The ‘punch you in the face’ days

Eurgh, today can just go back to the shadows, as far as I’m concerned. A late night (family birthday party) and an early start as usual for me today have conspired to deliver me the kind of ‘punch in the face’ feeling that you get when you haven’t had your minimum quota of hours sleep as a Suburban Gooner. This results in a grump Chris.

What doesn’t help is that it’s drizzly, half-hearted rain that greets me on this Wednesday morning, which feels like Mother Nature has decided to have a bit of a lie in and can’t really be arsed to deliver her full wrath on the land.

Oh, did I mention there’s also bugger all going on too, in relation to The Arsenal today? Obviously there are other things happening in the world, like me being forced to earn my magic beans by working in The City today, but don’t cry for me internet. Don’t cry for me.

The club did indeed announce Big Per as the runner up in the player of the season competition and, as surely is the case today, Aaron Ramsey will pick up another winning gong today when the inevitable is announced. Almost as inevitable as a presidential race in Syria, but not quite, methinks.

As I’ve already said previously, it’s a deserved reward for a player who has shown that against all adversity, the heights of success can be scaled. I kind of have a hope that Carl Jenkinson has the same progression now actually. I see similarities in the two players, actually, albeit that Aaron was in the first team at a much younger age. There was promise, a decent enough start to the career, then a major setback in terms of injury, followed by an extended period of recovery which had many questioning whether he would ever really ‘make it’ and now finally he’s blossomed into an absolute star. Barring the injury, Jenkinson’s Arsenal career feels like he’s trodden a similar path: The initial promise, some (shorter term) injuries, not getting too many games and stuttering a bit, to which we now find him with an opportunity to stake a genuine claim for the first team with the departure of Sagna.

That’s why I’ve already said how important I think this pre season will be for him. Get a good one under the belt, and he could find himself first choice for the start of the season, regardless of who comes in.

Eurgh, I know it’s wrong, but I’m sooo going to get me some Sugar Free Red Bull when I get off this tube. And another thing, why the friggerdy frigate are there a bazillion peoples on my train today. CAN’T THEY SEE I’M IN A GRUMPY MOOD? WHY COULDN’T THEY HAVE WAITED FIVE MINUTES AND GOT ANOTHER TRAIN!!!

Ahem, apologies for that, must learn to cage the rage when penning thoughts. I could always delete that last para, but I’m in a ‘canny be bothered’ mood, which means re-reading any of the mindless rubbish I jot down is not on top of my agenda right now.

So, what else can we have a talk about? How about a whacky shout for a signing? Brede Hangeland. 32 years old, decent enough centre half, free transfer after Fulham terminated his wages, and would certainly know his place as a rotational squad player. His position in the squad would be useful and it doesn’t add any Billy ‘Big Balls’ mentality that might come with having to shell out £10million on getting a decent number three centre back. Everyone wins in my opinion. Especially Arsene, as he can keep his cash in his pocket in one troubled position and use it to invest more in other areas. Heck, if he goes out and buys Remy for £8million, he’s got a big old bit of crust for a Bender, Aurier and maybe a ‘heart-over-head’ move for Fabregas too. Simples.

Look what this summer has done to me. I’m talking all things transfers and sounding enthusiastic about it. What I need is for the club to announce a new sponsorship deal. That’ll really give me something to sink my teeth in to.

Anyway, that’ll do for today’s rambliness I think, unless you fancy me carrying on about the morons that are flicking their copies of Metro in front of me without reading them properly? No? Thought not.

Ciao for now.

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

End of season: glorious ‘meh’ness

Is there even any point in doing a match preview today? I mean, the game means about as much as a John Terry apology or a politicians promise, so the idea of trying to work out how this afternoons final Premier League game of the season will pan out is as appealing as putting your head into a beehive with your face covered in pollen.

Norwich are down. They need a win by 17 goals and as much as we all know that this Arsenal team has mastered the art of mass goal implosion, even the staunchest of Norwich fans will know that they won’t concede probably even half that. So whilst I do think they will be up for the game in front of their own fans, I think we could deal them another crushing blow today, possibly even picking up the win.

Think about it: a shocking Norwich side having to get goals, pushing men forward and leaving a poor defence open and exposed, for Arsenal to take advantage. It could be a delightful day for The Arsenal. Even if it doesn’t mean anything.

Isn’t it lovely to have this though? As meaningless as it is, I’m Mr Kipling-style exceedingly grateful that we’ve wrapped up the bare minimum target of Champions League qualifying before the last game of the season. I have a feeling my emotions are going to be run through the mill enough next weekend, so to have a ‘free’ weekend now, it’s good for everyone who has an emotional stake in Arsenal.

It is a glorious thing to be so ‘meh’ about the last game of the season after so many nail biting ones over the last few years.

