Newcastle preview: makeshift defence needs protecting, attack needs closeness

Howdy there partners! Happy Saturday and hopefully one in which all of Goonerdom is blessed with that holiest of things: three precious points.

It’s the black and white stripes of Newcastle United that come to town and quite frankly, after last weekend’s abomination of a performance in the first half against Stoke, I’m looking for one heck of an improved performance from those available today. And therein lies the nub of us on this chilly winter’s day: can we patch together a team capable enough of winning a game against a resurgent Newcastle team that have won six of their last eight and one against Chelski last weekend. They were the heroes for us against Mourinho’s men not seven days ago, yet now we find ourselves facing them as the enemy.

It’s a tough one to call. Over the years, even when we haven’t been great, you usually look at these games as ones that we win. Despite all of our grumbles about not really competing at the top of the league on a consistent basis for a number of years, when you look back at the end of the season and see the ‘W/L/D’ columns, there’s more wins than defeats. So it’s why actually, we get to be happy more than most – because we’re usually one of the best four teams in the division. But this season has been different. There haven’t been any league games in which we’ve looked comfortable at all in the league. Even the Villa game in which we smashed and grabbed three goals in a matter of minutes had its moments both before and afterwards. So I’m not going to expect us to buck this seasons trend and put Newcastle to the sword in the first half like Stoke did to us last weekend. Especially given our makeshift squad at the moment.

So makeshift, in fact, that it looks like Francis Coquelin might even find his way back into the matchday squad by virtue of the fact that he still has all of his limbs, joints and muscles in one piece. The injury list is lengthy and the recall of Coquelin from Charlton has been hastened due to absentees such as Ramsey, Arteta, Wilshere and Ozil, in addition to Ospina, Koscienly, Monreal, Chambers through suspension and even Walcott, although I suspect he might be in the squad today based on Arsene’s comments this week. But it’s all looking a bit ropey defensively, isn’t it? As I said yesterday, it looks like it’s another defensive shuffle that will take place and I suspect we’ll see Debuchy slot in to central defence as the more experienced player in the squad. Mertesacker normally plays on the left of the two centre halves, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him shifted to the right to support Bellerin, whilst Debuchy plays next to Gibbs. Whichever way you look at it, it’s a worry for us defensively and given our recent transgressions in the league, i’ll be biting all of my fingernails every time a black and white shirt ventures into our half.

That’s why the responsibility of the midfield today will be essential. With Flamini back he’ll need to ensure that he gives as much protection to the two central defenders as he can possibly muster. With a side like Newcastle and the injuries they have, the temptation might be for him to venture forward more to support the attack, but that’s not his job and we really could do without some sucker-punching goals like we’ve conceded all season. He’s been quoted as saying that at times they like to win the ball back higher up the pitch, but if Newcastle play with pace on the counter with the likes of Cisse and Cabella, then we’ll need him to be a protector rather than a gallivanter in the opposition half.

I know Newcastle have been in form, but I suspect they’ll want to soak up pressure and not come at us too much. Pardew is not an idiot and will have seen how susceptible we are on the counter, so I think he’ll sit two holding midfielders in front of his back four and hope to hit us quickly on the break. That’s where the form of players like Santi and the Ox will be essential I think. Both will slot in to central midfield and I expect to see them the ones that will battle with Tiote and Colback in the midfield area. It will be on the likes of Sanchez and Welbeck to provide the support for Giroud, who will need a vastly improved performance from the game at The Britannia. He’ll be up agaionst Coloccini and probably Mike Williamson, so his role will be to hold off those two centre halves and bring our pacey wide men into play. We started to see signs of what these three could do together in the final third against West Brom, but today will be slightly different. Newcastle will try to suffocate the space around Giroud, so those little flicks around the corner and knock downs will need to see our front three operating very close together I think, if we’re to get any joy that is.

There’s no doubt we have the players that are technically capable of beating this Newcastle team later this evening, but the real question is around the confidence and mental fragility of this side. We’ve already drawn far too many games and every time we look to be stringing together some results we seem to come-a-cropper with a poor performance. At home it has tended to be draws when only a win will do. Away it has been the damaging defeats that have been hard to stomach.

