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

Old cliches, new blueprint?

Well that wasn’t quite what we expected yesterday, was it? I mean, victory against the Champions, on their own turf? Ok, who are you and what have you done with the real Arsenal?

I’m still actually quite stunned to be honest with you. Somebody obviously decided that the ‘Big book of footballing certainties’ was torched, because Arsenal away from home to one of the best sides in the country, do not tend to get a result. Like, ever.

But here we are, waking up this morning to the realisation that after years of performances that leave us fans coiling and wincing in pain, we have finally broken the farcical record we have against the Manchester clubs which saw us last winning in Manchester in something like 2007.

Well, I know we beat City about four years ago at the Etihad, but that victory always felt a little flawed because of the very early sending off of Boyata. But not yesterday’s. Yesterday’s win was fully deserved, meticulously planned and superbly executed by and Arsenal team that was pretty unrecognisable from the fragile team that we’ve seen on numerous occasions this season.

Arsène Wenger set up a team to not get beat. I repeat: Arsène Aenger set up a team to not get beat. Here is the man who we all know prefers to take the line that if we play our way, we’ll win regardless of what the opposition do, who yesterday looked at the opposition and said “nope, we’re going to have to play differently today”, which is exactly what his team did. It paid off. Compact in defence and resolute in keeping our shape, aside from a small spell after halftime which had me reaching for the booze, we controlled the game in a ‘rope-a-dope’ style that is more akin to seeing a Mourinho Chelski perform than Arsène and his charges.

Gary Neville was positively purring all yesterday, which was great to hear instead of the usual embarrassing list of issues that usually gets (correctly) labelled at the team. The defence will get the plaudits today I’m sure, but as Souness pointed out after the game, it was the responsible actions of a disciplined midfield that ensured that Koscienly and Mertesacker were not massively stretched throughout the 94 minutes. Aaron Ramsey went ‘back to basics’ as Arsène has suggested previously. Francis Coquelin was imperious in midfield and snapping into tackles left, right and centre. He won a number of aerial duels yesterday when the ball was pumped long by Joe Hart and it had me wondering when was the last time we had a player who won the first ball like that in a big game?

But Santi deserves his own paragraph. What a performance. Playing centrally is definitely something that is working for him right now. He won tackles, he distributed the ball well, he scored a good penalty, he set up Giroud’s goal and he had a few very fancy dribbles that were mesmerising. He even had time to throw in a little jig when Giroud headed in his free kick. Mesut Özil is a fine player, but he will have to wait some time to get back into the team with the way that Santi is playing right now. Both him and Coquelin have been essential over the last few weeks and whilst the clamour to solve problems is often seen as being something to sort out in the transfer window, the midfield isn’t something that looks like it needs tinkering with at all. I only hope that Coquelin doesn’t just ‘do a Flamini’ with his contract running down at the end of the season. He’s now strung together about five games in which he’s been excellent and he only needs to put together another three or four of those and there won’t be many suggesting he can’t be the answer to our defensive midfield problems.

As for the way we set up yesterday. Doesn’t it feel like the penny has finally dropped for this Arsenal team? I know it’s just one game and we could easily pick the penny back up again knowing this Arsenal side, but it feels like they actually ‘get it’. The best teams adapt their styles to nullify the opposition, whilst trying to assert their own style on the game where possible, thereby achieving the required result. Moneychester City wanted an Arsenal team that would try to go all ‘Rocky’ on them and turn a football match into a slug fest of ‘you have a go, we’ll have a go’. They wanted us to come at them so we could be picked off. It didn’t happen. Arsène was right post-match when he talked about the importance of getting the first goal. With the way in which we set up, the first goal allowed us to protect what we had, whilst probing for a second in a conservative nature. Had we conceded early, it’s unlikely that we’d have stuck to such a stringent, self-imposed defensive shape. But by striking first we were able to set our stall out for the game and beat the champions on their own home soil.

Is this the blueprint for future games against the best teams? That’s a difficult question to answer. Football is a game of variables and it would be folly to suggest that we can play like that every time we play a big team, home or away. For example, when we play Chelski at home in a few months time, do you think Mourinho will play a more expansive game? Or will he play just like we did yesterday? The answer is obvious, but if we set up exactly the same when we play the Chavs at home, it would probably have ‘bore draw’ written all over it, which would not be what the home support would be wanting to see. So whilst I don’t think we’ll be going back to ‘one nil to the Arsenal’ any time soon, it is pleasing to know that the manager is prepared to be flexible to get the result he wants, by understanding and adapting to the opposition.