I hope Arsene rotates the shizzle out of this team today. I don’t want to see a full strength eleven take to the field, the same eleven that will play in the cup final, I want to see the fringe players and returning from injury players get a run out. Give Vermaelen a game. Try a bit of Jenkinson on the right. See what a Kallström and Wilshere central defensive duo can do. No Özil for me today please, I’m trying to watch my weight. I will take half a pound of Rosicky and perhaps this can be a pressure less enough game for Sanogo to break his duck.

Arsene doesn’t need to play first team Russian roulette today. We have the squad to engage in a bit of the old switcharooing, so we should make use of that, especially in the wake of the FA Cup final. You can bet your bottom dollar that Steve Bruce will be asking a number of his first team players to sit out Hull’s game today, so the same should be said for our boys. We have bigger fish to fry next weekend and none of us want to run low on oil….or something like that…

Anyway, that’ll do, you’ve had enough metaphors and similes for one day so I’ll bid you adieu until tomorrow.

Peace out.

Don’t be satisfied with where we’re at, but be contented with consistency

I watched yesterday’s game between Everton and Moneychester City with quite some interest, as I’m sure you did too, because the outcome would most definitely have a bearing on our season and also on today’s game as well. The eventual result was one that has afforded us an afternoon in the sunshine watching The Arsenal taking on West Bromwich Albion knowing that the result, short of providing a welcome sign off to the home fans this season, is relatively meaningless.

It will add a little bit of carnival atmosphere to The Emirtaes today methinks, knowing that the bare minimum standard that Arsene Wenger sets has been achieved for what is now the seventeenth season in a row under Arsene Wenger. And whilst I like many other Arsenal fans, facetiously cheer our ‘fourth place trophy’, there is no denying that the consistency of what is now deemed as a ‘bare minimum’ is still being achieved. That we have even got ourselves into this position that we’ve left it until the last couple of games before the end of the season, given that six weeks ago we were all looking at a possible title tilt, should probably just be saved for another blog discussion when the season has ended and the dust has settled.

For now, let’s just be contented with the fact that we have Champions League Football back at the Emirates in 2014/15, hopefully going beyond a two-legged affair in August.

So what should Le Boss be doing with his team selection today then, given that he doesn’t have to field a strong side to secure Champions League football? Should he go all rookie and field a team of squad players, or should he tell the first team to go out there and secure two wins in the final league games of the season to pick up 79 points and look back on this season as a mild improvement on last by way of points tally, if not actual league position?

I’m in favour of a full strength squad today actually, and I think Arsene will provide that to the last home crowd of the season, as a send off and hopefully a continuation of our recent form. The return of Ramsey and Ozil has shown a notable shift in our fortunes and we’ve looked like a team driven by purpose in the last stages of this Premier League campaign. Momentum is everything in football and Wenger is long enough in the tooth to know the importance that two more wins will give to the spring in the step of the team come Cup Final Day. Heck, even the Invincibles great run started the season before we actually went unbeaten, so if ever you want to take your cue from a successful formula, that team would be it.

Our form has been superb of late. Three goals on the last three occasions and, although I’m not usually one to make specific scoreline predictions, I do fancy a win by three clear goals today. Perhaps a 3-0 or a 4-1. Against Newcastle the team got the goals to effectively seal off the first half and then topped up the goal difference in the second, never really getting out of second gear, so I sense that we might see a similar game today. The back four will most likely remain the same barring perhaps a role for Jenkinson to replace the injured Sagna (perhaps an early indicator of what we’ll see next season) and I would have thought Ramsey and Arteta will form the basis of the deeper lying midfield positions. In front of them will be a trio of Cazorla, Ozil and Podolski with Giroud most likely to start-up front.

It’s a team that would make sense to me. There’s no need for resting players with over ten days to go until the final. Even if the match was in a week’s time it still shouldn’t make too much of a difference. When you’re playing in a high stakes match and you’ve had a week off to prepare, you can’t really have any excuses for fatigue or motivation. So I think we’ll almost certainly see the strongest side possible, with Arsene making use of his three subs on the usual 75 minutes, which will mean exits for Poldi, Mesut and Olivier (you heard it here first!).

As for West Brom, they will probably feel that they’ve done enough to stay up this year and I’d probably agree to that, especially with there now only being one relegation spot that will swallow a team next week. Norwich won’t get any change from Chelski today, which will mean they must beat us on Sunday week and hope Sunderland slip up next week. But with that extra point that West Brom have, they have a degree of security that should ensure that today isn’t life or death, so it wouldn’t surprise me if today’s game has a real ‘end of season’ feeling to it.

Our form is good, the ‘feel good’ spirit seems to have returned to the squad and the players are showing that they’re up for this final push and hopefully the cup final in two weeks time. Things are looking much rosier for The Arsenal right now. Let’s hope they give us a nice send off at lunchtime.

Catch y’all tomorrow.

