Gritty three points

I don’t know why, but yesterday’s game with Crystal Palace felt like a really big result, in the context of our Premier League season.

There were many people I spoke to during the week who were pretty convinced that we were going to go to Selhurst Park and sweep aside a Palace side who have had a wee bit of resurgence under Alan Pardew, but who have stuttered ever-so-slightly in the immediate past, but I never really believed that the game would be anything other than a challenging 95 minutes (although where the referee worked out those five minutes of injury time was a bit of a mystery to me).

Last season when we played Palace it was anything but plain sailing, but so it was that the home team with their partisan home support, were able to influence the game much more than many would have predicted. Under Pardew you can see that they try to press hard and fast and at times we made it difficult for ourselves with some slack passing of our own, but you can always tell the difference between the top sides and those that languish further down towards the foot of the table. Crystal Palace may not be relegation fodder at this moment in time – nor it must be said do I think they will be come May – but you could tell there was a distinct lack of cutting edge in their forward line.

Pardew is no mug and knew exactly how he could potentially get some joy against our team, targeting Monreal with Zaha’s pace in the first half and looking to get Gayle isolated against Chambers too. In the second half Chambers was run ragged by Bolasie on our right hand side and it was on that side that Palace were able to get the goal they scored in injury time, plus the Murray header off the ball with seconds to go. But again, the fact we were able to take our chances and Palace weren’t able to make the most of the 22 attempts they have, perhaps shows why we are fighting at the top of the league. We have the players to make the difference.

That’s what Welbeck did in forcing the Palace full back to make a challenge on six minutes that led to the penalty we scored. And no Ray Houghton, no Robbie Savage, despite your clear desperation to find fault in decisions given to Arsenal, it was on the line and so is a penalty. Calm down and perhaps stick to playing golf in your retirement from the game.

That cutting edge in the final third means everything, and it was that with which we capitalised through the second goal, a fine through ball from Özil (I think) finding Welbeck and his shot fell kindly to Giroud to tap home. The Frenchman is developing a lovely habit of being in the right place at the right time and is doing it on a fabulously consistent basis at the moment. Long may his form continue.

Long may our overall form continue too, actually, because we’re stringing together a number of wins that are building some real momentum. With United losing, plus Southampton and Liverpool playing each other today, we find ourselves in third and with a run of matches in the league in which you would expect us to pick plenty of points up from. Victory against Everton next Sunday, followed by an away success to QPR during the midweek after that game, will see us firmly secure a good footing on which to build success in our season. Success for Arsenal would be a trophy and securing Champions League football. We still have a lot to do to get that trophy (I don’t fancy United away I have to say. They will be pants, but they’ve made it an art how they can perpetually skank us in every competition), but if we pick up 12 points from the next four games, I’d wager we’d be halfway there to achieving the Champions League objective.

We’re looking good at the moment. We’re grinding out games when we need to, like today, but we’re also adding the occasional bit of swagger to some of our performances. That’s the Arsenal that we want to see.

Now, bring on Monaco…

Santi the quarterback dominates Boro

Arsenal are a funny old team, eh? After labouring in the North London Derby, then huffing and puffing against a Leicester team with bodies behind the ball, they faced a confident Middlesbrough team and simply swotted them aside yesterday.

I have to hold my hands up and admit I didn’t see that coming. I assumed – wrongly it seems – that we would be in for more of the same as the Leicester game. I thought Boro would be organised, hard to break down and we’d have to scrap right until the last minute.

That it was the score line that flattered to deceive the North Easterners, should tell anybody who didn’t watch the game just how comfortable an afternoon we had. Indeed, it felt like if we really wanted to, I mean really wanted to, we could have won that game by about five or six, something Dave had assured me would happen yesterday before a ball was even kicked. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to his narrative; the Blackburn blip a few seasons ago aside, we don’t tend to get beaten in the FA Cup at home, especially to lower league opposition.

