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.

Blog rising to a crescendo. (And I meant the full stop there for dramatic effect)

Nervous?

I’m nervous. But I guess that comes with the territory when so much season salvation relies on the outcome of one particular football match. It’s crazy actually, because even if we navigate today’s tricky fixture against Wigan, we still have more nail biting to look forward to in the form of a cup final, which we’ve shown we can implode against even the most relegation-foddery of opponents. So to be this way for a semi final seems a little over the top. But it’s because we’re expected to win today that it makes it more nervous. Had Moneychester City steered past Wigan in the last round, we’d be hopeful, but the expectation wouldn’t have been as high and as a result I’m not sure I’d be as nervous as I am typing today’s thoughts out for you.

Still, life could be worse, I mean, I could be rocking a pair of well worn Spliffy jeans like some sort of early nineties throwback. Or I could be made entirely of lead, which really wouldn’t be too conducive to any kind of movement. I’d also probably be an inanimate object incapable of any kind of emotion too, so y’know, swings and roundabouts and all of that jazz.

Anyway, I guess all of this pre-amble is merely an unnecessarily long prologue to today’s blog, mainly because I don’t really have any kind of inkling as to how today will evolve. Well, actually, that’s not quite true: I know exactly how my day will develop up until about 5.05pm, but beyond that I am a mere passenger being carried along the East Australian Current (“The EAC dude”) that Nemo’s dad hitches a ride when he’s trying to find him in that cartoon by Disney that I forget the name it’s called. I am hopeful that I – and by proxy as an Arsenal fan, you – will arrive at our destination (safe passage to the FA Cup Final), but who knows what kind of ensnarement might befall us by the time we get to 8pm this evening (dodgy defending? Own goals? Penalties?).

It’s either rapture or dejection: there are no middle paths to take here people. We’re either cup finalists or we’re bottlers on what feels like a never ending road of purgatorial trophy nothingness that we seem destined to tread. The media will have their way with us regarding of the result, we know that, but all the same we hope it’s the ‘plucky Wigan outdone’ headline rather than the ‘giant killers’ script.

I was never a fan of David anyway. Fluked himself a sweet spot against poor old Goliath in a match up that really should have had only one winner.

Again, the fact I have managed to rinse through a number of paragraphs of prose without actually having to delve into tactical analysis, probably shows my apprehension about today’s game all the more. I’m worried because we’ve got injuries. I’m worried because the spark in the team seems to have gone. I’m worried because I fear the players mental fragility if the worst were to happen. What happens if we go behind? What happens if after the first 15 minutes it becomes clear that we look as leggy as we did last weekend against Everton?

Yet there is a common saying from which I am attempting to draw strength from (if you’ve got to this part of the blog without dismissing me as a ‘Ned the Neg’, and no, you probably haven’t heard that phrase anywhere before because I literally just made it up):

It is always darkest before dawn.

Well, it’s pretty effing pitch black if you listen to most Arsenal podcasts, or read any other Arsenal blogs. There isn’t exactly a majority of the fanbase confidently predicting an Arsenal whitewash, which tells me that most of us are in ‘glass half empty’ mode, that’s for sure. So perhaps, just maybe, today is a time for a redeemer in red and white to appear from amongst the confidence rubble and see us over the line in the season. A hero, a star, a saviour, perhaps even coming from the strangest of sources. A man to throw open the curtains and let glorious and warming sunshine wash over us with goals and a victory.

Step forward Olivier Giroud (didn’t expect me to say that, eh?). He’s looked all kinds of toilet for the last couple of months. Not even a fancy toilet. One of those public ones that’s had the plastic white seat ripped from it, smeared in all kinds of bacteria and pubes that I dare not elaborate on, with four walls that have more ‘Sharpie’ inspired profanities that you can shake a permanent marker at. I have much maligned his inability to deliver on many occasions, but wouldn’t it be so very Arsenal, so very Giroud, to bag a winning goal today? It wouldn’t surprise me at all.

But he’s just one potential match winner. Santi, fresh from the newspaper comments about team mentality, has it in him to Ray Parlour the ball from thirty yards and in similar fashion etch his name further into our hearts. Or Rambo, who’s lung busting efforts coupled with some sound goals this season, have seen him propelled to superstar status in our minds.

Who’s fit? Who’s not? Who are Wigan going to play in their team? How should we approach the game? What will the first fifteen minutes of the game look like? All of these questions are ones that I am disinclined to debate and dissect, because right now I am focusing on one thing and one thing alone; preparing my pipes for an early evening of extreme working out. I am going to go – as my wonderful friend and fellow Suburban Goonerite Ben Leeder says – ‘full tropic thunder’ on the game. But not in a negative way, in a ‘if my levels of craziness can help the team team in any way, they’ll get a whole heap of Crazy-Chris today’ way. I’m up for this. And I haven’t even started the first pint of the day.

