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.

The Arsenal matchday begins. I love it

It’s here! It’s finally here! The football fans equivalent of Christmas Day! Opening day of the season!

Yes folks, football is back, the void shall shortly be filled with wonderful wonderful Arsenal. After the FA Cup awesomeness, the World Cup entertainment, the pre season preparation and the belly chuckling smashing of Moneychester City, we have the real stuff. It’s Arsenal vs Crystal Palace at The Emirates.

I’m so excited I could make a high pitch noise that only dogs can here. Are you excited? Yeah, ya are.

I love everything about the first game of the season. I love the build up. I love the meet and greet of old compadre ‘s that you haven’t seen for a quarter of a year. I love the sup of that first pint in your chosen pub of choice. I love the speculation of who will start. I love the frantic refreshing of one’s Twitter account to find out the actual team news. I love the ACTUAL team news. I love the walk to the stadium. The small of hot dogs and smoke. The noises and general hustle and bustle. I love the approach to the stadium as it rises from in betwixt buildings from the distance. I love the gradual filling of the stadium. The nudging and shuffling to get inside our cathedral. We are worshippers without our weekly fix for three months. We need to fuel our addiction and I am desperate to get inside that home of The Arsenal and see our heroes trot out. I love the purchase of that first programme. Reading the captain’s notes (a fresh new one after the departure of Vermaelen) and getting some insight from Le Boss. I love the smell of that new programme as well. A freshly printed piece of history unfolding on this very day. The start of the 2014/15 season.

I love the meeting of my new season ticket partner, who this year will be a lad I used to play football with for the cub scouts, Tom. He’s a sound chap along with his brother chap and I’m pleased I get to reconnect with the guys throughout the season, as they’re almost as mad as me about The Arsenal. Almost.

And I love the beginning of it all. I love the expectation that this will, finally, be our season. Sure, every fan has that feeling right now as I type today’s blog first thing in the morning and slightly hung over, but we genuinely have cause for optimism this season. We have a squad that has, for two summers running, been unblemished in terms of key player departures. We have strengthened in the sharp end of the pitch with the excellent addition of Alexis and we have filled the void left by Sagna with a more than capable replacement in Debuchy. In defence we have the potential of Chambers to get our long-term excitement captured and whilst we are all a little worried about how lightweight we are in terms of the numbers at the back, the very fact that Arsene has openly admitted he’s still looking is music to all of our ears.

In terms of today’s game, the confirmed fitness of Koscienly is a massive relief, as it ensures that the side that lines is strong enough to avoid having any plasters stuck to it, or square pegs in round holes! The back five will essentially be the same as the players that started the Community Shield and that certainly looks strong enough from my perspective to keep Palace at bay. I suspect Arteta will sit at the base of the midfield with Rambo and Jack playing the role as box-to-box runners across the field. It’s an inverted double pivot and worked a treat on Sunday so I’m hoping the same happens today. With Mesut Ozil out of the team it’s a chance for Jack to stake a place in the team and whilst I think Mesut will eventually come in when he’s fully fit, it’s still a good chance to see what an injury free pre-season has done for the lad from near Stevenage.

In attack our front three will almost certainly include Alexis and Cazorla, but surprisingly there still remains a question mark up top with either Sanogo or Giroud the option. Personally, I’d be throwing Giroud in, because he’s the better player and will certainly be full of confidence after his excellent goal against City. However, fitness will be the key and so I wonder if Arsene might make a statement to the older of the Frenchmen by giving Sanogo the nod. Let’s face it, with the pace we have in our team, the need is there for a target man that can hold up the play and bring others in, not necessarily just score the goals. Sanogo might not do the latter, but he’s certainly big and strong enough to do the former.

Conventional wisdom should suggest that Palace are all over the place today. Managerless, rudderless and now seen as an established Premier League team, they are now longer seen as the surprise package in the Premier League. Keith Millen will be under no illusions of the difficulty of the task today, but I still expect Palace to set up the way Pulis would have set them up, difficult to beat and happy to perch on the edge of their box. Jedinak is their defensive midfield talisman and I think he’ll be pulling the back eight together as tightly as possible to deny our midfielders and attackers space. On Sunday Jack was given the freedom of Wembley by the City midfield and defence and I don’t expect he’ll get the same luxury today. So the victory will be down to our we can unpick the lock that will be the Palace defence. One suspects that patience will be the biggest virtue of the day.