You could tell how in control we were within the first five minutes. The tone of the game was set when Santi drifted into acres of space at least three times in the first five. He had yet another exemplary performance in the ‘quarterback’ role sitting deep and picking passes, but Boro’ simply didn’t pick him up at all at times, which set the tone for the day. Karanka said afterwards that he thought his team perhaps underestimated how difficult repeating the feat of the Etihad was, but I think yesterday’s canter was as much down to Middlesbrough not performing, as it was Arsenal playing superb.

We were superb too. I could reel off the names of players who had good games yesterday and it would just look like I’m writing down a team sheet. Gibbs at left back was great. I noted to my colleague Tom yesterday (up in the gods of the Clock End for a different perspective does give you a better vantage point of tactical set up) that Gibbs was playing very wide – almost hugging the touchline – and it gave our players the ability to stretch the pitch a bit more than when Nacho plays. Monreal is worthy of his starting berth at the moment, so I don’t begrudge him that, but Gibbs playing counter-balances our tendency to be a little narrow when Özil is playing on that side and when Alexis drifts as he likes to do. There was a few occasions yesterday when Gibbs was waving his arms about with a heck of a lot of space and perhaps it was telling that it was his run that was key in the first goal. Santi (natch) found him with a delightful pick out and his ball to the near post was perfect for Giroud to steer under Meijas.

So next to Giroud, who bagged both goals and was the quickest to spot the freedom of the penalty box on a corner to double the advantage just a few minutes later, this time picked out by Alexis from the corner. It was quick-witted and clever but Karanka won’t be too happy about the marking for the second goal.

Giroud has been superb since returning from injury. I haven’t looked up the goals tally for him for this season, but if he doesn’t surpass his season’s best at this rate, I’d be surprised. And let’s not forget that’s including the fact he’s missed a few months due to a broken leg. He’s looking every bit the quality centre forward we need and this season has added big-game goals to his repertoire.

But it wasn’t just the Santi, Gibbs and Giroud show, because a number of players had good games. Take Mesut Özil for example, having scored and assisted in every one of his games since coming back from injury (I think – don’t quote me on that!), he showed once again that he’s coming back into force as one of the stars of the team. His movement, ability to retain the ball and link up play was wizardry at times, to which you can only watch and applaud. He was outshone in midfield by the little Spaniard yesterday, but his performance was still sparkling and yet another good game under his belt will have done his confidence the power of good, important as we enter the business end of the season.

A good solid debut was had by Gabriel alongside Koscienly, who won nearly every header all day, and coupled with Chambers looking decent at right back and Flamini marshalling the midfield, we didn’t give Middlesbrough a sniff until the dying embers of the game.

Arsène can be rightly happy this morning. He’s seen us navigate a potentially tricky tie against a team at the top of the Championship, with a quarter final now awaiting, most likely at Anfield or Old Trafford knowing our luck. I don’t see it being anything else other than that. There’ll be a couple of heated up balls in the pot tonight to make sure it happens. Mark my words.

But who cares? We can go to Anfield or Old Trafford and get a result. We are The Arsenal and with the way those two sides have played this season, even one of those toughest fixtures in the competition, we’ll have to do it eventually against one of those teams.

All eyes now turn toward preparation against Crystal Palace. They may be licking their wounds after an FA Cup exit to Liverpool, but by the time the game on Saturday comes around, I’d expect them to be fired up for us and I think we’re going to have a really tough afternoon in South London. More on that as the game draws near.

For now, I’m going to bask in the glory of victory, dreaming of another FA Cup final in the sunshine.

Taking pleasure from victory, if not performance

Regardless of the 95 odd minutes that ensued last night, if you can’t enjoy the fact that three points were secured and the team got back to winning ways with a win against Leicester, then you need to have a think about taking up something new to fill the void where football once was in your life. I’d suggest something a little safer on the old nerves. Maybe join a sewing club or something. Because despite all of the tension and frustration in a laboured performance against the basement boys of the Premier League, three points saw us leapfrog both the Spuds and United, albeit temporarily until they play Burnley at home tonight.

