No blasé attitude towards Besiktas

Morning/afternoon,

I won’t labour this point too much, but Cesc Fabregas in a Chelski shirt is now 100% reality, after I spent the summer ignoring the fact, hearing that he helped to orchestrate Chelski’s victory at Burnley leaves a sour taste in my mouth. He’s going to be a great player for that lot and it’s going to hurt us to see it. No matter what any Arsenal fan says, it will grind our gears and pull on the emotive heart strings, especially if he keeps his assisting ways at the club.

I don’t want to dwell on that lot though – they are as worthy of attention as a Luis Suarez admission of guilt and promise not to repeat offend – so we look forward to the Champions League and to our tricky encounter this evening against Besiktas.

Arsène has been stressing the importance of this match to the media and, with our place at the top table at stake, it is essential that we get off to a good start tonight. Knockout football in the Champions League is always tough regardless of the opposition. There is a lot of pressure to perform over two legs, but if you fudge the first leg up, it leaves you with a mountain to climb in the second.

Remember when we played Bayern Munich about seven years ago? The first leg was in the Allianz Arena (not sure if it was called that back then) and we went down 3-1. The second leg was helped with a Thierry Henry goal, but we went out on goal difference, despite battering Bayern for the second game. That shows you how important the first leg is. Besiktas know that a win with a two goal margin will mean that they are in the driving seat and can pretty much do what Palace did on Saturday and barely venture outside of their half at The Emirates.

Conversely, a victory in Istanbul tonight, would put Arsenal in a very promising position for the second leg and certainly see us as overwhelming favourites to qualify.

I must admit to being a bit blasé about the qualifying round. Our consecutive successes – and seemingly always at the expense of European teams with good pedigree – has made a simple Arsenal fan like me believe that I’ll be seeing Champions League group stage football in about a months time. But that’s a very dangerous way to think, Christopher, because that kind of thinking ends with a nasty shock if what is expected doesn’t happen. It is not unconceivable that defeat tonight leads to further disappointment next week, but I have to remain positive, because in my superstitious manner that I have I believe that my own power of positive thinking has some bearing on the outcome of tonight’s game.

Thankfully, despite being a tad bit over-expectant, it doesn’t appear as if the players are taking this game lightly. Certainly not if you hear the rhetoric from Le Boss. Sure, we have some injury problems going in to the game, but the squad that is available to the manager should still be good enough to get a result. Rambo has continued his fine form with a goal at the weekend, Chambers and Debuchy have slotted in well enough, and I think we all know that we’ll get more from Sanchez as he becomes fitter.

I don’t know how the manager intends to line up the team, but with Koscienly struggling with a hammy, I suspect Big Per might just replace him in defence. Per and Chambers at the heart of the defence will be interesting. The reason Koscienly dovetails so well with either of them is that Kos is the man with the recovery pace, where as it appears from the initial look of Chambers, he does not have as much pace (even though he makes up for it in his positional play). So how those two might operate – if Kos can’t shake off his injury – will be good to see so early in the season.

They’ll be up against a familiar face in Demba Ba, who has apparently been scoring for fun since his arrival from Chelski, but perhaps more worrying is the pace that he possesses. If he is up against Per and Chambers then it will be essential that he isn’t given plenty of green grass to run in behind tonight. To do that it will mean stifling some of the midfield creativity of another familiar face in Ozyakup, who we sold to Besiktas a couple of years ago and appears to be making a decent fist of a career in Turkey. I am no expect on Turkish football, because that’s where my knowledge of the opposition ends I’m afraid, but I suspect that the least we’ll get from the game tonight is a super-charged team backed by a partisan home crowd. We need to establish ourselves early and ensure that Besiktas’ initial excitement and drive is negated by some good football from the lads.

