Brazilians don’t excite; targets seem very ‘Arsene’ like

In some sort of weird reversal of expectancy, it appears as though the two games that were played yesterday afternoon and evening were the opposite of what I expected. I thought with talent on display in the France verus Germany game,it would be by far the most entertaining match to watch, so I was a bit gutted that it was on earlier in the evening when I was travelling back from a day at the office. That’s not to say that the Brazil versus Colombia game didn’t have any superstars on display – evidently there are a few on either side – I just felt that a Franco-German slug-fest would provide more entertainment.

As it was I found yesterday’s evening game quite good, as the Colombians did their level best to upset the odds and turn over the Brazilians, whilst not really creating a string of chances. This Brazilian team doesn’t really capture my imagination at all and, when they scored quite early on through a shoddy bit of defending from a corner, I hoped the Colombians would react a bit better than they did. Particularly James Rodriguez. Mind you, the Brazilians must have done their homework on this referee, because the tactical and rotational fouling for persistent digs at Rodriguez was as blatant and obvious as an Adrian Chiles stupid remark. The Spanish referee did little to quash the Brazilian tactics of slowing the game down, even reserving his yellow card for James Rodriguez when he made his one and only foul of the game (I think), whilst also downgrading what looked like a clear red by Julio Caesar to a yellow for the Colombian penalty.

So it’s a Germany against Brazil semi final and despite the fact the German’s haven’t ripped anyone apart other than Portugal, I hope (and think) they serve a bit of a humbling to the Brazilian team, who will certainly be feeling nervous after Neymar was ruled out of the competition with a back injury. It was a pretty shocking challenge when you look at it for the second time and, given what has happened to the recipient of the foul, you do think it’s rather ludicrous that the Colombian player wasn’t penalised further for his actions.

It’s Belgium vs Argentina tonight, for which I’m hoping Belgium do a number on the Argies, plus Holland versus Costa Rica who I think will probably have gone as far as they probably can. This is beginning to feel like it could be the Argentinians year to me. Messi has finally turned up to a tournament, they have great firepower throughout the squad, plus they could have an easier route to the final by beating Costa Rica and then potentially Holland in the semi’s, of which I feel the Dutch are nowhere near as good as the Argentinians.

Arsenal news is unsurprisingly light on the ground, but there was some chatter online last night that Debuchy had announced to journalists from TF1 that he would be joining Arsenal. That’s all well and good with people suggesting this, but I can’t find any specific reference to any quotes on any website, neither in the British press, nor the actual TF1 website. Although, I must confess that my French isn’t so much rusty, as it is non-existent, so I may have been navigating their website totally wrong. It does seem as though this is a very Arsene Wenger signing and, if the deal is done quickly, it at least means we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the club are actually looking to tie up deals as quickly as possible. With so many media outlets now reporting this deal as ‘done’ (L’Equipe are saying so too), it does seem as if there is no some without fire on this one so I think we should all be pretty pleased that there’s Premier League experience coming straight in to slot in to the team.

There’s nothing really new from any of the other reports going on at the moment. A lot of re-hashing of stories and re-populating of information for the sake of it right now, which you can tell when places like the MIrror start referencing other media outlets as the rumour mill goes into full ‘he-said/she-said’ territory. I like the sound of a Debuchy, Sanchez, Schneiderlin and Remy summer,all of which seeming feasible for Arsene, but bringing in that many players in one summer would be a surprise to me. Particularly Remy if we get Sanchez. Arsene really fancies a bit of Sanogo as understudy to Giroud and I suspect that if a deal for Sanchez were to be done, we’d see him playing wide right or left of the Frenchman. Having the pacey Remy in the squad doesn’t really seem to me to be as worthwhile when you have players like the Ox, Gnabry and eventually Walcott to come back, as we’d be stifling someone’s longer term route in to the first team. Hey, I’m not trying to be all Arsene Wenger in my hypotheses, I’m just trying to work out what the reality of any situation would be. I think it would be that if we get Sanchez and Debuchy, unless there is any other kind of exit like Vermaelen, that could in theory be all there is kids. Whether that represents a good summer or not I’m not so sure. I would probably say ‘only just’, but that’s much like last summer was ‘only just’ salvaged by the Ozil transfer. We’d effectively have only bought in one extra player if just the Frecnhman and the Chilean came in; Sagna for Debuchy is a clear ‘one-in-one-out’ replacement and so doesn’t make us stronger in terms of depth.

