Sunderland preview: Breaking down a defence again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laterz.

Swansea preview: negate a high press and keep an eye out wide

Liverpool’s draw with Chelski mathematically secured the top four for us yesterday, but on a day where QPR were supposed to be giving it the last hurrah by at least holding Momeychester City to a draw at he Etihad, I was expecting better than a 6-0 thrashing. For us, in terms of trying to get second, it’s the worst possible type of score line, because it will probably mean that City’s goal difference is a little bit too far for us to catch up with. Before yesterday it was two – by no means insurmountable – but at eight and with just four to play, I can’t see us matching or beating them.

Ultimately it shouldn’t matter, because second or third means nought but a few extra million by finishing higher up by one spot, but still it would be nice to be seen to have out performed a side built on a foundation of refineries and dollar bills. 

If we do want that second spot it is still within our hands. We probably have to win all of our home games to finish level on points with City, starting this evening with Swansea at home. 

It’s an interesting one for the manager because if he chooses to keep the same XI he’s played over the last few weeks, you’d have to wonder about his desire to engage in any kind of rotation at all unless forced. Swansea represent a side that has performed well this season, have already beaten us on their own turf, but who should have a distinctly ‘end of season, nothing to play for’ look and feel about themselves. I’m not sure we’ll get that, but it’s what I’m hoping for anyway. 

I hope Arsène does rotate. I’d like us to be keeping players like Gibbs, Wilshere and Walcott topped up with match sharpness in case they are needed and that means they need to be given chances to show what they’re capable of from the start. I doubt Arsène will go for any extreme levels of rotation, like bringing in Szczesny, Debuchy, Gabriel, Gibbs, Flamini, Rosicky, Walcott, etc, but one or two of his deck shuffled should still give us enough to overcome the Welsh side.

We know that Swansea will try to retain possession and out pass us. They work on a higher press and try to win the ball back further up the field, where as when they have the ball they build from the back very patiently. It’s worked too. I remember seeing them Michu us a few years ago, then frustrate us last season with a late goal to nab a draw, so we cannot afford to show any kind of lethargy in our build up play tonight. It will be a warm summers evening but none of us want to see sloppy transition from defensive possession to attacking threat. 

To be fair to our current crop, I don’t think we’ll get that, because form and confidence should dictate that we are on it tonight. We’re playing well and all of the players know that competition is intense enough to see any of them lose their place and with an FA Cup on the horizon, there is plenty of motivation for them all.

Swansea will be reliant on Batefemi Gomis to be a threat on the counter and if they go with nippy wide men like Montero and Dyer then I expect them to look to counter us with pace on the flanks. If we are too hung ho in pushing our fullbacks forward like auxillery wingers rather than actual defenders, that’s where we may find an Achilles heel for ourselves.

In the middle of the park they will use Jonjo Shelvey to build up play and providing we offer him little space, it should stifle and frustrate him. If he’s trying pot-shots from 35 yards plus then Ospina should back himself to keep any rogue ones on target out, but it will mean we’ve stifled his supply line and that will do just nicely.

I am hoping for another masterful display from our midfield maestros Santi and Mesut, because these are the sort of games where they tend to do quite well. If Swansea press hard all over the pitch it will mean those players who can operate best in confined circles will be the most successful. So that’s why I’m looking for those two to potentially be the difference tonight. 

Let’s hope so and hope that three points are ours come the final whistle. Come on you reds!

Exploit the width against Hull’s formation

Today the good lord Bergkamp could see fit to bless upon us the day of St Totteringham, in which we celebrate the mathematical certainty that Arsenal will finish above the other team in North London in the Premier League. Ideally a draw yesterday coupled with an Arsenal win would have made this weekend just about as good as it can get – given the other event that happened at the weekend that I think i’ll just refuse to acknowledge its existence – but at least we now face Hull tonight with the prospect of all but securing Champions League football for next season. Winning will put us nine clear of Liverpool, 12 clear of Tiny Totts and 13 clear of Southampton.

But we still need to do the business because we want to finish second, maintain momentum and win the FA Cup, which won’t be easy. Hull have picked up a few wins lately to practically all but secure their top flight status for next season and I suspect that they will be a tougher opponent tonight than they might have been about a month ago.

We know them well enough from last season’s FA Cup final and they will want to get a bit of revenge on their home turf. They nearly did that to us on our own patch earlier in the season, when we came within but a few minutes of a 2-1 defeat to them, only for Danny Welbeck to pick up a point for us in the dying embers. It was a performance that was symptomatic of our early season start; we were lethargic, not very cohesive as a unit and conceded some pretty sloppy goals. It was at a period in the season in which we were dropping points like they were going out of fashion and at the time of all of those early season draws I have to admit I could not have envisaged that Arsene and his charges would have been able to turn it around so dramatically. But we must acknowledge their hard work to get us in to this positive position, because if any Arsenal fan would have been told after that Hull game that we’d be on track for second with an FA Cup final, after laughing ironically and then whimpering a little bit, we’d have said you were mad. But you wouldn’t have been mad, you’d have just had one of them crystal ball thingy’s, or a time machine. If you do, can you let me know if we win it at the end of May? Would make my disposition decidedly sunnier for the next few weeks.