If we need it, we have the quality on the bench with The Ox, Rosicky, of perhaps even Joel Campbell to try something different, but I’m hoping that we have a goal in the first half to make sure we have a more comfortable afternoon.

Up the Arsenal. You love it. I love it. We love it. Enjoy it today.

Nothing can take away the special feeling of the FA Cup

Well, here we are folks, the most significant game of the season and potentially the most significant game since the last major trophy that was won back in 2005. I don’t know about you, but I’m excited and nervous in equal measure.

There’s no getting around it: success or failure today will ultimately define whether this season has been another one that we want to confine to the history books as a ‘yeah, we did the bare minimum, but other than that it hasn’t exactly been an amazing season’ or described as a season where we ended our trophy drought and ensured that we can continue to eat at the top table for another season at least.

We all like those Champions League nights, we all enjoy the fact it enables us to buy the Mesut Ozil’s of the world, but when a day like today comes around, you realise that all of the qualification deciders in the world could not match feeling that I and you probably have in your stomach as you count down the minutes until kick off at 5pm. The devaluing of the FA Cup has been something that has been well spoken of and much column inches dedicated towards, but looking back on football history as a fan and you rarely remember the sniping, but you do remember the feeling when Arsenal won the competition. I remember the elation of coming away from Cardiff in 2003. It may have felt like we’d blown the league and so this was a consolation prize, but it was my first ever cup final and I was exhilarated of the feeling, which I’ve wanted to recapture ever since and so the potential to replicate that feeling today leaves me with butterflies in my stomach the size of my fist.

But what of the game itself? What of our opponents and the way in which they line up? Who will Arsene give the nod to, to bring home the shiny big-eared bacon? How many questions can I fit in to a paragraph??

Firstly, i’ll give you my predicted team news, because I think it will help to also explain how Hull will set up. That’s not to say that Arsene will change his style or selection process based on the opposition, but I just want to find an interesting segue between questions and I think this might work.

In goal I think he’ll opt for Sczcesny. It’s an interesting one because it’s really the first time this season that the goalkeeping position is the hardest position to work out. I think the playing of Fabianski last weekend was telling however, so I expect the younger Pole to start, which is the right thing in my opinion. He is the future, he deserves to be in the team for his performances this season and he is the best goalkeeper at the club.

I think the defence picks itself and so a back four of Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscienly and Gibbs may leave club captain Vermaelen out along with boyhood Gooner Corporal Jenkinson, but as was discussed on last night’s GoonerGirl Podcast which I was fortunate enough to be invited on to, this is an FA Cup final and we simply must play the strongest team available. Unfortunately that means no place for either of those two players. In fact, I think with the returning Vermaelen and potential Oxlade-Chamberlain back in the team, I can’t see Jenks making the bench. After all, Wenger will more likely choose Vermaelen and Monreal as his defensive subs, using the rest of the subs for a ‘keeper and more attack-minded players to call on to the starting line up.

Midfield is where I think there will need to be decisions made and I think the right decision would be to have Arteta and Ramsey sitting just behind the trio of Ozil, Cazorla and Podolski. Hull will no doubt be looking to the likes of Huddlestone and Livermore to screen in front of the back four or three and operate a little bit deeper and, if that is in fact the case, then playing someone like Matthieu Flamini is not appropriate in my opinion. The Flamster is better at screening the back four and taking up defensive duties, but going forward he lacks the craft and ability on the ball that Arteta has a little bit more of. I think it is because Arteta is technically more gifted that he gets the nod more often than Flamini for most games, but in this instance today I think it would be the right call. If Hull are sitting deeper and trying to frustrate at any time, then we need those technically better players to show their creativity to unlock the Tigers’ defence.

The rest of the choices above are based on recent games and performances and I don’t think there will be many Gooners that could argue with that. Perhaps some might say there is a space for Jack in the team, but at the moment I don’t see it and I think the balance of that predicted team – with Giroud up top instead of Sanogo, obviously – works for what we want to achieve – a real trophy instead of a fourth placed invisible one!