I’d like to see our squad all remain (including Vermaelen) in tact this year, with a front man, a ‘keeper, a defensive minded midfielder and potentially a young and up-and-coming centre half ideally, but I suspect that Arsene would be happy with Sanchez, Debuchy and maybe a clear seconded-choice ‘keeper from the Outer Hebrides or some place that few have heard of. We’ll just have to wait and see until he makes his first move. I just hope he does it soon.

Anyway, catch you tomorrow, with some more thoughts.

The most fun blog I’ve written – FA Cup Winners 2014

I woke up this morning with a big smile on my face. I switched on the TV this morning with a smile on my face. I am writing today’s blog with a smile on my face. I’ve been writing blogs for about three years now and I have to say, this is the one blog that I was wondering whether I’d be writing any time soon, so I am thankful that it has come. It has been worth the wait.

Arsenal are 2014 FA Cup Winners. The nine year ‘drought’ has ended. The years of media sniping can restart at zero and we can revel in what has, we can all say with relative comfort, been a successful season for The Arsenal.

Drink it in. Football is about special moments that are captured over a short period of time like yesterday and today. We as fans go through all of the lows, all of the pain, frustration and sadness just for the adrenalin highs like yesterday. To see the relief on the players faces as the final went, to see them fall to their knees and to see the visible relief etched on Arsene’s face was something that will stay with me forever.

Players play for clubs like Arsenal because the want to win trophies. It is what drives them and yesterday’s game does not just provide us with a platform for celebration on a hot May afternoon, it also gives us hope that we are that extra little bit attractive to top players. All of those players that have spoken of winning trophies at the club, all of those people who question whether Arsenal can drag themselves over the line, well now we can say that they can. They can achieve their greatness with Arsenal and much like the players we have had the taste of silverware and will become all the more hungry for more of it in future.

We are the joint most successful FA Cup team that has ever existed along with Manchester United. We like that cup and we’ve done it again for the eleventh time in our history. Savor that folks, savor that.

Shall I talk about the game a bit? I guess this is a match review of sorts, but the match itself seems slightly inconsequential compared to the gravity of what has been achieved. Because this Arsenal team weren’t just fighting Hull City, they were fighting history or more specifically, the burden of past failures and expectation for a club like Arsenal. The pressure on the fourteen players that played yesterday was immense and, although it took a superb Aaron Ramsey extra time goal to secure the victory, they were in control and outplayed Hull for about 110 of the 120 minutes in my completely biased opinion.

Unfortunately, it was in those first ten minutes that it felt at the time that a lot of damage was done. By the time we had hit the ten minute point in the game we were two down through a real bit of smash-and-grab set piece football from Hull. First it was a miss-hit Huddlestone shot that I’m convinced just ricocheted off his foot rather than what the commentators suggested that he’d cleverly steered it in. That was after four minutes and it felt like the world should just swallow our half of the stadium up when Curtis Davies slotted the ball in from another ball into the box that was knocked on to the post by one of the Hull centre backs. I didn’t think it could get any worse, so when Kieran Gibbs headed a ball off the line from a corner it really did start to feel like it wasn’t going to be our day. We were shell-shocked and on the ropes through a quick start. It’s how we’ve been undone in all the big games this season and is certainly something I think should be looked at by the team for next year.