Seeing that Liverpool had beaten that lot down the road was a wonderful end to the evening for me, because in my mind, it effectively cancels out the North London Derby. As Winston Wolf would say…

“Like it never happened…”

I thought the ebb and flow of the game was effectively decided by the one goal that Leicester got in the second half. Up until that point we looked pretty comfortable. 2-0 up thanks to goals from Koscienly and Walcott, as the second half wore on, so too did the expectancy that we would get a third and put the game to bed. But the third never actually materialised. Instead, it was replaced by a Leicester goal that you could see visibly gave the Arsenal players the jitters. Yes Cambiasso handballed in the build up to the corner that led to the Krameric goal, but the passage of play when the goal was scored was entirely avoidable. We had ample chance to push out and even when the shot came in, Ospina would probably have expected the save one at his near post, but the goal gave Leicester hope.

Up until then, they had been content to play with a bank of about seven defenders in a line across their 18 yard box and hope that they can counter as Arsenal pushed forward for a third, which of course is exactly what we were doing. But with Walcott and Özil as the wide players, we were always going to look to play narrow and centrally and the net effect was that we often found ourselves running into blue shirted traffic for large parts of the game. Perhaps we have to give credit to under-fire Nigel Pearson, because he anticipated what Arsenal would look to do and countered it with three big centre halves who were more than happy to act as clobbermeisters against Alexis & co.

Of course Mike Jones had no intention of being anything other than his incompetent self. Robert Huth alone got away with three fouls in the first half where no warning was even offered. Mark Schwarzer was allowed to take as much time on goal kicks as he wanted, whilst both full backs for the foxes saw the leeway they were being given and decided that wild swings at both Bellerin and Özil in the first half were a good option, as Jones had no intention of punishing them. Even a late booking for Giroud for having the ball whacked at him from Schwarzer was baffling in the extreme. I tweeted last night that the ineptitude was positively Antony Taylorian in its magnitude of errors, yet I’d expect even Taylor would have been left scratching his head at the Giroud caution. Maybe.

Personally, I think Mike Riley needs to sweep the board clean and start again with referees, because this is becoming a weekly occurrence. And not just for Arsenal games.

From an individual perspective, I thought we again had a few concerns, not least defensively. Ospina – so calm and assured since grabbing his opportunity to start – seemed a bit flappy last night. He made a mini hash of a cross in the first half and got a touch of the Fabianski’s about him when rushing out to punch a couple of balls in during the second half. With an FA Cup game coming up at the weekend Wojciech will probably be wondering if there is a chink of light for him at the end of this benchy-looking tunnel, because for the first time Ospina looked a little rattled.

Bellerin too, might be looking over his shoulder at Chambers, because his performance looked a little bit ropey. Hey, the kids 19 so will always have inconsistencies, but with Chambers I’m sure chomping at the bit to get back in the team, this weekend could prove an opportunity for him. Bellerin seemed to be caught out of position a number of times yesterday and after Bentaleb had put in the winning goal at the weekend from his right hand side, I wonder if we’re starting to see a bit of confidence dropping?

Monreal had another good game though. He’s stringing quite a run together.

In midfield we again failed to be as dominant as we have been and Coquelin was ok, but didn’t seem his usual feisty self. He’s been snapping into tackles since coming back from Charlton on loan, but I didn’t see so much of that yesterday, but perhaps (hopefully) it’s just an ‘off game’ that he – as well as a few players – had yesterday.

Walcott got his goal, which was a tidy finish, but by and large he was very quiet and I keep thinking back to a conversation that Arseblog had with Tim Stillman about Walcott’s overall contribution to the team a few weeks ago. Theo now has four goals in four games and whilst that is fantastic to see, it doesn’t tell the full story of his performances. Yes, he offers more than Podolski who was just all end product and little more, but we are now at the stage where we’re asking “is that enough?”. I’m not so sure any more. Competition is dictating that players have to fight tooth and nail to keep their place. Just look at Nacho or Santi. Or look at another busy performance from the ever green Tomas Rosicky. He was busy all over the park, keeping the ball ticking over and trying to up the tempo all the time. But Theo had patches where he was very quiet. And then weren’t just small patches, they we five to 10 minute windows. With Welbeck sure to return to fuller fitness this week, you wonder if he might not be a more attractive option for Arsène.