There wasn’t a poor performance from an Arsenal player yesterday. I haven’t even mentioned Alexis, who was his usual tireless self, or the two full backs Monreal and Bellerin, who were excellent. Nor have I waxed lyrical over The Ox’s good display. I could probably fill another 1,000 words talking about each individual player, but I’ve only got about five minutes before I lose phone signal, so I’ll wrap it up for today.

It was only three points yesterday and we have to recognise that, but the psychological boost this will give the team will hopefully be massive, so let’s see whether the team can go on a run now.

See you tomorrow.

Alexis inspired stoking

After over a month in which I’ve frequented The Emirates, that performance and result yesterday was just the tonic required for a first home league game of 2015.

Everything about yesterday went exactly how it should always be, in the ideal world of a Gooner, with a relatively very early goal, complete control of the match from start to finish, plus the welcome sight of returning players from injuries. The only blot on the copybook was the dislocated shoulder to Matthieu Debuchy, having taken a nudge by an Orc into the advertising hoardings in the first half which by the look of some of the pictures on Debuchy’s face, was a bloody painful one.

It always feels good when you can put a team of clobbers to the sword like Stoke, despite some more shoddy refereeing by Jon Moss – who whilst not making any critically incorrect decisions – was still able to get lots of little shockers here and there, but thankfully to little effect. A home crowd has influence, no doubt, which is why the elbowage of Peter Crouch was kept to a minimal on a sunny Sunday lunchtime.

So a three-nil win, three precious points, plus an opportunity to sing “three-nil, and you can’t go home” to the away fans. After the regular abuse we get up there, it feels somewhat justified, methinks.

Pre-game all of the talk was of the interesting selection decisions made by Le Boss, as confirmation came through of the trouble Szczesny has caused for himself by the inclusion of David Ospina to the starting line up. There’s more to the smoking story than meets the eye, obviously, but I thought Ospina did ok. There’s no doubt it was somewhat of a gamble given the opposition, but there was certainly none of the aerial bombardment that we’re used to seeing from that lot, so in hindsight it looks like a good thing. That’s so for a number of reasons; a) it shows Szczesny that his position is not automatically secure and may prove the kick up the jollies he needs, and b) it shows Ospina that if he works hard and shows good form, then he’s got a chance of starting.

I thought Ospina did well. He wasn’t tested too much, but he didn’t look like he was overawed by the situation, plus he demonstrated that he’s a different type of ‘keeper to Szczesny. He’s certainly smaller, but he’s a talker, taking time out to walk up to the defender on the halfway line during some of the corner kicks and give out instructions. He also prefers the safety on his line more than our Polish number one. There were times where you just know it would have seen Wojciech sweep up and hoof the ball forward yesterday. Ospina preferred to let his defenders deal with it. It’s interesting because both styles have their benefits, but I think it’s good that we have two ‘keepers with two different styles, because it means Arsène can rotate a little depending on the opposition. In theory that is.

Defensively we were never really troubled and with Per and Kos back in the heart of the team it was good to see us keep a clean sheet and look so comfortable. Nacho too had a good afternoon, elbow to the face from Crouch aside, so it’s pleasing that the squad appears to finally be looking like its getting back to full strength.

The midfield inclusion of Rosicky was a surprise, but with Ramsey perhaps not completely ready yet, the Czech midfielder showed that nobody has a guaranteed place in the side. He popped the ball around all afternoon with confidence and with Cazorla pulling the strings and Coquelin tidying up behind them, it felt like the balance of the team was right.

As for the front three, well, they all performed too. The hero of the afternoon – as seems to be commonplace these days – was an always energetic Alexis and his first goal was a perfect example of everything he is. Winning the ball back after giving it away, jinking past two defenders and picking out the smallest angle to the goalkeepers near post. How, or why, Barcelona offloaded him beggars belief. But boy, are we profiting from it. The second half saw his second of the game and whilst you could probably question the ‘keeper for his part in spilling the ball into the net, it was a clever ‘under-the-wall’ job that had Begovic blind-sighted, so perhaps we should just marvel at this Chilean that Arsène convinced to join.

All this hyperbole and I’ve not even mentioned the excellent goal by Koscienly to nod us in to a 1-0 lead early on in the game. Assist provided by Alexis. Natch.