Today is, to all intents and purposes, a home game for us. London is our town. It houses our club and we will come together to see our team win. There’s estimated to be around 55,000 Arsenal fans today. That’s 5,000 short of the Emirates so we have to make sure it sounds like an Arsenal game.

Sing loud, sing proud, and sing Arsenal.

I think we’ll be up for this tonight and so will the players

Yesterday I was walking back with Steve having our usual post work chinwag, when something he said struck a chord with me, in relation to how he’d been feeling about Arsenal all week.

Words like ‘tired’ were shuffled around the conversation between us both as we tried to make some sort of footballing premonitions for today’s game, but not used to describe our ailing squads, instead used for the feeling we had when defending – or trying to defend – The Arsenal against rival fans. Perhaps it isn’t only the players that are fatigued with this season? Perhaps we are feeling the emotional strain as much as the players feel their hamstring ones?

This lethargy had me thinking back to Tuesday night and the subdued atmosphere for the game. Even before Swansea’s early lead, the whole place seemed to be in a bit of a funk, which only erupted into life after we scored our quick-fire goals.

If the atmosphere could be called into question then, what will we see tonight, when the players take on league title favourites Moneychester City? Will we see the same lethargy from the fans (I include myself on this criticism as part of the collective) as we saw from the players when there is a big game and a chance to somewhat redeem ourselves as a club in the eyes of the watching media?

I think the Emirates will be rather noisy today, not just because of the added beer time that will have been afforded to us thanks to a late kick off, but because we will want to see a reaction and I think the crowd know they can play a part.

So it’s for that reason – the atmosphere and the ability of the home fans to turn up the decibel levels inside the ground – that I think the players will react too. They’ll hear us roar from the first minute and they’ll want to show that the tiredness can be abated with the benefit of adrenalin. If we can up our games as fans, why can’t the players, against vastly superior opposition?

I’m not going to try to sugar-coat it; our form compared to city’s doesn’t look great and as I said yesterday, nobody seems to fancy us, especially the bookies. But when you look at how the team has played against the big players at home in the league this season, there is cause for optimism, not least in the fact that of the current top seven teams, we’ve conceded one goal in the league at home. I’m sure that record will be tested tonight, but small mercies and all that…

What we will need to do is be better in taking chances. City has tightened up defensively, but they still have their frailties, so if we can capitalise on any mistakes then we simply must. Ollie G, I’m looking at you here kid, time to shake off those treacle-covered boots and show that you can show up in big games. Pretend it’s still the autumn of something.

I think Arsene will opt for a similar line up to the one that played on Tuesday, but I’d think long and hard about adding the end-product of Podolski into the mix, plus throwing in a Gnabry-shaped curveball. We need to try something different and I think the young German would give us that. With those two – both inevitably fresher because they haven’t played in midweek from the start – flanking Giroud up top, my hope would be that we’d see two players more willing to get beyond the Frenchman and therefore give him more options for his little flicks and touches. We all know that Giroud is a lay-off specialist, so let’s put men in and around him and even in front of him when he comes to collect the ball.

In behind that three I’d give the nod to Rosicky, Flamini and Cazorla. Rosicky is the elder statesman of the team and has played a lot of football recently, but Arteta has looked the most leggy of the three and so I’d be inclined to sit Tomas alongside Matthieu. Of course, the challenge might be that Rosicky might want to get forward more than Arteta and against a team with the attacking threat of City it may be more suitable to have two holding midfielders sitting to stifle the play in front of our back four, but Rosicky is that player that knows how to tackle and can inject a little bit more pace in move the ball on quickly from front to back.

As for City, well, where do you even start? Smashing in goals for fun and the Premier League Title in sight, they know that a win today could be vital. Pellegrini can play it down all he likes: if City win tonight I fancy them for the title. I wouldn’t mind seeing City lift the title ahead of Chelski and Liverpool, but I’d rather they win every single game after tonight between now and the end of the season, because the priority is always Arsenal and seeing Arsenal succeed. If we do manage to fashion a win at home, imagine what it will do for the confidence? Points-wise it will probably not mean a lot because Everton are sure to beat a shocking Fulham team, but it would keep breathing distance between us and the toffees and means we could all but seal a Champions League spot with a victory at Goodison, which in turn would put us in a great position to really have a go at the FA Cup the following week. Players would be returning and the place would seem a little rosier than it has these past seven days, so I am extremely hopeful that we’ll see a strong Arsenal performance and a win against a team with the reprehensible Samir Nasri.

Anyway, that’s it from me today, I’m off to find my lucky flat cap which I realised is only lucky when I wear it inside the stadium, rather than at home on my parents sofa like I did last week.

Peace out.