But for all of their faults, for the ability to be caught out so early, you cannot criticise the team too much on a day like today, because the response was exactly what was needed. Having got back home and re-watched the final last night, it struck me how dominant we were in possession. Sure, there weren’t very many chances created over the ninety minutes, but when I re-watched it was clear that we deserved to get the two goals back. The first, a sumptuous free kick from Santi, was well placed and superbly struck. The fact that Hull had scored two so early left us with time to respond and so when Santi scored on 18 minutes, we knew that it left us with enough time to re-group and go again in the second half. And we did. We were the team in the ascendancy, we were making all of the forward plays and we were the most likely to score in that second half, so when Koscienly tapped in from a knock down in the box we went absolutely nuts behind the goal. The comeback was well and truly on.

The second half ended by grinding a bit to a halt, as I think both teams didn’t want to do anything silly that could lose them the game in dying embers, but Kieran Gibbs had his chance of glory but blazed the ball over from just outside the six yard box. So it was extra time, and much like the majority of the match, it was Arsenal who looked more likely to score. Olivier Giroud had a header knocked on to the crossbar in the first half of extra time. But perhaps the most fitting scorer to win us the FA Cup was destined to write his name into Arsenal history. Aaron Ramsey will feature heavily in post-season reviews and analysis, because he has rightly been the stand out performer this season, but his finish was that of a player who has elevated himself to such a lofty position this season, that it seems almost unthinkable that he won’t be our main man to spearhead us towards another title challenge in 2014/15. After the heartbreak of losing the cup final with Cardiff in 2008, after the devastation from his leg break, after an injury that has kept him out of the season, this was his reward for the hard work and effort. The fabulous first time finish after another really good lay off from Giroud was one of those goals that only when you watch again you see how good it was. It was millimeters away from the post.

I’m not surprised that there’s already talk about Bayern Munich and Pep being interested, but with the stature of Ramsey and the fact that he signed a new deal very recently, I’d be surprised if that isn’t anything other than a bit of mischievous gutter press tittle-tattle.

There was still time for a classic Arsenal ‘heart-in-mouth’ moment though, as a long punt up field was chased down by Aluko but covered by Per, until he slipped, Fabianski inexplicably came rushing out of his box and didn’t get the ball and thankfully the angle was too tight for him to touch into an empty net.

The final whistle went, Arsenal had done it and the players lifted the trophy, with them coming on to the pitch afterwards to greet the fans. I got myself a Jack Wilshere high-five and a Lukas Fabianski gloved high-five and we left the stadium in a fit of delirium.

Today the team are embarking on the trip around North London to parade the trophy and the news emanating from the club is that Arsene will announce his new deal over the next couple of days. There will be the cynical ones that will question the timing given we’re riding high on emotions right now, but after leading the league for so long, after improving on our league points total and bringing silverware back to the club, it’s hard to not think that he doesn’t deserve perhaps one more stab at seeing if he can win that Premier League and/or the Champions League. He said ‘judge me in May’ and we can judge him now. It has been a successful season and I hope we get a couple more ends to the season like this one between now and when he does eventually hang up that massive coat of his for good.

Until tomorrow. Up the Arsenal

Maintaining momentum before the season definer

And that’s yer lot for another season. 38 games in which we’ve seen highs, as well as experienced some pretty lows, drew to a close yesterday as our league campaign finished with a final three points of 2013/14 against a Norwich team that had clearly had just about all the emotional stuffing knocked out of them when Sunderland were all but mathematically confirmed to have survived the drop by beating West Brom in midweek.

As for us, our season does not quite end just yet as we all know, so the importance of victory and maintaining momentum should probably be recognised, despite my dismissive pre-match blog yesterday. The team showed us that there was no way they were going to be delivering anything else but a professional and controlled game and by all accounts managed to restrict Norwich to a couple of chances throughout the match.