I suspect we’ll see a midfield that is identical to the weekend, then a front three which will also include Alexis and Santi, but it’s the centre forward position that will be interesting. Sanogo was little more than a footnote on Saturday and it was obvious how much more dangerous we looked when Giroud and The Ox were on the field. So I am hoping that Arsene opts for the more experienced Frenchman. I’d like to see The Ox given the nod ahead of Cazorla – who I thought was poor on Saturday – as it provides that direct running and a bit more pace than the Spaniard. It would also be good to see what Joel Campbell can do in attack and, had there not have been knocks to Gibbs and Jack on Saturday, I wonder if Arsene would have thrown him in then, so maybe we’ll get a look in tonight.

Keep those fingers crossed and hope for a great performance tonight.

See you tomorrow.

The Arsenal matchday begins. I love it

It’s here! It’s finally here! The football fans equivalent of Christmas Day! Opening day of the season!

Yes folks, football is back, the void shall shortly be filled with wonderful wonderful Arsenal. After the FA Cup awesomeness, the World Cup entertainment, the pre season preparation and the belly chuckling smashing of Moneychester City, we have the real stuff. It’s Arsenal vs Crystal Palace at The Emirates.

I’m so excited I could make a high pitch noise that only dogs can here. Are you excited? Yeah, ya are.

I love everything about the first game of the season. I love the build up. I love the meet and greet of old compadre ‘s that you haven’t seen for a quarter of a year. I love the sup of that first pint in your chosen pub of choice. I love the speculation of who will start. I love the frantic refreshing of one’s Twitter account to find out the actual team news. I love the ACTUAL team news. I love the walk to the stadium. The small of hot dogs and smoke. The noises and general hustle and bustle. I love the approach to the stadium as it rises from in betwixt buildings from the distance. I love the gradual filling of the stadium. The nudging and shuffling to get inside our cathedral. We are worshippers without our weekly fix for three months. We need to fuel our addiction and I am desperate to get inside that home of The Arsenal and see our heroes trot out. I love the purchase of that first programme. Reading the captain’s notes (a fresh new one after the departure of Vermaelen) and getting some insight from Le Boss. I love the smell of that new programme as well. A freshly printed piece of history unfolding on this very day. The start of the 2014/15 season.

I love the meeting of my new season ticket partner, who this year will be a lad I used to play football with for the cub scouts, Tom. He’s a sound chap along with his brother chap and I’m pleased I get to reconnect with the guys throughout the season, as they’re almost as mad as me about The Arsenal. Almost.

And I love the beginning of it all. I love the expectation that this will, finally, be our season. Sure, every fan has that feeling right now as I type today’s blog first thing in the morning and slightly hung over, but we genuinely have cause for optimism this season. We have a squad that has, for two summers running, been unblemished in terms of key player departures. We have strengthened in the sharp end of the pitch with the excellent addition of Alexis and we have filled the void left by Sagna with a more than capable replacement in Debuchy. In defence we have the potential of Chambers to get our long-term excitement captured and whilst we are all a little worried about how lightweight we are in terms of the numbers at the back, the very fact that Arsene has openly admitted he’s still looking is music to all of our ears.

In terms of today’s game, the confirmed fitness of Koscienly is a massive relief, as it ensures that the side that lines is strong enough to avoid having any plasters stuck to it, or square pegs in round holes! The back five will essentially be the same as the players that started the Community Shield and that certainly looks strong enough from my perspective to keep Palace at bay. I suspect Arteta will sit at the base of the midfield with Rambo and Jack playing the role as box-to-box runners across the field. It’s an inverted double pivot and worked a treat on Sunday so I’m hoping the same happens today. With Mesut Ozil out of the team it’s a chance for Jack to stake a place in the team and whilst I think Mesut will eventually come in when he’s fully fit, it’s still a good chance to see what an injury free pre-season has done for the lad from near Stevenage.

