Nail biting defensively, with last chance saloon offensively? Southampton preview

Right, it’s match day, so let’s get any negative stuff out of the way before we concentrate on the footie, shall we? You all know where I’m going with this first…

Mathieu Debuchy passed his initiation test at Arsenal, confirmed by the club yesterday, with the now obligatory long-term injury forcing our first choice right back out for three months. That’s a third of a season people. It means that there are no more lives left for our defence when it comes to fielding an experienced first team back four. Calum Chambers will be asked to play as right back between now and December and, whilst we all think he’ll do a decent enough job there, it means we have precisely zero experienced centre halves for when the inevitable injury happens to Per and Kos.

Let’s not labour on this point about lack of cover from the summer too much, but Arsène: you got us into this mess by not adequately replacing Thomas Vermaelen (because he admitted yesterday that Chambers was intended as a full back cover signing), so you can get us out of this. Good luck.

Anyway, like I say, let’s not go all head bangy over something that we can do nothing about and look towards tonight’s Capital One Cup game against Southampton. It’s a really interesting fixture to call. If it was a league game or a an FA Cup game, you’d have to say we’d be overwhelming favourites, but because it is a competition that is fourth choice I the pecking order from Arsène, one would have to assume that there’s an element of risk from Southampton tonight, because we don’t really know what team Koeman is going to put out against us. He’s said himself that he’ll go for his strongest side possible which, if true, will represent a very stern challenge for our shuffled pack.

I do expect Arsène to shuffle, and shuffle quite hard actually, because at this stage in the season and with the team having already picked up plenty of injuries there is no rhyme nor reason why a first team player should be risked tonight. In goal we should see the arrival of Ospina, whilst the back four needs to be totally changed, so I’m hoping we see Bellerin, Hayden and Semi Ajayi too. The final slot should be given to a Flamini or Coquelin to cover, but I suspect Arsène will give it to Chambers, in what will be a night of Arsenal fans biting nails hoping he doesn’t break down or pick up a card that prohibits his involvement on Saturday.

The midfield should include Coquelin if Flamini is in defence (the most sensible option in my opinion given his age and experience) and he should be accompanied by Diaby and Rosicky in the midfield. With a front three of Podolski, Campbell and Akpom (who the manager has talked up pre match), I think our attacking options should have enough to show Southampton the depth of our squad. It’s telling that as each season goes by, this competition has become more about rotating squad players than blooding youth, which is pleasing from my perspective when I think about the number of injuries we seem to get every season.

You have to look at the attacking senior players and wonder if this is one of their few chances in the early stages of the season to give Arsène a headache. Joel Campbell didn’t even make the bench at the weekend and with his chances now even more remote with the signing of Welbeck, you have to feel that only an exemplary performance tonight can force his way back into the managers plans, which will be a real shame. He’s somebody we’ve all been excited to see what he can do since his performances in the World Cup but it already feels like, should we get knocked out against the Saints this evening, that he won’t be afforded many more chances to shine on the Emirates turf. Being shunted into the last chance saloon before you’ve even started a game for The Arsenal is harsh, but it’s the competitive nature of the modern squad game this evening I guess.

If Southampton play a full strength team tonight, with players like Pelle, Schneiderlin, Ward-Prowse et all, it will be a real game we’ll have on our hands. But even if they rotate from the weekend, we know what they will offer. They will press high and look to close down space from the Arsenal back four from the off, which will mean composure for our young defensive charges is of paramount importance, hence why I think the need for a Flamster is essential in defence.

It’s a tough one to call, but hopefully it’s one that sees our team come out on top, providing a good boost for the weekends action.

Have a good’un.

The best results-based weekend we could hope for

I’m in a surprisingly good mood for a Monday, don’t you know, and let’s not pretend it’s not anything else than one of the greatest ‘during the season’ Premier League weekends that any Arsenal fan could have.

Why? Well not only did The Arsenal emphatically put away an in-form Villa team, but every single other team that will most likely finish in the top seven, dropped points of some regard. Liverpool went down to Wessstahhhhhm, the Spuds were defeated at home to West Brom, United were torn apart by Leicester (as quickly as they were ‘back’, they’ve gone ‘back’ on being ‘back’), Everton lost at home to Palace and then Chelski and Moneychester City shared an oil-whoring point between themselves.

I have this weird thing that I’m only truly happen with an Arsenal win if I know that at least one ‘rival’ has dropped points during the weekend. It means we’ve put a little bit of distance between an opponent each time. So when you have weekend’s like this, under my weird logic, it almost feels like we’ve been granted six points this weekend.

To top it all off, we get to be positive about performances like Mesut Özil’s, or Santi Cazorla, or Danny Welbeck. Heck, even Arteta was steady and assured enough at Villa Park, such was the comfort afforded to the team through a quick-fire round of three goals in four minutes. The questions that exist about his ability to boss the bigger games will still remain, but for matches such as this weekend we have a more than capable captain.