That it was Fabianski who received the nod ahead of Szczesny, who stood in between the sticks to receive the couple of Norwich chances, was just one of a number of debates we had last night with the Goonerholic on the penultimate SG Pod of the season. With much social media whisperings of disappointment that Szczesny didn’t receive the chance to win the Golden Glove (as ‘holic pointed out – most probably hadn’t heard of before yesterday), the same people began murmurings that it would mean the younger of the two Pole’s would get the nod next weekend. Personally I don’t think the appearance of Fabianski will equate to a dead certainty that Szcz will start – life, and certainly Arsene’s thinking, is not that linear – but I do think it was Arsene’s way of giving a Premier League send off to Fabianski. He’s won a lot of people over with his performances this season (when he’s played) and even last season when he came in for Wojciech, but that injury he had which effectively gave Szczesny the chance to regain his place last season, probably spelt the beginning of the end for his time as an Arsenal player.

With the news coming from Camp Sagna (no, he’s not decided to come out of the closet in the most mincing of fashions) that he will most likely not be at the club next season, it was also the Frenchman’s opportunity to call time on his Premier League Arsenal career with a good performance, to which he certainly seemed to do so with an assured display at centre half. There’s no doubt we’ll miss him and his ability to win headers against guys that sometimes seem a foot taller than him. It’s a shame the two parties couldn’t come to agreement but it’s hard not to wish both him and Fabianski all the best in their future careers. Unless they sign for Premier League clubs. Then I want nothing but misery for them.

But the real superlatives of today’s blog have to be reserved for that Welshman Ramsey who scored arguably one of the goals of the season. His right foot rocket hit first time on the volley was a thing of beauty from a player that finishes off his season in exactly the same way that he started it. He has been both the most improved and overall best player of the seasons for me and you can’t help but wonder what might have been if he’d have stayed fit. I mean, think about it: a stonking first half of the season and then missing a third of the season through injury, before returning to the team in the same form as when he left. It’s hard not to think he’d have broken the 20 league goal point if he’d have managed to avoid a spell on the sidelines. If you fancy a cheeky pound on a first goalscorer next weekend, with his form at the moment, you’d be hard pressed to get better value than Rambo right now.

There was even the opportunity for Carl Jenkinson to write a little bit of his own history by popping up with his first ever Arsenal goal and, if you ever want to know what your face would look like if you were to score a goal to Arsenal, just Google or search for a Vine of The Corporal’s yesterday. Great stuff.

Just before I wrap up for the day and start to look towards the FA Cup final, a quick word on Giroud, who also had a good game yesterday by all accounts. He’s a real confidence player if ever there was one and so after another good display against the Canaries, it’s good to know we’ll have a central striker feeling pretty darn good about himself going in to what has essentially become the decider on whether or not our season ticks the ‘met expectations’ or the ‘exceeded expectations’ box on the end of year report. Let’s hope it’s the latter.

That’s it from me today. I’ll see thee in the morrow.

Oh and congrats to City for ‘winning’ the league. Maybe.

West Brom: Testimonial feel with fourth already secured

Yesterday’s performance at home to West Brom had all the hallmarks of a  testimonial match. The Emirates was bathed in sunshine for the most part of the afternoon and the Arsenal players were afford a relatively pain-free afternoon of football with which to wave off the home support for this season as the last home game came to a close on this seasons proceedings.

It’s hard to argue that the home form hasn’t been anything but pretty good this season. Undefeated in the Premier League throughout, except for the extreme circumstances of the first game of the season against Villa. A shocking Antony Taylor performance aside and we might have seen an unbeaten Arsenal on our home turf this campaign. So whilst the score line only reflects a narrow win, it was a win nonetheless and it was one in which we were comfortable for the most part of yesterday’s game against the Baggies. Indeed, when Giroud nodded home his 22nd goal of the season relatively early on in the match, one did wonder if the floodgates would be crow-barred open and the fans being treated to a cricket score before we head off to Wembley in two weeks time.

That we never managed to penetrate Ben Foster’s goal thereafter probably has more to do with a combination of some good saves from the potential England World Cup stopper, an Arsenal team knowing that this game was fairly meaningless given the security afforded to us after the Everton vs Moneychester City game, as well as the belief from our West Midland opponents that they are probably safe for another season. Barring an Arsenal ‘MEGA COLLAPSE’ against Norwich next week, that’s probably not a wholly unfounded perspective.