Swansea couldn’t come quick enough – providing we win that is

After the club (or more probable, Arsene) imposed a short exile from media duties, I thought I’d follow suit by laying off The Arsenal for 24 hours or so, which gave me time to reflect and ponder the issues of the weekend. But thankfully, rather than jot down some notes on that debacle at Stamford Bridge, our fixture list has stepped in with a nice warm hug and a cup of Bovril.

It’s Swansea at the Emirates tonight and what better way to expunge the painful memories of Saturday than to look forward to another game within days of that defeat. To me, this result could not be any better positioned, which means I hope the players feel the same and are super-charged this evening. Let’s face it, after the Dickensian style gruel we were served up against Chelski, nothing else other than an arsenal team collecting three points tonight can be considered acceptable.

There simply must be a response. End of.

Some positive bit of news that emanated from the FA yesterday was the dropping of Gibbs’ ban and the refusal to sanction a transferral of the ban to The Ox. It’s handy because we already have a plethora of injured players, so we could do without others being taken out of the first team squad options, so let’s take the small wins as they come eh? I don’t know whether or not the FA just felt a bit sorry for us after the hiding we had, but I’m glad that they came to that decision, because the Ox has been (Chelski aside) one of the stand out players of late. It must have been guilt or feeling sorry for us, because the fact the ball was going wide and therefore common sense dictates no red is irrelevant to the FA. Common sense has no place within their walls.

Also, thankfully, yesterday I managed to get FA Cup semi final tickets. All it took was 40 minutes of having three phones repeatedly redialling and two laptops in the online queue, but there you go, I’ve got what I needed so it’s all gravy. You would have though Arsenal would adopt a British Gas style ‘you are number xx in a queue’ holding sequence, but obviously the purse strings at the club can’t stretch to a bit more cash adding to the buying process.

Anyway, back to tonight, which is a game in which we must win and ‘get back on the horse’. The title is pretty much gone in my book, but we’re back to looking over our shoulders at the Spuds with their win at the weekend, so a victory at home against an inconsistent but still decent Swansea side, will see us be nine clear of them lot with seven games to go. It doesn’t cement a Champions League spot, but it does help our cause.

The shitty news is that Koscienly is out of tonight’s game and ominously Arsene couldn’t give a return date. It’s yet another smash to the ribs for the team at a time where we’re already without a number of key players. The way our season has gone, I’m expecting the football karma gods to furnish us with adamantium infused players that are impervious to injury for the subsequent three or four seasons, such is the luck we’ve had with players missing. I’ll personally be doing the football injury equivalent of an Indian rain dance before Saturday’s showdown with Moneychester City, because we simply can’t afford to have. Kos out for too long. Hectar Bellerin comes into the squad in his place, but one can hardly imagine he’ll get too close to having too much action unless something drastic happens tonight.

Oh God, something ‘drastic’ is going to happen now, isn’t it?

The rest of the team is available and so I’d expect to see Bac, Per and Kieran take to the field with Vermaelen. In midfield I’d imagine we’ll see Flamini, but who will sit alongside him will be interesting. I’d personally go for Rosicky, as he moves the ball back to front quickly and if Arsene flanks The Ox and Gnabry either side of Cazorla, then it adds an element of pace to our team that has been severely lacking of late. It will also give Giroud the option of players willing to run beyond him, rendering him more relevant than his abject last couple of performances. This is the type of game that he has been good at having an impact in this season, so providing his head hasn’t completely gone, I expect him to be up for this too.

Arsene spoke about ‘repairing the damage’ on the official site yesterday, which is exactly what we need to do, regardless of whether or not it puts a sticking plaster on a really big wound. It’s better to have that plaster than a fist full of table salt rubbed into it tonight by a Swansea team that has suffered the effects of a European campaign.

Swansea may have been beaten at the weekend by Everton, but they looked good at times and we know that they will cause us problems, playing the possession game and looking to set the effective Bony up with chances. If we play to our potential, maintaining the ‘bullies’ tag that has been attributed to us for beating most of the teams below sixth this season, I think we’ll get the result. But if we give cause for optimism against a capable Swansea side, they’ll hit us with the same counter-attacking style that saw them walk away with a 2-0 win at The Emirates two seasons ago.

Like I said at the start of this blog, mercifully this game has come so quickly after the West London debacle, but it will only be ‘merciful’ if we show no mercy to Swansea tonight.

Speak tomorrow, when we’re hopefully all a bit happier, maybe.

Mega early pre-match Chelski thoughts

Morning ladies and gents, I have decided to be massively premature in my blogulation this morning and hit you up with a mega early pre-match blog, that’s just how I roll.