Yesterday was like it should always be against mid to lower table teams. It was controlled and comfortable at home. I’d blogged pre-game about how we had to become flat-track bullies by beating the teams that were – in theory – not as good as we are, and yesterday the team did exactly what we all expect of Arsenal in these types of games. Given that next week we go to City for our usual humbling, yesterday’s three points was probably even more important, but we need to look at an increase in those types of performances. We saw it against Newcastle in December and we’ve seen it again this weekend just gone. What we need to see now is an increase in our ability to collectively say “we played well yesterday” after a performance like that against the Aston Villa’s, Everton’s, Leicester’s and Swansea’s of this world.

A good day had by all and an important confidence-boosting victory. Roll on next weekend. Maybe.

Requirements met against Hull, midfield particularly dominant

A close family bereavement enforced a bit of a blogging hiatus on me over the weekend. Somehow the loss of a loved one makes anguishing about why Arsenal aren’t winning all games all of the time seem a bit irrelevant in the grand scheme of life. But ‘life must go on’ must be the mantra for myself and the family right now, so I’m returning to work via the usual TfL methods and find myself musing about Arsenal again after safe passage to the next round of the FA Cup was secured once more.

Thankfully there was to be no repeat of the nerve-jangling FA Cup final result of last May, as a makeshift Hull team could never really muster enough to trouble an equally makeshift Arsenal team, although ours was out of less choice and more necessity with the lengthy injury list that still engulfs the squad.

In truth, despite not securing the game until the last ten minutes with that fine Alexis goal, we looked (with the benefit of hindsight) like we were always in control and David Ospina will probably have both pleasure and irritation as his overriding feelings as he awakes this morning. With Szczesny being rightly questioned after a dismal display on New Year’s Day, this was Ospina’s chance to stake a claim as the number one, but with barely anything to do all afternoon he will probably once again resume his position on the bench on Sunday against Stoke.

I thought we might even see a rout after the first 15 minutes though, because Campbell was put in, Harper saved from Alexis a couple of times and Walcott just couldn’t get the final touch to steady himself enough to put the ball away in the opening exchanges. That it took a corner actually beating the first man to open the scoring should have been less of a surprise than it was. We’ve all collectively bemoaned our inability to make use of set pieces pumped into the box, but here again was another case for the prosecution when it comes to working more on our set piece delivery. Swung high and to the back post, Mertesacker nodding the ball into the net is a sight that should not be as rare as it is, but I am thankful nonetheless. Mainly because these types of games are those in which the opposition team grows stronger and stronger with each minute that the game remains at 0-0. So to go one up in the first 20 minutes normally draws out the opposition to come and play.

Hull certainly did push a little more in the second half and there was a spell in which our passing was pretty terrible actually. Not only that, but there seemed to be no real attempt to press the man on the ball by the Arsenal players, which enabled Hull to get more possession and despite the fact they didn’t really do anything with it, as an Arsenal fan you’re always nervous when you’re only a goal up.

Perhaps in defence of some of the players, they did look bloody knackered though, particularly Walcott who you could understand why he kept the afterburners switched firmly off with his first game back. He needs more games and yesterday was a prime example of that. Flitting in and out of the match, his contribution was what I would describe as ‘partially threatening’. Once or twice he nearly got on the edge of some balls out through from the midfield, but by-and-large he was almost invisible at times. It’s fine, it will come and he will get fitter, so you can’t really get too irritated. He’s human after all.

Where I thought the game was really won for us was in midfield, where the balance of Coquelin, Rosicky and Cazorla worked well. Rosicky was his usual direct self and always looking to move the ball forward quickly, Cazorla pulled the strings as his form continued to flourish, as does Coquelin’s, who put in another dogged display protecting our back four. That’s three in a row for the Frenchman, who looked for all of the world a lost cause being cast away to Charlton before an eventual transfer in the summer, but the fast-paced nature of the footballing world means careers can quickly be turned around and you can’t help but think another couple of games like he has this festive period will do no harm in forcing his inclusion into the team from the manager more often.

I am still not 100% sure that he is the long term option at the club, but I’d like to once again reiterate that I’ve always felt his Arsenal playing time had been kept unfairly short for the talent he possesses. He might just be a younger version of Matthieu Flamini, but remember how he evolved from flexible squad player to first teamer in 07/08. That pretty much came from nowhere so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Coquelin step up too.

So all in all it was a case of ‘job done’ more than anything else. We were alright, weren’t really tested and with players coming back into the side, the manager will be able to make choices on his starting XI rather than rounding up whoever is left at London Colney three days before a game.

Now, if both Burnley and AFC Wimbledon could do us a hilarious favour and knock out the Spuds and Liverpool respectively, that would be grand.