It’s difficult to mark too many players out as having really amazing performances yesterday, because it just felt like we had ‘done enough’ to win the game yesterday. In the first half we suffocated West Brom through manipulating possession and only fashioning chances when we had really good passages of play. You could tell from watching the team that they could turn it up a notch if they needed to, but with a big match looming on the horizon, going into tackles full-bloodied would achieve nothing but a potential injury or card resulting in no FA Cup final opportunity for said player. Podolski, Giroud and Ozil all had some chances, whilst Santi blazed over from a well worked effort on the edge of the box, but the name of the game was to retain the ball and we did that with consummate ease in the first half.

Pepe Mel clearly had a bit of an ear bashing in the second half, because the West Brom that appeared after the interval looked a slightly different proposition than the one that trotted around in the sunshine before the interval. They looked a little bit more spritely, had more of a spring in their step and even fashioned a couple of saves from a Szczesny that must have felt he could have set up a deck chair and a light reflecting device to see if he could start on his summer tan early. Indeed, when you look at the end of match stats and see that West Brom managed to rack up 11 attempts on goal, you have to think that eight or nine of those must have come in the second half alone.

We may have spent a little bit more time on the back foot than us fans would have liked the team to, but I never really got the sense that the team couldn’t just up it a bit if they needed to and, whilst the score remained 1-0, there was no real need to. We’ve seen this Arsenal team remain largely in control of all home games against opponents outside of the top six or seven teams and yesterday reflected what we’ve seen all season.

If we want to be challenging for the league next season, we probably just need to make sure we’re a little bit more ruthless against the bigger teams at home, but by-and-large our ability to ensure that there’s a zero against our name on the Emirates big screen has ensured that we’ve been able to dispatch many teams that visit us in North London. When you look back on the form of the Chelski’s and Moneychester City’s that have won the league, they build up long undefeated home records. If we can build our own record of not being defeated at home next season, you sense that we will have a real chance of once again having a go at the league.

So the players waved off the fans after the final whistle – some clearly doing so for the last time – and everyone with an interest in The Arsenal went home happy on this bank holiday Monday.

Now we wait for the big one (because Norwich is even less relevant to us). Wembley.

See you in the morrow.

Newcastle: a stroll against a team of strollers

George Graham was nicknamed by teammates as ‘stroller’ because of his languid style and approach to games and, after watching Arsenal dispatch one of the poorest teams that have visited the Emirates in some time, it’s hard not to think that most of the Arsenal players could have taken that descriptor for their own performance. I don’t even think we had to get out of second gear. Certainly, Newcastle spent most of the match in neutral, never even pretending to look like they could give a monkeys last night. In fact, the descriptor of ‘strollers’ should probably be applied to their players as well. The only difference was that we upped our game when we needed to.

Hey, at this stage in the season and with that fourth place trophy that Arsene values so high at stake, I like you probably couldn’t have asked for a better game against a team in black and white that played as though they really couldn’t be bothered to muster any kind of end of season fight.

Alan Pardew returned to the Newcastle bench after his histrionics of a month of so back, but it mattered little to a team who if ever there was legitimacy to declare that a team wasn’t ‘playing for the manager’, then this was it. The only player that I think came out of that performance with any kind of confidence in tact would have been Tim Krul, who made a number of very good saves and you have to say based on his performances this season, would probably be well within his right to seem pastures new in the summer.

As for The Arsenal, well, we got what we all wanted and that was a cosy afternoon. As expected, Arsene’s retention of the same eleven players from the game against Hull last week remained, and from the first ten minutes you could see what Newcastle’s game plan was: sit deep and try to frustrate. It took us a while to find our rhythm, but when Özil got in behind their left back Dummet only to see his low cross stopped by Collocini, it felt like it was only a matter of time.

That it came from Koscienly should come as no surprise, having netted the previous two times we’ve played Newcastle (albeit away from home), Kos clearly loves feasting on Magpie despair. Once again though, as the pundits tutted their way through the halftime analysis, you have to wonder about the defensive set up.