It’s also because Ben has something special planned for the next couple of days and so I’ll leave the floor open to him tomorrow and on Saturday and give you some super pre-match thoughts. Well, the ‘thoughts’ aren’t so much super, it’s more the timing, but you knew that already, so I’ll just crack on then…

This weekend may be Arsene’s 1000th and quite an occasion, but nobody should be under any illusion on what exactly it means for our season in terms of the domestic league, because I truly believe that this weekend will set the course for the remainder of our Premier League season. A defeat closes all doors to the title in my opinion. We’d still have a game in hand over Chelski, but seven points adrift with just eight games to go is too much to expect – especially when you look at their run in. When you also consider that Moneychester City have so many games in hand – two of which they will most likely win and be on similar points to Chelski, I doubt we can expect to see too many teams around us that will all be dropping that many points.

A draw will keep us four points behind with a game in hand, which keeps us in the mix but again the thought process is similar to Liverpool and Moneychester City – I don’t think all of those teams will drop that many points. However, a victory, well, that puts us into ‘we all believe’ territory as it will take us a point behind Mourhino’s lot, with a midweek game against Swansea which could give us an opportunity to go top before we play City, which then becomes a clash in which a victory at home puts us in pole position.

I’m not going to sugar-coat this: I’m a bag of nerves at the moment. I’ve even got a bit of a dull ache in my stomach writing this blog, a full two days before the match even takes place, so lord knows what I’ll feel like come Saturday lunchtime.

If only we were at home, I’d be feeling a little (not a lot mind) more confident about getting the result. Wenger should have banished the Mourhino demons at The Emirates in December, but we came up against a ‘park the bus’ Mourhino and Giroud just wasn’t firing that day. It’s that flipping record that puts me off more than anything else. Never having lost a league game on home soil is quite impressive and, whilst I admit it has to happen at some time, there’s no doubt that the odds are not stacked in our favour for Saturday.

The only plus point is that we’ve had a full week off to recover from the defensive display against the Spuds. That game has now been put to bed and in the cold light of day we all have to admit that Chelski are a big step up from that lot, so if they get similar chances on Saturday we know they’ll take them. Also, the fact we’ve had a full weeks rest didn’t really stop us from putting in dire performances against Stoke or Liverpool, so I’m not going to be making any assumptions that we have any advantage on that front.

Obviously the down side to such an early preview blog is that I have no idea who will be selected and who is available from injury, but I’ll have a stab at it anyway, because I’m normally wrong even when I know who is in the squad! I suspect the back five will remain in tact and, after the performance on Sunday I think Arteta, Rosicky, Santi and The Ox will play, but against big strong defenders like Terry and Cahill, Olivier Giroud is going to be meat and drink, so I hope Arsene goes for pace in support of him by giving the Ox a run out on the wing and perhaps even Rosicky on the other side. That would probably leave room for Flamini to come in and with the Chelski danger men operating behind Eto’o, I think that added coverage is the right option. Of course, Podolski would drop to the bench and be a player I’d be looking to give twenty minutes to towards the end of the game depending on the result.

As for the Chavs, they’ve got the impressive Willian out suspended, along with the divey Ramirez, but it doesn’t really weaken them too much, as they’ll have Matic sitting in front of their back four and probably give a run out to the irritating Mikel, who loves getting away with snidey fouls against us and I’d expect the same treatment on Saturday. The real danger for us will be the attacking prowess of Hazard, Oscar, Schurrle and an Eto’o who seems to have suddenly picked up his striking boots, which is bloody annoying. Keeping those four at bag will be a massively challenge and without wanting to sound too pessimistic, I can’t see it happening.

If that is the case and our defensive walls are breached, then we need to counter by less profligacy in front of goal. The Ox needs to bury his chances, Giroud needs to be more active and a handful for the back two and Rosicky and Santi need to retain the ball and feed the attackers well. We can do it, of course, but this is by far the most pressurised league game we’ve had this season.

I’ll be wearing my lucky flat cap, so let’s hope I can make it three wins in a row with it on my head.

Catch you all on the other side.

An open letter to the football gods on derby day

Dear footballing karma gods,

I am a good boy. I work hard, pay my taxes and generally try to build enough good karma in my life to make sure that it is a happy one. Yesterday whilst I was out walking I even picked up some litter in my town centre. It was a Robinson’s Fruit Shoot and somebody could have tripped on it.

Yesterday you saw fit to grant myself a small mercy in the watching of Chelski lose to Aston Villa and for that alone I was grateful, but you even thought you would deliver a couple of red cards to Chelski players too, which will ensure that both Willian and Ramirez won’t take to the field next weekend when we play them at Stamford Bridge. Thank you for that. Also, thanks to you for ensuring that Moneychester City’s best central defender won’t be playing against us in two weeks time as he serves the final game of a three match suspension, having been sent off against Hull. Again, I thank you and appreciate that you couldn’t go as far as having Hull win against the oil whores, I understand and appreciate that.

