flank allowing the midfield three time to control the midfield areas. Monreal’s stint at centre-half has really appeared to change his outlook. Mertesacker and Koscienly combined perfectly, a pleasant reminder of how good they are together.

Alexis Sanchez was just as good as he usually is. Just traded his spectacular flair for industry but with the equally dazzling effect. He was like a Jack Russell, chased every ball. Perhaps he didn’t create as much as he’d like, but what did he offer was priceless. His and Chamberlain’s hard work allowed Cazorla, Ramsey and Coquelin complete control over the centre of the park, stifling Man City’s creative spark – David Silva. Whilst the trio we had maintained our attacking threat. The big advantage of playing a deeper 4-3-3 is that Santi becomes a viable out-ball from defence. He has ability to hold, turn and begin the transition. This will probably go down as his greatest performance in his Arsenal career.

The natter before the game was who is the better player, Alexis Sanchez or Sergio Aguero. The funny thing is, it’s Santiago Cazorla.

If you believe it was a tactical masterclass, or a perfect execution of tactics we’ve attempted previously, I don’t think it entirely matters. The performance was a massive achievement. Bask in it, and the potential of this squad.

Ben

Stoke preview: time to get back to being flat-track bullies

Blimey am I not a fan of these Sunday 1.30pm kick offs. It’s a ruddy pain in the derrière if I’m completely honest. After all, Sunday’s should be solely for sleeping in and recovering from any said hangover that one might have. Particularly if Arsenal have won from a 3pm kick off on a Saturday. Sleeping and terrible TV. That’s what Sunday’s should be about.

Still, rather than be accused of being ungrateful for what I’ve got, I should be thankful that I get to go in the first place. Which I am. Many cannot, I am privileged to be able to, even though I certainly pay my pretty pennies for it.

Listen to me, moaning away like some sort of grizzled old prospector who hasn’t found a single ounce of the yellow stuff in months. Today is a happy day! Or at least, it is for now as we all prepare for the game this afternoon against the Orcs of Stoke. Should we be victorious in battle (and I’m sure it will be a battle), we will leapfrog the Spuds and be right on the coat tails of Southampton, so perhaps there is cause for optimism rather than grumbliness.

There’s optimism too on the injury front. We’ve got a trio of midfielders returning in the shape of Ramsey, Özil and Flamini and I suspect we’ll see at least one of those players start. I couldn’t be 100% sure who that would be, but if I was forced under duress to pick one, I’d go with Ramsey. He’s the only player who’s position hasn’t seen a colleague step up and perform well in, so with Santi’s and Le Coq’s form being as it is, I expect those two to accompany Rambo in the heart of our team.

The defence should pick itself and, you’d have to think that Szczesny will start. I know there’s been a lot of talk about Ospina, as well as Wojciech’s attitude, but his attitude hasn’t suddenly changed overnight from the Southampton game. He’s always been viewed as a little bit arrogant and so I’d be surprised if Arsene bought Ospina in for today’s match up. If he does play, as The Arseblogger said on his Friday Arsecast, I think there’s more to this smoking story than meets the eye. Players had smoked before, but to be booted out of the team like that would point to something else in my opinion. There will be those of you probably saying now “yes, but he was terrible against Southampton so that might be why he could be dropped” and I understand that line of thinking, but the game before against West Ham he was excellent, so I don’t think Arsène would drop players on the basis of one game. He’ll look at it over a series of games and so far you can hardly say Szczesny has gone all ‘Almunia’ on us, can you?

The front three will be an interesting one to pick. Alexis and Giroud come straight in I think, but who occupies that third space? For me, as much as I’m loving the longer term prospect of Walcott and Alexis’ pace in our front three, I would give The Ox the nod this lunchtime. My thinking here is that the Ox is better with the ball at his feet. He’s a better dribbler and will be able to beat a man. Let’s not pretend that Stoke will come here today and be anything other than very compact and sit deep. They will hope to give us possession in front of them and not allow any space in behind their defence by sitting deep. Theo is a player that is unplayable when there is plenty of grass to run in to, but if teams sit deep, I’ve seen him struggle at times.