Newcastle: no first half lethargy please

It’s game day today folks, a game which could just prove pivotal to securing Champions League football for next season, so should not be understated in its importance. But just before I lay all of my ramblings bare on this here blog for, how about we take a moment to look at why Mourinho and Chelski are probably the ‘anti-neutrals’ choice. His self appreciation and attention seeking nature was on full display yesterday as Chelski spawned themselves a couple of counter attacking goals to beat a Liverpool side that are hardly my favourite choice for the league title, but certainly come a million miles than the Portuguese side. Hopefully though, with the antics of the last week when talking to the press, we’ll see the Mourinho ‘love-in’ with the press slowly dissolve.

Anyway, enough of talking about that odious character, as it’s leaving a bad taste in my mouth and making my post Cheerios feeling tastebuds a little like ash.

Tonight it is The Arsenal that will get the chance to put yet more distance between us and Everton when our lads line up against Newcastle. A win tonight would mean that the game at Goodison Park next week will be all or nothing for Manchester City and Everton and, should we be able to pick up maximum points against the Geordies, could even see us get that fourth place trophy even before a ball is kicked on Sunday.

But that’s a long way away right now. There’s work to be done at home and whilst Transport for London staff may not be turning up for theirs come 9pm tonight, the Arsenal players need to make sure they turn up for theirs, because despite the poor form of our rivals they are still a Premier League team and still have players capable of doing damage to us.

From the Newcastle perspective there are questions surrounding Sissoko; but Cisse, Gouffran and Ben Arfa will all not start, the latter being left at home from the match day squad amid rumours of a bust up with Pardew. That’s understandable really, because in a similar mould to Mourinho, Pardew is a man that simply has to make everything about himself.

Their main threat will undoubtedly be Loic Remy, so it will be up to both Koscienly and Mertesacker to stifle the Frenchman at every opportunity. If Sissoko doesn’t play just behind him, I’m hoping that Remy will remain isolated, as Pardew tries to frustrate us in going for a draw. I spoke with some peeps on Twitter yesterday about the possibility of Newcastle playing a 4-4-2 with Ameobi and Remy up top, but I’d be surprised if they leave those two isolated and remove another body from midfield.

Whichever team Pardew picks, we will need to ensure that the Arsenal ‘A-Game’ is on tonight. We should not fear Newcastle, but we should respect them, so I’d rather not see the kind of laboured and expectant performance of the first halves against West Ham and Swansea recently. Perhaps the pattern – given those last two home games – has already been set for a frustrating first half, but it would be nice if we could alleviate some of the worry early on in the game, because the longer the match remains with Arsenal on level teams or even behind, the more nervous I suspect we and the players will get.

With no new injury concerns or returning player boosts I think Arsene will name an unchanged team from the one that swept aside Hull (eventually). That will mean the usual back four with Monreal, a holding midfielder in Arteta and the Energiser Bunny in human form, Aaron Ramsey beside him. The three in front I think will be Poldi, Özil and Cazorla, with Giroud up top. Of course, with his hand a little stronger than it has been over the recent months, we could see him twist with the insertion of Flamini, Rosicky, or The Ox, but regardless of who he picks we need to ensure that the lethargy of March’s performances are well and truly banished.

The good news is that the last couple of games have seen the team look a little bit more free-flowing and devoid of those shackles that made us look so ponderous in that second Deathrun that effectively cost us our title assault. The return from injury of Ramsey and Özil has aided the spriteliness of the team and so there is plenty of cause for optimism that we’ll see a confident and purposeful Arsenal performance come 8pm tonight. Podolski has had a good couple of games and although I’m not a betting man, I’d probably fancy a flutter at him for first goal if you gave me a quid to put on the game. His deadliness in front of goal could be mighty handy over the next month and, whilst many malign his lack of anything else he contributes to the team, the very fact that he is all about the end product is no major issue in my book. Heck, he can sit in a deck chair for 88 minutes of a game if he scores two goals every time he starts.

The odds seem to be stacked quite heavily in our favour given Newcastle’s recent free-falling in the League and talk of players not falling for the manager, but as I said yesterday that always worries me, because when all seems to be too good to be true, it usually is. The players need to turn in a professional performance and make sure the three points are ours. It doesn’t have to be pretty; at this stage of the season, it just has to be effective.

Up The Arsenal.

No dress rehearsal; getting touch tight to Giroud is essential

On this most holiest of days in the Christian calendar, it is that most precious of things that you and I wish for our beloved Arsenal: three points picked up away from home against Hull City.

Of course the press conferences of both managers were dominated by discussions of the impending FA Cup Final between the two sides, but understandably both wanted to emphasise the importance of today’s match up, ensuring the focus is on three points and not on using it as a dress rehearsal for the final. For Arsene, this game is an opportunity to show the world that his side are masters of the fourth place trophy, so putting another win under our belts as we head towards the end of the season is all important. For Steve Bruce, this is about further cementing his sides Premier League credentials and climbing the table as high as possible, but there will also be an element of “look at us, we can turnover this Arsenal team in the league, so why not in the cup final?”.