I’ll be relegated to watching the game in the local pub, as I’m at a family event, but hopefully Ian and his boy (who have taken my ticket today) can bring the team some luck. We could do with it.

See you tomorrow. Hopefully i’m all chirpy because we’ve smashed the magpies. But I’m not expecting it.

No pressure, unless you’re a squad player

Gary Neville gave United a bit of a lasting last night, didn’t he? Boy, I wish my football team had stocked up on ‘get out of jail free’ cards at the beginning of the season like United have, because there’s no way they should be sitting pretty third in the league. Not with that average squad. It’s like I said on Twitter yesterday; a damning indictment on the quality of this year’s Premier League, that’s for sure.

Anyway, enough about talking about that lot, let’s talk about our lot, who learnt yesterday that it’s a repeat of the FA Cup final from last year. I’ll be quite honest with you; a home tie against Hull is not quite the ‘glamour of the FA Cup’ narrative that I would have hoped for. An away tie to Blyth Spartans would have been more intriguing, so to get a mid-table Premier League team is just about up there as one of the least exciting matches one could hope for. Naturally, Chelski got their obligatory opportunity to rest players by playing a team from divisions below them, whilst United manager to score themselves Accrington or somebody random like that.

Do you know, the more I think about it, the more I suspect that van Gaal has traded his own neck for a bag full of four leaf clovers. How else can you explain how United are putting together victories with an even worse team than last year?

Anyway, I’m veering off course in my bitterness this morning, so I need to steer myself back towards the holy island of Arsenal on which I usually reside. On which Arsène Wenger is king, queen, prince, emperor, president, prime minister and God.

Le Boss took to the stage to talk about tonight’s game and by all accounts it sounds like it’s a pick’n’mix of first teamers, squad and young players that have been sent out to Turkey, which is good but to my mind not enough. We should not have a single player on the field tonight who could make an impact playing on Saturday in my opinion. So to hear the probably team leaked being one with Mertesacker, Szczesny and Debuchy in, is quite a surprise to me. After all, surely we want these players rested for an all-important game against Newcastle, right? We’re about to go into a heavy Christmas period and we need to be shuffling things around, so why are we wasting players on games that Wenger himself has admitted are practically meanigless?

The only thing I can think of is that Arsène will think that someone like Debuchy will do well to get minutes under his belt in a game where he knows he can pull out of tackles if they look like they could be dangerous ones. Additionally, perhaps he’s thinking that Per and Chambers need to play their way back in to form?

Whatever he’s thinking, I hope he isn’t struck by the same luck we’ve had all season with injuries. We can ill afford another Klendathu (Starship Troopers reference, if you’re interested).

Up top however, is where we currently have plenty of options, so I’m hoping we see something good from our three squad players who aren’t currently getting a look in. A front three of Podolski, Sanogo and Campbell all have a chance of giving Arsène something to think about and I hope they do; with our injury record this season there’s no way that we shouldn’t be trying our hardest to keep these players fresh and match fit by giving them more minutes. But with Arsène’s clear disdain for the rotation game, you can see all three players wanting out (some potentially on loan) come January. So if they can perform tonight then perhaps it will give the manager more cause to throw them in.

I have no idea what team Galatasaray will put out tonight but, if we’re all completely honest with ourselves, do we really care? This game is an opportunity to just watch. We know we aren’t winning the group. We know we aren’t seeing the first team. We know that we don’t normally travel well to these places. As far as I’m concerned, this is a freebie tonight. It’s a chance to watch the Arsenal with the most amount of emotional detachment that a gooner is going to get this season. So in some perverse way, I’m just going to try and enjoy it.

Who knows? We might even get a pleasant surprise with some good performances from players we’re not expecting?

We shall see.

fearing a fixture, but three things secure victory for The Arsenal

So bring on the unpleasentness. It’s Stoke away today and despite Arsène’s best efforts to diffuse the so-called rivalry between the two teams, messieurs Shawcross and Nzonzi have don’t their level best to try and eek out as much rhetoric to fire up the orcs as they can possibly muster, saying about how the game will be ‘tasty’, or that they will make the afternoon as uncomfortable as possible for our players.

