Villa: a reaction is essential

Aston Villa is always a funny game. And by funny I mean in no way ‘ha ha’ funny. Rather, I mean peculiar, because despite having a clearly superior team over the last five to ten years (and beyond but I’ve wiped my memory banks of all except the happy memories beyond ten years ago), we’ve found ourselves unstuck quite a few times against the Midlanders both home and away.

So under normal circumstances I’d look at the Villa team and expect us to win comfortably. However, there are rarely ‘normal’ circumstances with The Arsenal, so I recognise that anything could happen come 3pm this afternoon. Indeed, when you look at the form of the two respective teams, it will be Aston Villa fans who will probably be more buoyant than The Arsenal ones. Having smashed and grabbed three points last weekend against Liverpool and having not conceded in their last three games, Villa sit second in the league and will be full of confidence.

What will be interesting about today’s game is how Villa approach the game. With a few wins and momentum under their belt, as well as a home crowd that will be looking for more points and something to cheer about, you could be forgiven for thinking that Villa will come out and attack Arsenal today. However, Villa got their victory against Anfield by defending deep, leaving little space and hitting on the counter. As the home side, they may feel that the onus is on them to press higher up the pitch, which is what I hope happens today because that will play into our hands.

Against Palace and Leicester, Arsenal struggled with a team sitting deeper, so there wasn’t a lot of space for the attacking players to get in behind. That changed with City, who came out and attacked Arsenal more and made for more success for the pointy end of the team, so a higher pressing Villa team will hopefully mean more of the same.

Regardless of how Villa set up, there needs to be a marked contrast in the lethargy of the performance against Dortmund, which is the least we’ll all expect today. Everything was off in Germany, from the passing, to the pressing and the desire too. We looked like rabbits in headlights. I’ll have none of that today please boys.

The selection choices the manager must make today must be questioned. One would expect him to shuffle his pack slightly in midfield certainly, but Arsène will not want to ruin the confidence of someone like Özil, so I still think he’ll play. I also think he’ll carry on with his captain Arteta and Ramsey too. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to see an unchanged team (minus Bellerin for Chambers) from the one in midweek. Personally, I’d rather see The Ox given a chance in the front three along with Sanchez and Welbeck, which would mean a place on the bench for Özil. Jack’s form dictates that he should still start and Rambo has already scored goals this season, so that’s the main change I’d like to see. I’d be surprised to see it happen though. Arsène has been on the Özil defensive this week, which would be at odds with his rhetoric, so I expect he’ll keep his faith in the German.

I really couldn’t call this one today. I’d like to this that Villa will come out and leave space for our pacey front men, but as we saw against Dortmund, that doesn’t mean we’ll change our style and fire more long balls in behind the Villa back four, so if we play our way out from the back when pressed high again, we’ll be in trouble. But I hope that there is a reaction from the players today. I hope they have been wounded from the Champions League defeat and that they’re massively up for it today.

We shall see.

Up the Arsenal!

High pressing to Mesut’s advantage? Dortmund preview

So apparently the footballing gods are testing Arsène’s ‘threadbare’ rule by conspiring to see how many of our defenders can be injured at any one time, before Arsène loses it and tells Stevie Bould to warm up with a green bib ahead of tonight’s trip to Dortmund.

Our first Champions League group stages appear to have coincided with a bout of plague that is ravaging our back line. Symptoms are varied in each case, but the upshot is that we are looking at definite absences of Debuchy and Monreal, whilst Chambers has picked up a knock but should be ok to play. With Arsène having gambled on having only six first team defenders for four positions, it appears as though normal service has been resumed with regards to his gambles falling flat on their faces.

Of course, the reality of the situation the team has tonight is that there is still a strong enough defence to call upon, with Gibbs returning to action and Chambers slotting in at right back. With Szczesny in the sticks behind them, it’s not as if we are short of first team experience, so my apparent serious concern above is a ‘little bit tongue in cheek’. I just hope we don’t pick up any more bumps or bruises this evening, because we can ill afford any more absences as the games come thick and fast.