Of course the slightly worrying parts of the evening, were injuries to Ramsey and a slight knock to Alexis, who came off for Giroud. The former looks like he’s set for another spell on the sidelines, which is a shame, but the latter we all have to pray will be ok. Thankfully we have 11 days until the next league game and I suspect Arsène will rest Alexis on Sunday when Middlesborough come to town.

There’s just one more player I wanted to mention before I toddle off for the day, which is Mesut Özil, who I thought was one of our better players on the pitch. With a deep and compact Leicester team determined not to give Arsenal any space in their defensive third, the need for a player who can see that threaded ‘eye of a needle’ pass was important and there were a few examples – particularly in the first half – where he demonstrated the value he adds against teams like that. It was his shot that led to Theo’s goal and he forced Schwarzer into a couple of good saves. At a time when many in the media question his overall contribution and value to a team, it’s important for us fans who watch the same team each week, to recognise a good display when we see one. He may have been a little less effective in the first half, but so was everyone in the team, as the mindset clearly shifted from racking up a cricket score to protecting a lead.

All in all, we’ve won the first of an absolutely crucial series of games over the next month. I remain convinced that the other teams around us will drop points, so if we can win games in all competitions between now and mid March, I think we’ll find ourselves a few points clear of our rivals and chasing down a cup (or two).

Laters.

Spuds: we were the dope on a rope

I don’t really feel like writing today’s blog. I’m almost doing it this Sunday morning, purely out of habit rather than desire, because I feel like just forgetting yesterday’s match even happened.

The second that Harry Kane second goal went in, I got up from the heavily weighted Spud pub that I was in, walked out the door and headed home. We hadn’t played well enough all day to deserve anything from the game and I knew that it would be another defeat against that ‘orrible lot away from home, our recent record against them on their patch continuing to be a poor one.

So I walked home, made a few Tweets, sent a few Whatsapp messages to some Gooner mates, then dropped my phone off next to my bed, with the intention of not looking at my phone for the following 24 hours. Thankfully I have to go up two flights of stairs to get to my phone, so I didn’t have to worry too much about hearing or seeing it flash with new messages.

That’s what defeat in a North London Derby does to us though. It cuts us deep. It cuts deep because let’s face it, when you look at the two sides there’s no way we should have been losing to that lot up the road. Yes they’re in form, yes they have a good home record, but they’ve been scanning themselves late goals and victories against the run of play many times this season, so I genuinely look at their team and think that we should have enough to win or at least draw against them.

But the one thing that I always think about that lot compared to ours – and I have done over the years – is that they always seem to be more up for these games than us. When we win against the Spuds, it’s usually because our clearly better players have just played better, they’ve just played how they should play. The Spuds will have given their all, but they won’t have had sufficient quality to overcome us, so we pick up three points and move on. But I always see that they have put the effort in.

I don’t feel like you get that with The Arsenal team in this kind of game. It feels like we’re the kid on the playground who is clearly the best player in the school (or one of the best), so he doesn’t feel like he needs to try as hard.

The start of the game couldn’t have gone more perfect though. The Spuds pressed, we held them at arms length, Ospina made a good save or two, then we hit them with the old ‘rope-a-dope’ with a fine finish from Özil after a Giroud mishit. Good stuff fellas. Now, hold on to that lead but build on it.

And in the first half we did. In fact, until Kane popped up at the back post to hit home the equaliser (not sure who was marking him to be honest), we looked like we were playing our City tactic of sitting deep and letting the opposition have the ball.

The only problem with that though, was that we were not performing anywhere near the same level as we did against City, as the stats (which I haven’t looked at and probably won’t) will show. We have the ball away too cheaply in midfield and there were countless times where at City, we used the counter to relieve our defence but yesterday, we just allowed them to come back at us time and time again.