Hey, if they operate within the confines of the law then what can you do, other than to accept it, maybe even trying to dose up with a little bit of your own medicine? But therein lies the real issue; I think we’ve had every right to feel aggrieved with the way some matches have gone against that ‘orrible lot. For example, didn’t last season’s game see a Charlie Adam ‘tackle’ that could have resulted in serious injury? I forget who, but that is one Stoke player that is quite frankly a dirty little piece of faecal matter, if you’re asking me. Those are the types of situations that seemed to have happened more often than not when we’ve played the Staffordshire team from the Potteries. Those situations – i.e. ‘Industrious’ challenges that could injure players – are what you don’t want to see when you watch Shawcross intentionally clatter into somebody because he thinks he’s got more than a 50-50 chance of a ball. But hey, “he’s not that type of player”, you know…

Anyway, as I said, Arsene has tried to diffuse the game by talking about how there is no ‘hatred’ from the Arsenal side, just a difference in style. I don’t have a hatred for Stoke, but ‘severe disliking’ probably covers the bases well enough, which is probably why I’m really not looking forward to today’s game. If it was at home I’d probably feel a little better, but our record against that lot is terrible at the Britannia, given their usual league position and ours. It’s weird, because often my trepidation for a league game is usually affected a lot by the possibility of having to face idiot rival ‘fans’ at work talking about how terrible we are because we’ve been beaten to them (Chelski, Spuds, United, Liverpool), but I can honestly say – probably with some relief actually – that I don’t know any Stoke fans at all with whom I can take a pasting after. So I’ve often wondered why I get so annoyed when we suffer yet another setback up at their ground. Then after last seasons defeat and Nzonzi once again telling the world that they were more up for these games and that we were the preening team that epitomised the problem with the modern English game because old ‘Johnny Foreigners’ don’t ‘like it up ‘em’. It’s that kind of irksome narrative that cheeses me off more than anything else, mainly because it perpetuates a media narrative that the red tops can’t wait to sink their teeth into come Sunday morning’s first releases.

I don’t like seeing what I perceive as ‘good vs evil’ ending up with evil winning. And this fixture has seen that too many times as far as I’m concerned.

So Wenger needs to get his team to do three things today:

  1. Keep a clean sheet and make it four on the bounce for us
  2. Select a front three that works enough to notch up at least one goal in 90 minutes
  3. Ensure the home crowd have nothing to whoop and holler about through the whole game.

Point three might be difficult, because if the zookeepers (stewards) don’t feed the animals then they might get restless, so i’ll happily accept two out of three of the above if it means we pick up all three points. Stoke aren’t in the best form going in to the game and I read some snippets from the Stoke Sentinel with some of the home fans talking about draws, about not playing well, about everything needing to go through Bojan. So if Arsene is going to achieve objective one listed above, then I think he’ll need to keep the little Serbian quiet. That probably means Flamini has a big role to play, so I hope he has realised he’s best performances are built on discipline and sitting in front of that back four. If he remains resolute in his task, he will naturally shackle Bojan I believe, as Stoke will probably try to play him off the striker in a number 10 role to either Crouch or Diouf.

The back four – providing Koscienly is fit – should be more confident after three clean sheets and I hope we can see the same side that was strong enough against Southampton at home on Wednesday night. I know Arsene spoke yesterday of seeing if Koscienly can make a third game in a week given his achilles, but if he’s even remotely fit enough to last he has to play. We have a relatively meaningless game in midweek against Galatasaray in the Champions League, so he can rest then and be ready for Newcastle the following week if needs be, but we need our best available back four this afternoon.

To achieve objective three, I think Arsene will once again go for Welbeck Giroud and Alexis. If they are going to improve then they are going to need more games together and with a Stoke back four that aren’t the most mobile in the world, a rotating forward line as those three did against West Brom could be just the ticket. There is no Huth alongside Shawcross, so perhaps they are a little bit weaker defensively, but I still think we’re in for a tough afternoon. However, unlike when Stoke play away, the impetus for them from their home team will be to come out and have a go at Arsenal, so hopefully more space will help to draw them out and give our players more opportunities to get in behind their defences.