As for our midfield, one would assume that Arteta will come in for Flamini, with Ramsey and Wilshere once again playing through the middle behind a front three of Özil, Sanchez and Welbeck. The latter two of that three performed well on Saturday, so I’m hoping that the former – a German international with quite some reputation – can draw on some German inspiration in his home nation. Mesut has been shunted wide in recent weeks and, whilst Arsène has been leaping to the defence of his most expensive bit of shopping, there must be part of him that realises that we need to get Özil into the centre as soon as possible. But with Walcott still a few weeks away and Wilshere having Messi’d the game at the weekend, it’s fairly obvious that he will start through the middle.

Our opponents this evening have their own injury worries too, so perhaps it is not just us that has the curse of the footballing gods to agonise over, as a number of first team players won’t be rocking up in yellow come 7.45pm. Reus, Hummels, Sahin, Gundogan and Blaszczykowski are all out, so it’s up to Shinji Kagawa to provide the creativity after returning to Dortmund from United in the summer. I remember seeing him against us the first time we were drawn against Dortmund; he was a handful throughout and one of the better players in both games. The question will be whether or not he has bedded back into his new-old team quickly enough, but I think he’s already scored for Dortmund, so I suspect we’ll see a decent performance from him tonight.

We know what test Dortmund will provide to us tonight, having played them for what feels like every season since their sustained return to the Champions League a few years ago. They will look to press us high and reduce the space we have to conduct our short tiki-taka passing style out from the back. But this is a different Arsenal team now. If you press us high up the pitch, it’s not just Theo Walcott or bust for us, so Dortmund will surely be wary of the lightning counter attack that we possess with Welbeck and Alexis. A high line would be delightful to see from my perspective, but surely that would be suicidal from Dortmund, so something has to give. For if they press high from the front, they will need to push their back four high too. Otherwise the space in between the back four and defence would be far too much.

If that does happen, that the back four of Dortmund sit deeper whilst the front players push higher, Mesut Özil has to be ready and up for it tonight. If he’s allowed to roam in that no-mans land between defence and midfield, it will afford him time rarely granted in the Premier League, so he’ll need to capitalise after a poor display against Moneychester City.

So the good news is that, in theory, we have different options to beat Dortmund, either through the pace against a high line, or the space of Özil and Rambo to operate in between the yellow and black defence and midfield. But one things for sure, however we look to overcome Dortmund, tactics alone won’t see us pick up all three points in the Westfalenstadion. We need good performances from nearly all of our players if we want to overcome the German runners up, which means no passengers like there were on Saturday. If we start well, take confidence from our unbeaten run so far, then catch Dortmund on the counter, I fancy some three pointage come 10pm this evening. The team is starting to gel and hopefully the positives from the weekend can be emphasised.

Come on you reds!

Can we make that final step? City preview

Well Mr Matchday, you certainly took your sweet time to arrive, didn’t you? Keeping me waiting like a disgruntled commuter at a National Rail train station wasn’t my idea of fun, but you’re here now, so let’s not bicker and just get on with the rest of our Saturday, shall we?

It’s an early one for us all today, as the fates have conspired to drag us into the horrific world of early kick offs. Look, I have no real problems with the early starts in terms of the teams ability to be ‘up for it’ (it is ridiculous to assume that our players can’t be up for early kick off games based on the travesties of last season), my issue lies purely with the fact that an early start means getting up earlier on a Saturday which is not something I’m overly enamoured with. There’s also the reduction in hours of pre-match amber nectar supping. I like a beer, but I’m not starting my day at 10am with one, so it leaves me with just about enough time for a solitary pint before heading over to the ground.

All this is just the pre-amble to the main event though, so I suppose I shouldn’t be the archetypal moaning Brit and move swiftly on to our own raison d’être, which starts at 12.45pm UK time.

There’s no doubt this is by far and away the most difficult test that The Arsenal will have faced this season. The visit of Moneychester City represents the first litmus test of whether or not we have learned from our recent poor history against any of the top four clubs of seasons past. Last season saw us fail to pick up wins against City, Chelski, Everton and even the ailing Man United, so a marker of whether or not this team has the capability to challenge the top teams will need to be placed today.

I’ve said before that from a points perspective, you can easily win the league as long as you pick up points against the teams lower down the table, which is true if you think about the maths behind the logic. Home and away wins against teams from 8th position in the league downwards gives you 72 points, which is approaching a decent points tally to have a go at the league. But to get over the line you need to have wins against the bigger players not just for those few extra points, but for the psychological boost that big game victories provide. That’s why today is important. It’s not so much about the points, but about the belief that will be instilled in the team, through taking a scalp like Moneychester City.