So perhaps it was inevitable that Spurs would score in the last five minutes. It was certainly preventable. Bellerin giving Rose all the time in the world to cross, Kane to jump and beat both centre halves, it was a catalogue of poor defending at the end of a game of very poor performances.

If players weren’t poor, they were anonymous, so Santi showed. Özil got a fine goal but then disappeared. Welbeck contributed to the first goal with a great run, but then spent most of the game giving the ball away. Coquelin was also quiet too I felt. Over the last half a dozen games you know he’s out there, because he’s winning tackles and distributing, but I didn’t hear him very often yesterday. Ramsey too, had a poor game, but not as poor as some of the others in the team I felt, despite what many on Twitter seem to think.

The only players who seem to have come out of yesterday with any credit were Monreal and Ospina. That says a lot about the performance.

Perhaps we scored too early? We certainly tried to replicate the ‘score first and hold what we have’ mentality. But you have to have players step up. You have to have players with enough desire to win the game and yesterday it just didn’t feel like it was there.

Now, here’s the good news, because nobody wants me to piss them off even more on a Sunday: we have an opportunity for an instant repostè. On Tuesday we play Leicester at home and the Spuds play Liverpool away. If Liverpool win, or even draw, then we need to win to recapture the points difference we’ve had over them lot. Also, as the BT Sport morons pointed out in commentary, nine of the remaining teams that we play for the rest of the season are in the bottom half of the table. The Spuds have to play Southampton and United away, City at home, Everton away. We have Chelski and Liverpool at home and United away and crucially, have played two home games less than them. We have any opportunity to instantly recapture our form by winning against Leicester, Middlesborough in the cup, Monaco at home and Crystal Palace away. If we pick up maximum points, then we’ll be back on track. But we need to not let yesterday’s game get to the team.

Forget about it boys and girls, and let’s hope the players do too.

Form throughout the squad will serve us well

Don’t really know what I was worried about yesterday. Perhaps I’d read too much into the various pre-game tactical analysis about Villa, coupled it with the reappearance of the worst ref in the league Antony Taylor, then rebooted a few old memories of past discrepancies against our Midland opponents yesterday.

I probably should have looked more closely at the stat which said that Villa hadn’t scored for something like five Premier League games, then worked my confidence up from there, because yesterday was a rampant Arsenal that were in control from start to finish.

It is funny though, because when you’re there and you aren’t influenced by the chatter of pundits or fellow fans on Twitter and other social networking sites, you do tend to be a bit more nervous inside the ground. At halftime the talk should have been about us going on a finishing this game off, but inside the ground my peers and I found nothing but worry that we were going to get sucker-punched. Let’s not forget that our only defeat at home since we last lost to Villa was a sucker-punch from a pretty average United side, so we have recent memories of how it can happen.

But my natural sense of pessimism which has been forged in recent times as an Arsenal fan, also impedes my ability to see the world’s easiest accumulator contributor, because with the form we’re exhibiting at the moment we were always going to win this. Oh hindsight, you can be such a valuable ally.

It only took us eight minutes to get on the scoresheet and when Ollie G flicked the ball over Guzan for the first, it was thankfully the start of things to come rather than the end of all that was good. Everyone seemed up for it yesterday. Mesut Özil was in sparkling form (the flick for the first goal will have had Cristiano smiling, remembering the ‘good old times’ had he been watching, I’m sure) but he was joined by Santi too, who showed once again how undroppable he is right now. Those twinkle toes of his are something to behold and Villa just couldn’t handle him yesterday.

But it wasn’t just Cazorla they couldn’t handle. Giroud won most of his aerial duels, was composure personified with his goal and showed why he is first choice at the top of our formation. He’s been brilliant since returning from injury and suspension and the very fact that we see few online keyboard warriors bemoaning his existence, shows how well he is playing, so long may he keep it up.

Theo and Rambo may have had moments in which they looked rusty, but they both still impacted the game with the former scoring a well taken side-footer to make the game safe at 3-0, whilst the former worked tirelessly and showed that even when some of the stuff that makes him amazing didn’t come off, his work-rate and attitude helps him to come through well.