Hull currently sit six points clear of relegation and whilst not many are talking about them being dragged into the relegation mire, they are not completely safe from a nervy end to the season, especially with results like the one at Stamford Bridge yesterday evening. So there is certainly motivation for the Tigers, which I suspect we’ll see materialIse in the shape of a quick start and a loud crowd hoping to catch us cold early on. That’s how most teams have outdone this Arsenal side this season and that is why we have to ensure that the first fifteen minutes – if not all Arsenal – are certainly relatively quiet.

At The Emirates Hull lined up with a 3-5-2 formation but were pretty much nullified within a few minutes as Nik Bendtner (remember him? That crazy ol’ Danish Samurai) struck early which meant Hull had to come out and play and as a result made for a more open and expansive game. The fact we only won 2-0 belies the performance that day, as I remember coming away thinking it should have been four or five without reply. But perhaps that is an example of how Hull have managed to look ok defensively for a newly promoted team. They’ve never really been battered by anyone in terms of score lines and I don’t think we’ll be hitting them for six again today.

They also have a totally different strike force of Long and Jelavic who, if I’m completely honest, I’m very glad won’t be making the cup final. Long is a good player and has caused us a few problems over the last few years during his time at West Brom, whilst Jelavic always strikes me as one of those centre forwards that if he’s shown the love by a manager, he’ll replicate in form. He’s a bit like Giroud in that respect. Which provides me with a lovely little segway into talking about how our team will line up today…

Thankfully, Arsene has some decisions to make for today’s game. Gibbs may be out, which would force his hand if Monreal is not fit, but the rest of the back five is obvious. They will need to contend with the running of Long and the goal-hanginess of Jelavic and if they do that, you have to fancy our chances, because without wanted to sound like I got an Easter gift of ‘The Big Book of Football Clichés’ solid defences help you to build winning teams.

The midfield anchor could be either Flamini, Arteta of Kallström, but I suspect we’ll see the Frenchman come in for the Spaniard because Tricky Micky has looked a little tired of late. With Flamini having served his two games suspended, he’ll be bright as a button and an important screen for when the runners from midfield make their way towards our box. The next decisions will be who will play alongside that anchor, which for me should be only one real choice: Aaron Ramsey. He has the offensive and defensive engine needed to compliment both Özil and Giroud and with him in the team there is instantly more pace injected into the side from midfield. It provides that extra man in attack when the front three are looking a little pedestrian. that front three, which I think will consist of Podolski, Cazorla and The Ox, will need to get as close to Giroud for those knock downs as possible, because it’s only when he has teammates around him, that Olivier looks a threat. If he’s isolated alongside a back three that includes the in-form Curtis Davies, then we won’t see too much joy I’m afraid, but if Santi and Podolski get alongside the big Frenchman, then we’ll see an altogether different performance I’ll wager.

What we need to see from Poldi today (assuming he starts, which I think he will after his two goals on Tuesday), is more of that end product that he’s becoming famous for, so moving a bit more centrally and coming closer to Giroud to link up would provide that I think. The Ox has the trickery and pace to get in behind the Hull defenders, so he and Ramsey can be effective runners beyond Giroud, but Santi and Poldi need to have all of the play in front of them, hence why I think they should be tight to our buffon-loving centre forward.

“No Özil?” I hear you ask and, whilst I think he’ll certainly play a part, with a month out through injury and Le Boss able to call on a number of different players I think we’ll see him eased in from the bench.

This is a game in which we should have enough quality to win, but with the form of the last six weeks only picking up over the last game (and that was only really in the second half), I think we’ll still see an element of fragility about this Arsenal team. I can’t see us coming charging out of the blocks, so I think this will be a cagey affair in the first half, with the need not to be blitzed within the first 30 minutes. Thereafter, the hope is that we see more football like the second half on Tuesday night, which will certainly see us pick up some points if we play like that, so keep your fingers crossed.

Have a Happy Easter Sunday (hopefully).

West Ham: Let’s blitz the first 25

Right, plenty to get through today, so let’s crack on.

