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.

Stoke preview: time to get back to being flat-track bullies

Blimey am I not a fan of these Sunday 1.30pm kick offs. It’s a ruddy pain in the derrière if I’m completely honest. After all, Sunday’s should be solely for sleeping in and recovering from any said hangover that one might have. Particularly if Arsenal have won from a 3pm kick off on a Saturday. Sleeping and terrible TV. That’s what Sunday’s should be about.

Still, rather than be accused of being ungrateful for what I’ve got, I should be thankful that I get to go in the first place. Which I am. Many cannot, I am privileged to be able to, even though I certainly pay my pretty pennies for it.

Listen to me, moaning away like some sort of grizzled old prospector who hasn’t found a single ounce of the yellow stuff in months. Today is a happy day! Or at least, it is for now as we all prepare for the game this afternoon against the Orcs of Stoke. Should we be victorious in battle (and I’m sure it will be a battle), we will leapfrog the Spuds and be right on the coat tails of Southampton, so perhaps there is cause for optimism rather than grumbliness.

There’s optimism too on the injury front. We’ve got a trio of midfielders returning in the shape of Ramsey, Özil and Flamini and I suspect we’ll see at least one of those players start. I couldn’t be 100% sure who that would be, but if I was forced under duress to pick one, I’d go with Ramsey. He’s the only player who’s position hasn’t seen a colleague step up and perform well in, so with Santi’s and Le Coq’s form being as it is, I expect those two to accompany Rambo in the heart of our team.

The defence should pick itself and, you’d have to think that Szczesny will start. I know there’s been a lot of talk about Ospina, as well as Wojciech’s attitude, but his attitude hasn’t suddenly changed overnight from the Southampton game. He’s always been viewed as a little bit arrogant and so I’d be surprised if Arsene bought Ospina in for today’s match up. If he does play, as The Arseblogger said on his Friday Arsecast, I think there’s more to this smoking story than meets the eye. Players had smoked before, but to be booted out of the team like that would point to something else in my opinion. There will be those of you probably saying now “yes, but he was terrible against Southampton so that might be why he could be dropped” and I understand that line of thinking, but the game before against West Ham he was excellent, so I don’t think Arsène would drop players on the basis of one game. He’ll look at it over a series of games and so far you can hardly say Szczesny has gone all ‘Almunia’ on us, can you?

The front three will be an interesting one to pick. Alexis and Giroud come straight in I think, but who occupies that third space? For me, as much as I’m loving the longer term prospect of Walcott and Alexis’ pace in our front three, I would give The Ox the nod this lunchtime. My thinking here is that the Ox is better with the ball at his feet. He’s a better dribbler and will be able to beat a man. Let’s not pretend that Stoke will come here today and be anything other than very compact and sit deep. They will hope to give us possession in front of them and not allow any space in behind their defence by sitting deep. Theo is a player that is unplayable when there is plenty of grass to run in to, but if teams sit deep, I’ve seen him struggle at times.

Last week against Hull was the perfect game for him because it was a knockout competition. Hull got nothing from sitting back and keeping it to 1-0 and so there was naturally more space for Theo. He got more chances as a result and if he had been back a few weeks earlier and already had a few games under his belt, I think he would have cleaned up. But I can’t see him getting that much joy today.

The Ox can be a little bit wasteful at times, but he is better operating in smaller amounts of space and so that’s who I would pick. The good news is that with so many players returning, we have plenty of options from the bench should the afternoon not go the way we are hoping it will.

This will be a tough game. It always is against that lot. They will rely on Arnautovic and Bojan to hit us on the counter and Mark Hughes will want to see Crouch holding the ball up as much as possible to bring those runners in to play.

If you look at both teams you say this is a home banker. But we are the patchiest form team in the league. Every game this season that I’ve rocked up at home has been a case of shrugged shoulders when somebody asks me over a pre-match pint ‘what’s the score going to be?’. I have no idea. We could win this by three goals (unlikely), or we could labour to a draw, or just as easily get done over by the one shot Stoke have in the entire game. Your guess is as good as mine.

What we do need to start seeing though – like, now – is a string of victories being put together. It’s unlikely to happen in the immediate future, as we have an away trip to Momeychester City next weekend, but that makes the importance of three points, all the more obvious today. Last season we were flat track bullies with every team below see the or eighth in the league. I’ve accepted that we’re never going to win away games against the bigger teams, but if we can get back to home and away wins against the mid and lower league teams like Stoke today, then we should have enough for fourth. But we haven’t done that all season, so our form needs to change, and change soon, if that standard season trophy is achieved once again for the bagillionth time under Arsène Wenger.

That’s yer lot from me today. Come on you reds!

Won’t be pretty, but points are everything now

Happy New Year to you and welcome to 2015.

