What I’d like to see from Arsenal this season: the high press

Moning fellows and ladies, y’alright?

I am. Despite the inevitable tired eyes that threaten to derail my sunny disposition, I’m feeling chipper, most probably because my first game back watching The Arsenal since visiting Wembley happens to be another trip to Wembley on Sunday. Sure, it won’t have the same expectation, nervousness or intensity, but it will still be a nice way to slide myself back in to full-on Arsenal mode. Love it.

I’ve been watching the preseason friendly games from a far at this point and, whilst trying to look at how we might fare this season, I’ve also tried to see how Arsène might have changed his team approach to games. After all, 12 points difference over Chelski isn’t going to be overhauled just because the players have had a summer together, is it?

I’m not sure it is. So I’ve been trying to watch the friendlies as objectively as I can, to see if we’ll see signs of any tactical approaches, which is difficult when the football is so disjointed as a result of the many substitutions that are needed whilst the whole squad gets back to match fitness.

I’m a pretty simple football fan, not pretending to be any kind of tactical nous or ability to spot the minutiae of a way an Arsenal team – or opponents actually – are set up. But having watched us over the last couple of weeks, it does look as though we seem to be adopting a little bit more of a forward-looking and expansive style of football. I thought I started to see the framework for this in Singapore with Santi deployed as the deepest lying midfielder. Santi! A guy who three years ago was our most creative player, pulling the strings as a quarterback. I loved it and then, at The Emirates Cup at the weekend, the way in which we overloaded Lyon with our football just before half time, meant the French team had no answer. Wolfsburg were a bit more composed, which meant we reigned in our natural intent to drive forward those quick bursts and overload on all sides, but the goal that Theo scored was still an example of our pace and ability to stretch teams on the counter.

That pace that we now have in abundance is a weapon that I hope we see plenty of this season. When we’re deep in our half and under pressure, I hope we have enough outlets to sucker-punch teams with lighting response and accuracy. Theo, the Ox, Welbeck and Alexis all have it and with Mes able to pick a pass along with Santi, they can find him.

But I also saw one other flash of something that I am really hoping we see more of this season: the high press.

It was in to the second half, relatively early on, in which the Wolfsburg left back was fed the ball from his centre half. His actions were to lump the ball out of play, but that was only because a swarm of Arsenal players led by Arteta closed down the space and his immediate options. It was a classic tennis ‘forced error’ and immediately gifted possession back to us. To me it was majestic and for that very quick moment I was reminded of the Barcelona that came to the Emirates and drew 2-2. That team I saw that night were an exhibition of the high press. They gave Arsenal little time on the ball and closed down defenders so high up the pitch it ‘forced error’ on our back four on a number of occasions as I recall.

I love the high press. It’s how you can sustain pressure on teams and keep them camped in their own half when they have possession, then when the ball is in your half it is usually at the feet of one of your players. I’d love to see Arsenal adopt the high press this season.

It has its drawbacks, I’ll admit, particularly if your side isn’t 100% switched on for the whole game. A high press against teams with cultured and mobile players is risky. You can’t afford to have your forwards pushing from the front and the midfield and defence not closing the spaces in between the lines of players. If you are not organised when adopting the high press you will get caught out if your opponents have a good enough pass-master and quick centre forwards.

But it is exciting to watch and if executed properly, can be exhausting for defences, which is why I love it. A bit of risk for awesome rewards. And the thing is, we have players who can help to press from the front yet still track back. Alexis is the perfect example, but Welbeck and the Ox do the same, so there are players in that front three who will cover ground to help the team. Ramsey too in the middle of the park will press from the front, but in order for us to be deadly, we need to have him busting a gut each time to drop deeper if we don’t have the ball.

Whether or not Arsène wants to adopt the high press I’m not sure. I’m sure I read somewhere a few seasons ago – possibly from Arteta I believe – that the coaching staff had realised that we don’t have the personnel to press high up the pitch for the duration of the whole of a football match. So the team devised a way in which it could press in patches, perhaps in certain zones. Certainly this represents the more prudent approach to pressing an opponent. But to me, having seen that Barcelona team all those years ago, I can’t shake the idea that with better and more intelligent players that we have now, ones that have the pace as well as ability to cover a lot more ground in defence and attack, we should think about trying to suffocate opponents when in possession whilst adopting the high press.