Anyway, back to today’s matters and the game we have in store this evening. We know Hull will play with a back three, which is what they did in the cup final and is what we’ll see this evening, as well as a bank of five in midfield and two up top. Steve Harper will continue to creak his way around the goal line, which is an opportunity for us, but Olivier will most likely have his hands full with Dawson the most likely to be grappling with us. That will leave Chester and McShane to keep an eye on Alexis and whoever plays wide right. I know this is a little out of the trend, but I suspect Theo would be perfect for a game like today. His pace up against McShane will see him win every time and if Hull are playing wing backs with Elmohamdy and Brady, they’ll want to get forward more than play a defensive line. It could lead to pockets for our attackers and so I hope Arsene’s thinking is to play Walcott – or even Welbeck – in that wide position rather than Ramsey.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Aaron is playing well, but he likes to drift in field too much and if he plays wide right today that will – in my opinion – play in to Hull’s hands. They will sit Huddlestone deep along with Livermore and probably look to somebody like Meyler to also put in a shift. But it’s all in the centre and the net effect could be a level of congestion that doesn’t help any of our midfielders. Get width, exploit Hull’s formation and pick up the win that keeps us on track for second spot, that’s what I say.

To do that, I think we’ll see Ospina, Bellerin, Monreal, Koscienly, Mertesacker, Coquelin all make up the defensive third of the team. The creativity of Cazorla and Ozil will be retained, whilst I’ve already mentioned my preferred front three. Hull have won their previous two games and whilst I think they’ll stay up, their form at the moment – similar to Leicester – coupled with their still precarious position in the league, makes them a very difficult opponent. Apparently, we’ve won our last four Premier League away games by a one goal margin and if I was a betting man I’d put some cash on a similarly close encounter tonight. But we should have enough to beat the Yorkshire side. They are down the bottom of the league for a reason and we are towards the top for a reason – we win more than we lose and they lose more than they win. So we need to pick up the points. Liverpool have struggled there, Chelski relied on a ‘keeper error there to win them the game a couple of weeks ago, so let’s not be fooled into thinking this will be a stroll on a MOnday evening, but let’s make sure we pick up the points by hook or by crook.

Have a good bank holiday and hopefully let’s see it finished off with three-point loveliness.

Context more frustrating than the result

On the face of it, with the other results which all went in our favour this weekend barring Moneychester City, a draw against the eventual champions isn’t the worst result in the world. However, as I find myself composing my thoughts the morning after the game, I can’t help but be somewhat frustrated with the result.

It’s the context you see, rather than the result which on the balance of play over the 90 minutes, neither side probably deserved to win. But as I’d said in my blog yesterday, beating Chelski would have been more symbolic of progress at the club, rather than open any doors of a potential title win.

That mother-funkin’ context is what is driving my frustration this morning.

The game itself had just the one surprise thrust upon it in terms of team news, with Bellerin coming in for Debuchy which again, you probably have to say was the right call as the Spaniard was able to get forward more. Who knows, perhaps Debuchy wouldn’t have had the pace to get back from Oscar’s lobbed effort in the first half, so ultimately and with hindsight firmly in mind, Arsène made the right call with team selection.

And so, you’d have to begrudgingly say, did Chelski. They set up not to concede and they got exactly what they came for. They had a spell in the second half where they came on to us a bit more, but you could tell that there was less desire to put too many bodies forward, something I couldn’t really understand given our lack of pace in the counter. There were a few instances yesterday that I thought we didn’t capitalise on. They happened mainly in the second half and it was only really when Chelski were drawn out. But we couldn’t find that final ball and on a couple of occasions it was wasteful and not even resulting in any kind of chance. I know Theo has hardly played and when he did he has looked distinctly anonymous, but somebody like that could have been perfect for yesterday’s game when Chelski started to push more bodies forward. He occupies wide positions and as good as Rambo was yesterday – and I do think he had a good game – he does have a tendency to drift in field and that does leave us narrow at times. Özil had a decent game but on a couple of occasions he cropped up on our right hand side and you could tell he was looking for that forward wide man to slip the ball in to, but Rambo had come in field and so the German had to check and then come in field. It’s the little things that make the difference in these games, you know? Those fine margins and yesterday it felt like both teams were playing the percentages, not wanting to expose themselves too much, which probably resulted in the bitty game that we got.

