Palace: negate the pace out wide and play the more technically gifted

So we’re back in league action today and it’s a tricky game at Selhurst park in which the media seem to be all voting for us as their picks for victories this weekend. It’s nice to know what supposed ‘neutrals’ think when looking at games and who should win, but as usual I’m not as blase about the ease of our victories as the pundits.

Under Alan Pardew Crystal Palace have got more belief and have picked up enough results to suggest that they will be comfortably safe for next season. They’re 13th on 27 points and despite the league being so concertina’d in from the bottom to the middle and from the upper positions (Chelski aside), I think they will be fine, but I still think they will be very pumped for this game. Against Liverpool last weekend they were ahead and then looked to sit back on their lead which was never a good thing with a team of Liverpool’s quality. Pardew recognised that and so today I think they will approach the game with a different game plan. I suspect they will look to be compact defensively and with Jedinak back in their midfield it will provide more stability and cover in front of the back four of Dann and Hangeland. Out wide they’ll have the pace of Gayle and Bolasie and Pardew will probably look to isolate Bolasie and Gayle  against Monreal (assuming he plays) and Bellerin respectively, one because of his lack of pace and the other because of his still relative inexperience at the top flight. If they are to be successful against our defensive line you’d expect their joy to come from those wide positions, so it’s important that both of those wide players are negated somehow today.

So much of football is about timing. We played a Palace side last season away from home in a bit of turmoil as Holloway had just left the club. They battled well and although we had a man sent off and still won the game, it was anything but a comfortable afternoon, so I’m not expecting anything other than that today. In August this year they had the ongoing Pulis issues and despite the fact he wasn’t there they were still set up disciplined enough for us to find it very tough to break down. It was only that last-gasp Ramsey goal that saved our blushes on the opening day. We’ve caught them in a bit of turmoil a couple of times since we’ve played them and finally they seem to be coming into a game against us on their own turf in which they have some stability, so I don’t think we’ll find the going good-to-soft today. Based on the games we’ve had against them since they returned to the Premier League, i’m not expecting anything other than a difficult game today with a side that will try to build from a foundation of defensive stability and try to use the flanks to hit us on the counter. Hopefully that is minimised for the sake of my, and your, health!

For us, the importance will be of the technical players and their ability to unpick the Palace defensive line. If the Eagles do sit deep, then I can only see success for us if Arsene names a team filled with players who are technically more able on the ball and can beat a man. Last season Serge Gnabry had a good game and he is an example of why we will need thata type of player. Had the Ox been fit, i’d think he’d be a shoe-in to start. But his injury means that Arsene has some decisions to make. I suspect given the form of Alexis, Ozil and Santi, they should all play. Perhaps Arsene will go as attacking as he was against Middlesbrough and name a very offensive line up which includes those three, Alexis, Giroud and Welbeck. If Palace do sit deep, then it would make sense to try to overload their capacity to go man-for man in their own half of the field. If he does decide that caution is more prudent, however, then I’d expect to see Welbeck sacrificed in that line up first. Perhaps for Rosicky in midfield, pushing Ozil out to the left and Alexis right. Rosicky is the sort of player that can see that threaded pass better, so in a game of fine margins where there might be a compact Crystal Palace side, that type of player is key.

Notice how I haven’t even mentioned Theo yet? I just can’t see how he gets in to the team in a game like today. Palace won’t play a high line, they’ll flood that area of space in front of their own penalty box and Theo just won’t be able to make those runs in behind the defence he likes to do. well, actually he will, but he’d probably find himself too close to Speroni all day I’d expect. I’ve said it enough on this blog that I’m getting bored of my own rhetoric, but Walcott is a player that needs to play where there is plenty of grass to run in to. The games against teams that come out more are perfect and if Palace play the way I think they will today, I don’t see how he will get any joy.

But hey, I’m not the manager, I don’t know what is best for the team so if he does start then perhaps he’ll score and win us the game. As long as that happens, then I’ll be happy and pleased enough to admit i was wrong-diddly-ong.