Such is the manner and fast-paced nature of football at the moment – with the games coming thick and fast – there is little time to bask in the reflective glow of our awesomeness and everyone else’s inferiority, as the gazes will already be cast towards a Capital One Cup game at home to Southampton. There will be more over the coming days regarding who we might play, but I did have a bit of a chat with a fellow Gooner follower on Twitter yesterday about wholesale changes to the team, as I am most certainly in favour. In fact, with the NLD at home on Saturday, I am hoping that there isn’t one player that will play in that game that rocks up on Saturday early evening. We need a clean and fit bill of health for that match up, so changes to give some of the other players a place in the side will be essential to us having a proper go at the Spuds.

Plus, let’s not forget that the squad is big enough now that we could feasibly see a team made of first team players rather than youth prospects, so it’s even more reason to push for a major reshuffle.

I think there’s almost an inevitability that Welbeck and Özil will be rested, which is just as well given Le Boss talked up their combination play with Mesut playing through the centre. The first goal at the weekend was somewhat of a role reversal for both players against Villa, with Welbeck providing the ball in behind the defenders for Özil to slot home, showing that the fluidity of the team is paramount for the system that Arsène wants his team to play to work.

It is interesting that Arsène has talked up that link play and hasn’t spoken yet of the link up play between Alexis and Özil. Perhaps it is because they haven’t been deployed as a traditional number ten and a striker as yet, or perhaps it is because Alexis is still finding his feet in terms of making those runs in behind defenders, but I suspect we’ll see a bit more between all of that three attacking players as the season wears on. What you can say about all three players is that they are very good at bringing other players into play. They move the ball well, keep retention of the ball well too, which allows for more fluidity and movement of runners in beyond the person that might have dropped deeper to receive the ball like Welbeck did for the first goal.

Welbeck himself has spoken about how he feels there is more to come from him now that he is off the mark and you suspect he’s right. As with Alexis, getting that all important first goal means everything for the confidence and so let’s hope that it means he’ll be slotting home a few chances on Saturday evening against the old enemy too.

That’s all there is from me today. You stay super.

The return of Mesut: Villa review

I remember when I was a wee nipper, Arsenal were away to Liverpool and we hadn’t lost to the scousers for our four years. I was at football training on the Saturday morning and I spent the whole time gloating, so much so he got a bit wound up and left training early to cry. When it came to game time, Robbie Fowler scored a four minute hat-trick and it was me that was the cryer, so when listening to yesterday’s three-goals-in-three-minutes-a-thon at Villa Park made me happy but reflective of the feeling that the Fowler hat-trick did to me that day.

Thankfully I can talk about yesterday’s events safe in the knowledge that a tricky away trip to Villa went exactly to plan for The Arsenal. Three goals, three points, players picking up morale-boosting performances.

Arsène finally listened to his own heart and decided to play Özil through the middle, to wonderful effect, as the German had by far the best game he’s had all season. He dictated play, he got a well taken goal (still had a lot to do when he slotted the ball home, so he should get credit for that), managed to get himself a decent assist and generally looked like the player of this time last year. It’s exactly the type of performance he needed and I’m sure when the final whistle went he was one of the happiest on the pitch. The belief this will give him is important, very much so given our opponents next weekend, so there isn’t a Gooner around that isn’t waking up with a smile this morn.

Arsène too will feel vindicated, because there was a certain air of surprise that he hadn’t benched his Turko-German playmaker, given his recent form. But whilst Arsène changed the line up yesterday – partially to freshen and partially because he had no choice through injuries – he also changed the style slightly with Özil being asked to play through the middle. I’m not sure why being given the role in the middle made a difference, because Wenger has said that he has licence to roam the whole pitch (which heat maps have shown over the last couple of games), but perhaps there’s a psychological element to being in the middle that allows Özil to feel more comfortable.

Whatever the theory behind it, the practice worked, so whilst I/we all chastise Arsène when he gets things wrong, you can’t say anything else other than he got things very right yesterday. So I tip my cap to Le Boss.

Welbeck too popped up with a very well taken strikers goal and, with some important games coming up, it’s important that he is off the mark, because the longer a new striker goes without a goal the more the monkey on his back grows. Let’s hope for more of the same next Saturday.

The game itself was won and lost in the space of five minutes which makes most of the match review element of this blog largely irrelevant, but there should be a shout out to Szczesny, because the Arsenal ‘keeper made a very good save from a Clark header before we scored our quick-fire goals, so we must be thankful for his intervention on the goal-bound effort. Villa had started brightly and they’ve already proven that they can hold on to leads by sitting deep when one up this season, so had that have gone in then today’s narrative might have been quite different.