Firstly, the clubs announcement that they’ve received 25,000 tickets for the FA Cup final, which let’s face it, is nothing short of a travesty with 45,000 season ticket holders. I am fortunate enough that I have enough away points not to be affected by a ballot, but this farce is a perpetual joke that the FA consistently deliver to all fans of teams that get to the final of the competition. I’m not a fan of the semi’s being at Wembley, but when you have so few tickets available for supporters, I see it as at least a plus point for most to be able to get to go to Wembley. Will the FA change? Don’t hold your breath. 40,000 tickets going to corporates and fans not affiliated with the club (officially). And people wonder why there appears to be less atmosphere at some of these games…

Anyway, much like the mentality the players must adopt in the wake of an important game under the floodlights of the Emirates, as a collective body of people we must now forget the glitz and glamour of an FA Cup showdown with Hull and force our steely gazes towards the arriving East Londoners. It’s Sam ‘Clobbermesiter’ Allardyce who rolls himself into town today with a gameplan that will be so transparent that, if you were a fly, you’d spent your life trying to get through it only to be stopped by its tedium and invisible force-fieldiness.

My brother is a West Ham fan. Half my family hail from that area and I can assure you, if you didn’t already know, the natives are restless and impatient in that part of the world. They don’t like the brand of football he plays, we don’t like the football he plays, heck, even some of the West Ham players probably don’t like the football he plays. But unfortunately it’s a results business and that is what he’s good at.

Tactically, he’ll set up his side to be difficult to break down, catch us with set pieces and rely on our fatigue and fitness levels after a gruelling 120 minutes at the weekend to see if he can deliver a sucker punch in the latter stages. He practically said so in his press conference yesterday. So if that is his plan, we need to make sure that we’ve delivered enough jabs to the face and torso shots to render any random late left hook as a mere footnote. If it goes to points, we want that technical knock out to be comfortably in our favour.

Apologies for the over indulgence of boxing metaphors, but when you’re up against a manager like ‘Big Sam’, what else can you expect other than a physical battle that will more than likely leave us bruised and bloodied come Wednesday morning. They will play Andy Carroll up front, knock the ball long to him and hope that they can get enough support from the two Noble’s to furnish them with either: a) a scabby goal they can cling on to as we desperately find a way to respond for the majority of the match, or b) a scabby goal later in the game when there’s no time to respond. It’s like being asked which pointy end do you want hammered into your crotch.

The first 25 minutes will be all important tonight. If we start quickly and do to West Ham what Liverpool did to us, we can render the result irrelevant. I know you’re probably thinking ‘yeah right, when was the last time we did that’ and certainly our form doesn’t suggest that we will, but good form has to begin somewhere, so why not tonight?

Under normal circumstances this is a game I’d fancy us to get plenty of joy from. The performance on Boxing Day may have started off slightly sluggishly, but the introduction of Podolski and freshening it up a bit in the second half, swung it in our favour. The problem we have tonight is that ‘freshening up’ isn’t really an option we can draw upon with the depleted squad we have. Chamberlain looked like he needed a leg transplant by the end of the game and Rambo, having just got back from injury, ran himself into the ground until the 113th minute, so quite where we inject some pace from is a bit of a mystery to me.

I suspect Kallstrom might be given his first start in midfield and I’m certainly crossing everything in the hope that Rosicky is back fit. Thankfully we have Gibbs and Giroud who only made extended cameo appearances along with Kallstrom on Saturday, so I’m expecting to see that trio looking a bit more spritely, along with a return of Koscienly to give Per the option of a more mobile partner in the heart of the defence. If all of those players make it for tonight’s game, then hopefully it will have a positive impact and Sam’s ‘wait til they get knackered lads’ tactics will be negated somewhat.

This is one of those ‘take a scabby 1-0′ games if you ask my opinion. We are devoid of pace, we have ailing players and we’re up against a team that’s just had 10 days off. We need to get in, get out, keep the Champions League fourth place race alive and look to another big game on Sunday against Hull. Because if I’m honest with you, I can’t see Everton slipping up against Palace at home tomorrow night, can you?

The problem we have, as so many have already pointed out just about everywhere that I read, is that we’re too predictable with the way we set up. Allardyce is one of those men that studies the opponents rigorously and where their weaknesses are, so coupled with the extra rest his team have been afforded, he’ll really fancy an upset tonight. Dealing with Carroll will be the biggest challenge, but up against big men this season I’ve been impressed at how we’ve managed to deal with the pressure. I think to Spuds and Villa away and how both teams set up to get balls into the box to the front man, which were routinely hammered away by the Per/Kos axis. That’s why Koscienly’s re-introduction into the team could prove to be pivotal. There’s reasons to be cheerful, given that he was snapped by the club in training yesterday, but thankfully Arsene has admitted he will remain cautious on playing him unless he’s 100%. We need Per and Kos to be fit for the rest of the season. If we want to replicate ‘gritty Arsenal 2013′, built on a solid foundation and an ability not to concede goals, it is those two where it starts so I hope he makes his way back in to the team lineup from the start.

This West Ham team will pose us some troubles tonight I fear. But the hope, however, is that our need is greater than a team that should now be more than comfortably clear of a relegation dogfight, so I’m hoping on a West Ham team that is already planning their Maldives getaway in June.