Last week against Hull was the perfect game for him because it was a knockout competition. Hull got nothing from sitting back and keeping it to 1-0 and so there was naturally more space for Theo. He got more chances as a result and if he had been back a few weeks earlier and already had a few games under his belt, I think he would have cleaned up. But I can’t see him getting that much joy today.

The Ox can be a little bit wasteful at times, but he is better operating in smaller amounts of space and so that’s who I would pick. The good news is that with so many players returning, we have plenty of options from the bench should the afternoon not go the way we are hoping it will.

This will be a tough game. It always is against that lot. They will rely on Arnautovic and Bojan to hit us on the counter and Mark Hughes will want to see Crouch holding the ball up as much as possible to bring those runners in to play.

If you look at both teams you say this is a home banker. But we are the patchiest form team in the league. Every game this season that I’ve rocked up at home has been a case of shrugged shoulders when somebody asks me over a pre-match pint ‘what’s the score going to be?’. I have no idea. We could win this by three goals (unlikely), or we could labour to a draw, or just as easily get done over by the one shot Stoke have in the entire game. Your guess is as good as mine.

What we do need to start seeing though – like, now – is a string of victories being put together. It’s unlikely to happen in the immediate future, as we have an away trip to Momeychester City next weekend, but that makes the importance of three points, all the more obvious today. Last season we were flat track bullies with every team below see the or eighth in the league. I’ve accepted that we’re never going to win away games against the bigger teams, but if we can get back to home and away wins against the mid and lower league teams like Stoke today, then we should have enough for fourth. But we haven’t done that all season, so our form needs to change, and change soon, if that standard season trophy is achieved once again for the bagillionth time under Arsène Wenger.

That’s yer lot from me today. Come on you reds!

Belief lacking, game plan found wanting

Well we didn’t get spanked like last year, did we? So that’s a plus point. Am I right?

That’s all I’ve got today, because yesterday you like I, will have sat through a performance that was both ‘un-Arsenal’ like and ‘very Arsenal’ like. In the way that we contented ourselves to have the least amount of possession and passing stats it was not like The Arsenal that we’re used to seeing. But the way in which we capitulated at the end of the match with a man advantage was so like modern day Arsenal it’s crippling beyond belief.

Heh, ‘belief’, feels wrong even saying that word today because, let’s face it, this team doesn’t look like it believes in itself. Yesterday was a classic case of a superior Arsenal team on paper, being outplayed by one of the most beatable Liverpool teams in a generation. Heck, we scored two goals with our first two chances on target, but that was more to do with a shocking Liverpool defence than anything else.

In November we ripped apart a United team and lost. Yesterday Liverpool ripped us apart yet, for all of Wenger’s assertions on the belief of this squad and their mental strength, we have once again showed that we are incapable of seeing out a game. Let’s also not forget that this was a Liverpool team so profligate up top that they missed guilt edge chance after guilt edge chance yesterday. They were playing with Sterling up top and until he was moved out wide later in the game, it looked like the same as when we were forced to play Arshavin up top because there was nobody else available. Yet we still managed to gift Liverpool two goals.

The first was a neat finish from Coutinho, but the fact it game because Giroud was trying to be too clever with a first touch in our half is hardly surprising. We all know the pro-Liverpool commentary in this country seem to get mesmerised by the ‘history’ of that club, but when Martin Tyler said they deserved their goal, I doubt there was a Gooner alive that couldn’t disagree.

Thankfully our response was swift and, for as shocking a game Flamini had (I’ll come to that in a second), it was a good leap and head back into a dangerous position for Debuchy to equalise on the stroke of half time.