I haven’t even mentioned Coquelin yet who, with the kind of display that looked like he’d been a first team regular for the last three years, broke up Villa play perfectly and formed the perfect anchor weight for the rest of the creative players to build on. As Nigel behind me noted, he’s got ‘legs on him’ which whilst sounds like the world’s most redundant statement, anybody who watches football and knows it’s lingo will understand what it means. His anticipation is superb and he loves a tackle. In England, the sort of floor-sliding, ball-winnery will always get the fans cheering your name and Francis has become as undroppable as Santi in my opinion now.

But the good news doesn’t stop with the attack and midfield. Defensively we looked like we could have held our goal untouched for days. I don’t know whether that’s because Villa have no real cut and thrust about them, or whether we are just too good at the back right now. That’s four clean sheets in five now I believe and with new signing Gabriel and Calum Chambers able to spot in should the worst occur, we also have options at the back for rotation.

Yes, you read that right: we have options at the back.

We have options everywhere, actually, because let’s not forget that Monreal is keeping Kieren Gibbs out of the side at the moment. Nobody would have seen that coming this time last year, would they? He, like many in the team at the moment, is in form and keeping his place on merit. Much like Bellerin. Given his age and his rawness when he first started appearing in the first team this season, it was natural to assume the Chambers would take the right back spot, but Hector had another fine display and one that will have the manager wondering who will be his first choice right back next season if he maintains this trajectory. He even chipped in with a composed side foot planter right into the bottom corner in injury time.

I’ve started, so I’ll finish with the praise in the team, so step forward David Oooooossssspina! I don’t know if you can see it on the TV, but after we were awarded the penalty on Chuba, I happened to look down the pitch at the defenders. Ospina was out of his goal and talking to Monreal, Per and Kos and looking authoritative and organised. He did that all day. He marshalled his defenders, then when called into action, caught balls into the box, claimed crosses and made a couple of very smart saves. Again, there on merit and whilst I’ve always been a fan of Szczesny, I just can’t see how he’s going to get back into this team right now.

The arrival of Gabriel, coupled with the form of so many players, is making this current moment in the season an enjoyable one. We still need to win more games and next weekend’s North London Derby will be crucial, but our squad depth at the moment looks frighteningly good. No Alexis, Welbeck, Ox, Debuchy, Wilshere or Arteta, yet we still smashed an admittedly ailing Villa team to pieces. People in the media keep asking Arsène how he is going to fit in all of these players into his team! I remember four years ago we were bemoaning the leeching effect of the deadwood in the team, but now we look like we could field two sides, such is the strength of the side Arsène has built.

Hopefully this bodes well for the remainder of the season. We are putting together the sort of run that we had last season at the start of 2013/14, so it ‘feels’ to me like we are ready to really cement our Champions League credentials. The games will start coming thick and fast after Saturday’s game, so rotating a big squad will be essential and having players in the squad that are in form, is the sort of thing that you see from sides that win trophies.

We still have a long way to go, but we’re playing the right way at the moment. We’re winning, with swagger. Let’s have that next weekend please, boys.

Rosicky masters (sort of) safe passage to round five

After a weekend of some surprising Premier League bloody noses, when I sat down to watch The Arsenal take on Brighton, the one thing that really settles the nerves is a nice and tasty early goal.

So when Calum Chambers found Walcott in a bit of space inside the box after a minute and a half, it was like the perfect start that we could all hope for, drilling the ball beyond Stockdale and starting us along the right path to victory.

You could tell – early goal aside – that we were up for it in Brighton yesterday. Arsène had shuffled his deck a little bit and was using the cup as an opportunity for some of the players that hadn’t played recently to force their way into his thinking for a starting place next weekend against Villa. Recalls of Szczesny, Gibbs, Chambers, Flamini, Özil, Walcott and Rosicky meant that there was a freshness and desire in the team to show that they deserved to be playing more regularly. And it showed.