I don’t particularly want to have a go at calling this game. We’re still not playing amazing, but have managed to get a run together, but our away form to Stoke has always been patchy and the Stoke players will know that and be up for it. I just hope our players are up for it more.

“The board is set, the pieces are moving. We come to it at last, the great battle of our time.”
Gandalf The White

My mental mindset for Southampton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I’m not expecting it. Honest.

A reversal of fortunes from when we played the Baggies last year

Good matchday morning to you my friend, I hope Saturday is one that can bring both you and I what we are all quite desperate to see, three points away to West Brom. It’s a game in which last year we stuttered having been on a decent run and, if I recall rightly, it was the first game in a while last year when we really didn’t play that well, after having played well for a number of games previously. This year we are all hoping for a reversal of those fortunes, having played pretty poorly all season this time around. A stellar performance from the team would make this weekend marvellous I must say.

The weekend didn’t exactly get off to the greatest of news, after all, because we have an all-star cast of players who have been knocked about more than the occupants of a Catamaran on the Bay of Biscay. Walcott, Arteta, Wilshere, Welbeck, Debuchy, Ospina and Szczesny all remain either a doubt, definitely out or facing a race against time to be fit through late fitness tests. IT’s interesting how much has been made of Man United injury problems, but theirs have all been short term and will disappear as quickly as they appeared. For us, as we all know, we’re likely to have this problem throughout the whole season.

It’s why it wouldn’t surprise me if we actually saw Podolski get some game time if he remains at the club beyond January. I don’t believe it is possible for our stand out player – Alexis – to go the entire season Injury-free. The second he signed his paperwork at the club he was a marked man and so at some stage – providing he doesn’t tell Wenger he wants out – he’ll get his chance. But for now it looks like that door is closed to our social media loving German. Arsene was asked about Lukas in his presser yesterday and gave the usual response about how he expects him to stay. It was as believable as the old “three weeks away” stuff we have heard from the club over the years. But hey ho, they’ll be plenty of time to speculate on the ins and outs at the club in about a months time. For now, a trip to the Hawthorns looms, to which we absolutely must build on the victory from midweek against Dortmund.

Thankfully, it sounds like Koscienly is back and, if he really is fit enough to start, I don’t see how he won’t alongside Mertescaker. They’ll both be flanked by Chambers and Gibbs and with Debuchy a maximum of two weeks away, we’ll have our first choice back four back just in time for the January window to open and Arsene to declare he has no more available space in his squad for incoming players. Happy days.

West Brom will be up for this. They’ve lost their last two league games as well and will want to take a big scalp today. And they’ll have seen that even shocking teams like Swansea and United can have their day of glory against us, so they’ll probably up their game to give us an extra hard afternoon. There was some suggestion yesterday about the early kick-off playing against us when you look at last seasons games, but I don’t see that as any factor whatsoever. After all, before we lost to Moneychester City, Liverpool and Chelski in those early kick offs, we’d also beaten Crystal Palace away. So you can hardly say there was a pattern developing. Unless you say it’s a pattern of bottling it in the big games. That we can all agree on.

Tactically, you can already see signs of what Alan Irvine wants to do. He highlighted to the press this week that he thinks Arsenal are vulnerable at the back and at times have left just three players (including the ‘keeper) in their own half, so I think he’ll look to see if he can draw us out and catch us on the counter. Think the first goal we conceded against Swansea, or the Rooney second goal last weekend. He’ll probably line up quite defensively and hope that the pace of Berahino will cause us a headache. Where we can help ourselves will be to replicate the responsibility of the defenders in getting forward. Two centre halves and one full back in position when we lose the ball is essential. And a Flamini that is disciplined and not drawn forward is important. If West Brom do try to play us on the counter, there will be no need to try and win the ball high up the pitch, because they will only counter in ones and twos, so if Flamini is sitting, it would give us plenty of cover to deal (in theory) with their attack. Sessegnon will also be an important player to snuff out. He’s a tricky and fast little player who, whilst not having the best scoring record, will sit behind Berahino and be a handful all afternoon. That’s where Flamini will be important in breaking up the play. With his now customary yellow card, of course.