Fingers crossed we get what we want from the game. They’ve already beaten the Spuds relatively recently so we can’t take anything for granted. If we do win, we then have Monaco midweek, and Everton on Sunday. I said before the Leicester game that we had an opportunity to start turning the proverbial screw in the league with the run of fixtures we have. That can continue today. Nay, it MUST continue today, if we’re going to secure our longer-term Champions League future.

Until tomorrow.

Boro: A tight encounter with concentration key

FA Cup Sunday. We’re getting used to this, aren’t we? That, and stupid non-traditional kick off times, coupled with having to pay for two subscriptions. This weekend I’ve wanted to watch a bit of FA Cup action and without BT Sport on my TV, I’ve been limited to Match of The Day. It’ll only get worse when they get the Champions League rights. eugh, Michael Owen commentating on Champions league football…

Still, there’s no need to be grumpy when there’s a game afoot to prepare for, so the in-form Middlesbrough travel to The Emirates looking to chalk up higher-class slaying number two to their list of victories this season. It’s a tough one to see exact how this one is going to play out, actually, because we don’t know whether Middlesbrough will ‘have a go’ so-to-speak, or whether they will try the old Arsenal tactic that was used against Moneychester City of ‘rope-a-dope’, sucking up pressure, hitting on the counter and catching your opponents cold. We’ve seen first hand this year alone, how that tactic can work beautifully providing the conditions are right (our trip to the Etihad), but also if the application is not spot on (the debacle at White Hart Lane). So whilst Middlesbrough represent a tough opponent with plenty of confidence at the moment, it is by no means a forgone conclusion that they’ll sit with a wall of defenders today. They might decide that they can have a go at us.

It’s probably unlikely though. The successive victories the Smoggies have had have been built on a foundation of defensive stability and having listened to the Arsecast yesterday where a Boro fan explained how they’ve been successful this season, I think we’ll see them look to hit us with their pacey attacking players, whilst absorbing pressure when we have the ball. If they are organised enough defensively – as Leicester showed – you can frustrate this Arsenal team. Leicester lined up with a back five and attempted to recreate a London version of the Great Wall of China in midweek, but I think Middlesbrough will line up in something that will resemble a familiar formation to us of 4-2-3-1. They’ve got an injury problem in the absence of Ayala, plus their Chelski loan signing (every team outside the prem has one of those, right?) Kalas can’t play because of his loan deal, but apart from that I’m not really sure where the real threats will come from. Karanka has apparently been a bit loan-hungry in snapping up some Spud youth players in Fredericks and Veljkovic, but whether they’ll play is your guess as good as mine. Jonathan Woodgate might step in, but if he does so you’d hope that our pace could expose him at centre half.

This must be a tricky one for Arsene. Against Brighton we played a Championship team that were in the bottom half of the table and had shown indifferent form. To all intents and purposes, Middlesbrough are playing like a Premier League team at the moment and if they continue their trajectory, they will be one before long too. So does Arsene name the strongest squad possible, safe in the knowledge that there are six days with which to refresh his players before we play Palace? Or does he rotate with it firm in his mind that he needs to keep his squad fresher rather than relying on a core of 12 or 13 players. I hope it’s the latter. I have always been a fan of keeping players ticking over when they are not regularly starting, so I hope there are some – not loads, but some – changes to the team that played against Leicester.

I would expect Szczesny to come in and I’m pretty sure Arsene has already said that would happen. I would have thought Gibbs would get another run out, as well as Chambers, but then the decisions become a little bit more difficult. Does Gabriel come in to start? It’s easy to say ‘no, keep the defensive partnership in the middle consistent’, but if Gabriel is to be properly integrated into the Arsenal team, he needs game time. Does Arsene play a midfield with Flamini instead of Le Coq? Again, I’m not sure. I suspect he might get the nod, as too will Rosicky having excelled in the last round and also having been impressive in the last couple of sub appearances he’s had. So who plays at number 10? Mesut with a start? If so, does Welbeck go left, Walcott right and Giroud through the middle? Or will Arsene opt for Welbeck through the middle? Giroud has taken a few knocks lately and with uncertainty surrounding Alexis and whether he’ll be back for Palace, you’d think Le Boss might be a bit more cautious with his team selection.