But today is a new day, a special day, a day in which I am beseeching you to grant me all of your cosmic karma powers and help to deliver Arsenal three points. I know that a lot of getting those points will be down to the eleven players on the pitch that play in red and white today, but if you can see fit to grant us any kind of luck on an important day in our season, I will express my gratitude by personally and publicly thanking you and for repenting any of my sins and curse words I have sent in your direction over the last seven months or so. I know I have cursed your hand of fate dealing us injury blow after injury blow, but if you seek to re-address the balance this afternoon I will happily ‘call it quits’ with you. How does that sound?

I’m sure Arsene will do everything in his power to set up a team that is capable of beating our nearest (geographical) rivals today, to make your job a little bit easier, so I expect to see the back five of Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscienly and probably Monreal at the back. In midfield I think Arsene will go with a more defensively minded two of Arteta and Flamini and the three just sitting behind Giroud will probably consist of The Ox, Santi and Poldi. You might have seen The Ox against Bayern during the week; he was superb and at times looked unplayable. What am I talking about? Of course you saw the game in midweek, because you saw fit to take Mesut Ozil away from us for the next month or so. But I’m not angry, I’m not upset, I just hope that you can see it in your heart to give us three points today.

Three points this afternoon will give us Gooners hope. If we get it, it will mean we’re four points behind Chelski with a game in hand and level on points with Moneychester City (although they have a game in hand over us), with them still needing to come to the Emirates in two weeks time. We can speak about that on another day, because I’m probably going to be sacrificing a goat or some similar hillside creature to you around that time as well. Is that what this afternoon’s fixture needs? Do you need me to sacrifice some sort of creature in order to appease you? I’d love to, in fact I have a suggestion in the form of Mike Dean who is reffing the game today, but a) I’m not really the ‘killing’ kind, and b) it would probably end up with the game being called off. Ritual human slaughter isn’t my thing I’m afraid. I will wear my newly found lucky piece of clothing for the duration of the game, in the form of the flat cap I’ve had for about five years but never taken to the football. I wore it against Everton and it seemed to work its magic, so I’m prepared to wear it again today – inside my own house and look like a bit of a wally – if The Arsenal get three points today.

The Spuds are an unpredictable lot, your footballing karma godliness, you know. They have been awful of late and some of their new manager’s (he’s a Gooner don’t you know, so actually, if you think about it, he’s in a win-win situation from his side, so you can deliver us a victory without fear of making him as sad as he was last weekend against Chelski) team selections at times have been puzzling. That makes me even more nervous though, because I fear the unknown and we don’t know what sort of Tottenham team will step out on to the field today. Whoever does play, I know they’ll be massively up for it, so if you could grant us a bit of early luck for which the Arsenal players could capitalise on, i’d be forever in your debt.

Finally, before I bid you my goodbye, I’d just like to point out that we haven’t won at White Hart Lane since 2007 and so by granting us our first win in seven years, you’d be throwing one of those curveballs you so love to deliver. Like you did yesterday when you made Mourhino look sad.

Yours faithfully and sincerely

Chris.

P.S. Come on you reds.

This ones a freebie in my eyes

Hopefully I can approach today’s match preview blog in a slightly different manner to that of my online Gooner counterparts when I say:

We’ve already won tonight.

The victory may not be tangible, it may not see us into the quarter finals of the Champions League, but after the whole world and most of Goonerdom has written the team off, anything else other than a 6-0 thrashing will be a moral victory of sorts I believe. Nobody expects us to turn over a two goal deficit against a Bayern Munich team who appear to have found a glitch in the game, a quick FIFA style cheat if you will, that has seen them absolutely rip apart the German league like it was the Scottish Premier. So if defeat does indeed hit us tonight, then the whole world will just shrug and say ‘move along’ as if it would be expected. If it happens, hopefully the Arsenal players will be able to do the same, because there are still a plethora of massive games in the coming weeks that they can make amends for any cup exit tonight.

There’s no doubt the FA Cup victory at the weekend has also totted up some goodwill points amongst Arsenal fans as well. Exit at the weekend, followed by defeat over two legs and exit tonight, would have left us all in a pretty gloomy place. But knowing that silverware is still in our grasp whatever the consequences of defeat tonight should be used as an instant confidence adrenalin shot should we drop out to the reigning European Champions.

So I’m approaching today’s game as a ‘freebie’. The damage was done at the Emirates with a sending off that really shouldn’t have happened and as a fickle football fan, I’m using that ‘get-out’ to shrug off any exit. We were shafted by referees again dontcha know?

As for the team, there was some good news and some bad news delivered by Le Boss yesterday. I’d have loved him to have delivered it in that fashion, asking the assembled hacks which one they wanted first, but the upshot was that whilst Koscienly is fighting fit again, Gibbs unfortunately has succumbed to an ankle injury. Again, in the spirit of my nonchalant nature towards this game, I offer a simple ‘meh’, but where the ‘meh’ becomes an ‘oh no’ is whether or not he makes it back for Sunday’s trip to Spudland. We will need a fully fledged left back available for the trip to ‘them’ and with Nacho still not close to fitness, I’m going to be doing all kinds of voodoo shizzle in the hope that he can make it at the weekend.