In attack our front three will almost certainly include Alexis and Cazorla, but surprisingly there still remains a question mark up top with either Sanogo or Giroud the option. Personally, I’d be throwing Giroud in, because he’s the better player and will certainly be full of confidence after his excellent goal against City. However, fitness will be the key and so I wonder if Arsene might make a statement to the older of the Frenchmen by giving Sanogo the nod. Let’s face it, with the pace we have in our team, the need is there for a target man that can hold up the play and bring others in, not necessarily just score the goals. Sanogo might not do the latter, but he’s certainly big and strong enough to do the former.

Conventional wisdom should suggest that Palace are all over the place today. Managerless, rudderless and now seen as an established Premier League team, they are now longer seen as the surprise package in the Premier League. Keith Millen will be under no illusions of the difficulty of the task today, but I still expect Palace to set up the way Pulis would have set them up, difficult to beat and happy to perch on the edge of their box. Jedinak is their defensive midfield talisman and I think he’ll be pulling the back eight together as tightly as possible to deny our midfielders and attackers space. On Sunday Jack was given the freedom of Wembley by the City midfield and defence and I don’t expect he’ll get the same luxury today. So the victory will be down to our we can unpick the lock that will be the Palace defence. One suspects that patience will be the biggest virtue of the day.

If we need it, we have the quality on the bench with The Ox, Rosicky, of perhaps even Joel Campbell to try something different, but I’m hoping that we have a goal in the first half to make sure we have a more comfortable afternoon.

Up the Arsenal. You love it. I love it. We love it. Enjoy it today.

Vermaelen legacy in tact, as we prepare for excitement of new season

Before I delve into the thoughts of what may transpire come 3pm later at Wembley, there’s the small matter of the confirmation that our Captain Thomas Vermaelen, has departed our rainy shores for the sun of Catalonia. Last night Arsenal confirmed his move to Barcelona and Vermaelen was pictured outside the Nou Camp with the obligatory ‘thumbs up’ standing next to the ‘Mes que un club’ sign.

I said as much on Twitter last night, but let’s be honest about this folks, losing this captain doesn’t feel half as bad as losing the last two. Plus, we get the added bonus of all still getting to like him and wish him well on other shores, for this was the best possible scenario for all stakeholders involved in this transfer.

For Vermaelen, he gets an opportunity to get more game time at a big club, where hopefully he’ll be challenging for trophies. It was clear he is at an age where he needed to play (as Arsene said) and he is good enough to be a first team regular. I’m still not sure whether that will still be Barcelona – they’ve just spent a wedge on another centre half from Valcencia, plus they have Pique, so whether he plays all the time I’m not sure – but I think given their likelihood to rotate a bit more than ours, it’s a decent move for him.

It’s a decent move for us fans as well. It’s blatantly obvious that United were sniffing around him and, whilst Vermaelen may still come back in a Champions League encounter to haunt us, at least we know he won’t be on our screens on Match of The Day, or rocking up at The Emirates twice a season (minimum) in the league. We get to give him our blessing and say “thanks for the memories and good luck”.

For the club it is good because they have given themselves enough time to find a replacement, but the fact that they’ve got £15million for a player that hasn’t played much in the last 18 months and has just a year left to run on his contract is an absolutely brilliant piece of business. Arsene can have a root around for a good centre half now to challenge Per and Kos (like he has in Ospina for Szczesny) and with Chambers as another option we can hopefully have a bit more depth in an area that has worried us for most of last season.

Yep, this was good all round, which hopefully is what we feel come 5pm this afternoon when the Community Shield draws to a close.

We all know it’s a friendly and it doesn’t really mean that much in the grand scheme of things, but it would still be nice to get one over on the Petro dollars, wouldn’t it? The papers have tried to spice things up by making comments designed to instigate outrage from Arsenal fans from a certain non-World Cup going football mercenary (who admitted money played a factor in his decision to leave Arsenal in that interview), but having read through the comments myself, it’s hardly a direct kick in our faces, so I’m a little bit ‘meh’ about it all if I’m honest. Nasri gave Arsenal a decent six months and then moved on for more cash and that’s pretty much all I can be bothered to say about that. It doesn’t really matter what anybody states about how Arsenal won’t be the main threat this year, because people said the same thing last year and we proved most people wrong by and large.