Perhaps it’s a pipe dream – that Barcelona model I saw a few years back – and not really viable in the Premier League in which players don’t get as much opportunity to ‘go easy’ before big games like Barca probably did with whatever opponent they faced before they rocked up at The Emirates that night. But to me, with the players and the ability we have as a team, I just feel we’re in a good position to be able to have a go at it, without having the same response as we had last season away at Swansea where Flamini decided he’d press high up the pitch, which didn’t quite work so well for us.

Come on Arsène, give it a go, let’s have a try and see if we can rack up some big scores this season.

My cup final. Your cup final. Arsenal’s cup final. Make history.

This is it people. Cup final day.

It’s hard to effectively communicate the significance of today to anybody who isn’t a football fan, or even isn’t a fan whose team is in the final, but this is season defining. And I mean that with no sense of hyperbole at all. By 10pm tonight we will have one of two perspectives on how our season has evolved.

First, the bad: We lose to Aston Villa and are looking at a trophy less season in which the only consolation is that we have secured automatic Champions League qualification. It is but scant consolation though, as we know that having waited for so long to get a trophy, then having it delivered to us last year, we have come so near and yet stopped so agonisingly close. The media will portray Arsenal once again as the ‘big occasion bottlers’ and we will take an entire summer of grief from friends, family and randoms online as they dig the knife in even deeper.

But the alternative to this is the good: we win our second FA Cup in as many years. Arsene has delivered another trophy and the team now has a record in which you can say that we are silverware winners on a regular basis. The season is viewed as a success and we go into the summer knowing that one or two top-notch additions will set us up to try to close the gap on Chelski once again. Players who are linked with Arsenal know that they have a pretty good chance of silverware and that strengthens our hand further in negotiations. It’s a perpetual cycle of positivity.

Heck, even the Arsenal Twittersphere might just take a chill pill as a collective and enjoy whatever summer brings.

It is amazing that one game can have so much riding on it, isn’t it? If you think about the Arsenal players, they will have worked their little cottons off from August until May, but ultimately, unless they deliver by close of play today, it will all feel a little bit in vein.

But that’s the beauty of football. That’s what makes the highs so high and the lows so low. If there was another trophy to play for next week and the week after that, we’d be a heck of a lot more blasé about it, wouldn’t we? So would we change it for anything? Nope. I wouldn’t swap all of the nerves in the world today pre-game for not being in this competition and heading over to Wembley early this evening. Because if I did, it would mean my team hasn’t reached this landmark occasion, and I’d probably be out buying furniture polish or doing the Saturday shop in Sainsbury’s. Today’s blog would probably be the start of speculating on transfers and the longer I can go on without talking about that, the better, because it’s not what football is about.

Today is. Cups are. The FA Cup.

Team wise, my pick for the side would be Szczesny in goal, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscienly, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla Ozil, Alexis, Giroud and Walcott. It would be harsh on Rambo but I think Theo offers more of a wide threat on the counter than Aaron does and if Aston Villa sit deeper than expected (many are predicting that they will ‘have a go’ at us today), then Ramsey will inevitably drift centrally and we could see more congestion.

However, I don’t think that will be the team. I think all but Theo will be Arsene’s pick for today and, whilst it wouldn’t be my first choice, if that’s the team that I see on my phone just before kick off, then I’d be happy enough with that too. That’s because for all of the lack of width that Rambo doesn’t offer, what he will offer more than Theo will be defensive cover. He’s not the best defensive player in the world, but his engine is such that it will mean that if Villa try to overload the left hand side of their attack, Bellerin will be supported by the Welshman.

That’s what Villa tried to do against Liverpool and Sherwood might take the view that ‘if it ain’t broke, then Tim Sherwood don’t wanna fix it’ – because you just know he’s the sort of person to be talking about himself in third person, don’t you?

So how will today pan out? No idea, but what I do know – which is what I said on the Arsenal Discussion on Thursday evening on Arsenal Fan TV – is that if Aston Villa sit deep and play a pacey attacking trio of Benteke, Agbonlahor and one other, then it might lead to gaps of space in the midfield as the defence and midfield sit deep and isolate those three. If there are gaps in the middle of the park it should play into Santi and Mesut’s hands, so they will need to have big games today if they get enough time and space on the ball.