So, to Flamini, who has deteriorated quicker than I’d ever thought possible. We’ve always known his limitations, but the guy looks like the epitome of a headless chicken in football terms. Gary Neville had called it in commentary, but the amount of times he was out of position and leaving an acre of space in front of our back four, that was really criminal. He’s supposed to be our man protecting our back four, yet he looks increasingly like a player who has no idea what his primary role is in the team. Yesterday I tweeted that I thought defensive midfielder was one of the easiest roles to perform if you have a few basic ingredients. 1) Be able to win a tackle, 2) be disciplined in your positioning, and 3) be ready to distribute the ball instantly to a nearby teammate. It really isn’t rocket science. Yet Flamini seems to be struggling. I have no idea why. Is he operating differently because of instructions from the bench? Which leads me to my next gripe I’m afraid…

Arsène Wenger. I am finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile his actions with any kind of logic I’m afraid. He is a great man. He has given us great highs. He should be respected and appreciated. But what we have seen this season has the hallmarks of a star whose brightness is fading. Yesterday morning I wrote about how Liverpool will look to exploit us by getting players like Sterling and Coutinho on the ball and feed in to Lambert up top. I got the personnel wrong, but the game plan was not and we saw time and time again, Coutinho and Markovic pick the ball up deep and run at our defence. I have never managed a game in my life, I am nowhere near as qualified as Arsène to lead a football team, but if I can see what Liverpool are going to do, why can’t he?

Because he is incapable? I don’t know, but what I do know is we saw a team that were outplayed, out thought and out fought. And it was painful at times. I don’t know if The Ox was too injured to play, but he was terrible, given the ball away, travelling with it too long without passing it (I call it ‘non-injured Diaby syndrome’) before losing it and generally looking out of sorts. Santi faired slightly better, but he was too quiet to be really affective for any length of time. I’ve mentioned Flamini, so all in all that makes a three man midfield that at times, might as well not have been there.

Why do we have these problems in midfield? Is it the managers fault that we have so many injuries? Of course not, but he is the one that should be setting those up who are available, in a way that negates the opposition and plays to our strengths. Did any of us see that yesterday? I certainly didn’t. For that, you have to look at the manager and I’m afraid not for the first time this season, he was found wanting.

Defensively too, we were terrible, with poor old Calum Chambers looking like he was running through treacle at times. He had a torrid afternoon at right back and, whilst I can see Arsène’s logic playing the quicker Debuchy at centre half with Sterling up top, it meant Chambers suffered in a position that looks like it is increasingly more difficult for him to be a success at. Let’s not forget we’ve got Carl Jenkinson out on loan to fourth placed West Ham right now. Hopefully that decision to play Debuchy as a centre half and Chambers on the right is a short term issue and we’ll see the two swap for QPR at home on Boxing Day. But again, we go back to the fact that a lack of depth in the squad – bought on by the managers own inaction in the summer – is forcing square pegs into round holes and we look like we are suffering as a result.

I can’t believe we’re not actually beyond sight of the top four spots. For that we can at least be grateful and look, if we win all of our games over the Christmas and New Year period, we’ll be sat in a good position coming in to 2015. But despite this, does anybody really feel confident we can go into games – especially away games – and get a result? Yesterday I used the word ‘cowards’ to describe the Arsenal players. It’s an extreme word and I did think to myself whether I would regret using it come the next morning. I am a passionate fan and prone to ‘heat of the moment’ style outbursts like we all are, but I’d like to think that my friends recognise I’m not a person who can’t consider any football situation with a bit of reflective logic. So do I still think my phrase ‘cowards’ is relevant? Yes. I saw a group of players yesterday who ‘wanted it’ more and they played in red. That annoys me. It annoys me because it seems to happen too much with Arsenal. Too often we are the technically gifted side who feel we need to turn up to win games, too often we come out of these games with egg on our faces, yesterday was no exception.