The line ups today will be intriguing. Pellegrini has already said that a host of City players (Company, Zabaleta, Sagna, Lampard, Aguero) will be missing today, so it will be interesting to see what a City side that is ravaged by injuries similar to what we’ve had in recent seasons, would look like. With Boyata and Nastastic at the heart of the defence they have some power and a bit of pace, but City aren’t I callable and I hope that we can through a few curveballs their way today.

As for us, Arsene has already given us a warning that the team aren’t 100% ready yet, which is why Olivier Giroud may not get a starting berth up top and in centre half Chambers might be thrown in at the deep end, but given the depth of squad we have this season, I’d still expect a strong line up to give Moneychester Citeh a run for their money. Szczseny in goal behind a back four of Debuchy, Chambers, Koscienly and Gibbs looks solid enough and with Flamini, Arteta and Ramsey all players that haven’t partaken in the World Cup you’d expect two of that three to be fresh enough and fit enough to start. I’d expect to see Santi Cazorla – slight chunkiness from the Emirates Cup aside – to play in the Mesut Özil free role, sitting behind a front three that should include Alexis Sanchez up top I think. Unless of course Arsene opts for a target man in Sanogo and Alexis/Campbell to play just off four-goal Yaya. If Sanogo is as impressive as he was last weekend, we can certainly expect the pace either side of him to profit from his hold up play.

What am I saying?! There isn’t even a place for The Ox?? He could start in the central midfield role or out wide with Alexis moving to centre forward too. He’s looked impressive in pre-season and I think he’s due a good one in 2024/15, so it’s certainly feasible that he’ll get the nod this afternoon. I also haven’t mentioned Rosicky, who Arsene loves and whose energy is always important in dictating the tempo of games.

The very fact that we have so many options, not to mention with the Germans still missing from it as well as Theo we have more options, fills me with so much excitement I want to run screaming with joy down my street in the rain. And I hate the rain.

This afternoon can be shrugged off or used as a confidence booster ahead of Palace next weekend, but whatever the result, I’m starting to get really excited for this season.

Come on you reds!

The ‘punch you in the face’ days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ciao for now.

Nothing can take away the special feeling of the FA Cup

Well, here we are folks, the most significant game of the season and potentially the most significant game since the last major trophy that was won back in 2005. I don’t know about you, but I’m excited and nervous in equal measure.

There’s no getting around it: success or failure today will ultimately define whether this season has been another one that we want to confine to the history books as a ‘yeah, we did the bare minimum, but other than that it hasn’t exactly been an amazing season’ or described as a season where we ended our trophy drought and ensured that we can continue to eat at the top table for another season at least.

We all like those Champions League nights, we all enjoy the fact it enables us to buy the Mesut Ozil’s of the world, but when a day like today comes around, you realise that all of the qualification deciders in the world could not match feeling that I and you probably have in your stomach as you count down the minutes until kick off at 5pm. The devaluing of the FA Cup has been something that has been well spoken of and much column inches dedicated towards, but looking back on football history as a fan and you rarely remember the sniping, but you do remember the feeling when Arsenal won the competition. I remember the elation of coming away from Cardiff in 2003. It may have felt like we’d blown the league and so this was a consolation prize, but it was my first ever cup final and I was exhilarated of the feeling, which I’ve wanted to recapture ever since and so the potential to replicate that feeling today leaves me with butterflies in my stomach the size of my fist.

But what of the game itself? What of our opponents and the way in which they line up? Who will Arsene give the nod to, to bring home the shiny big-eared bacon? How many questions can I fit in to a paragraph??

Firstly, i’ll give you my predicted team news, because I think it will help to also explain how Hull will set up. That’s not to say that Arsene will change his style or selection process based on the opposition, but I just want to find an interesting segue between questions and I think this might work.