I thought Alexis struggled a bit yesterday. His turnovers in possession are well documented, but for some reason it felt to my eyes as if this was enhanced because chances were always going to be at a premium, so when he did get the ball in a promising position, when the move broke down it was frustrating. 

Frustration. That was the overriding word of the day, wasn’t it, but mainly because we have another season in which we’ve failed to beat that disgusting excuse for a football club. The record we have against that lot is one you’d expect to see from a team yo-yoing between the Premier League and the Championship, not one that has consistently finished in the top positions since Chelski hit ‘reboot’ on their own history 11 years ago. It does feel like this record is going to go on forever. That’s what makes this all the more annoying. 

But hey, let’s end this blog on a high, because we’re still on course for an improved league position and the chance of picking up an FA Cup. If we were to finish second and win the cup then you’d have to say it puts us in a great position to have a proper go next year. And guess what? You only have to play Chelski twice a season, so we can still win the league next year without having to score against those scummers anyway!

Catch you tomorrow.

Last monkey off the back please

After a pretty decent set of results yesterday, seeing both Spuds and Saints duke out a draw and Liverpool fail to score against West Brom away, we come to some proper football today and an opportunity to almost certainly confirm Champions League status against the eventual champions of this season in Chelski.

I think first and foremost we need to make sure the top four is secured. Aspirations on finishing second are all fine and dandy, but we need to make sure we hit our bare minimum target first, then look to win the FA Cup and go into the summer on a high. 

We can’t catch Chelski, but we can lay down a marker for next season, as well as get that Mourinho monkey that is hanging over Arsène’s neck. And no matter what he says about it not being between them, he will be as frustrated as anybody with this record of no victory in 13 attempts. What probably annoys him the most – and it annoys us Arsenal fans too – is that it’s used as the tactical stick to beat Arsène with. For every game that Mourinho has not been defeated against Arsenal with, another aspersion is cast over Le Boss and his ability to counter the ways of the Portuguese one, so a victory today will give everybody more belief that Arsène and Arsenal can go into next season looking to make it a great one.

We know how Chelski will set up today. They will have their standard back five defenders, then Matic in front and probably the same tactic as last weekend, with Zouma also sitting deep. Mourinho will look to be solid defensively and frustrate Arsenal. He will want to give us the ball like he gave United last weekend, then use his creative players to counter or sucker punch us if we commit too many men forward.

That’s what we had to avoid: falling into his trap and playing the game he wants to play. We need to be as defensively resolute as possible and minimise the impact of Hazard in particular. Fabregas will be booed but he won’t be dissuaded and I fully expect Costa to have slurped down some elixir of life and suddenly be 100% fit from the start. 

Our game plan has to be to utilise our skilful players to unlock a stubborn Chelski back line. Giroud will cut a loan figure up top if Alexis and probably Ramsey don’t get closer to him and if ever you need his little flicks and ’round the corner’s to come off, I think it’s a game like today.

I think this will be a very tight match up and when you have games that are probably decided by one goal, you need players with he vision of Mesut Özil to be able to see that eye of a needle pass, just like he did last weekend. Last time he was up against Chelski he was playing through injury and at he time was accused of playing poorly. I hope today he has a point to prove, because I think he and Santi can impact the game possibly more than anybody. When you’ve got players who can operate well in confined spaces and thread quick interchangeable passes in between opponents, you need them to be on song to taste victory, so I hope we see the best of the Spaniard and the German this afternoon.

Defensively I’ve seen talk of a recall for Bellerin, but I don’t think that’s something that Arsène will countenance, as he’ll want the experience of our French full back over the raw pace and enthusiasm of Hector. On the opposite flank there’ll no doubt be a return for Nacho and likewise in goal for Ospina. If Big Per is fit he’ll play but I wouldn’t risk it if there’s any chance he could exacerbate his ankle problem at all. Gabriel is more than capable of doing a decent job and with Le Coq in front and Kos behind him, I’d be happy enough that we’ve got a strong enough team to cope.

I’m never confident going in to games against Chelski, so why break the habit of a lifetime, but I am as desperate as you to see us win. It’s not an impossible feat. They are flawed like every team in the league, it’s just not often that those flaws seem to be exposed, so when we get our chances we simply must take advantage of them.

Come on Arsenal, let’s destroy the last bit of hoodoo that remains over the team, let’s win. 

Arsenal cup keyword tagging: concentration and non-complacency

If I was to try to to do the keyword tagging and search engine optmisation of the Arsenal team manifested in physical form today, the one word I would lace throughout any team talk or mindset or thoughts going through each players mind would be: concentration, non-complacency. These are the two things that we must see for the duration of today’s FA Cup semi final against Reading. 