It’s also time for Giroud to break his goal scoring duck. He doesn’t need to in order to have a good game, but he’s the sort of player that if he gets one in a cup final – hopefully in the first half – he’ll be a menace throughout the game. Vlaar will no doubt be tasked with keeping him company, so it will be important that both Alexis and Ramsey – assuming it’s him that starts – will be able to pick up balls from Giroud’s close controlled flicks and intricate touches when fed up to him.

Arsene is right to pick out Benteke as a threat and as I was speaking about with the guys from Arsenal Fan TV and Moh who pointed this out, the worry is if Benteke has seen what Gomis did to us for Swansea at The Emirates, that deep ball to the back post to nod beyond our keeper. I think Villa will try that a few times and so whoever goes in goal  – and I think that’s why Szczesny should start (think West Ham away for why – he claimed crosses all day) – will need to be commanding. If Villa try that tactic and the ‘keeper plucks the ball out of the air three or four times, they quickly stop it and we’ll have seen a major aerial challenge nullified. But if they get joy with a couple, we could see an entire evening of it, which none of us want to see, do we?

I have already experienced the pain of losing to a midlands team in a cup final in 2011. I don’t particularly want to feel that pain again. Arsenal players need to let go of any inhibitions they might have. They need to play the game we know they are capable of and they need to take that next step on to proving that they are ready to challenge the oil whoring elite of this country with another trophy in the cabinet.

It doesn’t matter if you’re at Wembley. It doesn’t matter if you’re in England. If you are a gooner, then today you and I will be channelling the same spirit of success through to the players. They need every single one of us. Those in the stadium, those shouting at the TV, those listening in on radio and those watching through a live feed. Every man, woman, boy, girl and pet needs to be there for the team in spirit body and mind.

Come on you rip roaring reds.

Up the Arsenal.

Heartbreak for Welbeck and a hint on Theo vs Giroud?

So who’da thunk that FIFA were a corrupt collection of cheating no-good-for-nothing’s, eh? Then, quelle surprise, who’da thought that Sepp would persist with the FIFA elections to ensure his dictatorship remains for another however many years, by not postponing the election process after this latest set of troubles?

Well, everybody, actually.

Even Arsene had his say yesterday and whilst he can’t exactly be as vocal in his comments about football’s governing body, he was a eloquent as ever in talking about the issues surrounding the recent spate of arrests, stating that the worst ting of all is rumours and FIFA should be more transparent and open about telling the world what the issues are and how to address them.

But of course we know they are not designed like that. Heck, they hired a high-powered lawyer to chair an ethics committee, then promptly dismissed his findings when he had serious issues with the way the organisation is run, refusing the publish the results, then glossing over them completely. So what do we expect?

Still, the moral bankruptcy of those in Switzerland who purport to have the sport’s interest at heart are but a small footnote in the most important news this week leading in to the weekend, which is all around the FA Cup, team news and Arsene’s presser, in which he confirmed Welbeck is out. It’s a shame because he had such a great impact in this cup competition by navigating us past the choppy waters of Old Trafford. He’ll be rightly gutted and you have to feel for him. Football is a short career and even if you’re at a team that is towards the top of the division, you probably only get around 10 attempts to play in cup finals if you’re lucky, so to miss out on one for this season will be a big blow.

I thought it was interesting that Arsene talked about the importance and the impact of subs in games like Saturday’s, after he was asked about Giroud and Walcott. If you read my usual ramblings, you’ll know that I’d be an advocate of them both starting, with Walcott out wide, but Le Boss’ comments yesterday suggest that he’ll go with one or the other and see one of Olivier or Theo as an impact sub. Again, my money would be on Theo to be that impact sub. It would be harsh on him given he’s just hit a hat trick, but as I’ve said before, I don’t see Theo and Rambo working in the same team. They would both occupy similar positions in and around the box, so if Rambo is preferred I’d expect Giroud to be given the nod.