How about this for some positivity? What price could you put on the team being reborn after the confidence boost of knowing you’re in a cup final? What if the knowledge that reinforcements are being shipped in like it’s our turn next to roll the dice in a footballing real-life version of ‘Risk‘, as Özil and Gnabry appear on the horizon ready for their part to play? Arsene himself seemed a little bit chipper about returning players yesterday, so let us hope that our nightmare form which has seen us not win a game (in normal time!) since what feels like 2008, is starting to dissipate and be replaced by an end of season charge to the top four.

Catch you tomorrow.

Blog rising to a crescendo. (And I meant the full stop there for dramatic effect)

Nervous?

I’m nervous. But I guess that comes with the territory when so much season salvation relies on the outcome of one particular football match. It’s crazy actually, because even if we navigate today’s tricky fixture against Wigan, we still have more nail biting to look forward to in the form of a cup final, which we’ve shown we can implode against even the most relegation-foddery of opponents. So to be this way for a semi final seems a little over the top. But it’s because we’re expected to win today that it makes it more nervous. Had Moneychester City steered past Wigan in the last round, we’d be hopeful, but the expectation wouldn’t have been as high and as a result I’m not sure I’d be as nervous as I am typing today’s thoughts out for you.

Still, life could be worse, I mean, I could be rocking a pair of well worn Spliffy jeans like some sort of early nineties throwback. Or I could be made entirely of lead, which really wouldn’t be too conducive to any kind of movement. I’d also probably be an inanimate object incapable of any kind of emotion too, so y’know, swings and roundabouts and all of that jazz.

Anyway, I guess all of this pre-amble is merely an unnecessarily long prologue to today’s blog, mainly because I don’t really have any kind of inkling as to how today will evolve. Well, actually, that’s not quite true: I know exactly how my day will develop up until about 5.05pm, but beyond that I am a mere passenger being carried along the East Australian Current (“The EAC dude”) that Nemo’s dad hitches a ride when he’s trying to find him in that cartoon by Disney that I forget the name it’s called. I am hopeful that I – and by proxy as an Arsenal fan, you – will arrive at our destination (safe passage to the FA Cup Final), but who knows what kind of ensnarement might befall us by the time we get to 8pm this evening (dodgy defending? Own goals? Penalties?).

It’s either rapture or dejection: there are no middle paths to take here people. We’re either cup finalists or we’re bottlers on what feels like a never ending road of purgatorial trophy nothingness that we seem destined to tread. The media will have their way with us regarding of the result, we know that, but all the same we hope it’s the ‘plucky Wigan outdone’ headline rather than the ‘giant killers’ script.

I was never a fan of David anyway. Fluked himself a sweet spot against poor old Goliath in a match up that really should have had only one winner.

Again, the fact I have managed to rinse through a number of paragraphs of prose without actually having to delve into tactical analysis, probably shows my apprehension about today’s game all the more. I’m worried because we’ve got injuries. I’m worried because the spark in the team seems to have gone. I’m worried because I fear the players mental fragility if the worst were to happen. What happens if we go behind? What happens if after the first 15 minutes it becomes clear that we look as leggy as we did last weekend against Everton?

Yet there is a common saying from which I am attempting to draw strength from (if you’ve got to this part of the blog without dismissing me as a ‘Ned the Neg’, and no, you probably haven’t heard that phrase anywhere before because I literally just made it up):

It is always darkest before dawn.

Well, it’s pretty effing pitch black if you listen to most Arsenal podcasts, or read any other Arsenal blogs. There isn’t exactly a majority of the fanbase confidently predicting an Arsenal whitewash, which tells me that most of us are in ‘glass half empty’ mode, that’s for sure. So perhaps, just maybe, today is a time for a redeemer in red and white to appear from amongst the confidence rubble and see us over the line in the season. A hero, a star, a saviour, perhaps even coming from the strangest of sources. A man to throw open the curtains and let glorious and warming sunshine wash over us with goals and a victory.

Step forward Olivier Giroud (didn’t expect me to say that, eh?). He’s looked all kinds of toilet for the last couple of months. Not even a fancy toilet. One of those public ones that’s had the plastic white seat ripped from it, smeared in all kinds of bacteria and pubes that I dare not elaborate on, with four walls that have more ‘Sharpie’ inspired profanities that you can shake a permanent marker at. I have much maligned his inability to deliver on many occasions, but wouldn’t it be so very Arsenal, so very Giroud, to bag a winning goal today? It wouldn’t surprise me at all.

But he’s just one potential match winner. Santi, fresh from the newspaper comments about team mentality, has it in him to Ray Parlour the ball from thirty yards and in similar fashion etch his name further into our hearts. Or Rambo, who’s lung busting efforts coupled with some sound goals this season, have seen him propelled to superstar status in our minds.