I think Arsene will field a strong team today. He might rotate slightly with the defence but I’m not sure we’ll see too many attacking changes. He will be mindful of the fact that yet another ‘tough’ fixture will have been eliminated yesterday in the form of Stoke (we’ve been knocked out away from home to them before!), so with Liverpool and United being the main threats for us should we progress, you have to be looking at this competition as a realistic target to win back-to-back. I would love to get us to Wembley again and a win today puts us – in theory – 90 minutes from it. So let’s hope the team treats this opposition with more respect than Man City did, does the business on our own ground, so we can look forward to the draw on Monday night.

Laters.

Leicester: restart that run Arsenal

No time for losing ourselves in a metaphorical cave of melancholy made by a weekend derby defeat, as it’s bottom of the league Leicester who make their way to The Emirates this evening.

It’s a game that you’d say should be the perfect type of match for us to play in such quick succession after seeing the team put on such a dismal display up the road on Saturday. Leicester seem in disarray; bottom of the league and with a manager who probably doesn’t know whether he’s coming, going or strangling.

But this is The Arsenal here. Rarely is life simple and whilst you’d think we should have enough to swat aside Leicester with consummate ease, it would not be too far fetched to see Leicester arrive with a game plan to frustrate us all evening. I’m expecting a deep-lying defensive side looking for a point and with that in mind, the manager has some decisions to make on what he does with his first XI. I’d say particularly when it comes to the attack-minded players.

It would be easy to suggest that some rotation of Giroud, Özil and Welbeck could take place, but with the promise of a campsite of Foxes on the edge of their own box I do wonder if Arsène needs to look at technical ability rather than rotating on physical grounds.

Take Theo, for example. A pacey player who can be a dynamo against a team with a high line. Give Theo plenty of grass to run into and he can punish teams by playing off the shoulders of the last defender. But when the last defender plays so deep that the ‘keeper can act as an auxiliary sweeper, his pace is negated somewhat. To some extent, Welbeck is the same, as there are technically better players in the team than the two England Internationals. That’s why I’d choose Giroud, Özil and Alexis as the key forward players. Behind them, the zip and energy of Rosicky must be considered alongside Santi, whilst Coquelin completes the midfield.

Defensively Arsène could probably afford to shuffle his pack for the first time this season and it not be through enforced changes. Leicester will not have as much going forward and I’d expect a quiet evening, so I’d be tempted to give Gabriel a go. Perhaps even Chambers at right back too, although Bellerin would be a better option in terms of getting forward. I’m not sure who would partner Gabriel, but you’d expect Monreal and Ooooooospina! to keep their places.

The first 15 minutes will effectively dictate the manner of this game. Start like we did against Brighton and Aston Villa and you’d expect it to be a rout. If it gets to halftime and we’ve seen no Arsenal goals, there will be some nerves, but even then you’d expect us to win. It just wouldn’t be a comfortable evening. That’s if Leicester don’t score, of course.

Nigel Pearson will probably want to load his team with a couple of pacey players, so I wonder if Vardy and Judd Schlupp (is that the kids name?) will be used as counter attacking outlets, because they are both quite quick players. I haven’t seen anything of this Krameric chap (again, might need to check that name, because I’m not inclined to bother wasting my data charges on him), but if he’s still acclimatising to the league there will be an element of the unknown that we’ll have to watch out for.