The question for tonight remains which of the current square pegs has the most rounded edges for Arsene to pick at left back? Does he opt for left footed Vermaelen, who clearly has more experience than putting Jenkinson at right back and telling the versatile Sagna to give it a go at left back? Last season Jenkinson played in the Munich game I believe and he performed well. Given Vermaelen is clearly a bit rusty and has shown he’s uncomfortable at left back, it’s hardly a ‘no-brainer’ to put him in, although if we do need a bit more experience and strength in defending set pieces and corners, you’d think his role in the team could come in handy.

It’s a dilemma that is Arsene’s to ponder, but, I guess that is why he’s paid the VERY big bucks.

The rest of the team will probably line up as a full strength unit. With the Spuds playing Benfica on Thursday, I’d be surprised if Tim ‘the Gooner’ Sherwood didn’t pick his strongest team, which means that Arsene could probably do the same knowing they’ll be just as fatigued at the weekend as our players are. So I’d expect to see a midfield of Flamini, Arteta and Özil, with Cazorla, Giroud and the Ox taking the attacking and flanked positions. Perhaps he’ll opt for Gnabry as that unknown factor and a player who’ll want to show what he’s made of in the attacking positions, but I think the form of the Ox and Cazorla carried over from Saturday warrants their inclusion.

If some sort of miracle is to be achieved, we’ll need to see another performance where there are four or five options for man-of-the-match tonight. Against arguably the best team in the world, you wouldn’t have thought it would happen, but stranger things have.

As for Bayern, well, take your pick from the array of world class talent they have. Ribery is now fit to play and so I’d expect he’ll get a start, so with Robben on the other flank, Guardiola just needs to decide who in midfield should play out of Garcia, Goetze, Kroos, Muller, Alcantara, etc, etc, the list goes on…suffice to say he’s spoilt for choices!

Anyway, wherever you are, however you watch the game, try to enjoy it. It’s why we want to be in competitions like this and not lining up against FC Dnieghausgdindbavxgskakxbsjskdb of Haifbrhskxnslsndi like them other lot along the Seven Sisters Road.

Catch y’all tomorrow.

Everton: Counter the width from the Toffees, then use right balance in attack to win

Having started the day at 3.30am this morning with a trip to Southend airport to drop the parentals off for their trip to Portugal, there is a very real risk that come the end of the match today at around 2.30pm i’ll have peaked and to coin an Arseneism, be a ‘little bit jaded’, so I hope that a) the Arsenal players fair better than that today, and b) that those that are selected give me something to be pleased about so that I can snooze soundly on my Metropolitan line train home this afternoon.

Everton will be a tough game. We all know that. They were certainly the most expansive opponents we’ve played at The Emirates this season – and I include the Champions League ties in that too (Dortmund were pegged back and sucker punched us earlier in the season and the red card to Szczesny effectively ended any competition against Bayern) – and they will go into this game thinking that they have a really good chance of pipping us to a semi-final showdown against Man City, who I am convinced the winners of today’s tie will face. At least, Everton have picked up plenty of draws at the Emirates in recent past and whilst their record for victories is not great, their ability to give us a good game has always remained constant. If you look at the last six games against Everton in all competitions and there has been three wins for Arsenal and three draws home and away, each of them being by a one goal margin, then looking at the games at The Emirates we’ve seen similar results, with three draws and three wins, only one of which has been by more than a one goal margin.

So history surely precludes that this afternoon’s game against the Toffees will most likely be won by a goal margin, or a draw which for an Everton team who find themselves nine points from fourth, will probably be looking at the FA Cup as their chance for glory rather than sneaking in to one of the top four spots. They will set up to be solid defensively, but they’ll use the flair players of Pienaar and Mirallas to support the man mountain that is Lukaku, who has always been a thorn in our side even if he hasn’t always been on the scoresheet. He got an outing against Everton last weekend and scored from the bench and with Traore injured he will surely be given the nod to start today. The Everton strength from the wings will also be something to pay close attention to. With two very good full backs in Baines and Coleman who like to get forward and support the attacking wide midfielders, Martinez will be encouraging those players to stretch our full backs as much as possible.

It is for that reason that I hope Arsene opts for Gibbs and Sagna as his starting full backs, along with players who can track back and provide support for overlapping Everton full backs. In the last round against their Mersey rivals, I thought Poldi did a really good job in doing that role and supporting Monreal, as did The Ox on the wide right position, so I hope both players start. Yes, I know Podolski was poor – bordering on anonymous – against Stoke, but few players came out of that game with any credit and we can hardly drop the whole team, can we?