As for our opponents, the return of Alan McGregor in-goal will be an important boost for them, because he’s a good ‘keeper that I’ve seen keep them in games on a few occasions this season. He’ll be stood behind a back four that will probably contain Bruce, Davies and McShane with wing backs of Elmohamady and Figueroa. Those two like to get forward and punch balls into the box for Long and Jelavic but, with both cup tied today it will most likely be Aluko and Fryatt that they’ll have to contend with. I can’t pretend to be an expert on Hull’s squad, but I don’t recall there being much pace in that front two so I think Hull will look to exploit the wing backs to get forward as much as possible and get balls into the box to trouble us, rather than balls in behind our central defenders.

The midfield, as I mentioned above, will most likely contain Huddlestone and Livermore sitting with Meyler being asked to push forward and support the front two. Livermore may also provide more of an advanced threat but the key to neutralising Hull may just be to not give Huddlestone too much time on the ball to pick out players.

We should, in theory, have enough to thwart Hull City. We have beaten them twice already this season and apart from an initial fifteen minute opening spell at the KC Stadium, we have pretty much been on top in these games, but we know today will be different. Hull will be running on an adrenaline that we have not seen in previous games and they will know that with our history of implosions there is a possibility of an upset.

I don’t want to talk about any negativity today, so I’m not even going to mention the unthinkable happening come 8pm tonight, so I’m going to end today’s blog with a positive quote that I’ve just Google’d:

When people ask me what my religion is, I say it’s the Arsenal

Marcus du Sautoy

Fullbacks are key to winning football matches

Morning you wonderful people, Chris here, but taking a back seat today to give Ben the floor. I know you’ll be extra nice to him, for no other reason than he’s an extra nice bloke, which he is.

Since I started watching Arsenal we’ve always had very good fullbacks. I’ve seen a number of formations, setups – from 5-3-2 to the current 4-2-3-1. As time passes football develops and roles progress, which ends up putting more emphasis on tactics. We’ve seen football clubs change and create a new football philosophy – Everton being the prime example. Which brings fresh ideas and leads to upping the performance levels of the given league they are operating in.

We’ve seen a shift in responsibilities in the fullback position from being a more solid, dependable (i.e. Lee Dixon) type, to a player with pace and being a lot more positive with and without the ball (i.e. Kieran Gibbs). Also, we’ve seen the modern day fullback needing the intelligence and ability to read the game, especially the offensive side.

The way the game is developing fullbacks are being used as auxiliary forwards. We’ve seen a lot of the major forces in European football get rid of the so-called ‘traditional winger’. You could argue the winger has lost it’s place in the modern game. Since the current adoption of the inside-forward, and the attacking playmakers, there has been a tendency of a lot of teams narrowing their forward line.

The way Arsenal and the majority of Europe’s top teams play has been transformed – two strikers are rarely used anymore. The second is dropped in between the lines to help link up attacking play and help flood the midfield for possession reasons. Midfield shape has also changed. This has shifted the focus of play onto the fullbacks and a lot of teams play with three in midfield. Barcelona and Ajax are good examples of this, their full-backs are so far up the pitch that the defensive midfielder – Sergio Busquets and Daley Blind respectively – become a third centre back. This leaves the fullbacks as the only players on the pitch with any real space.

If you add that to the wingers playing on opposite wings, i.e. Robben and Bale (when he was at Spurs) and things can become very compact. To ensure width isn’t lost, full-backs are licensed to get forward and support the attack, therefore creating space for others.

As we’ve seen recently, the main benefit of adventurous fullbacks is to allow teams to have two extra players in attack. Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona and now Bayern Munich utilised this well as have Spain throughout their recent domination.

It’s seen in the way he likes his team to build the play, he overloads and isolates the opposition fullbacks with the ‘winger’ in possession of the ball (or vice versa), and the fullback goes flying round the outside. At times it’s simply impossible to defend against.

Certain players are being instructed with various responsibilities within their standard duties. Some of these are fresh in my mind because I’ve been lucky enough to see them live – Pep Guardiola used Victor Valdez as ball playing option at the back. Javi Martinez at Bayern has a very disciplined role but he needs to be able to play through the lines as a third centre back or in midfield. The level needed for each players is slowly creeping up.