It’s a tough one to call today. Southampton away has seen us draw twice in the Premier League since they were reintroduced and one suspects that this season will probably have never been harder to beat the Saints on their own turf. Currently sitting fourth in the league and level on points with us, they’ve already managed to pick up a draw to Chelski and smash Everton by three goals to nil, so anybody not thinking we’re in for a tough ride should probably think again.

They may have seen a stint of games in which they dropped points, but they appear to have steadied their ship and will fancy their chances against an Arsenal team who have given opponents plenty of hope on the road this season.

Having already picked up two wins over Christmas though, plus seven wins out of the last nine, we seem to have suddenly stumbled upon some sort of form, so I’m hoping for another victory today to put us in the driving seat for that top four spot. Perhaps surprisingly though, I find myself thinking ‘just don’t lose, a point away will be ok’. Perhaps that’s indicative of how spluttery our season has been, but with our confidence seemingly permanently standing on the edge of a precipice, avoiding defeat seems more important than anything else right now.

Southampton will be missing Schneiderlin after he was sent off against Chelski and he has been a chief catalyst for everything that has been positive about Southampton this season. Hopefully his absence is felt keenly enough from the home side and we can take advantage, but their success this season has been built on multiple players hitting form like Pelle, Ward-Prowse, Clyne et al, so I think we’ll need to stifle a few players to be successful today. Avoiding being overrun in the wide positions will be important, as Southampton like to use the pace of the full backs to quickly support the wide players. Southampton play good football and have enough about them to give us an actual game and not a clobberfest, but I think it’s good that we’ve got our first choice back four fit and ready for today.

In the middle of the park the manager might be tempted to give Coquelin a run out alongside Flamini, but with a team less likely to lump balls up to the target man, I wonder if someone like Rosicky would be more appropriate. He moves the ball quickly from front to back and was excellent against QPR and I suspect he might play today.

Our attacking three will probably be the same as at West Ham, but if Welbeck hasn’t made it fitness wise, then I think Walcott will be thrown in from the start, with Alexis up top and the Ox making up the third man.

This is a time of the year when grinding out results is everything, so I’m not expecting to see anything pretty, probably a bit scary at times, but if we pick up some points, nine of us will care come 5pm.

Come on Arsenal, let’s start 2015 off on the right foot with a win.

Press higher, force West Ham mistakes, win the game

No time for Tom-Foolery, dilly-dallying or contemplation at this time of the year, it’s West Ham away today and a game in which the Hammers would have traditionally been underdogs and we would have expected to turn them over, has become a scary East London trip for Arsène and his team.

The memories of the points so hard-fought from the QPR game will fade quickly with today’s result, if it is the wrong kind of one for us, so we find ourselves not only under extreme pressure, but also facing an in-form side with aspirations of taking our top four trophy.

I have family who are West Ham fans too, so it’s doubly difficult for me today, because I know I’ll be receiving a barrage of sarky texts from my brother if we fail to beat them. My parents always used to hope for a draw at these fixtures, to keep the house from descending into chaos but whilst we both now live far enough apart for this game not to be the catalyst for World War III, modern day connectivity has the potential to make the family New Years Eve gathering a frosty one.

Of course, the simple answer is for Arsenal to just win this one, just like they did to West Ham last festive period. I promise to be magnanimous in victory if we do pick up all of the points. I’d bet you a quid my brother Steve would be less so if the result is reversed.

So how are we going to win this game today? What is the secret key to unlock those precious three points away to West Ham? Well, having watched them play Chelski away, for me it looks like a higher pressing game will be vitally important. Chelski gave West Ham no space on the ball in the middle and final thirds and as a result West Ham were pinned back and generally outdone. It was a poor West Ham performance on the day and I remarked as much to Steve. Of course, there’s no way we’ll see such a poor performance against us, especially given that Alardyci rested their star player and former Gooner Alex Song just for us. Song has been the engine in the West Ham team this season and has been both ball winner and creative influence at times, so I expect him to come in and have the obligatory ‘former player has a blinder against Arsenal’ performance that we’ve always so used to seeing over the years.

If there’s a positive I can take, it’s that it looked like Fat Sam didn’t throw the Chelski game and rest most of his first team for today’s encounter, so the West Ham players should be as tired as our lot. We know that Wenger doesn’t really do rotation except ever slow slightly at this time of the year, but the fact we’ve got more injuries than a battlefield in wartime France as well as a suspension of Giroud to deal with, will almost certainly ensure that most of the 11 that took to the field two days ago will start today.