In goal I think he’ll opt for Sczcesny. It’s an interesting one because it’s really the first time this season that the goalkeeping position is the hardest position to work out. I think the playing of Fabianski last weekend was telling however, so I expect the younger Pole to start, which is the right thing in my opinion. He is the future, he deserves to be in the team for his performances this season and he is the best goalkeeper at the club.

I think the defence picks itself and so a back four of Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscienly and Gibbs may leave club captain Vermaelen out along with boyhood Gooner Corporal Jenkinson, but as was discussed on last night’s GoonerGirl Podcast which I was fortunate enough to be invited on to, this is an FA Cup final and we simply must play the strongest team available. Unfortunately that means no place for either of those two players. In fact, I think with the returning Vermaelen and potential Oxlade-Chamberlain back in the team, I can’t see Jenks making the bench. After all, Wenger will more likely choose Vermaelen and Monreal as his defensive subs, using the rest of the subs for a ‘keeper and more attack-minded players to call on to the starting line up.

Midfield is where I think there will need to be decisions made and I think the right decision would be to have Arteta and Ramsey sitting just behind the trio of Ozil, Cazorla and Podolski. Hull will no doubt be looking to the likes of Huddlestone and Livermore to screen in front of the back four or three and operate a little bit deeper and, if that is in fact the case, then playing someone like Matthieu Flamini is not appropriate in my opinion. The Flamster is better at screening the back four and taking up defensive duties, but going forward he lacks the craft and ability on the ball that Arteta has a little bit more of. I think it is because Arteta is technically more gifted that he gets the nod more often than Flamini for most games, but in this instance today I think it would be the right call. If Hull are sitting deeper and trying to frustrate at any time, then we need those technically better players to show their creativity to unlock the Tigers’ defence.

The rest of the choices above are based on recent games and performances and I don’t think there will be many Gooners that could argue with that. Perhaps some might say there is a space for Jack in the team, but at the moment I don’t see it and I think the balance of that predicted team – with Giroud up top instead of Sanogo, obviously – works for what we want to achieve – a real trophy instead of a fourth placed invisible one!

As for our opponents, the return of Alan McGregor in-goal will be an important boost for them, because he’s a good ‘keeper that I’ve seen keep them in games on a few occasions this season. He’ll be stood behind a back four that will probably contain Bruce, Davies and McShane with wing backs of Elmohamady and Figueroa. Those two like to get forward and punch balls into the box for Long and Jelavic but, with both cup tied today it will most likely be Aluko and Fryatt that they’ll have to contend with. I can’t pretend to be an expert on Hull’s squad, but I don’t recall there being much pace in that front two so I think Hull will look to exploit the wing backs to get forward as much as possible and get balls into the box to trouble us, rather than balls in behind our central defenders.

The midfield, as I mentioned above, will most likely contain Huddlestone and Livermore sitting with Meyler being asked to push forward and support the front two. Livermore may also provide more of an advanced threat but the key to neutralising Hull may just be to not give Huddlestone too much time on the ball to pick out players.

We should, in theory, have enough to thwart Hull City. We have beaten them twice already this season and apart from an initial fifteen minute opening spell at the KC Stadium, we have pretty much been on top in these games, but we know today will be different. Hull will be running on an adrenaline that we have not seen in previous games and they will know that with our history of implosions there is a possibility of an upset.

I don’t want to talk about any negativity today, so I’m not even going to mention the unthinkable happening come 8pm tonight, so I’m going to end today’s blog with a positive quote that I’ve just Google’d:

When people ask me what my religion is, I say it’s the Arsenal

Marcus du Sautoy

End of season: glorious ‘meh’ness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catch y’all tomorrow.

Newcastle: no first half lethargy please

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up The Arsenal.

No dress rehearsal; getting touch tight to Giroud is essential

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a Happy Easter Sunday (hopefully).

West Ham: Let’s blitz the first 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catch you tomorrow.