As usual the questions were a bit boring and even those designed to be provocative (one guy repeatedly asked about Jose Mourinho’s comments, Arsene expectantly dismissive and moved the conversations along), but we still got a few snippets that we can over-analyse to our hearts content. Arsene talked up Benteke and the importance of him and I think keeping him quiet will probably be the secret to any success we have on Saturday evening. He’s their talisman – super Timmy Sherwood aside! – and will be a thorn in our side for sure. I do wish that the reporters would drill manager’s a bit more than they did yesterday about the opposition. Arsene gave platitudes out to Grealish yesterday and showed that he’s got good knowledge of a player with whom some of us will have only seen once or twice, which is the kind of thing I want to hear in press conferences. Ahead of the FA Cup I’m not interested in rumours about Benzema or whoever, what I want to know is whether Arsene has a clear understanding of the threats that Villa will pose and a clear understanding of what they might try to do. He doesn’t have to give up all of his plans, but if he’s probed about players, tactics of the opposition, etc, surely that makes not a lot of difference to how he will set his team up? It isn’t really going to give anybody a better insight in to who he might pick and it certainly isn’t going to make Sherwood spit out his morning mocha by saying “holy cr*ap, he knows about us. That’s it, we’re all getting in to the Anderson Shelter and not coming out until 5pm on Saturday”.

But what do I know. I’m not a professional journalist. I haven’t hacked anyone’s phone for a start.

Anyway, I think i’ll call it a day and crack on with the household chores for the day. Cheery bye!

Sunderland preview: Breaking down a defence again

A lovely midweek game to keep us occupied tonight, how thoughtful of The Arsenal to get so far in the FA Cup and ensure this fixture was moved to a midweek, where we would have something to talk about. And that something appears to be how likely Arsene is to shuffle his deck a little bit against a Sunderland team who need a point to secure their Premier League status for 2015/16.

We need effectively just a point to secure our third place status and automatic qualification to the Champions League next season, so one could be forgiven for thinking this might be like that Champions League game about five years ago when both Porto and Arsenal needed a draw to qualify, so both teams played out one of the most drab 0-0s that ever existed.

However, I suspect Arsenal will want to get the job done today, not least to absolutely guarantee that we can qualify, but also because it helps to continue the momentum going in to the FA Cup in just over a week and a half’s time. Our last couple of games have seen patchy performances and for that reason, I think Arsene will be telling his charges that there needs to be a bit more swagger injected in to the performance tonight.

We need to see the Arsenal of three weeks ago, swashbuckling passing and sweeping movements that leave teams like Hull and Liverpool trailing in our wake, unable to respond to relentless Arsenal pressure and precision passing. We need to see the hunger and desire of the players manifest itself in more than the lacklustre game at home against Swansea just over a week ago. We need to see goals and three points for the home side.

That’s why I can understand why so many Arsenal fans are calling for a bit of rotation this evening. We’ve looked a little unconvincing in the last couple of games and whether that is due to a long season catching up with a few players, or whether it’s because tactically it has not quite worked out (i.e. Ramsey out wide right) I’m not 100% sure, but one thing I do know is that there will be plenty of players who haven’t been making the match day XI who should be chomping at the bit to put on a good show if they are chosen. Players like Wilshere, Gibbs and Walcott all spring to mind immediately and I’d be surprised if two out of those three don’t play tonight. Arsene won’t want to make wholesale changes to the side – it will disrupt the continuity of the team – but he might want to freshen things up a bit and I’m all for that.

We’ll already see Gabriel come in for Laurent Koscienly, who has the flu, so I think Arsene may not opt to rotate any more of his back four. Similarly in midfield, I think he’ll try to keep it looking and feeling like it did at Old Trafford, certainly in the last half an hour. So I wonder if Wilshere will replace Cazorla. If he wants to, he could look at Ramsey centrally with Walcott out wide, but I think he’ll keep Aaron out wide tonight. I don’t think he should, but I can see it happening because I just have a gut feel that one of Walcott or Wilshere miss out. I think Arsene wants to accommodate Rambo somehow and that’s why I don’t think we’ll see both of the England internationals starting, so we’ll either see Walcott out wide right and Rambo in the centre, or Rambo wide right and Wilshere in the centre. I’d personally rather see Ramsey centre, so that would be my preferred option.

Up top will most likely be Giroud and Alexis, particularly because with The Ox and Welbeck out, there doesn’t appear to be too many natural suitors for the role. Theo centrally doesn’t work, we all know that and with Mesut performing so much better at number 10 than out wide left, I hope that Arsene’s experiment with him playing out wide left has been put to bed long ago.