This is an opportunity we can’t afford to miss. I don’t fancy the Spuds getting a win tonight (famous last words, eh?), which means a victory on our own turf effectively renders their NLD win irrelevant, so I’m hoping for two positive results come 10pm tonight. I said it in the aftermath and I’ll reiterate again this morning; we have an opportunity to win five on the bounce in the league and, if we start tonight, then we’ll put ourselves back on track. Get yourself back on that horse and in the saddle n’all that.

But we have to do the business. We have to be professional and we have to win tonight.

Come on you reds.

Derby day: form players need to show up

I know I may be jinxing us all into a horrible afternoon and subsequent evening, should defeat befall The Arsenal this lunchtime, but having looked at the probable line ups today through a couple of sources, this is a Totteringham team that we really should be beating.

We should have already served them up a slice of loser cake earlier in the season, but our stuttery, jittery, first half of the campaign saw us pick up just the one point against a Spud team that didn’t really come for anything other than a point.

But this is on their patch. This is at a ground where one win in six doesn’t really make for great reading. This is a North London Derby. And for all of my posturing and confidence at the beginning of the week, all the usual nerves have crept back into my mind, infiltrating the positivity barriers I have been working hard to erect all week.

I still feel like we have a better team than that lot, with or without Alexis, but the footballing lord works in mysterious ways and we’ve seen many an average Spud team pick up points after points against us.

This game last season I was convinced was going to be fraught with disappointment, yet after Rosicky’s right peg lashed home an early goal, we showed what we have been capable of defensively when there is a settled back four and structure to our defensive unit.

This year, if I’m honest, I’d take a draw right now. Call me defeatist if you like, but with some favourable home and away fixtures coming up for us (in my humble opinion), I fancy us to go on another decent run over the next week and that might just help to propel us into a position where the Top Four Trophy feel eminently more achievable than it did a few months back.

But a win would be massive. A win would give us even more swagger than we’ve been showing. A win gives us bragging rights, but it also puts more daylight between us and them lot up the Seven Sisters Road. If we can overcome the Spuds on a cold Saturday lunchtime, I think we can start looking at third rather than looking back at who’s taking fourth.

The team news is still shrouded in mystery, as Arsène admitted that he’s still not sure about Alexis, having already ruled him out once this week. What a Psychological boost it would be for us if he were fit, as well as a potential blow to our Lilywhite opponents, but if there is any risk to his longer term fitness then manager simply must overrule player. For his own good.

For my part I feel like we have enough without Alexis. With five different scorers last weekend there are five more players who will all be feeling all the more confident. Özil and Walcott in particular, will feel that their combined goal and assist tally will warrant their inclusion from the start. I’m not so sure. In the frenetic pace of a North London Derby you can ill afford players who aren’t going to bust a gut to cover ground and occupy defensive spaces on the park when we don’t have the ball. Walcott may be fast, but he’s not a man who is known for his tracking back and with both he and Özil still returning to fitness, I think it would be a gamble for the manager to play both.

That’s why I think he should give serious consideration to starting Danny Welbeck. There are plenty of people I have conversed with over the last week who have questioned whether Welbeck is fit enough. I understand that, but with a full week of training under his belt and having already demonstrated his incredible engine, I think a front three of Welbeck, Giroud and Walcott might provide us with a little more to trouble a slightly suspect Tottenham defence. Pace either side of hold-up man Giroud is something that we’ve long coveted over the last 18 months, so I would love to see Arsène unleash both players on the counter and see if those Spuddies can handle it.

The midfield battle between Erikson and Coquelin is an intriguing one. Francis has grown more impressive in every game and even last weekend against a poor Villa side, he showed his love of a tackle and strength on the ball. If he can break up the Dane’s creative side in a similar way in which we negated David Silva, I think it will suffocate Kane’s distribution and increase the probability of a clean sheet. That gives us something to build on. There’s no doubt that victory against the Spuds will hinge on keeping those two quiet in my mind.

But we need our form players to show up today. If Santi continues his wonderful purple patch, if Giroud is up for the game, if Özil pulls the strings (should be play), then we can get a result.