What else is there to say? We did what was needed and picked up three points at a tricky place to go. We now have Southampton in the COC and then an NLD to stir the passions even more on Saturday evening.

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday.

Villa: a reaction is essential

Aston Villa is always a funny game. And by funny I mean in no way ‘ha ha’ funny. Rather, I mean peculiar, because despite having a clearly superior team over the last five to ten years (and beyond but I’ve wiped my memory banks of all except the happy memories beyond ten years ago), we’ve found ourselves unstuck quite a few times against the Midlanders both home and away.

So under normal circumstances I’d look at the Villa team and expect us to win comfortably. However, there are rarely ‘normal’ circumstances with The Arsenal, so I recognise that anything could happen come 3pm this afternoon. Indeed, when you look at the form of the two respective teams, it will be Aston Villa fans who will probably be more buoyant than The Arsenal ones. Having smashed and grabbed three points last weekend against Liverpool and having not conceded in their last three games, Villa sit second in the league and will be full of confidence.

What will be interesting about today’s game is how Villa approach the game. With a few wins and momentum under their belt, as well as a home crowd that will be looking for more points and something to cheer about, you could be forgiven for thinking that Villa will come out and attack Arsenal today. However, Villa got their victory against Anfield by defending deep, leaving little space and hitting on the counter. As the home side, they may feel that the onus is on them to press higher up the pitch, which is what I hope happens today because that will play into our hands.

Against Palace and Leicester, Arsenal struggled with a team sitting deeper, so there wasn’t a lot of space for the attacking players to get in behind. That changed with City, who came out and attacked Arsenal more and made for more success for the pointy end of the team, so a higher pressing Villa team will hopefully mean more of the same.

Regardless of how Villa set up, there needs to be a marked contrast in the lethargy of the performance against Dortmund, which is the least we’ll all expect today. Everything was off in Germany, from the passing, to the pressing and the desire too. We looked like rabbits in headlights. I’ll have none of that today please boys.

The selection choices the manager must make today must be questioned. One would expect him to shuffle his pack slightly in midfield certainly, but Arsène will not want to ruin the confidence of someone like Özil, so I still think he’ll play. I also think he’ll carry on with his captain Arteta and Ramsey too. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to see an unchanged team (minus Bellerin for Chambers) from the one in midweek. Personally, I’d rather see The Ox given a chance in the front three along with Sanchez and Welbeck, which would mean a place on the bench for Özil. Jack’s form dictates that he should still start and Rambo has already scored goals this season, so that’s the main change I’d like to see. I’d be surprised to see it happen though. Arsène has been on the Özil defensive this week, which would be at odds with his rhetoric, so I expect he’ll keep his faith in the German.

I really couldn’t call this one today. I’d like to this that Villa will come out and leave space for our pacey front men, but as we saw against Dortmund, that doesn’t mean we’ll change our style and fire more long balls in behind the Villa back four, so if we play our way out from the back when pressed high again, we’ll be in trouble. But I hope that there is a reaction from the players today. I hope they have been wounded from the Champions League defeat and that they’re massively up for it today.

We shall see.

Up the Arsenal!

Arsène and his cassette, they won’t countenance freebies

I wonder why Arsène hasn’t had his pre-match presser yet? He normally does these things on a Spursday when we’re away from home at the weekend, so to leave it all until the last minute, is a bit strange.

Mind you, given his love for a last minute deal – see any of the last four or five transfer windows for an example of that – perhaps he’s developed a penchant for leaving everything in his world to the last minute. When he needs to go the the loo (the one where you have to take a paper or your 5110 to play snakes on), I bet he waits until he is touching cloth before he heads to the throne room.

Perhaps he’s waiting for some good news on Jack and Debuchy. Maybe he thinks that if he waits a little longer he’ll be told that Debuchy will be out for two weeks whilst Jack will be ready for the weekend, but come on now Arsène, we are Arsenal. We’re masters of the worlds longest ‘three-weeks away’ injuries and unlike Chelski, who I’m convinced also sold their souls to the devil every time I see them get away with something (like the Costa lengthy injury that turned out to be a week), we aren’t afforded any kind of good fortune when it comes to injuries.

Maybe he’s just decided that he can’t be arsed with the journos any more. That would be funny. Seeing them all eagerly waiting for his arrival and which words they can seize and re-shape to their own agenda, only to be greeted with one of the PR team quietly walking in with a life-size cardboard cut out of Le Boss and a tape player – a full on old fashioned one that you have to put a cassette into – to which they hit play and all they here on a continuous loop for ten minutes is Arsène saying “congratulations! Congratulations! Congratulations!” and so on and so forth.