Sunderland will unlikely be going with three strikers like they did against Leicester, so I’m expecting them to flood the midfield with five and probably play Jermaine Defoe as the sole front man, hoping he can catch us on the counter with his pace. But at 32 he’s not as quick as he once was and unless isolated against Per Mertesacker, I’d hope we have enough to cope with the Mackems attack. I have seen Conor Wickham deployed in midfield before and so it wouldn’t surprise me to see him operating as a midfielder-cum-striker when Sunderland do venture forward, but I suspect they’ll come looking for a point like Swansea did and I would be surprised if they didn’t look to sit deep and soak up pressure. The difference between Swansea and Sunderland however, is that Swansea are built to counter a lot better than Sunderland, but also have the confidence of having had their best ever season under Gary Monk. Sunderland are down there and scrapping for their lives – which certainly means they’ll be harder to beat – but they also have a bit more weaknesses to expose as a result and I think that providing we’re not going to fire pot-shots down the throat of Pantillimon all night, we should have enough to score goals against this side.

It’s one of two of our final home games of the season and two wins would take us to a decent points tally and third place, putting us in a good position to go in to the cup final riding high. Come on Arsenal, you can do it!

United review: a better response to previous years

Yesterday’s proverbial ‘game of two halves’ gave us just what we needed – enough to effectively secure third on Wednesday night with one of two outcomes – but more importantly, showed a bit more resilience than I have seen in an Arsenal team at Old Trafford for a long time, FA Cup game a couple of months ago aside. 

I say this because at half time, having been pretty much dominated for the opening 45, I felt resigned once again to the ‘same old story’ in which we lose to United in the league with barely any kind of fightback at all. To me, our defeats of the previous nine years have by-and-large been ones in which we’ve gone down with barely a whimper. We’ve fallen behind and never really looked like getting back in to the game, to which when then concede a second which effectively kills the game off. That’s what happened when I watched from a Barcelona bar about three seasons ago, when Vermaelen was gifting That Dutch Bloke a comfortable start to his United career.

But yesterday, whilst starting in a similar fashion, ended in a way in which I can take comfort in a point gained. We played poorly for an hour and Arsène was unsurprisingly angry at half time, according to Monreal, but we grew back in to the game and dominated the final 30. Pegging a United side back in their own half so they resort to long kicks up field gives you an idea of how in control we were towards the end of the game. That shows progress to me.

We needed that point because, if I’m honest, pre-game I was hoping that we would not fall into a bit of a confidence nose-dive with back-to-back defeats. We’ve avoided that and now, with Sunderland on the horizon on Wednesday, we have the opportunity to get back to winning ways quickly enough.

Performance wise we had a few players who just didn’t get close to clicking. Santi Cazorla was very off-key and in a team where competition for places is so tough, I do wonder if Arsène will have a think about who he plays on Wednesday night, because he was completely nullified by the quick press of Fellaini and Mata and spent more and more of his time in the first hour as another holding midfielder in front of our back four. In the opening minutes of the second half, I genuinely wondered whether Martin Tyler had forgotten any notes on Santi, because he just wasn’t saying his name. I put his performance partially down to his own display – when you’re as good as Cazorla you should be able to create space for yourself with movement – and partially down to the fact that United had clearly realised that if you choke the supply of Özil and Cazorla, you can negate a lot of Arsenal’s flow.

I make suggestions of rotation for Wednesday because when you compare and contrast the performance of Cazorla to Ramsey – again out of position for most of the game – you see a player who would quite happily slot in and play as a central midfield player. As you will no doubt be aware by now, I’m not a fan in the slightest of us playing Ramsey out wide right, but I am a fan of Ramsey and so is Arsène so it’s obvious that he wants to fit him in. But it really surprises me because for a guy so obsessed with the natural balance of his team, his recent formation decisions leave us quite unbalanced, as Ramsey continues to drift in-field all game.

It’s no surprise that it was the last 20 minutes – with the changes of Walcott and Wilshere coming on – that we looked more threatening going forward. Walcott’s width was enough to stretch United who then also had Alexis (who also had a poor game by his standards) on the opposite flank to contend with. This also enabled Ramsey and Wilshere to find more pockets of space and on a couple of occasions the Welshman got in to some good positions, one of which saw him lob the ball over De Gea, only for Rojo to clear over the line.