We dominated the first half and when Özil was found by the reverse pass of Rosicky, he slid the ball home to double our advantage, which was the least we deserved. Brighton didn’t know how to deal with the movement. Our midfield snuffed out any venture forward that Albion tried to muster and our defence looked completely in control. Well, for the first half, anyway. It seemed like a) we had taken note of the surprises from yesterday, and b) we were building on the success of last weekend’s confidence-boosting win against Moneychester City.

Despite the fact that we’ve had blips like Liverpool and Southampton, the last six weeks have seen Arsenal win plenty of football matches, so much so that it actually feels like we’re starting to compile a bit of momentum. Probably just as well, because our stuttering season could have gone on forever if we didn’t start showing signs of winning back-to-back games. I’ve criticised the manager a few times on this blog this season, but he has spoken of injuries before, saying that when players are back fit we’d see a different Arsenal team. Well, you can’t argue that with all of the players coming back from injury, we’re not seeing a different Arsenal. Not only are we looking more impressive, but the fact Le Boss was able to rotate most of his team yesterday and we still performed well enough to win, are good signs for The Arsenal.

But – with Arsenal there’s always a ‘but’ – we rarely make life easy for ourselves and despite cruising the first half and looking dangerous going forward, at the back the second half performance was a ropey as I feel after going for a run after knocking back a bottle of Sailor Jerry the night before.

We know we haven’t got the best defence in the world, but you can tell how fragile we look sometimes when the back four are changed around. Able to minimise any threat in the first half, and by and large in the second, you’d have to question concentration levels of a side that concedes two goals from a lower league team that only has two shots on target all afternoon. The first goal was a combination of individual errors, from the Rosicky lump in the air inside the box, to the Chambers appealing for a non-existent free kick and then Koscienly not closing down the oncoming shot from O’Grady. Similarly too, the way in which we were cut open for the second goal was slightly concerning. Monreal may be much maligned by some Arsenal fans as a centre half, but it was Koscienly stepping forward and not tracking Baldock’s run that was the biggest mistake of the move.

All this served to add more unnecessary nerves to the early evening’s proceedings, but we saw the game out and in knockout competition that’s all you really need, because nobody cares about how you played when you’re still able to have your name in the hat for the next round.

And with that in mind, how about I accentuate the positives from yesterday, rather than the negatives? Like the Little Mozart himself Tomas Rosicky who, without a shadow of a doubt was the man of the match, topping off his display with a wonder volley from the edge of the box. He was at the centre of everything good we did yesterday and Arsène was right to praise him in such a way. He may be 34 years old but the way he scampers across the pitch makes him look like a twenty something to me. His ball for Özil’s goal was a touch of reverse-pass class and after a display like that, the midfield starting line up feels almost impossible to to choose today. At half time I mused to myself that if Rosicky and Özil were told to play piggy-in-the-middle with you, it would probably be the worst game for you ever, because you’d never touch the ball for hours. His reverse touches and ‘look-away’s when passing on a couple of occasions were class personified and the most hilarious thing of all was Phil Neville’s ludicrous comments that somebody should have ‘two-footed’ the Czech midfielder. People talk about footballers being role models and an example for kids to look up to, but that is exactly the sort of comments that kids will have watched and he should probably be reprimanded. He won’t though. He’s in the media and we know that they look after their own.

But hey, he’s a moron, we’re into the next round and that’s all that matters. See you tomorrow.

Thoughts on City from Benjy

Every time Thierry Henry pauses for dramatic effect. An angels heart skips a beat and one of those Lad accounts on twitter dies. I spent the early part of Sunday afternoon hanging off every word of what the delicious Frenchman had to say. It reminded me of having an new colleague at work. They have a fresh mind; they see things in a different light. Simple things that get over-looked get pointed out. Generally because you haven’t been tainted by the fog of expectation. Or Neil, who fucking continually does stupid things. Do one Neil.