I have no problem with Fabianski starting in goal and continuing his cup place, but in central defence I hope Kos passes his fitness test and plays. It may frustrate Vermaelen, but with someone like Lukaku likely to occupy both defenders, you want the one with the best positional sense plus the best recovery pace, to be there ready in case he shrugs off one with his physical presence and power.

Midfield simply must see Flamini in the heart of the engine room and with jack now confirmed to be out, I’d like to see Rosicky pulling the strings, with Ozil sat in front of them and just behind the striker. I think those three players all add something different (defensive stability and bite; quick movement of the ball from front to back; ability to pick a pass and create opportunities for others) to the side and I think it is the strongest possible line up we could muster at the moment. Up top will be a mystery. Go for Giroud and hope he shrugs off his current funk? Or plump for the unproven kid who put himself about a bit against Skyrtel and Agger a few weeks back. Despite his obvious failings, he does like the comforts of home (on the football pitch anyway!) and is clearly our best player in that position at the moment. If he does play, he’ll need those players in and around him making those runs for his little flicks and hold up play and with Poldi able to ‘shoot on site’ and The Ox with that bit of trickery to get beyond defenders, I think that quartet including Ozil would have the right balance to it to give us the best chance of progression.

Will Arsene do that however? That’s the $64,000 question I guess. I don’t know why he wouldn’t go for his strongest team, because shooting from the halfway line hoping for a glorious three-point finish for a win is always more risky than taking the slam-dunk for two points and a draw, so if I was the man at the helm I’d be looking at throwing everything at today’s game and seeing who’s feeling freshest during the week.

This to me represents our biggest chance of silverware this season and for that reason it simply must be approached in the best possible manner, with the best possible team, to try to get the job done first time. Everton could afford a replay and they would happily take their chances back at Goodison Park too, so I don’t want to see us start tentative, I want to see us quick off the block and getting the ball to the most form creative player at the moment: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Come on Arsenal, I want to get to Wembley. Twice. And win the FA Cup. Any chance of that?

Stoke; The return of ‘The Feeling’ is welcome

Happy Saturday to you, my fellow Gooners. I don’t know about you, but its first thing in the morning (had to drop the Management off at the airport – working in Dubai for a week :-( ) and I’m starting this blog with a little bit of apprehension ahead of today’s game. Don’t get me wrong, I think we can win it and I hope that we will, but I have ‘the feeling’ back. I remember it well. It was the ‘feeling’ I got when we were fighting for the league against United in the first half of Arsene’s reign. It was the nervousness and apprehension ahead of every single match leading up to the last ten or 11 games in a season, knowing that we were still in the race for the title and knowing that we have our own destiny in our hands. Silverware is still most certainly in our sights.

We do have our own destiny in our own hands. If we win all remaining eleven games we will be Champions. That’s a fact. That we have a host of extremely difficult matches in order to do that, as well as the probability that we will unlikely actually be able to win all of those games, still doesn’t detract from the pure cold, hard, facts that we are masters of our own destiny.

But it starts with today’s game against Stoke. Lose or draw today and not only is it more than likely not going to be in our hands any more, but with the run of games we have coming up thereafter, it won’t exactly have Gooners shouting that ‘I believe’ from rooftops, will it? The margins when you get to this stage of the season are so fine that, if you’re going to lift that Premier League trophy at the end, you really do need to take advantage of every opportunity. Today is an opportunity to keep the pressure up on an away ground in which we’ve won once in six attempts. Stoke – aka The land of Mordor, birthplace of Orcs and Goblins – represent a very real and very difficult threat to our assault on the league. They have already dispatched United (admittedly less of a feat these days), as well as picked up draws against Chelski and Moneychester City and have always been difficult to beat. Indeed, the bookies reflect that in their assessment of the odds. Arsenal are of course seen as favorites, but I’d expect slightly shorter odds from a team that sit just three points off the relegation spaces, so clearly history has played its part in the thinking of the bookmakers.

Will history play a part in today’s game? It’s hard to tell actually. The local Stoke regional rag has certainly been doing its level best to try to mask the deficiencies of this current Stoke sides form this season. Nobody likes a Tony Pulis, but it’s hard to imagine that he would have a well-drilled Stoke side in the same position they currently occupy under Hughes. The need and requirement of the locals in Orcsville was for a more expansive style of football, which they have, but it looks at times as though that has been at the expense of what is at the core of this team – built up over a number of years – and I wonder if that straying away from what they know i.e. longer-balls, target men receiving and relying on set pieces, has been a cause for them not picking up as many points as they probably would have imagined. History too seems to have played its part in trying to rile up both Stoke and Arsenal fans, with Stoke chairman Peter Noakes talking yet again about the Ramsey incident, as well as a quite ludicrous article from Danny Higginbotham about how Arsenal have ‘no character’. I am pretty sure Arsene isn’t the type to stick up a copy of articles in the dressing room before the game, but I hope comments like that filter through to the Arsenal team, because we have character and we’ve shown it on numerous occasions this season.