The goal came through Theo being isolated on the right against Blackett and was a classic example of what Theo gives you: end product. Alright, so he can’t in all honestly claim what was clearly a heavily deflected goal, but he’s the sort of player who gets in to those positions and I think he offers us an option in the squad that others don’t. He may not have shown it as much through his cameo appearances of late, but Theo is a valuable asset and showed it yesterday by being the chief protagonist in rescuing a point for us. 

So we’re nearly there. Almost over the line for a third place finish and that will represent progress. We aren’t going to get second but right now, I’m happy with where we’re at. 

Roll on Wednesday.

United preview: play with width and stretch an average back four

United at Old Trafford. A game in which historically has had extreme significance, but in very recent times has not been as intense as the early Arsene Wenger years. Neither side is competing for the league for one thing, which inevitably results in a reduction of the pressure, but at least both teams have something to play for today. I remember watching the drab 0-0 draw about five or six years ago when United had won the league and I’m pretty sure we were just about there in terms of Champions League qualification. It was horrid to watch and felt more like endurance training than anything else.

It won’t be like that today though I don’t think. On that day United were just out not to be beat and have a stroll in the May sunshine before parading the league trophy. Where as today they are hunting us down for the automatic Champions League place. We too want that spot quite badly, so it won’t be an Arsenal side prepared to just lie down and take a beating. I hope.

We’re two points clear of United and so a draw would not be the worst result in the world as it would mean that probably a point – with our superior goal difference – should see us just scrape over the line, but we want to do more than that in our next three games. We want to win all three and set up a bit of a confidence booster before the FA Cup final. Just look at Aston Villa yesterday. They were a shambles at the back and it looks like, with Premier League safety secured, they were just coasting on the south coast yesterday. Another performance like that next weekend from them would hardly be the best kind of preparation for an FA Cup Final, so the same must be said about us today, on Wednesday and against West Brom on Sunday next week.

The positive news for us coming out of Manchester is the notable absence of Wayne Rooney. Injured last weekend against Palace, he won’t feature today and given he has a Drogbarian habit of getting goals against us, it can only be a positive thing. Of course the down side is that That Dutch Bloke is back and fit to face us and aside from the game at The Emirates earlier in the season, he’s already bagged a few goals against us in the short time he’s been at United. One has to just hope that he has as forgettable game against us as he did earlier in the season.

Which by the way, I have still not forgiven the footballing gods for. I know we won the FA Cup game at Old Trafford and so perhaps some parity has been restored, but given the nature of the domination we had against United at home, it still doesn’t feel like we’ve been given all of the revenge we deserve. We smashed United that day and they scored with two out of the three attempts they had that day. Oh, and one of those attempts from Valencia wasn’t even going on target!

Yes I’m bitter. I’m bitter because we had so many years of being inferior to United, that when we finally clearly had a better team, they relied on some sort of mega spawny counter attack to win the game. Ok, it wasn’t spawny in so much as it was one of Big Per’s ‘I think I’ll be a winger’ moments for one of the goals, but it just felt like we weren’t getting the rub of the green that day.

I want us to have all the green today. Each little corner of it. Slopes, dips and undulations, I want us to beat United at Old Trafford in the league and bring balance to the force. Arsene alluded to it in his presser – that the victory would represent a symbolic significance to the team – and I think as we draw this season to a close, a perfect way to lie the ‘big-game bottlers’ tag finally to bed will be to win in Manchester once more this season.

Who will be charged with that responsibility? Well I’ll be shocked if it’s anybody other than the team that played on Monday night. We laboured all evening against a Swansea team that didn’t really want to come out of their own half, but today’s game will be almost completely different to that one. I hope, anyway. So I suspect Arsene will charge his players with popping the ball around confidently, being difficult to break down like we were away to City and also to some extent against United in the FA Cup, whilst hitting United on the counter. Just like they did to us.

It’s their last home game of the season and they can still see the possibility of finishing third if we eff it up today and then against Sunderland on Wednesday night, so I’m not expecting anything other than a very difficult afternoon of football watching. I promised myself I wouldn’t have a jar or two this morning, because I’ve been drinking enough alcohol lately, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see an Estrella in my hand come 4pm.