The discussion pre-game was the typical narrative. Arsenal don’t defend, Arsène is tactically naive etc, etc. Insert your preference of choice reader. It does feel like media outlets prepare flash cards that they can quickly whip out depending on the outcome of the game. Opinions and perceptions in football are so instant and definitive. Which generally leads to misinterpretation of the situation or said individual. On several occasions on Sunday we heard the commentary team slip into that -“Vincent Kompany with a rare mistake”. “Arsène Wenger doesn’t usually set his team up like this” They are culprits of going along with the general consensus of football interpretation.

Even our gorgeous hero dropped a clanger before kickoff, or did he? Saying Alex Song is the sort of midfielder Arsenal need.

Disclaimer – Alex Song was ok at kicking a football. We can argue till the cows come home about having him in the current squad. But we were no better defensively with him in the side.

Back to Henry. He’s hedging his bets, he’s playing the game of life. We lose, and he can say *dramatic pause* “see” or “I’m pleased they’ve finally done what we’ve all been clamouring for”. It’s like betting against your team, they lose you win some cash, if they win, you can do a victory dance to Taylor Swift, shake it off. And we all know who the real winner is.

That said, I wonder if Thierry enjoyed his TV debut. I did. I wonder if he thinks he’s made the best choice for his career and brand Thierry. It can be easy, punditry, you don’t have to make any big calls, you can just end up looking very intelligent. Spouting some guff. Anyway, Good Luck, Thierry x

I have to say I’m not entirely convinced the way we set-up to play City was entirely new to Arsène. It was all about the execution. We tried to play the same way against Chelsea earlier on in the season. Unfortunately for us Chelsea have this marvellous player, Eden Hazard. You may of heard of him. The ball-boy kicking magician has attempted and completed the most dribbles this season. Key to breaking down a low block. Aguero has just come back from injury and not fully firing didn’t help their cause. I imagine they will try and fill that void in the summer.

I’m really tempted to write we were lucky with the result, but we weren’t. We deserved the victory. To put It in a very simplistic way – I thought we were able to take our chances. If you decide to play the way we did and concede first (i.e. Chelsea) you need to quickly change how you are going to go about things and for many reasons, that isn’t easy.

I’ve always felt Arsène (Emirates years) has been very good at containing issues rather than conquering them. That isn’t a dig at the big man, just the way he goes about things, hence the usual up and down nature to our seasons. Which kind makes this victory even more sweeter. To play a ‘perfect game’ is one thing, but the players have to execute the plan in order to get a result, which is another thing. It was incredible how cohesive we looked. It was exactly how it should be, a strong collective unit with fearsome counter-attacks. Maybe, fearsome isn’t the right word, but we’ll definitely get there.

The most pleasing thing was the framework we gave the entire team to work in. We made it easier for Coquelin to squeeze space between the lines. Coquelin had time, which allows him to anticipate interceptions and give him a perfect view of the whole pitch. Bellerin had enough protection from the resurgent Chamberlain. The young Englishman ploughed up and down the flank allowing the midfield three time to control the midfield areas. Monreal’s stint at centre-half has really appeared to change his outlook. Mertesacker and Koscienly combined perfectly, a pleasant reminder of how good they are together.

Alexis Sanchez was just as good as he usually is. Just traded his spectacular flair for industry but with the equally dazzling effect. He was like a Jack Russell, chased every ball. Perhaps he didn’t create as much as he’d like, but what did he offer was priceless. His and Chamberlain’s hard work allowed Cazorla, Ramsey and Coquelin complete control over the centre of the park, stifling Man City’s creative spark – David Silva. Whilst the trio we had maintained our attacking threat. The big advantage of playing a deeper 4-3-3 is that Santi becomes a viable out-ball from defence. He has ability to hold, turn and begin the transition. This will probably go down as his greatest performance in his Arsenal career.

The natter before the game was who is the better player, Alexis Sanchez or Sergio Aguero. The funny thing is, it’s Santiago Cazorla.

If you believe it was a tactical masterclass, or a perfect execution of tactics we’ve attempted previously, I don’t think it entirely matters. The performance was a massive achievement. Bask in it, and the potential of this squad.

Ben