Cross everything. Come on The Arsenal!

Villa: Tougher than the pundits think

I was in a good mood at the start of the weekend. I still kinda am, actually, but there’s a few things that have made me ever-so-slightly ‘harrumph’ in the last 24 hours, if I’m honest.

The first was upon listening to the always excellent Arsecast, in which I heard that Antony Taylor will be taking charge of our game today against Villa, the consecutive game this season in which he’s taken charge. Quite why the Premier League has seen fit to punish us with, quite frankly the worst referee in the league by a country mile, is beyond me. But the fact that he made contentious decision after decision last season must surely have led to somebody at Premier League HQ making a note and saying “guys, let’s not pair him up with these two teams again, at least not for next season to let the dust settle.

But no, somebody has a sense of humour in Scudamore’s administration, so let’s expect a few absolute shockers for decisions this lunchtime, eh?

Anyway, that Premier League faux pa aside, there are more than a few warning signs for this Arsenal side entertaining the Villains today at The Emirates. For one thing, we face a Villa side who have had a recent history of upsetting us on our home soil. Ignore the details of how we’ve dominated teams, Villa have rarely come to The Emirates with fear, so I’m not expecting anything different this afternoon. Tough to break down and built upon a foundation of deep-lying defenders with little desire to press on, I’m not expecting an open game and if the game has an initial 20 minutes with no scorers, expect ourselves to have a frustrating afternoon.

Villa’s poor league position belies their defensive solidity. Their issue has been scoring goals all season. But teams always have the opportunity with scabby set pieces, so it will come as no surprise tomorrow if Villa are one up after rid only attack on goal in the first half. Less so if Antony Taylor has given a penalty when it clearly isn’t one…we have been warned…

In terms of our team today, the absence of Alexis will be a loss, but you’d hope that the replacements can more than make up for his effervescence on the pitch. I do hope that Rosicky is given a chance. After his performance against Brighton and his recent displays, I feel like he’s earned it, but he’s not as big a price tag as Özil. That shouldn’t make a difference but we all know it might. Rosicky – to my mind – is better on the left than Özil and it should be a straight shoot-out between Cazorla and Özil for the number ten role and right now, if we’re all honest, Santi wins it hands down right now.

The back four should be fairly standard and I’d be surprised if the same back four that played against Moneychester City weren’t preferred against Villa, so Bellerin should see his right back spot returned to him. It should also mean a return for Monreal and I think that’s the right thing to do. Playing players on form is how football should work, so I’m expecting to see our left-back Spaniard get another game under his belt.

As for Villa, I think we’ll see the usual brute force of Benteke being a handful, but I don’t expect us to be under the kosh, so it will be counter attacking football that will be the soups de jour for Paul Lambert’s men. Carlos Gil looks like he could be a bit of a threat after his wonder-strike against Bournemouth, but if we can maintain our high-tempo start to games like we have over the last few weeks, it should peg back some of their creative players.

I’d love to see a walk in the park against a Villa team who have struggle for goals all season, but this is Arsenal and we all know it’s never that easy, so I’m thinking this might be closer than the pundits would have us believe. For once, I hope their all right and we see a comfortable afternoon of football. We need to carry on the momentum with all of the other teams around us winning yesterday, so three points has to be the order of the day, however hard we are made to work for them.

Come on you reds!

Shocks, Gabriel and a tactical overview of Brighton

Well what a weekend of FA Cup football we have witnessed, eh? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this, with a host of ‘big’ teams crashing out to supposed inferior opposition. And at home too.