If we’re going to win this game, we need more from Giroud, Alexis and Ramsey. If we’re going to counter we need to do so with Ramsey actually adopting more of a wide man’s role, because if we flood the centre of the park I think it will slow us down and make us too lop-sided. We need to have a good balance going forward to stretch the United back four, a back four that really isn’t that great. But if all of our counter-attacking play is spread to the wide left position where Alexis is, then it will be easier for the likes of Valencia, Smalling and Jones to double up on the Chilean and stifle us. So having width gives us options when breaking out from the back. It gives Mesut and Santi the ability to spread the play to either flank and divide the defenders, giving the opportunity to isolate players like Rojo and increasing our chances of getting in beyond them. That’s where I see us getting joy and that’s where I hope Arsene will be telling Ramsey to be spending a bit more time doing today.

If you’re going, have a good one and I hope the weather holds up for you, if you’re an armchair gooner like me for today, see if you can hold out without resorting to booze. I bet you can’t. I probably won’t.

Laterz.

Poor tactically and defensively

After the winning streak that we’ve had in the last couple months, I find myself somewhat at a difficult place, because for all the criticism that I want to give the manager for what I believe we’re totally the wrong tactics to deploy against a Swansea team who came for a point and went home with three, the side he picked was the same side that had performed so well over the last month. 

So was Arsène right to pick the same time based on the belief that confidence would see us through against Swansea? Evidently not, but I can see why he thought the confidence of the team would see us over the line.

But herein lies the problem with Arsène. His unwavering belief in the spirit of his players trumps any other kind of reasoning or thought process for selecting any Matchday squad, or so it seems from where I stand, because his inability to look at the opposition and exploit weaknesses feels to me like it’s negated by his belief that the players who feel the most confident will win the game.

It feels a very ‘heart on the sleeve’ kind of management, which I find at odds with the way Arsène is portrayed at times.

Take yesterday’s defeat to Swansea. Knowing that they would look to frustrate and remain compact in the middle of the park, there was no acknowledgement from our manager that we might need to pull them around the pitch a bit to create space. An unchanged squad featuring Ramsey out wide right therefore saw the bulk of play concentrated on trying to wriggle our way through pockets of congested white and red shirts with no real resolution other than a pretty tame half in the first 45.

To Gary Monk’s credit, he executed his game to perfection. You could almost hear the teamtalk reverberating around the Emirates: 

“We’re not playing with a striker today boys, we’re going 4-6-0 and that’ll frustrate Arsenal, but as long as we stay compact we’ll get chances”

It was a perfect plan to play a manager like Arsène on his home turf. We laboured for the entirety of the first half and although we created chances in the second, they were all down the throat of Fabianski, who must have been grateful for the gifts presented to him. Particularly a tame Walcott strike which rolled into his arms as he was practically still on the floor. 

None of our forward line covered themselves in any glory. Ramsey did what he knows is his game and played too centrally throughout. Giroud had an early chance but then faded into anonymity, whilst Alexis too had an off night. Mesut was stifled by the congestion in the middle of the park, whilst Santi couldn’t really stamp any kind of authority on the game. It was a lacklustre performance from an Arsenal team who appear to have nothing to play for on this showing. Quite unappealing indeed.

As for their goal, well, let’s just say that Ospina won’t be winning over any floating voters any time soon. The chance Gomis had shouldn’t have fallen so easily on his head in the first place, but when it’s down to your ‘keepers left hand side and very saveable, you expect him to…well…save it. 

I have no major problem with Ospina. He seems a decent enough ‘keeper, but when you’re going for a Premier League title, you need more than just ‘okay’. When Almunia’s confidence wasn’t completely drained from him he was ‘ok’, but he never made saves you never expected him to make. He never managed to ‘save’ us games. Our two current ‘keepers feel like that. If we really do want to win the league, either one of them needs to be doing that little something more, or we need to find somebody who does, because in a game of fine margins these things matter.

Defensively the two full backs hardly covered themselves in glory either. Both Gomis and Montero are becoming quite a thorn in our side, but I have to admit I thought it was pace that did over Chambers, where as you can’t accuse Bellerin of lacking that can you? 

So there we have it. A disappointing defeat that means we head into the game at Old Trafford knowing another loss will see us drop back down into fourth. Having beaten Swansea just once at home since they came up, I think it’s fair to say that they are well and truly an Arsenal bogey team, which I thought we had managed to shake off those types of sides where we are clearly better but have some sort of psychological block.

Still, when I got home last night a pair of freshly arrived FA Cup final tickets were sitting on the kitchen table, so I guess that enabled me to get some perspective.

See you tomorrow.