Catch you tomorrow.

Heartless display that the manager must take responsibility for

Where do you even start with a performance like yesterday? How do you dissect something that was so turgid, it doesn’t matter which way you look at it, you’re not going to like what you see?

What I saw yesterday, the first day of 2015, was an old familiar sight that I’d hoped could be banished with the heralding of the new year. In my pre-match thoughts before the game is spoken about how good 2013 was from a league perspective, but how horrible it 2014 was in consequence. I had hoped that we’d start 2015 as we mean to go on by beating a Southampton team that haven’t yet tasted defeat to us at St Mary’s.

Blimey, got that one wrong, didn’t I?

I got it very wrong indeed, because what we were subjected to yesterday was one of the most gutless performances of the season, and I’m not just basing this on the result I hasten to add. It was gutless because the whole game was played at a walking pace and we showed absolutely no conviction to try and outdo a pretty average Southampton side. From the first few minutes we had a warning as Pelle headed just wide, but we never really looked like that bothered us. Far be it for us to take heed to warning signals, because teams never ever punish us when we give them even the slightest sniff of a chance, do they?

But we’re Arsenal, so we can’t be content to let teams think they have a chance, oh no, we have to wrap it up, tie a bow on it and wait patiently for them to open their presents, don’t we?

Step forward Wojciech Szczesny, who decided that he would be in a generous mood by having a hand in both Southampton goals. The first was a standard crazy venture to the edge of his box on the left, whilst the second was a bit of hesitation and misunderstanding and a beauty that Tadic probably couldn’t believe had fallen at his feet. We make dreams come true at Arsenal. For opponents.

There was still half an hour to mount a comeback though, even after two atrocious bits of defending, but do you think we could muster any kind of spirited resolve? Could we heck. Lots of possession, very little penetration, a team that looked like it couldn’t really be arsed. Maybe they all had late nights. I know I did. I played ‘Million Pound Drop: The Board game’ until 4am. But then again, I didn’t have to work the next day and my work certainly don’t pay me the types of cash that these players get paid.

I can handle a bad day at the office you see. It happens. I can understand if things don’t click and we lose. I’ve seen it plenty of times. But what I can’t stomach, what really yanks my chain, is when I see some players not really looking like they are trying. Because I felt like I saw plenty of that yesterday. Players just not wanting to win the ball as much as Southampton players. Players bottling challenges, or not chasing back misplaced passes. That has nothing to do with technical ability, but everything to do with effort and application.

And I’m afraid, that is where all attention needs to be pointed towards Arsène Wenger, because he is the man charged with ensuring his players are up for a fight. Yesterday it didn’t look like it. In the good old days of Wenger’s reign, even after the first couple of years of trophies drying up, Arsène’s teams would come out fighting in the second half if we were behind. We were behind and terrible in the first half, so the last thing you’d expect to see is a mirror image in the second half yesterday. Yet that is exactly what we got.

We are unfortunate with injuries, we all know that, to which you cannot really blame the manager with at the moment, certainly not some of them. But when the team is not mentally prepared, or doesn’t look like it really wants to fight for the points, you have to look at the manager and question his ability to motivate the team. Yes, you can look at fatigue as an excuse if you want, but every team is fatigued at this point in the year. You can also look at the fact that Koscienly and Debuchy have not played that much football recently, nor Coquelin, so that argument is negated for those players. Players with a legitimate excuse to be tired, like Alexis, are still running their guts out. So what’s the excuse for the rest of the team?

I don’t know. I do know that it feels like we are the very definition of the phrase “two steps forward, one step back” and it feels like we’re as likely to string three league wins together as I am of starring in a Broadway Musical right now.

I spoke to my brother yesterday about top four chances. He’s a West Ham fan and doesn’t think they are anywhere near, but did agree with me that the only way we are getting into those hallowed positions that Wenger loves, is by having other teams around us implode. Notice how I use the term ‘Wenger loves’, because do you and I really care about it much any more? Aside from the fact that not being in the Champions League will potentially harm our chances of attracting big players (ha!), I find an increasing amount of apathy when it comes to playing out this particular dance. It’s the same song and the same moves, so what difference would sitting one out be? I don’t know.

What a cheery way to start the year, eh?

Grinding out victories at a crucial time in the season

I am a happy Christmas Gooner today, I can tell you. There may be a slight frost in the air, I may have over-eaten myself to within an inch of my life, but waking up knowing you can read the papers, look on Sky Sports News and generally not get worked up is a very good feeling. And It’s down to that team we all love.