Monreal has had plenty of game time at centre half, but it’s tended to be at home against lesser opposition, so if there’s any chance Koscienly is fit, he has to start. We need our absolute first choice back four against the inevitable physicality of Carroll and pace of Valencia. Against Chelski Carroll cut a loan figure up top, but if he goes with a similar selection of players I expect Downing and Valencia to play a lot closer to Carroll and to cause us more problems higher up the pitch.

The midfield will be an interesting one. Not least because it is certainly an extreme of styles. The physicality and stature of Song, Kouyate and Noble against the smaller Arsenal midfield of Flamini, Cazorla and Rosicky again pits technicality against more force. If I’m honest it scares me a little because it looks like our midfield is going to be bullied today. I hope it isn’t the case but I’ve seen this story played out far too many times, and rarely does it end well with us.

That’s why higher pressing from the front three is important. We need to be forcing the West Ham players into errors. We need to be pouncing on their mistakes like Chelski did and we need to take our chances. As this is a home game, the onus will be on the Hammers to come at us more, which might lead to a higher line being played by their defence. That will only be a good thing (I hope) because with the pace we go for against the Irons, a higher line will give us chances to catch on the break. The key thing for me, however, is that we move the ball quicker from back to front when we have it. It’s probably why Rosicky should 110% be one of the first names on the team sheet. Not just because he had a great game on Boxing Day, but also because he moves the ball quickly and directly when in possession. If he has another good day, I expect him to create plenty of chances for the forwards against West Ham.

I’m nervous, I’m not confident and I know we’ll have a difficult afternoon, but we can beat West Ham. And if we do, it will be a massive boost for the team.

Come on Arsenal!

Return of double pivot today? Depends on The Ox

It’s been a long week without The Arsenal, but we’ve finally arrived at match day and it’s a trip up to Scouseland for Arsène and whoever is left in the team not currently hovering around the medical centre at London Colney like its some sort of overcrowded NHS A&E. We’ll soon find out if The Ox, Theo and Nacho are on the team bus and in the squad and whilst I think we can afford to be cautious with Theo and Nacho, The Ox simply must play if he’s even remotely fit enough.

We simply don’t have the players in midfield, you see, although I appreciate that technically we do because Coquelin can fit in. But the way that Arsène likes to play, with a stopper (normally Flamini/Arteta), a creative number 10/forward lying midfielder (Santi/Özil) and a box-to-boxer (The Ox/Rambo), having Coquelin would change it up a bit because there would be two more defensive minded players holding that midfield together.

Arsène has tried this before though, which we saw on numerous occasions last season with the famous double pivot of Flamini and Arteta. It worked at times last season, like Napoli at home, but then it failed on occasion too. If Arsène is forced in to it today, it might just work though. With Liverpool sure to play Lambert up top, there will be runners like Sterling and Coutinho who will look to catch our centre halves out with their pace, so having an extra body to screen the back four might help to isolate Lambert and cause the runners to drop deeper looking for the ball.

Of course, Rodgers could continue with Sterling up top and if that is the case then he will certainly look to play off the shoulders of the last man, so if the amount of green grass he gets to run in to today is reduced, then it might negate his threat. One things for sure, we don’t want to be playing a high line, because that’s how we always get done over.

At the sharp end of our team there is a notable difference between last season’s drubbing at Anfield and today’s game. The team that got spanked earlier this year was lacking pace in it with Giroud and Podolski accompanied by Özil and Santi. Liverpool knew this and as a result were able to play a high pressing game which kept us on the back foot as they blew us away in the first 20 minutes. If, as we’re all assuming we play Welbeck, Giroud and Alexis as our front three, we have two willing runners to play off of our big Frenchman. That should mean he won’t cut a lone figure up top. Hopefully it will mean that Liverpool can’t play as higher line against us and therefore we won’t be caught out as often as we were in February.

That’s the theory, anyway, but as we all know you have no idea what Arsenal will do in these games. You wouldn’t look at the two respective teams at the Britannia and expect Stoke to smash us to pieces in a first half, but we had about as much consistency to us as a bowl of custard that day. So I wouldn’t put it past us to wobble in yellow away today too.

I hope not. I hope we can do to Liverpool what they did to us. But I suspect that this afternoon will be a cagey affair and that both teams would probably settle for a point if you offered it to the respective managers right now. A point is no good to us though. We’ve had too many draws this season and given that West Ham seem to be stretching their lead in fourth, we need to keep pace with them because they will start to drop points. We also need to win a ‘big game’ this season. We’ve had only draws or defeats in what I would call a ‘big game’, and we never seem to be able to win away from home against the traditional ‘top four contenders’, so if ever we’re going to break that hoodoo, you’d say an ailing Liverpool team would be the time to do it.

Famous last words, I know.

Fingers crossed. Come on Arsenal!

Newcastle preview: makeshift defence needs protecting, attack needs closeness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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