As for us, I expect we’ll line up with Martinez in goal (it didn’t sound to me as if Szczesny had fully recovered from last weekend’s knock, so why risk it?), with the back four as described above. I think injury dictates that the two in front of the back four will be Flamini and Ramsey, which will mean two wide of Cazorla and The Ox and Sanchez sitting just behind the striker. I think Arsene would probably ideally want to go with Welbeck if he is fit, but if there is any doubts then Giroud will get the nod. And who knows? The Giroud/Alexis combo might just work. If Alexis knows that he has a target man who will hold up and feed him in, we might see him latching on to more knock downs and flick throughs. I guess we’ll see in a matter of hours.

Right, I’m off for some breakfast, a morning chore or two, then the pub. Come on you reds!

Dortmund: a chance for redemption of sorts

Hello there. I’m back after a short sabbatical from both Arsenal and football. No Twitter, few blogs and certainly no TV related to Arsenal since Saturday’s debacle. I literally went into media lockdown until the next game which, thankfully (or not depending on the way we’re playing at the moment), is this evening as we entertain Borussia Dortmund at home.

I’ve got to be honest with you kids; the United game hit me hard. Hit me harder than I thought it would actually. The predictability. The inevitability. The feeling of painful DeJa Vu. All the errors, all the worst of this modern day Arsenal side (which I class as the post Invincible’s period), it was all there to see. I could probably go on and on about our failings, but the most redeeming thing about football when you play the number of games we play this season, is that you are never far away from righting the wrongs. From atoning from the sins. So between now and Christmas Arsenal have an opportunity to atone their pants off. Starting by beating Dortmund tonight.

And it has to be a win tonight. Because I haven’t been reading many football sites, I’m not sure if a point is enough to progress, but even if it is, I don’t care. I want this Arsenal team to sweep aside the ills of its current season plight and begin afresh with a big scalp. If that starts in the Champions League, then so be it, because we need something and soon.

Arsène Wenger is a well paid man and this is what he is well paid for. Results. He has been negligent this season in his acquisition of enough results in all competitions, but he has the chance to bring people like myself back into ‘Happy Street’ by going on a run. Come on Arsène, it’s what you have done before, so is there life in the old dog?

As for the team news, well, we’re a bit like The Rocket pub on Holloway Road with about an hour to go before kick off on a Saturday lunchtime. One-in, one-out. The return of Koscienly is great to hear – especially as he comes into the squad – but his return is tempered by the fact that we have to rely on 19-year-old Martinez in the sticks against Dortmund again, as Szczesny is out. Hopefully it is just a short-term injury that will see him return at the weekend.

Actually, we’re nothing like the Rocket, because we’re more like ‘one-in, three-out’, with Wilshere and Walcott all sitting on the sidelines again. Who knows, maybe we’ll get to see Theo for more than ten minutes before the end of the season, eh? Wouldn’t that be nice?

Still, at least we’ve got Welbeck to offer the pace up front, which…what? He’s a doubt too you say? Well isn’t that just a delight? Still, at least we’ve got Sanogo to not score any goals up front tonight, because we can’t rely on Giroud due to his ineligibility. Seriously, only Arsenal could be gripped in the midst of an injury crisis, and a player who could slot in back to the team can’t make it because he isn’t registered. I don’t blame the club at all in this instance; how on earth were they to know he’d heal extra quick from a broken leg? I’m more exacerbated by the fact that we finally – after what seems like a decade of ‘three-weeks away’ players suffering ‘little bit setback’s, we get one returning from injury early and he can’t even play!?!?

Do you think Arsène Wenger smashed a black cat crossing his path, with a mirror whilst walking across three drains, after the 2005 cup final? Because it feels like it after the perpetual bad luck we constantly seem to face.

Dortmund have their own problems too mind, with Reus out until January and league form which belies their actual quality, shown by the fact they’ve absolutely walked this Champions League group. Klopp is still adored by the yellow army, who are sure to be in fine voice this evening, so I do wonder what the Dortmund mentality will be tonight. They are almost tailor-made to sucker-punch us this evening. A counter-attacking side, who don’t have to come out, because they’ve already qualified? Against a side who were toothless at the weekend and done over by two counter-attacking goals from three chances in a whole match at the weekend just gone? It’s a horror story whose predictability will strike fear into every Gooner watching from anywhere in the world tonight.