We saw from Thomas Vermaelen in the second leg against Bayern who defensively did very, very well. On the other hand, offensively, he offered little to nothing. The modern fullback has many duties to perform. It is no longer enough to leave an opposition winger battered and bruised on the floor.

A modern fullback must offer a huge attacking threat. He must have the ability to make a pinpoint pass, or deliver a perfect cross. He must possess pace, he must have discipline and most importantly, superb positional sense. This is also needs to be complimented by endless stamina to continually get up and down the pitch.

Steve McManaman famously said the first bit of Spanish he actually learnt when he moved to Real Madrid was ‘cover me’ as Salgado, his fullback, flew past him.

Arsene Wenger has always seen the importance of the fullback. He inherited two of the best in the business – Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn. He eventually replaced them with Ashley Cole – who started out as a centre forward in the youth side, and Lauren, a ball-playing midfielder he signed from Spain. From the outside looking in it seems he opted to put more offensive players into those positions, which demonstrates how important the role is.

It will be interesting to see how a team will successfully counter this within culling their attacking threat.

One thing for sure is that the attacking fullback will be a constant but the role is ever evolving. Top sides field their most creative players in wide attacking positions and there is perhaps a need for full-backs to be strong(er) defensively, but only time will tell.

Arsène will have a very tough decision to make in the summer (If Sagna leaves). He has Jenkinson who is a decent player but not near Sagna’s standard. If he can have a good run of games he could be good player. Will he settle for good? He has Bellerin who offensively is very good and, in my opinion, the epitome of the modern fullback. Although question marks will remain over his defensive stability until he gets a run of games in the first team to prove otherwise. If Arsène does go into the market for a new addition, then spending a lot money on one will be completely justified in my opinion. It is a major part of the modern game and needs to be respected.

As things stand, Bacary Sagna seems to be closing the curtain on his Arsenal career. You know how these things work, as soon as I press the publish button, things will change. If he does leave then it’s going to leave a massive hole in our lineup. He’s been marvellous for us and I wouldn’t begrudge him a move after all the wonderful service he has given us. Whatever he decides, all the best Bac. Up The Arsenal!!

Cheers for reading,

be happy,

Ben

Cardiff preview: Key to victory lies in midfield battle

Happy Saturday one and all. Right, let’s get down to this, shall we? There’s a small matter of a game going on this afternoon and we’re all pondering: a) what team Le Boss has already planted and will flower before our very eyes today, and b) what type of reaction we’ll get from the players, specifically the performance, against a dogged and surprisingly difficult team to play on their own turf in Cardiff.

It’s the measure of the success of the squad as a whole that we don’t know who’ll be rocking up on the team sheet first thing, such is the wealth of in-form options that Arsene has to pick from. Could it be that we see thee hustle and bustle of a Tomas Rosicky finally enjoying somewhat of an injury-free part of his career and the season in general? Or will there be a chance for Gnabry to show his stuff after recently signing a new deal? Will Monreal keep his place (as I debated yesterday)? Will there be a bit of rotation in central defence, giving the captain a chance to show he’s worthy of a more regular inclusion in the team? Does Santi deserve the chance to operate in the number 10 role with Özil taking a breather? Should Özil and Walcott start together just because of the sumptuous possibilities of those two combining to give Theo plenty of opportunities to improve on last years goal tally?

That’s where we’re at right now folks. We can legitimately suggest that a plethora of changes be made to the team and it’s not because of injury or a paucity of options. We have different compilations, different ways to ‘mix it up a bit’ and a core of players that are united in their one goal of taking that stupid weight of ‘no trophies in x years’ from around their necks and lobbing it into the local pond.

I’ve said before that Arsene doesn’t really like rotation, so it’s for that reason that I suspect we’ll see a very familiar line up today to the one that played against Marseille midweek, to keep consistency of performance. We have all spent the week on Twitter talking to one another about the need to rotate, but when you’re away from home against a rugged opponent that will be feeling fine-diddly-ine after a last-gasp draw snatched from the clutches of defeat against Man United last Sunday, I think there surely has to be an element of continuity that is favoured today. We’ve got a tough game midweek against Hull, but the fact it’s at home should provide a bit more comfort to Arsene when rotating, so I’d be more expectant to see some fresh faces on Wednesday night than this afternoon.