See Arsenal? That’s all you have to do to make me happy. I’m a simple man with simple desires. I desire to see you win every game and when you do it – whether by playing well or not –  then I remain happy. I don’t care about personal feelings for individual players, the manager or other fans that search for the utopia of perfect football, I just want to see results. That’s what this time of the year is exactly about. So when you see Arsenal go to an in-form West Ham and come back with a result, it brings a smile that reaches from ear to ear.

Let’s not forget that this was a West Ham team that have already dispatched Manchester City and Liverpool and were a point clear of us before the game. With the Spuds and United dropping points and Southampton picking up a point, a defeat yesterday would have further sent us all spiralling into a mire of disappointment that would hardly have set us up for an excited first game of 2015, would it?

I don’t know why, but yesterday’s game feels like it was a really important one. Arsene had spoken before the start of the Christmas period about how it was and important time in the year to be able to quickly change things around by picking up points in quick succession and thankfully, having gone two for two in the league over Christmas, we now find ourselves level with Southampton on 33 points and another victory against them on New Year’s Day will see us start the year in fourth and almost certainly see us as favourites for that ‘fourth place trophy’ that Arsene covets so much.

As for the game yesterday, for me the first half was a stutter one. Not just because of the performance – in which we never seemed to get going until the last ten minutes of the first half – but also because I had picked up one of the worst and most irritating live streams imaginable. Thankfully though, we managed to show enough quality to get ourselves a quick blitz of goals in the last four minutes of the half and at the interval it felt a lot more comfortable than it should have been. Because let’s face it; that Alex Song goal should probably have stood. I can kind of understand why the referee ruled it out, but if that would have been an Arsenal player I too would be raging, like Allardyci was yesterday. It’s a shame really, because it gives Fat Sam an excuse as to why his team weren’t able to put us to the sword in the first half, because they did edge that initial 45 and you felt that the goal might be coming. Usually it’s off somebodies shins, or arse, but thankfully it never came.

Then Santi glided through the West Ham defence and for the second time in two days we had a spot kick. Cazorla was as cool as a cucumber and you have to hope that Alexis was thinking that he’ll be handing over penalty duties to the diminutive  Spaniard from now on. I thought Santi had a cracking game. He’s strung together about four or five of those in a row now and I cast my mind back to his first season and how instrumental he was for us then, and it’s pleasing to know that he’s found form at a time where all around him are the battered and bruised bodies of his other Arsenal midfield teammates who are taking up space in London Colney’s medical centre.

With Arsenal you always know we have to at least score two in games to stand a chance of winning thee match, especially away from home, so when The Ox was able to wriggle free of Cresswell on the right hand side and slide the ball to Welbeck to tap home, there was an instant sense of relief from me, at least for the halftime interval. It was two goals scored very close together and I have to say the game felt a little bit like the 3-0 smash and grab we had against Villa earlier in the season. On that Saturday afternoon we were under pressure from the home team, but goals in quick succession effectively killed the game. It’s a shame we couldn’t have managed another one before halftime (how greedy am I?), because I think we might have seen the same testimonial style atmosphere in the second half if we’d have managed it, but given that we hadn’t played amazingly up until that point, you’d have to say taking a two goal lead going in to the second half was good enough.

Except it rarely is for Arsenal. Two goals always gives the opposition hope and when you have a game plan like West Ham did of playing a little bit more direct in the first half and trying to put our back four under as much pressure as possible, you know that a) we’ll concede and b) in order to win the game we’ll need some decent ‘backs to the wall’ defending to secure all three points. thankfully we had more of the latter than the former and with Koscienly back alongside Mertesacker and a screening midfield of Coquelin and Flamini, I thought we coped very well with the aerial bombardment that we got.

I think I should single out Szczesny too, because he was a lot more aggressive in coming out for the balls pumped deep into the box. You could clearly see that he – and arsenal – had done their homework and decided that an aggressive strategy in punching and claiming balls was the only way they could avoid putting themselves under extra pressure. And hey, there were a few moments in which it didn’t work (like in the last few seconds where Demel probably should have scored at the back post), but by and large it did and when Szczesny buggered it up there was always a defender on hand to pump the ball away.

So we’ve finished 2014 on a high and in a good position to make 2015 more fruitful. We are starting to look like there is some form being put together and at a time in which the games start to intensify, that’s exactly what the doctor ordered. Well, the doctor ordered plenty of rest and less injuries, but we don’t need to get into that right now!

Until tomorrow, you sexy bitches.