I haven’t even mentioned our front three. Probably that’s because we saw little of any of them all afternoon, although I must acknowledge a fine goal from Giroud which should have seen us pick up all of the points. It’s because of that though, and the manner of the last minute goal, that this feels like a defeat and not a draw. Had it been the reverse, that we’d have scored in injury time, I certainly would have more relief this morning, but I would not be able to take any comfort in the performance.

What also really cheeses me off too, is that yesterday we could have gone some way to remove this weight around our necks of not being able to win ‘big’ games away from home. Not only are we failing to do that, again, but we haven’t even been winning at home this season.

Oh, let’s also through some petrol on this sh*t bonfire by finding out The Ox will be out until the New Year too, shouldn’t we?

What a way to start a week of Christmas over indulgence. Still, at least I’ve got enough booze to drown my sorrows over the next few days, I recommend drinking to forget. Then we can pretend we’re not in dire straights right now.

Return of double pivot today? Depends on The Ox

It’s been a long week without The Arsenal, but we’ve finally arrived at match day and it’s a trip up to Scouseland for Arsène and whoever is left in the team not currently hovering around the medical centre at London Colney like its some sort of overcrowded NHS A&E. We’ll soon find out if The Ox, Theo and Nacho are on the team bus and in the squad and whilst I think we can afford to be cautious with Theo and Nacho, The Ox simply must play if he’s even remotely fit enough.

We simply don’t have the players in midfield, you see, although I appreciate that technically we do because Coquelin can fit in. But the way that Arsène likes to play, with a stopper (normally Flamini/Arteta), a creative number 10/forward lying midfielder (Santi/Özil) and a box-to-boxer (The Ox/Rambo), having Coquelin would change it up a bit because there would be two more defensive minded players holding that midfield together.

Arsène has tried this before though, which we saw on numerous occasions last season with the famous double pivot of Flamini and Arteta. It worked at times last season, like Napoli at home, but then it failed on occasion too. If Arsène is forced in to it today, it might just work though. With Liverpool sure to play Lambert up top, there will be runners like Sterling and Coutinho who will look to catch our centre halves out with their pace, so having an extra body to screen the back four might help to isolate Lambert and cause the runners to drop deeper looking for the ball.

Of course, Rodgers could continue with Sterling up top and if that is the case then he will certainly look to play off the shoulders of the last man, so if the amount of green grass he gets to run in to today is reduced, then it might negate his threat. One things for sure, we don’t want to be playing a high line, because that’s how we always get done over.

At the sharp end of our team there is a notable difference between last season’s drubbing at Anfield and today’s game. The team that got spanked earlier this year was lacking pace in it with Giroud and Podolski accompanied by Özil and Santi. Liverpool knew this and as a result were able to play a high pressing game which kept us on the back foot as they blew us away in the first 20 minutes. If, as we’re all assuming we play Welbeck, Giroud and Alexis as our front three, we have two willing runners to play off of our big Frenchman. That should mean he won’t cut a lone figure up top. Hopefully it will mean that Liverpool can’t play as higher line against us and therefore we won’t be caught out as often as we were in February.

That’s the theory, anyway, but as we all know you have no idea what Arsenal will do in these games. You wouldn’t look at the two respective teams at the Britannia and expect Stoke to smash us to pieces in a first half, but we had about as much consistency to us as a bowl of custard that day. So I wouldn’t put it past us to wobble in yellow away today too.

I hope not. I hope we can do to Liverpool what they did to us. But I suspect that this afternoon will be a cagey affair and that both teams would probably settle for a point if you offered it to the respective managers right now. A point is no good to us though. We’ve had too many draws this season and given that West Ham seem to be stretching their lead in fourth, we need to keep pace with them because they will start to drop points. We also need to win a ‘big game’ this season. We’ve had only draws or defeats in what I would call a ‘big game’, and we never seem to be able to win away from home against the traditional ‘top four contenders’, so if ever we’re going to break that hoodoo, you’d say an ailing Liverpool team would be the time to do it.