Arsène has a litany of options at his disposal to draw upon, which is what also makes this game exciting to blog about this morning, because until those first whispers of the team sheet come in, we have no idea who is in the squad, let alone the starting eleven. I hope Arsène opts for ‘pace, pace, pace’ and we see Welbeck flanked by The Ox and Alexis, but I suspect that Özil or Cazorla might be moved to the left, as I think Arsène wants to include both in his team selection. I’m certainly not in the camp that believes having Özil out wide is conducive to getting the best out of his game, but that appears to be where his temporary home is at the moment, so we’ll all have to accept it. I also seem to be in the minority at the moment regarding Cazorla. I actually don’t believe that the diminutive Spaniard has had the best of starts to the season, flitting in and out of games far too much (an accusation oft levelled at Özil but not his teammate), so I wouldn’t be too worried if the Ox was preferred. I love Santi as a footballer and when he is on song his game is fabulous to watch, but I just feel like he hasn’t hit the form of when he arrived and it’s a shame that we’re not seeing the Santi that we all know can change a match. Perhaps I’m being too harsh.

The midfield also has a plethora of options to choose from, so Arsène’s difficult decisions don’t just stop at the pointy end of the team, as he’ll need to work out who from Ramsey, Arteta, Wilshere, Rosicky and Flamini occupy the two midfield positions if, as expected, both Özil and Cazorla play. I suspect the decision will hinge on how recovered Rambo is from his midweek ankle roll, as I’d think the first two names from that list I’ve just reeled off, will be given priority. It will be another source of irritation for Rosicky, but Arsène isn’t going to drop his captain or last seasons player of the year, so he’ll just have to accept it.

As for our opponents, a Jovetic injury is all I believe they are suffering from, so we know that they will be at almost full strength when they line up against us. Last season they were the free-scoring champions, but I wonder if Pellegrini will be as gung-ho in a match today as his team was at times last season. At The Emirates he needed only a draw realistically to ensure that his team kept on the march to the title. Today’s game is similar in requirements for his team I suspect, i.e. do not lose, so I wonder if he’ll look to try and stay solid defensively whilst catching us on the counter attack.

City will rely on the guile of Silva and Nasri, sure for a spicy reception as always, whilst Dzeko will occupy both Per and Kos at varying times. It’s a team that has threats all over the park, but despite our less than stellar start to the season, I think the openness of today’s game will give our players the chance to express themselves more freely and occupy space that wasn’t afforded to them against Palace or Leicester.

I feel cautiously optimistic about today’s game. Let’s hope it’s not misguided optimism. A win would be a perfect catalyst for a good run against a number of difficult opponents, but I think we have the firepower now to cope with our schedule and demonstrate to the rest of the league that we’re serious title contenders.

Victories against teams like City feels like the final piece in our league title puzzle. That one final step. That’s all we’ve got to overcome.

Come on Arsenal!

Contrast of styles: high pressing against Leicester needed

Welcome to Sunday and Welcome to Matchday. The greatest day of the week.

Today it is the visit to Leicester, where even The Arsenal fans all follow The Arsenal to get to, whether it be land or sea. As a newly promoted side in the early throngs of their Premier League season, they’ll be eager to impress and having already fought back to pick up a draw in the dying embers of the game against Everton on the opening day, the Foxes will be quite eager to prove that the KP stadium is something of a challenge to walk away from with any points.

It will be an interesting game today, as it appears there will be a clash of styles that we’ll see on display from 4pm, what with Leicester already looking like long-ball merchants of Premier Leagues of old. I think it was a tweet from 7AmKickOff that showed the long and short pass completion stats for the whole league and, as expected after only two games Arsenal are at the bottom of the table for long passes, but the top of the tree for short ones. In contrast, Leicester have reversed those figures and stand head and shoulders above every other team.