Chelski, Spuds and City were all sent packing and the form team and surprise package this season – Southampton – also suffered at the hands of the new South London based Messiah Alan Pardew. With a little help from some Arsenal connections past and present in Sanogo and Chamakh. I’m pleased for Sanogo and if he uses this as a platform to kick on and score plenty of goals for Palace, then it can only be a good thing for us. Maybe, just maybe, that thing that Wenger sees in Yaya that none of us feel like we’ve witnessed to date, will emerge…

All of these upsets and we haven’t even mentioned the fact that the Gabriel Paulista deal is essentially done and dusted. He was pictured waving goodbye to the crowd at Villareal’s home game against Levante and it looks like he was presented with a Yellow Submarine trophy. He’s obviously held in good regards by the fans and one hopes that we’ve got ourselves quite some player who can challenge Kos and Per.

So we find ourselves in spirited moods this morning, but that can only be perpetuated by a victory away to Brighton this afternoon. With so many of the clubs that we would fear falling to the wayside yesterday afternoon, it is important that we don’ fall victim to this extraordinary weekend of cup upsets. Arsene has already fired warning shots in the direction of his team to keep them on their toes and prepared for a battle, to which I think we are almost certainly going to face on the South Coast today, so our players have to be ready and we have to be set up to expose Brighton’s weaknesses.

I suspect that there will be rotation, but it won’t be the kind of rotation that see’s the whole squad being replaced I think, just some of the players who might not have played recently. I think that we might see the return of Szczesny and Chambers to the defensive set up. Nacho Monreal has deserved his starting place and keeping Gibbs out of the side, but I wonder if Arsene will give Gibbs a run out at left back. I’d assume that given Bellerin and The Ox are doubts, that Arsene will possible not risk either, but I think the official site had a picture of Bellerin in training, so he might just start.

Midfield will see the return of Mesut to the team – most likely in place of Santi – and I hope Arsene gives Rosicky a run out too. Although Ramsey has only just come back from injury and needs to play himself back into fitness, so that might force Wenger’s thinking a little bit. He may opt to rotate Coquelin for Flamini, but with the form the youjnger Frenchman’s in, plus the fact that he’s not played a lot of football this season so will hardly be suffering from fatigue, I think he will probably get the nod over the Flamster. Up top we’ll see Giroud and Walcott I’m sure and the question just needs to be asked whether or not Alexis is started. I think Arsene will probably go for our Chilean. He’s not showed any signs of being fatigued and after a week since our last game, will most likely still be fresh.

But if I’m completely honest, I’ve got absolutely no idea how Arsene will set the team up, or who he will use in what position. Which is probably a good thing for our squad rotation purposes. We have options. I’d imagine we’ll have a very strong bench and hopefully that will give the manager – as well as us – some comfort that we have the required firepower to see us into the fifth round. And what an opportunity we’d have of retaining the cup if we do. Sure, there are Manchester United, Liverpool and Stoke still in the competition, plus a West Ham team who look like they’ve really notched up a gear, but I would not fear those teams as much as I’d fear going to Chelski or Moneychester City – despite the win last weekend.

All of this is rather redundant presuming on my part, because we’ll face a Chris Hughton side who will fancy getting some revenge from two years ago. On that day it was an inspired Giroud finish and a Walcott goal that was the difference between the two teams and although we progressed, we were really penned back at times. Brighton’s current league position belies their form. They’ve won four of their last five games and although they established themselves as a passing team under Gus Poyet, they have become a little more direct under Hughton I believe. I haven’t watched much of them, l but it does look as if they set up with a 4-2-3-1 similar to how we play, but whether or not they try to out-pass us is something that I’m pretty confident we won’t see. If Brighton are going to get anything against us they’ll need to move the ball quickly from front to back and probably look to expose any perceived weakness we have – particularly on the right hand side of our defence with either Chambers of Bellerin playing. If I was Hughton I’d be looking at getting my team breaking forward as quickly as possible and putting balls in to our box from the right hand side.

As for us, we need to use our pace on the flanks to expose Brighton’s defensive frailties. When Theo and Mesut were able to link up for that first game against Sunderland in September last year, Theo had chance after chance by playing high and running in between full back and Wes Brown. We need to see that link up again and I think if Ozil is given time on the ball, he’ll find either Walcott or Alexis in space. One just hopes that Brighton don’t sit too deep, because without a lot of grass to run in to, Walcott has often been negated.