Famous last words, I know.

Fingers crossed. Come on Arsenal!

Grumpy at injuries and our Rubik’s cube defence

This horrible weather we’re having in London can do one. Sideways. With a spatula. That’s on fire. So can signal failures, which are the bane of everyone’s lives.

If you can’t tell already, I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, the one with the Velux windows that sound like the heavens have fallen on your house when it’s windy and raining.

So I give you this disclaimer of grumpiness: if today’s blog seems overly morose, please don’t think that I’m turning to the dark side or something like that, I’m simply a tired man feeling increasingly like an old man. At 32. And yes, I’m painfully aware that my professional football career is all but over. Anyways, I’d only get a one year deal at The Arsenal, so it would be fleeting as it is.

So to Arsenal, and Arsène, who appears to have crossed the paths of so many black cats he’s started tripping over them. The team news made for grim reading on the official site yesterday didn’t it? No Koscienly, no Monreal, no Chambers, no Arteta, no Walcott and Ramsey is being assessed for a severe case of ‘Butt Rot’ or something similar. It reads like the transcript of the opening scenes in Saving Private Ryan, with bodies just littered around the treatment room like some sort of morbid Christmas decorations.

Quite what it means for our defensive worries I haven’t the foggiest. With the arrival of Debuchy we took one step forward, but the news from Le Boss yesterday was effectively that we’ve taken one step back. I was really looking forward to seeing our back four all be players from their natural position. But there you go, such is the cross we all must bare.

So it looks like we’ll have our 9,253th combination of four defenders – the only four senior defenders we have left mind – that will take to the field. More speculation on how they will line up against the Geordies in tomorrow’s match preview, but I do wonder if the gods are testing the old Rubik’s cube theory on us. You know the one; how there’s about a million permutations for just fifty or sixty coloured squares. I wonder how many different variations of an Arsenal back four could be used for the duration of a season?

A saving grace for tomorrow will be that Newcastle seem to have just as many injury problems as we do. I joked a few weeks ago that ‘only Arsenal’ would have two goalkeepers out at the same time. Turns out that statement should have had ‘plus some Geordies’ added to it as well, because they are pretty Donald Ducked by the sounds of it. You never know, we might get treated to a five-a-side score line tomorrow evening. Hopefully it’s an 11-4 in our favour though, eh?

We’ll get a better indication on where we’re at this morning when Arsène takes his seat in front of the microphones for his regular pre-match chin wag with the national hacks. I’m not so sure he’ll be as eager to dish out the platitudes about his opposite number as Alan Pardew did yesterday. ‘Pards’ was effusive in his praise (straight out of the Football Manager archives, that one) for Arsène, going as far as suggesting that he should have a stand named after him, which fiend respective two managers history, was certainly a surprise to me. This is a guy, after all, who has aimed pot shots at Arsène for fielding too many Johnny Foreigners, before deciding that he had French ancestry and delving into Ligue Un to populate his side with Gallic fellows. Or, a guy who likes a bit of shovy-shovy on the touchline, with Arsène and other managers/players in his managerial career too.

So Alan wants a stand named after Arsène, does he? Well I’m sure Arsène will get his statue one day, but he’s got some repair work to do first, starting with a win tomorrow evening. And besides, the Emirates is more of a bowl these days anyway, so doesn’t really have ‘sides’ or ‘stands’ so to speak. So ner-Nicky-ner-ner Alan.

Anyway, that’s it from me for one day I think, to which there’s of much more to do other than point you in the direction of this humurous ditty from http://www.twitter.com/gunnerblog, which is an ode to the Cesc saga – http://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=YJMr6nrl7c0 – bravo sir, bravo.

My mental mindset for Southampton

It’s Southampton at home for us today and I for one am going to change my mental approach to this game. All season, for all of the games against supposed inferior opposition, I have been a little bit blasé in my expectation levels. Pre match I’ve talked about the potential for slip ups, for defeats or draws, but I’ve not properly believed my own rhetoric. Not really. I’ve deep down just been waiting to see the three points fall on our laps like a gift from Dennis.