So I think it will mean a drop down to the bench for Monreal, no place for Arteta and a spot on the comfy seats for Cazorla and Walcott. Perhaps Santi will get the nod above Rosicky, but the Czech’s tenacious style away from home seems a more logical conclusion from this Gooners perspective.

As for the opponents, I think the stand out performer from last weekend was Frazier Campbell, but my hope was that he was simply doing that old chestnut of being ‘really up for a game against your former club to show them what they’ve missed’ mentality which means he won’t be giving our back four as torrid a time as he did Ferdinand et al on Sunday.

They have some other good players that can make an impact; the little rat Bellamy springs to mind, as well as Jordan Mutch, but with our boys in the form they are in, the expectation is that we should be able to get something from the game. We’re four points clear in the league for a reason – the form of the players throughout the season thus far – and it’s for that reason that I am hopeful and confident that we can get something from the game today. But in order to do that, we’ll have to win the midfield battle which will I’m sure be interesting to see the stumpy yet effective bulldog Gary Medel look to break up our creative attacking runs and Flamini doing the same for us. Rambo was of course in inspired form against Swansea and the hope is that he is in the same form against his boyhood club today. I expect he’ll be wanting to give even more than the 110% he already does against the Bluebirds and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him on the score sheet at some stage today. Cardiff will look to flood the midfield with a bank of five, with Odemwingie operating as a winger with licence to get further forward and support Frazier Campbell up top. Our midfield two – probably Ramsey and Flamini – will need support from whoever plays in that three just in front of them but if we can bring our full-backs into play more often and further up the pitch, I suspect we’ll be able to pin Cardiff back a bit more.

I’m in Ware in Herts today, so will be desperately trying (and probably failing) to show a pub that shows the game, but will be keeping tabs by any other means necessary. So if you’re on your way, make sure you do your usual thang and sing yer ‘eart out.

Up The Arsenal.

Ben’s match analysis: Thoughts on Marseille

Hi all, hope you’re well?

I’m enjoying this winning malarky. *whispers* it’s because we’re very good… Keep it a secret.

Are we doing better than expected?
Nope. We knew this team had it in them. They just need to do it when it matters. We have all the ingredients – We’ve gained maturity, chucked naivity out the window and we reek of defensive stability. A winning package.

We made three changes to the side that beat Southampton at the weekend. Aaron Ramsey partnered Matthieu Flamini in the double pivot. Tomas Rosicky played alongside Özil and Jack in midfield. Whilst Monreal came in for Kieran Gibbs at left back – Who was ill.

Before the game a French journalist bemoaned Marseilles ‘B Team’ ambitions – Partly down to injuries. But offensively they lacked bite. Dimitri Payet and Andre Ayew were out. Whilst they also rested Valbuena and Thauvin, due to there fixture pile-up (and being out). Rod Fanni wasn’t even in the squad – I’ll let you make the jokes.

Did we score too early?
Instantly from the kickoff Marseille broke forward with intent. Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher mentioned on MNF, how the kickoff should be treated as a set-piece. Marseille had a plan. But they just didn’t follow it through and very limply gave away the ball. They pressed with five very quickly. But due to a defensive error the left back completely switched off, Jack broke down the right hand side, cut inside and finished with aplomb. Sumptuous. For the next 15-20 minutes we got much of the same and as the theme of season has been we completed dominated possession. Again I say: there’s a calm maturity about the team, caressing the ball around the pitch looking for an opening.

Our success in recent weeks has been our ability to overload the midfield. We didn’t need to overload against Marseille. Our midfield fluidly switched positions and formation throughout kept them guessing. Only Flamini and Giroud really staying in their designated zones. At times through the season we’ve almost played a 4-2-2-2 – Mainly down to the lack of wide players we’ve had available. We’ve opted for three ball playing midfielders with the aim to create openings with clever movement with guile. Instead of runs in and behind the lines.