All this is to say that there really isn’t much to say about The Arsenal today. The players have been speaking to the site about how they must learn from their mistakes, not be naive, yada-yada-yada, but we’ve all heard it before. And besides, none of us like reading or talking about the spoken response from poor performances on the official site, we like talking about how they went away from home after a tough midweek game and gave Aston Villa a right old tonking.

Obviously that’s highly unlikely, but I’d be over the moon with any result that can get us three points come 5pm on Saturday. Villa has always been a tough place for us to go, so I’m not expecting anything less that a really close game, but more on that tomorrow with a match preview I think.

There’s nowt really else going on I’m afraid. Unless you countenance the rumour that Arsenal are in for Lassana Diarra, a free agent after leaving Russia, but I’m not really buying that one I’m afraid. Firstly, he left in slightly acrimonious circumstances, bemoaning Arsène and the lack of game time he got. Secondly, he would probably represent a very Flaminiesque-style signing, to which we already have Flamini so one would have to wonder what the point would be. Thirdly, like it or not, Arsène loves Arteta and he’s his captain so I don’t think he’ll be benching him regularly this season. Do you?

So I suspect that those of you who are wondering about the free transfer market, should probably cast your gaze elsewhere, because this is the squad we have for the next three and a bit months and we need to hope that Arsène finds a solution from within to the shoddy start to the season we’ve had.

As for me, I’m going to go to work, look forward to the weekend and put up some curtains. That’s not metaphorical, I literally am putting up curtains tomorrow, I’m that rock and roll.

Catch you tomorrow.

Formations aren’t the problem, form is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The SUPER-AWESOME-MEGA-POSITIVE Arsenal blog!!

By now I’m sure you’re all still feeling from the lacklustre performance of yesterday evening. I know I am. I’m hurting today and I’m sure you and I feel the same.

You’ll know doubt be reading the carnage that will be many a post-match review from journos and bloggers alike. It won’t make for pretty reading I’m sure. After all, we were so many levels of pants, there’s nothing more we can expect than a media and blogger savaging. However, in an unprecedented and hopefully unusual step, the remainder of my blog today will focus purely on positives after the 2-0 defeat to Dortmund in Germany. You don’t need me analysing the game and player performances. There are plenty of other people out there who will do a better job.

So…the positives…here goes…

Not many injuries!!
Yes folks, having gone through every game this season picking up knocks after knock, we finally managed to get through 90 minutes of football with only one player on the pitch getting injured! Get in there!

Diaby’s back!!
He seems to be back and, although he didn’t feature yesterday, he’s sure to have an injury-free season now, right? RIGHT?!

Wenger knows how to make subs before 75 minutes!
He hooked Özil and Rambo off on the hour mark, so maybe he’s realised he’s allowed to do it with more than 15 minutes remaining in a game? Happy days!

We don’t have to play Dortmund away in the group stages any more!!
Last year we smashed and grabbed, this year we just got smashed, but we can be safe in the knowledge that for the remaining five games we definitely won’t have to go to the Westfalenstadion. Get in!

Arsenal are saving money by sharing shinpads!!
Poldi and Mesut shared a pair of pads, which means we’ve saved probably about £7.99, which means there’s more money in the coffers in January for a new centre half!! Come on!!

I got dispensation to drink lots of rum last night!
The performance was such that, due to the extenuating circumstances, I was afforded a free pass to undertake some lovely spiced rum drinking to numb the pain! It was yummy!

We’ve lulled Villa into a false sense of security
There’s no don’t Paul Lambert will have been watching his former team rip us to shreds, probably smiling and thinking “another three points on Saturday, ace”, so hopefully Villa will try and come and stick six past us and give us space to pick them off! Clever Arsène, very clever.

Szczesny’s kit doesn’t look as terrible as the outfield kit!
As a former goalkeeper, I’ve become used to being in between sticks wearing something that a Unicorn shat out of its backside, so I’m pleased for Woj that he doesn’t look like he’s been handed the poo-stick by wearing that monstrosity of a shirt. Although his does look like someone has whacked some hieroglyphics on to it.

Work seems like a welcome distraction
I have a busy few days coming up, which means I’m very pleased for a changed to be able to focus on that and not on Arsenal. Yay me.

Jokes about United can help
Hey, at least we’re in the bloody competition, am I right? Am I right?

The kick up the arse?
We have not played well all season and last night we were finally humbled for it. Maybe that will provide the same wake up call that the Spuds away defeat did two seasons ago. Nay, in the spirit of this mega positive blog, it DEFINITELY will. Definitely. Maybe.

This weekend is a quadruple £13million ‘must be won’ rollover
And if I win it. I’ll give you all £20 so that we can all drink rum together and be merry!

That’s pretty much all I’ve got for today folks. You have a super happy day, I know I will!

Underneath my happy facade, is a sad, sad clown.