I fear how low this Arsenal team can go if we lose tonight. I fear that our season could be one for which even the perennial fight for fourth is over before Christmas. We’re not winning games, we have a seemingly endless list of injuries and, I’m sorry, but we have a manager that has dented my confidence in him so much I’m not sure if he can recover.

I hope he does. I want to say I was wrong in May as we lift a trophy and have turned around our season to finish third. But right now, I just don’t believe it’s possible, so I’m not hopeful for tonight.

Like I said at the beginning of the blog, United hit me harder than I thought. Football can always have a quick turn around and I could be loving Arsène again within months, but I don’t see it right now. Sorry.

C

Closing space is essential against Swansea

Swansea away today will be a test, of that I’m sure, which is why I’m more than a little apprehensive of our back four.

It’s not just down to Nacho Monreal that our form and frequency of goals conceded has greatly increased from last season. Per Mertesacker has to step up too and, with Arteta injured today, he needs to demonstrate his leadership abilities by marshalling the defence and keeping the unit tighter together. Also, with Arteta out, it will be incumbent on Matthieu Flamini to drastically improve his form today if we want to stay resolute at the back. Defending is not the sole preserve of the back four; it has to be a team effort that starts from the forward players and works backwards. Thankfully in Welbeck and Alexis we have so players who will press higher up the pitch, but should Santi and Rambo start again in midfield, we need to see more from them from the defensive side as much as the offensive. On Tuesday night the warning signs were there in the first half. There were two or three breaks from Anderlecht players where massive areas of the middle of the park were left free for purple-shirted players to run in to. It simple wasn’t acceptable and I remember see Arteta have a bit of a shouty moment in that first half at his fellow midfielders for not closing the space.

Today we have to be able to be more compact as a team and use our fantastic pace to counter Swansea at lightning speed. We simply must ensure that the area of the park in front of our back four is looked after. In the absence of Arteta, that must mean Flamini, but I’m also looking in the direction of Rambo too. He has to get back to basics and do the simple things first. Win tackles, close down space, distribute the ball to a red shirt effectively. That’s what we need to see from our Welshman. Who knows, maybe the return to Wales and the inevitable booing of a Cardiff boy in Swansea, will give more motivation for Rambo to have a great game. I certainly hope so.

As for the other free spot in the team, I think Arsène will play The Ox again. He was decent enough against Anderlecht and his goal will give him plenty of confidence to take into this game. He’s also more of a willing runner when it comes to tracking back, so I think that will remain in his favour and Arsène will name an unchanged side from Tuesday. Personally, I’d be tempted to put Rosicky in, perhaps over Santi, but I don’t think Arsène is in that frame of mind, so expect to see a grumpy looking Tomas this afternoon on the subs bench.

As for Swansea, they’re two scary players are clearly Bony and Gylfi Sigurdsson. I would say Shelvey as well, but that’s less to do with his play and more to do with his overall appearance. And anyway, he’s suspended today. Sigurdsson is the real gem though. The Swansea team looks to be at its best when he is pulling the strings and he looks like he has a telepathic understanding with Bony. That’s why I think it will be essential that we close down space in front of our back four, because that is where Sigurdsson will look to operate and find those balls for Bony in front of our back four.

Nacho is going to need to be strong too, because Bony will look to play off him as much as possible I’d expect.

I don’t want to come across as too much of a neg this morning, but I simply don’t see us not conceding today, which is why the front three will have to get us at least two goals I think to win the game. My hope is that Swansea are as low on confidence as we are – having not won in six games – but the trouble you have with a big team is that sides like Swansea really get themselves up for games against the top three or four, so you know that they’ll look to come out the blocks quickly and try and stun us into silence.

It’s never been easy playing Swansea and they have a good record against us, but if we think that there’s even the tiniest slither of hope of challenging for the league, this is a game that must be won. Heck, even to get our Champions League aspirations on track, we still need to get a win. We’ve had too many draws already this season so I’m hoping we’ll not be treated to another one today.

Come on Arsenal!