I have to admit, however, that I became frustrated with our inability to finish the game off earlier. Because we’ve been so good in recent weeks. I’ve found it hard to expect even losing points let alone goals. Marseille were there for the taking. Our tempo slacked in periods I personally thought it shouldn’t of. In the final third where we are usually so dangerous we faltered and against better opposition we could have been punished. It must be remembered Marsielle were never going to win and so this game should have been seen off earlier.

Wilshere on the Right
The team looked very balanced. I’d argue that was our most balanced side. As I mentioned above, our only issue was our inability to take our chances. If Ramsey had finished his early chance and Özil scored the penalty. We may of had a cricket score. Football is reactionary. For fans and players. Emotions is a major part of the game, players aren’t robots. They do need the rub of the green sometimes.

Jack was deployed on the right, but he did drift. He had the freedom he craves, and enjoys. But, also had the players around him to make it all work for him. Rosicky and Özil are very mobile players and crave space which in-turn, gave Jack room to express himself.

Flamini (as well as others) has offered something we’ve missed as a team – well, since he left the club – defensively stability. The way he covers the defence, if and when they step out, is incredible (and yet so basic). His natural instinct is fabulous. When good fortune gave Gignac his opportunity early in the first half, Szczesny came flying out and collected the ball very efficiently. Flamini became a centre back then sprinted to the goal line for the brief second it looked like Gignac was going to round Szczesny. Priceless defending.

The shape of the team gave Jack not too many defensive responsibilities. Marseilles focus of played seemed to be more central, also allowing him even more freedom, whilst Flamini marshalled the team; when to push and when to press. Throughout Sagna and Monreal were almost in midfield – Even more cover.

I currently think that’s the way forward for him. He’s a special talent and needs nurturing. Protect him and let him grow naturally.

Mesut Özil
He’s bloody well good. The End. Kidding, well sort of. He’s exquisite but his price tag is going to confuse many. He’s never going to be a player who will own the ball the way Fabregas did or be a powerhouse like Patrick Vieira was. He has an effortless presence on the pitch, an ability to appear static for long periods, then suddenly spring into life. Opponents will try to keep Özil quiet – To counteract that, he will thread a clever pass into the path of a runner or embarrass defenders with a classy flick.

It’s what he does when he quickly bursts into the final third with the ball that will define Özil’s contribution to Arsenal. That’s why he can often be a player who frustrates fans.

Distribution
You may, or may not remember I’ve recently mentioned about our inability to pass the ball out from defence, when under pressure. We missed vertical movement at times. Tuesday night, we distributed the ball very well. For one thing, because Marsellie didn’t press as intensively as others have against us in the recent weeks. But Ramsey and Rosicky took turns dropping in and collecting the ball. It helped raise the tempo and confused the OM midfield – Not knowing who to track. Against Dortmund (at home) Arsène got the midfield three to drop deeper to try and help out. But, Dortmund counteracted that, penning us back even further. With a more fluid midfield, the opposition are unable to track our midfield and leads to more success.

I still think moving forward we need an improvement in the deeper position in our midfield – I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Player reviews

Szczesny – Very impressive throughout the night. His impressive distribution continued. When he was called into action he dealt with it, with ease. Improves every time he plays.

Sagna – Very solid. Very, very advanced.The Frenchman found a lot of space in their final third so he continued to push. Didn’t have to do to much defensively.

Mertesacker – Awseome again. I can’t remember him misplacing a pass. He has ice in his veins. Player of the season so far?

Koscielny – Had a great game. Was very impressive with all of his one on one battles. Seems to really step up when needed. A few slack long passes. Positionally good.

Monreal – Excellent considering his lack minutes. Brings a much needed urgency in attack and defence. Always in the right place at the right time. I bet he wonders what he has to do to get a start…

Flamini – Made the whole operation tick. Orchestrates everything. Head puppeteer. His tactical awareness was fantastic. Slightly concerned about his distribution.

Ramsey – Put in a huge shift. A great team performance. Won the penalty. Should of scored his chance. Sloppy in the final third at times. Positionally improving.

Özil – A slack first half and an equally slack penalty. Still reeked of class. The way he finds space is class. A marvellous assist for Jacks second. He will purr like a Rolls Royce, just needs time.