Who’s fit? Who’s not? Who are Wigan going to play in their team? How should we approach the game? What will the first fifteen minutes of the game look like? All of these questions are ones that I am disinclined to debate and dissect, because right now I am focusing on one thing and one thing alone; preparing my pipes for an early evening of extreme working out. I am going to go – as my wonderful friend and fellow Suburban Goonerite Ben Leeder says – ‘full tropic thunder’ on the game. But not in a negative way, in a ‘if my levels of craziness can help the team team in any way, they’ll get a whole heap of Crazy-Chris today’ way. I’m up for this. And I haven’t even started the first pint of the day.

Today is, to all intents and purposes, a home game for us. London is our town. It houses our club and we will come together to see our team win. There’s estimated to be around 55,000 Arsenal fans today. That’s 5,000 short of the Emirates so we have to make sure it sounds like an Arsenal game.

Sing loud, sing proud, and sing Arsenal.

I think we’ll be up for this tonight and so will the players

Yesterday I was walking back with Steve having our usual post work chinwag, when something he said struck a chord with me, in relation to how he’d been feeling about Arsenal all week.

Words like ‘tired’ were shuffled around the conversation between us both as we tried to make some sort of footballing premonitions for today’s game, but not used to describe our ailing squads, instead used for the feeling we had when defending – or trying to defend – The Arsenal against rival fans. Perhaps it isn’t only the players that are fatigued with this season? Perhaps we are feeling the emotional strain as much as the players feel their hamstring ones?

This lethargy had me thinking back to Tuesday night and the subdued atmosphere for the game. Even before Swansea’s early lead, the whole place seemed to be in a bit of a funk, which only erupted into life after we scored our quick-fire goals.

If the atmosphere could be called into question then, what will we see tonight, when the players take on league title favourites Moneychester City? Will we see the same lethargy from the fans (I include myself on this criticism as part of the collective) as we saw from the players when there is a big game and a chance to somewhat redeem ourselves as a club in the eyes of the watching media?

I think the Emirates will be rather noisy today, not just because of the added beer time that will have been afforded to us thanks to a late kick off, but because we will want to see a reaction and I think the crowd know they can play a part.

So it’s for that reason – the atmosphere and the ability of the home fans to turn up the decibel levels inside the ground – that I think the players will react too. They’ll hear us roar from the first minute and they’ll want to show that the tiredness can be abated with the benefit of adrenalin. If we can up our games as fans, why can’t the players, against vastly superior opposition?

I’m not going to try to sugar-coat it; our form compared to city’s doesn’t look great and as I said yesterday, nobody seems to fancy us, especially the bookies. But when you look at how the team has played against the big players at home in the league this season, there is cause for optimism, not least in the fact that of the current top seven teams, we’ve conceded one goal in the league at home. I’m sure that record will be tested tonight, but small mercies and all that…

What we will need to do is be better in taking chances. City has tightened up defensively, but they still have their frailties, so if we can capitalise on any mistakes then we simply must. Ollie G, I’m looking at you here kid, time to shake off those treacle-covered boots and show that you can show up in big games. Pretend it’s still the autumn of something.

I think Arsene will opt for a similar line up to the one that played on Tuesday, but I’d think long and hard about adding the end-product of Podolski into the mix, plus throwing in a Gnabry-shaped curveball. We need to try something different and I think the young German would give us that. With those two – both inevitably fresher because they haven’t played in midweek from the start – flanking Giroud up top, my hope would be that we’d see two players more willing to get beyond the Frenchman and therefore give him more options for his little flicks and touches. We all know that Giroud is a lay-off specialist, so let’s put men in and around him and even in front of him when he comes to collect the ball.

In behind that three I’d give the nod to Rosicky, Flamini and Cazorla. Rosicky is the elder statesman of the team and has played a lot of football recently, but Arteta has looked the most leggy of the three and so I’d be inclined to sit Tomas alongside Matthieu. Of course, the challenge might be that Rosicky might want to get forward more than Arteta and against a team with the attacking threat of City it may be more suitable to have two holding midfielders sitting to stifle the play in front of our back four, but Rosicky is that player that knows how to tackle and can inject a little bit more pace in move the ball on quickly from front to back.

As for City, well, where do you even start? Smashing in goals for fun and the Premier League Title in sight, they know that a win today could be vital. Pellegrini can play it down all he likes: if City win tonight I fancy them for the title. I wouldn’t mind seeing City lift the title ahead of Chelski and Liverpool, but I’d rather they win every single game after tonight between now and the end of the season, because the priority is always Arsenal and seeing Arsenal succeed. If we do manage to fashion a win at home, imagine what it will do for the confidence? Points-wise it will probably not mean a lot because Everton are sure to beat a shocking Fulham team, but it would keep breathing distance between us and the toffees and means we could all but seal a Champions League spot with a victory at Goodison, which in turn would put us in a great position to really have a go at the FA Cup the following week. Players would be returning and the place would seem a little rosier than it has these past seven days, so I am extremely hopeful that we’ll see a strong Arsenal performance and a win against a team with the reprehensible Samir Nasri.