Well not any more. From the weekend I changed my mindset and actually expected us to slip up and yes, had the Berahino header been lower or an incorrect offside decision to our way, perhaps my mindset would have meant the square root of naff all. After all, what influence do I have on a game happening over a hundred miles away?

But as a superstitious fan, I always believe my little rituals make something of a small difference, so tonight I’m heading over to The Emirates knowing that the Saints could easily leave us feeling morose once again.

To say our form this season was ‘patchy’ would pretty much nail the head square on. It’s the one word that keeps reverberating in my mind every time we have a game to play. We’ve suffered the worst start to the season in a generation and you have to go back to the dark old Bruce Rioch days to remember what life was like when we were this poor.

There is a bit of cause for optimism tonight though. After all, we’ve picked up back-to-back wins, with another victory tonight being the first time we’ve managed three on the trot. It seems weird that we’re in December and this same team that came so close last year in the league (I know it’s not EXACTLY the same as last year, injuries etc, but the squad isn’t wholly different) has been so markedly different. But what it shows you is that form and confidence means so much in a game which is defined with such short margins.

So what of tonight? What will befall us? Well, the good news is that having already been kicked in the nuts by an almost full strength Southampton team in the Capital One Cup, we know exactly how they will line up. They will be with Schneiderlin – a big blow as their Talisman – but I’m Wanyama they have a ball winning midfielder who can protect the leagues most miserly defence. And they will be miserly tonight. I’m not expecting us to get many goals at all. The front three of Welbeck, Giroud and Sanchez was exciting in its mobility, but you could see that they just weren’t clicking. It will probably take another three or four games for that to happen so we should all be expecting a tough team to break down and not a front three of ours that will have a field day.

There are some that are saying that the seal has been broken; that the 0-3 home defeat to Moneychester City was an example of how Southampton can’t compete with the bigger teams. I say that’s poppycock. Southampton aren’t looking at Moneychester City and Chelski as their rivals, they’re looking at us and the top three and four spots as their end game. And they will be expecting to come to the Emirates and demonstrate why they’d only conceded six goals all season before Sunday’s loss.

If the game does look like it could be decided by a goal, it will be important for us to get the first I think. A Southampton counter, or sloppy bit of defending (I know! When have we seen that happen, right?) that leads us to being behind yet again, will be no good for the flow of the game. It will turn it into a match of defence versus attack and as we saw against United and Hull this season, that situation rarely works out in our favour. Usually with the defending team catching us on the break to finish off the game with a minute or two to spare (United this season, Villa the season before, Swansea the season before that).

Defensive stability will therefore be everything. Per and Kos at the heart of the defence gives cause for optimism, but there’s more to our defensive solidity than having the first choice centre halves fit. Chambers and will need to ensure that the high pressing of Clyne and Co will not be able to get in behind our back four and Flamini needs to repeat what he did against West Brom i.e. don’t venture over the halfway line. If he can keep his defensive composure then we can concentrate on letting the Ramsey’s, Cazorla’s et al try and unpick a stubborn Southampton reserve.

I don’t buy the comments that Southampton will be mentally fragile after their defeat to City. Everyone keeps forgetting that this is a team tipped for relegation, yet they keep defying the odds each week and they will continue to do so, because the pressure is completely off them. That’s what Ronald Koeman will be saying to his players tonight. He’ll tell them that a draw is ok, but to see if they can nip in with a goal against an Arsenal team that can look as wobbly as a freshly made piece of trifle.

We have to make sure that the trifle has been made with cement and not Robinson’s. Or some similar metaphorical description that involves us not conceding any goals.

See you tomorrow, hopefully with a nice positive blog, which talks about Arsenal back on form.

But I’m not expecting it. Honest.