Anyway, regardless of that, there’s a job that The Arsenal need to do today and if the team plays to its full potential, then we should be able to pick up the three points. The team have had a week to prepare and recharge their batteries in preparation for today’s game, so there can be no excuses on ‘tired legs’ and we have to see a pumped Arsenal team. I think we will. There might be questions about who plays at left back, but the rest of the defence should remain relatively settled. In midfield I wonder if Arsene will offer to reinforce the two anchored midfield roles with Flamini and Arteta, with a three sitting in front of them of Cazorla, Ozil and I hope Rosicky. If you read my pieces regularly, you might have come across my Rosicky ‘love-in’ during the week, so I’m advocating that we thrust our ‘Little Mozart’ into the front line and see if he can’t make music in amongst the snarling Stokies. Up top I’d expect a Giroud hopefully buoyed by his two goals against Sundrland, as well as a full week in which to recharge.

For Stoke they’ll most likely welcome back German clobbermeister Robert Huth, as well as Ireland and Etherington, but thankfully we’re spared that bloke Assaidi, who loves a wonder goal. I hate wonder goals scored against us. Not least because they get replayed in adds again and again, so I hope there is nobody in the Stoke team that pops up with one of those today.

Anyway, I shall be watching the game from a pub in Ware with my fingers crossed hoping that we don’t have to go through hell and back to collect the points we need to stay level with Chelski who, let’s face it, won’t drop points against a terrible Fulham team.

Catch y’all tomorrow.

Preparing Arsenal for The Orcs – A-Team style

Being the sneaky little devil that he his, Arsene and the club decided to curveball everyone by hosting his presser yesterday which, in actual fact, is great for fans, as we get more information about the impending trip to the fires of Mount Doom and which soldiers will be available.

In fact, I had a different theory yesterday on Twitter, as I believe Arsene had hired the A-Team to weaponise the Arsenal team bus in double-quick time. Of course, we all know about Arsene’s need to control everything at Arsenal, so I think that he needed the press conference early because he was rushing off to make sure Hannibal was instructing BA and Face to affix the turrets in the right position. I dread to think of the bickering that would have taken place between the leader of the Arsenal Team and the leader of the A-Team.

Anyway, what’s more important than the merging of two of my favourite things as a kid is the news on the team for this weekend and, as suspected it might be a little scary at left back if both Gibbs and Monreal are out. Only at Arsenal, eh? Only we can have adequate cover and still have our players injured! But having watched the press conference yesterday I suspect that Monreal is the most likely to return and he’ll face a late fitness test to see whether he’s available for tomorrow at 3pm. Let’s hope he’s bathing in horse placenta right now.

The good news is that we have Mesut Özil returning fresh from a 10 day break and I am hopeful that it has done him the power of good and we see the Özil that performed so well against United. I think we will because after that Liverpool game I saw a determination in him following some pretty unnecessary chastising from the press and some sections of the fanbase. Much like after the stinging Anfield defeat, I think Özil will be eager to put his penalty miss demons to bed with a stand out performance and what better way to do it than by weaving in and out of stripy goblins that only come up to your chest, like Charlie Adam.

Thomas Vermaelen will also come back into the squad for the weekend and his return gives us the defensive buffer that we need to ensure the squad can compete on multiple fronts. He’ll almost certainly be off in the summer I suspect, but whilst he’s still here he’s making all the right noises about being committed to the team and when he’s come in to the first eleven he’s always performed quite well. But when you have a Koscienly/Mertesacker axis like we have, he’s always going to play second fiddle and he knows it. He might start at left back tomorrow if we have no other options, but I’ll save my speculation for Saturday’s blog piece.

I thought Arsene’s reaction to the questioning about the time off he gave his players was interesting. He seemed incredulous that he was being quizzed as to why he should or shouldn’t be allowed to give some time off for his players, whilst hitting the journo in question with an icy stare, but as much as I like to give the gutter-press a barracking, I think he may have interpreted the tone slightly. From what I saw, I think the question was born out of interest as to whether the players were feeling fatigued after a run of some very tough matches. Yet I think Arsene took it as a questioning of him and his training/scheduling methods. I don’t think it was. Having said that, I actually think it was the perfect thing to do after a couple of tough weeks. We’ve had a full week without The Arsenal and the players had a week until the next game, so if that allows them to relax, unwind and be fully fresh and ready to take on The Orcs, then I’m all for it. I don’t want to see leggy performances like Southampton away in the first half, I want to see performances like the first half against Sunderland for the weekend just gone.

So hopefully the team is fully patched up, because no sour they’ll be some bruising after this weekend, before we play Everton at home in the cup.

That’s it from me today. Catch y’all with a match preview tomorrow.