Rosicky – One of our top performers on the night. Brought a lot going forward. Smartly runs with the ball. Positionally smart. Took responsibility in midfield giving others freedom. A proper adult.

Wilshere – He’s getting to grips playing out wide. Marvellous goals. His hunger, class and effort was never in question. Just needed some luck. ‘What ever Ramsey can do, I can do’. He’s almost back…

Giroud – Won a lot of duels with their defenders. Awesome work rate. The timing of his runs was fantastic. Still on a high from World Cup Qualification. A solid night from the Frenchman.

I’ll leave you with this. Tough questions are surfacing. Is Jack Wilshere better than Aaron Ramsey in the double pivot? Is Aaron Ramsey better than Özil as a ten? is Özil better than Theo out-wide? We’ll save that for next time.

Carry on the good work Arsenal. Good times.

Cheers for reading,

Be happy,

Ben

Rotation is the name of the game

A happy Monday to you. It’s one month exactly until Christmas, but let’s all give thanks for the gift that keeps on giving: The spuds. Administered by Andre Villas Boas who is now beginning to be, unfairly but obviously given their own fickle nature as fans, roundly lambasted by his own supporters.

Even Cardiff saw fit to grant us another little gift with a last-gasp equaliser against a United side who should have been without Rooney, but who once again, do not look the same all-conquering side they were. I still think they’ve got enough experience to be up there come the end of the season, but wouldn’t it just be spiffing to see them finish fifth (with us winning it of course), to then see a tantrum from the little boy inside That Dutch Bloke as he realises that he’s made a huge error? Wouldn’t that just be grand?

As for us, well, we’ve managed to nudge ourselves a little further this weekend with our dogged performance against Southampton and with a hectic schedule coming up for the remainder of the year any lead we can establish that affords us some ‘wiggle room’ is welcome. But between now and January 1st we’ve got nine games in five weeks. That’s a lot of football and means our four point lead can be very quickly whittled away.

We have no time for laurel resting; we need to be ready to go again tomorrow night, then on to Cardiff before a couple of home Premier League games against Hull and Everton. There’s going to be tired legs that will start to emerge and the fabled ‘red zone’ is already taking bookings for room availability.

Rotation simply has to be the name of the game. Arsene must feel confident in shuffling his pack. We all know he prefers continuity of his first eleven, but he’s going to have to get a little bit ‘tinker man’ if we want to avoid longer term injuries brought on through fatigue. The challenge will be to rotate in small measures. A game for Monreal, Rosicky and Arteta one day, then on another day trying Vermaelen, Gnabry and Walcott into the side. Doing rotation in small measures could ensure we can give some players a chance to rest, whilst others are given an opportunity to prove their worth by coming in and being given a chance. The good thing about the squad as I see it, is that there are plenty of experienced players that we can do that with. Ok, there are some positions that we simply can’t afford to rotate – like Szczesny (although fatigue is less of a problem), Sagna and Giroud, but in other areas of the pitch it simply has to be the name of the game.

Yesterday the lads and I were joined on the SG Pod by Paul from Invinciblog to discuss exactly that (rotation) amongst other things. You can have a listen to the Pod here, although when this blog goes live first thing today it might not be update, because getting Steve to do things before 11am is always a challenge, so check back in the PM to see it uploaded.

Anyway, going back to my original point, which is that I hope we start to see a bit of squad management from Le Boss. It’s an important part of the modern game and, unlike in seasons past, I feel we have plenty of players sitting behind the first eleven as it stands at the moment, who can come in and do a very good job, or even take a starting spot. It’s that kind of competition that will keep all of the players hungry and that’s why we need to be giving opportunities now.

The good news is that I think there will be games where we can afford to shuffle the pack a little. I don’t think Marseille at home is one, nor Cardiff away, but Hull at home should be a game that a couple of players on the fringes should be given to play in. Everton at home could have maybe one or two rotated (as in someone like Walcott in for Cazorla, or Monreal for Gibbs), and depending on the result in the other Champions League game between Dortmund and Napoli, the away game in Italy could be one to consider making changes if we’re already through. All in all, there are opportunities for rotation in my opinion, and I think it would be foolish not to take them given the great position we find ourselves in.

Catch y’all tomorrow with a match preview.