Anyway, that’s it from me today, I’m off to find my lucky flat cap which I realised is only lucky when I wear it inside the stadium, rather than at home on my parents sofa like I did last week.

Peace out.

Swansea couldn’t come quick enough – providing we win that is

After the club (or more probable, Arsene) imposed a short exile from media duties, I thought I’d follow suit by laying off The Arsenal for 24 hours or so, which gave me time to reflect and ponder the issues of the weekend. But thankfully, rather than jot down some notes on that debacle at Stamford Bridge, our fixture list has stepped in with a nice warm hug and a cup of Bovril.

It’s Swansea at the Emirates tonight and what better way to expunge the painful memories of Saturday than to look forward to another game within days of that defeat. To me, this result could not be any better positioned, which means I hope the players feel the same and are super-charged this evening. Let’s face it, after the Dickensian style gruel we were served up against Chelski, nothing else other than an arsenal team collecting three points tonight can be considered acceptable.

There simply must be a response. End of.

Some positive bit of news that emanated from the FA yesterday was the dropping of Gibbs’ ban and the refusal to sanction a transferral of the ban to The Ox. It’s handy because we already have a plethora of injured players, so we could do without others being taken out of the first team squad options, so let’s take the small wins as they come eh? I don’t know whether or not the FA just felt a bit sorry for us after the hiding we had, but I’m glad that they came to that decision, because the Ox has been (Chelski aside) one of the stand out players of late. It must have been guilt or feeling sorry for us, because the fact the ball was going wide and therefore common sense dictates no red is irrelevant to the FA. Common sense has no place within their walls.

Also, thankfully, yesterday I managed to get FA Cup semi final tickets. All it took was 40 minutes of having three phones repeatedly redialling and two laptops in the online queue, but there you go, I’ve got what I needed so it’s all gravy. You would have though Arsenal would adopt a British Gas style ‘you are number xx in a queue’ holding sequence, but obviously the purse strings at the club can’t stretch to a bit more cash adding to the buying process.

Anyway, back to tonight, which is a game in which we must win and ‘get back on the horse’. The title is pretty much gone in my book, but we’re back to looking over our shoulders at the Spuds with their win at the weekend, so a victory at home against an inconsistent but still decent Swansea side, will see us be nine clear of them lot with seven games to go. It doesn’t cement a Champions League spot, but it does help our cause.

The shitty news is that Koscienly is out of tonight’s game and ominously Arsene couldn’t give a return date. It’s yet another smash to the ribs for the team at a time where we’re already without a number of key players. The way our season has gone, I’m expecting the football karma gods to furnish us with adamantium infused players that are impervious to injury for the subsequent three or four seasons, such is the luck we’ve had with players missing. I’ll personally be doing the football injury equivalent of an Indian rain dance before Saturday’s showdown with Moneychester City, because we simply can’t afford to have. Kos out for too long. Hectar Bellerin comes into the squad in his place, but one can hardly imagine he’ll get too close to having too much action unless something drastic happens tonight.

Oh God, something ‘drastic’ is going to happen now, isn’t it?

The rest of the team is available and so I’d expect to see Bac, Per and Kieran take to the field with Vermaelen. In midfield I’d imagine we’ll see Flamini, but who will sit alongside him will be interesting. I’d personally go for Rosicky, as he moves the ball back to front quickly and if Arsene flanks The Ox and Gnabry either side of Cazorla, then it adds an element of pace to our team that has been severely lacking of late. It will also give Giroud the option of players willing to run beyond him, rendering him more relevant than his abject last couple of performances. This is the type of game that he has been good at having an impact in this season, so providing his head hasn’t completely gone, I expect him to be up for this too.

Arsene spoke about ‘repairing the damage’ on the official site yesterday, which is exactly what we need to do, regardless of whether or not it puts a sticking plaster on a really big wound. It’s better to have that plaster than a fist full of table salt rubbed into it tonight by a Swansea team that has suffered the effects of a European campaign.

Swansea may have been beaten at the weekend by Everton, but they looked good at times and we know that they will cause us problems, playing the possession game and looking to set the effective Bony up with chances. If we play to our potential, maintaining the ‘bullies’ tag that has been attributed to us for beating most of the teams below sixth this season, I think we’ll get the result. But if we give cause for optimism against a capable Swansea side, they’ll hit us with the same counter-attacking style that saw them walk away with a 2-0 win at The Emirates two seasons ago.

Like I said at the start of this blog, mercifully this game has come so quickly after the West London debacle, but it will only be ‘merciful’ if we show no mercy to Swansea tonight.

Speak tomorrow, when we’re hopefully all a bit happier, maybe.