We are the overwhelming favourites today, there can be no doubting that, but we have all experienced the loss of seeing this Arsenal team believing it’s own hype and as a result imploding on a catastrophic scale. When they believe all that is needed is attendance in order to taste the sweetness of victory, we almost always seem to come unstuck, so I hope every player has a mantra in their mind of:

Be professional, treat the opposition with respect, but show why we are a league and 37 places above them.

The key to today’s game has to be to not get beaten by our mentality. I mean no disrespect to Reading, but with Arsenal in the form they are in and Reading in the form they are in, there should only be one result really. But we can roll out as many cup cliches as is needed to ensure that we still do the business this evening, because we’ve seen it before, in the Champions League this season (Monaco), the FA Cup last season (Wigan – although I know ultimately we went through) and against Birmingham in 2011. That was a horrible day because the odds seemed just as stacked against Birmingham as they have been for Reading today. 

Don’t bottle it Arsenal, please, because it feels like two victories in this competition and a continuation of our league form over the next month and a bit will see the entire Arsenal fanbase go in to the summer more excited to see what we can achieve the following season than for a long time.

Last year, we all believed that the winning of the cup was the breaching of the trophy dam that had starved us from trophy watery goodness (I’m sorry for the terrible metaphor, but I’m getting excited now, so I’m obviously all over the place), so another FA Cup trophy this season will have us truly believing this team can kick on. But we still have a lot to do. It starts now and finishes at the end of May. 

Now that the apprehensiveness and caution has been articulated, let’s move on to the fun part, because WE’RE ONE VICTORY AWAY FROM A CUP FINAL!! This is awesome people. This is what we live for and the highs of seeing the Arsenal players lift trophies is exactly what we all tune in or turn up to see. The game this afternoon will not be easy, but we can lay down another important marker and maintain our momentum going into the Chelski game next week with a good win today.

Arsène’s choices are numerous and you have to feel for those that don’t make the squad this afternoon, because there will be some very good players who will have to make do with being suited and booted and that will make them gutted. But for us it shows the enormous level of quality we had and competition that will ensure those that do play are on their toes for every game. The back four will probably remain the same (Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscienly, Monreal), with only a change to the ‘keepers confirmed to take place. Hey, that’s fine by me because right now the difference between Szczesny and Ospina is negligible.

Midfield will no doubt see Coquelin breaking up the play with his “I love to tackle. Come at me bro” mentality being exactly what we need in a battle, but after that six it becomes a little harder to guess what the manager will do, because he could rotate a number of players. For example, would any of you be surprised to see Welbeck replace Giroud up top? Arsène did it in the game against United and last season’s match up against Wigan saw Sanogo ahead of the Frenchman. I know the circumstances were different on these two occasions – Welbeck having something to prove on his old stomping ground, as well as Giroud suffering on field last season as a result of off field shenanigans, but it wouldn’t be a complete surprise to see that change. Likewise, I don’t know why, but I have a weird feeling he might start Walcott. I can’t really explain why and it feels like the England international has been frozen out since he returned from injuries, but he’s played in all of the cup games bar United and I wonder if Arsène will give him another crack. Especially as he was on the official site talking him up this week, plus the fact the papers have been awash with rumours of him wanting to sign a new deal. Stranger things have happened, you know?

Alexis will play wide left, but if Walcott is wide right, it means one of Ramsey, Cazorla and Özil miss out. Two of the three are FA Cup final goalscorers and the other one is a club record signing. Care to have a stab at who would miss out? I would guess Ramsey. Cazorla has been the most form player of those three and Özil will be perfect at finding pockets of space in between the Reading defence and midfield on that massive Wembley pitch. It would be harsh son the Welshman but that would be my prediction. Which if Rambo was reading this right now he’d probably be delighted with, because everything I predict usually ends up with the opposite happening!

As for Reading, from what I’ve read and heard, they will look to get the ball out wide and play with pace on the wings with McCleary and Robson-Kanu looking to get in behind our full backs and whip balls in to the giant Russian Pogrebniak. It’s why with the pace of Bellerin I would have thought we’ll see him instead of Debuchy, but perhaps there is a recall for the clearly more rapid Kieren Gibbs on the left? It’s an option the manager needs to ponder today.

The other fella to watch out for will be the on loan Chalabah, which sounds more like an Arabian war cry than a professional League footballer, but having spoken to my Burnley mate last weekend (he was on loan from Chelski to Burnley last season), I know that he is apparently a bit of a beast in the defensive midfield role and so might have something to say in this game.

We need to be up for this from the off. If we establish a high tempo possession based game within the first 15 minutes like we did against Liverpool, then I think we’ll be alright. Reading played an almost full strength team in midweek whilst our boys had the week free, so the can be no excuses for any kind of lethargy. Do the business in the first half Arsenal, then let’s finish it off in the second, please.

What did she wear?