What that means for us today I can only make an assumption on, which is that our back four will be subjected to it’s first aerial bombardment of the season, so it will be interesting to see how our defenders cope if that is the case. I’m reminded of the last fifteen minutes or so at Swansea last season, when Swansea were chasing an equaliser from us and resorted to an unfamiliar tactic given their style of play since promotion to the league, in which a number of balls were floated into the box to try to put our back four under pressure by weight of numbers and bodies. Thankfully we withstood the onslaught quite well and pick up the points so I’m hoping for the same today.

What I think will be important is Koscienly’s role in sweeping up behind the BFG. If Leicester are playing long balls into the channels in behind Big Per, we know that he won’t have the pace to keep up with any of the Leicester attacking players, so Kos must be alert to make up any ground that Per will lose out on. Conversely, Big Per will be the man to go for aerial duels, so he needs to use all of that slender but massive frame to make sure he’s batting away any potential knock-downs.

In midfield I suspect we’ll see a similar line up to the game against Everton, with Flamini, Wilshere and Ramsey playing through the middle, whilst Özil and the Ox will play on the flanks. Personally, it’s not quite my preferred line up, as I’d like to see Mesut in the middle (heh, sounds like it could be a Sky One comedy series) with Ramsey the box-to-boxer and Flamini sitting deeper. That would mean that Jack unfortunately misses out, which would be a shame after a good performance in midweek, but as Özil said during the week his best position is through the middle and he is our best Number 10.

Up top we’ll see Alexis run his little heart out and I do wonder if his goal in midweek will have put an extra spring in his already well sprung step. We’ll need another good performance from him if we’re going to have a good result against Leicester, but his performance is also reliant on receiving a bit more support from his teammates in not isolating him in attack. At times against Everton it looked like he was so lonely up top he was dropping in to midfield to receive the ball, which left us without any real options up top and was frustrating for us all to watch. When we didn’t have the ball it was also obvious that there was a gap between him and the rest of the team. Alexis has spent a few years in a Barcelona team that presses extremely high up the pitch and you could see him gesturing to his teammates to get forward when Everton had the ball across their own back four. I’d love to see us press higher up the pitch today, because if Leicester do look to play longer passes from back to front, then putting them under pressure earlier will affect their ability to distribute more effectively and force the Leicester defence into making mistakes.

That’s the ideal scenario, anyway, but whether we will do it remains to be seen. As for our opponents, I must confess I know little about them other than a couple of the snippets I’ve read about them being a bit ‘long bally’. They have Dave Nugent who plays up top, but the fact that my iPhone predictive text doesn’t even register his name (preferring to
Call him ‘Dave Juventus’ instead) I hope is a good sign of his success against us today. They also have Peter Schmeichel’s son in goal, so if ever there’s a reason to dislike them any more, this would be it.

I am hoping that we can click into gear today and get our flowing football started. The last four games have been an execution of grind and determination with last minute goals that are no good for any Gooners health. We need a two or three goal cushion with half an hour to play before we can start feeling happy about any performance and whilst I don’t think we’ll get that today, I do hope we can get the first goal and have something to build on, so let’s keep our fingers crossed over that and work from there.

As for the transfer guff about Loic Remy, we’ve got all of tomorrow to panic about the lack of arrivals, so I think I’ll just focus on the football today and give you some thoughts tomorrow.

Up The Arsenal!

Hoping Besiktas aren’t the first roundabout

I don’t know about you, but in the space of the last 24 hours I’ve suddenly become acutely aware that we could be staring down the barrel of a Europa League game, should the worst befall the team tonight. It’s a feeling that, whilst I have felt before with these Champions League qualifiers like the one against Besiktas, I’ve not felt as ill-at-ease in the preamble to the game.

I don’t know whether or not it’s the news that we could be reliant on Sanogo as our target man for the first half of the season as a result of the Giroud injury, or that Alexis will now have even more pressure on him to play that central striker role, but I approach today’s match preview blog with a feeling of slight trepidation.

Perhaps it’s because of the slow start we’ve had. Counting aside the excellent Community Shield victory against the Oil Whores, we’ve stuttered our way to victory over the car crash that is Palace and two draws against Besiktas and Everton. It feels like we haven’t yet got into our stride and, as a result, I kind of wish this game was coming in a couple of weeks time given its importance. Our season right now feels a little like the old red Ford Sierra Sapphire I used to own. On a cold winters morning, once she had got herself on to the dual carriageway between Hertford and Harlow, she was fine. But switch her on first thing and try and drive off without letting her warm up, and she’d cut out on you once you reached the first roundabout, which is what I’m hoping won’t happen to us tonight. Man, I really hope Besiktas aren’t our first roundabout.