Today we simply must take advantage of the shocks from this weekend and get our spot in the hat of balls for the fifth round. It is by far a forgone conclusion, but there is a huge opportunity of winning the most realistic trophy for us this season, so it is imperative that the players take the chance that they will be given by winning this afternoon.

Come on you reds!

Anything’s a bonus today

It’s Sunday, the time of prayer in the Christian world, to which I too am offering up some prayers to the football gods for this afternoons game. I am praying for a win or even a draw, because let’s face it, our chances seem slim giving our history, the form of the champions, our patchy form, plus more news that we’ve lost more players to injury this week. Yet more blows to the team.

Yet despite the injury problems, despite the opportunity to address that by signing somebody in January and despite the bookies and most pundits expecting this to be a routine home win today, the good thing about pre-match run ups to the game are that there is still hope.

I still hope that we will turn up and surprise City. I still hope that we can put in a performance more like the one at home to Stoke rather than the one away to Stoke. And I still have hope that Alexis Sanchez will win the battle of the big stars against Sergio Aguero.

In the reversal of this fixture it was Alexis who put us ahead with a stunning volley that was worthy of winning any match, but as usual our defensive fragility came back to haunt us, conceding from a corner allowing an unmarked Demichelis to nod home. City could have had other goals that day and we rode our luck, but a draw was probably a fair result, so given that the oil whores are on home soil today, I would expect to be punished more than we were at home if we defend like we have done at times this season.

The manager has a decision to make on who plays in goal and, whilst Ospina has done nothing wrong, I just wonder if Arsène will bring Szczesny back into the team today. Wojciech has gone on record before to say that sometimes he needs that bit of competition to push him and improve him. Well Woj, now you’ve had it because you’ve lost your place, so what are you going to do? Arsène might just have that in his mind and he might have used a relatively safe game like Stoke at home to scare Wojciech into thinking he could lose his place into the side. So if he starts today, I fancy him to be quite motivated indeed, so I do.

Defence picks itself I think. Back two because we don’t really have any options, with Monreal still playing instead of the returning Gibbs, plus Chambers on the right hand side rather than Bellerin. Hector has done nothing wrong, but he’s a young and inexperienced player who has struggled at times away from home, so I’d be surprised if he was in the team from the start against City.

Midfield and attack is where it gets interesting, because Arsène does have a choice, so I think he’ll find it tough deciding who starts today. I think Coquelin has done enough to retain his place, but the role of the other two midfielders is a tough one. I suspect he’ll start Cazorla from the beginning in the middle, because he’s been so effective of late, but does he go with Ramsey or Rosicky as his box-to-boxer? Or does The Ox get the nod, with Theo wide right and Alexis wide left? That pace would certainly give City something to think about and if they play a high line against us then you have to hope that we can capitalise if both those two are flanking Giroud up top.

One things for sure, if those two do play, we need to get Santi or Özil on the ball as often as possible. They are the two best passers at the club and if we’re going to go direct with pace, then those two need to be given the ball any time we break down a City attack. Ramsey and The Ox’s passing range is not great at all, but Santi and Mesut could drop the ball on a pin head, so you want to see them giving Alexis or Theo the ball from deep.

We also have the option of hitting Giroud with the ball and, with his ability to be such an effective link up man up top, one suspects that the two wide men need to be as close to him as possible for the big Frenchman to have an effective afternoon.

Whatever side we put out, the odds are stacked against us and with all of the teams around us winning yesterday, I don’t hold out much hope. Defeat today isn’t the end of the world, because all of the other teams that visit the Etihad around us will drop points there, if they haven’t done so already, so it’s a strange situation where I’m looking at this game and thinking a single point would be a bonus.

Keep those fingers crossed and let’s hope for some positive news come 6pm.