Logic should dictate that I’m less worried about this game. After all, when you compare the teams pound for pound, even with our mounting injury problems we should have enough to overcome a Turkish side that didn’t even win their own domestic league. Factor in the age old adage that both Greek and Turkish sides tend to not travel so well, and you and I should not be concerned with worry about ensuring the team does its job tonight.

But this is Arsenal we’re talking about here folks. This is our Arsenal and we all know that we’re perfectly capable of tripping ourselves up against Slaven Bilic’s charges. Heck, we nearly managed it a week ago in Istanbul, to which only Besiktas’ own profligacy afforded us a draw against an inspired Turkish side. Take anything for granted this evening, and my additional cup credits won’t seem as appealing this season (although I will go to every game possible regardless, I hasten to add).

The threat from the Turks will undoubtedly come from their star striker Demba Ba, who I’m sure will want Arsene to rue the day that he didn’t snap up the Senegalese, but aside from that I’m not going to go all YouTube scout on you and pretend that I know the intimate workings of our opposition. Why would I? Turkish football is hardly something I wax lyrical to you on a weekly basis, so rather than try to pull the wool over your eyes, I figure I’ll base my assessment of the opposition on pure guesswork.

And it is guesswork, because I’ll be very surprised if Besiktas are as open and attacking as they were a week ago. Bilic will know that his team has to do a bit of a Palace on us and frustrate, looking to hit on the counter. We were a minute or so away from an opening day draw against a team that had little interest in venturing outside their own half, so a repeat of that performance and the goals scored (minus the absent Ramsey last minuter) would see us out on goal difference.

Goals will be the key to tonight. It’s kind of the most obvious statements one could make, but I use the plural of the word with much emphasis, because if we can grab a couple of goals within the first half without reply then we should have this game sewn up. It should lead to their heads dropping and may mean that we could pick them off as they elect to counter. But as it stands right now, we are in a precarious position. 1-0 to The Arsenal is a horrible score line to have for any prolonged period of time tonight. Especially if we’re entering the final five to 10 minutes of the game. Remember when we played PSV all those years ago? A single goal from them changed the complexion of the tie from a 2-0 comfortable result, to a 2-1 victory but a knock out on the away goals rule. That’s what we want to avoid tonight.

Our team news is slightly concerning, but when you look at the players we have available, we have to be looking at the side and pleased that our injury problems haven’t stretched too far. The back four look solid with Monreal looking good and the possibility of Koscienly coming in for Chambers, whilst Flamini in front of them will add a bit of yellow-cardiness to proceedings, but also that little bit of bite. Jack will play the box-to-box Ramsey role and, with the Welshman out of the side through suspension, I just wonder if that will give him more freedom to express himself. Jack and Rambo are very similar players in my opinion and I have heard some murmurs from friends about how it’s not outside the realms of possibility that it is because of that, that we have not been as fluid when both of them are in the team.

The front four I’d like to see would include Özil, Sanchez, The Ox and Podolski. With Giroud out injured and none of the above able to effectively act as a target man, I’d like us to try and be a bit more fluid with the front three, interchanging who plays at the top and on the flanks throughout the game. If we move around our players and add that mobility to a side sitting deep, it might just pull open some spaces for Özil to work his magic on. But I don’t think Arsène will do that if I’m honest. I suspect we’ll see Cazorla on the left, The Ox on the right and Sanchez up top. There was a bit of talking up Sanogo as that main front man, but going over his limitations and rawness is like treading on already well-worn ground, so I’ll leave that for now.

Jack described tonight’s game as a ‘cup final’. It’s a clichéd expression that often sees football fans roll their eyes because you just can’t play cup finals every week. So whilst I shall resist the temptation to agree with him, stressing that this could be make or break for the season for us when you consider what could be at stake in terms of transfers and confidence, is something that I cannot emphasise enough.

Come on Arsenal. Do the job, do it well, then let’s get that old Sierra back on the dual carriageway. Or something.

Catch you tomorrow.

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.