We turned the screw for the remainder of the first half – Özil and Ramsey in particularly inspired form – and it was our mercurial German that bagged our second before halftime. As we are becoming used to this season, Giroud failed to tuck away the two bites of the cherry he had when sent through, so Mesut duly obliged the home fans by sliding the ball past the two. Newcastle defenders on the line. The goal itself was offside as Özil was behind the ‘keeper and only one defender, but in real time it happened so quickly that it would be almost impossible for a ‘referees assistant’ to call.

2-0, halftime cup of tea sorted for the players and the second half just needed that third goal to give it the gloss the match deserved, so it was good that Giroud nodded us into a resounding victory after a Mesut Özil cross from the right. It’s always good to see your only real striking option bagging a goal, and I’m pleased for him and his confidence going in to the last couple of games and a final, but up until that point I thought he’d had a particularly poor game. I know it seems to be the done thing to excuse his performances at this end of the season due to the number of games, but we’re now down to one game a week, so I’m not sure he looks knackered any more. He just looks…well…limited. His touch yesterday wasn’t great and in the first half his ball retention was almost non-existence. He does love a creative flick or back heel, but the risk you run when you try these things is looking a bit foolish when you pass it to an opposing player. Unfortunately that seems to happen to Giroud more than anyone else.

Having said that, the goal that he scored was a very well times header that sees him up to 15 league goals this season and 21 in all competitions. For a man that we all recognise to be a limited player, that’s not too bad, it’s just that it’s our only real option and that’s why it’s so frustrating.

For me, the real plus points from yesterday was the performances of Özil and Ramsey, both of whom look like they are in imperious form and have almost instantly injected more creativity, pace and cutting edge to a team that was seriously lacking in it before they both came back from injury. I’m sure those that were quick to comment on Özil’s dip in form earlier this year are clamouring to readdress the balance by praising him on social media and poorly written news articles though…

We’re in good shape at the moment and have an opportunity to secure that top four spot at home next weekend, providing Moneychester City don’t do us a favour on Saturday evening, which I’d be more than happy for them to oblige us on.

Enjoy your Tuesday. May the blessings of St. Totteringham’s Day bring you happiness and much joy. Unless your going into London, in which it will probably be a pain in the buttocks, what with TFL doing their usually monthly walk out.

Rueing Rambo’s absence, loving Poldi’s end product

I do like it when victory appears comprehensive for The Arsenal, even if the reality is that it isn’t quite so convincing when you watch the match in real time.

Yesterday’s 3-0 victory against Hull was as welcome as the huge Turkey dinner I consumed shortly after half time, followed up by chocolate, beer and Prosecco. But it was not one that had me nerve free from the first to the last minute, that’s for sure, as Hull set out to cause us some problems and most definitely did in that first half.

Arsene surprised a few of us by naming a relatively similar side to the one that beat West Ham on Tuesday night. Only Ramsey, Özil and Monreal came in to the team at the expense of Kallström, Rosicky and Vermaelen. Arsene clearly loves an Arteta on a match day and so it proved again, as the Spaniard lined up for yet another game. Overall he wasn’t too bad, but I was surprised to see that he wasn’t rotated with a couple of others yesterday. I guess ultimately though, when you’ve come away from a tricky away fixture with three points and a nice little boost to the goal difference charts, you have to say the manager got the selection decision right.

As seems to be par for the course with this Arsenal team though, the first half felt very laboured, so much so that when the excellently worked Ramsey finish was tucked away I did wonder whether a neutral would see it as against the run of play. But who cares about that, fright? I mean, that first goal was so excellently worked and when Cazorla slid Ramsey 2.0 (that’s the improved version from previous seasons) in, you just knew he was tucking that away.

It was great to see, but it also left me cursing our luck at half time, as a fully fit Rambo for the last four months could have delivered half a dozen extra goals for us. How crucial could that have been for games like United at home? It’s easy to play the hindsight game, but I’m sure his presence would have led to at least another six points in the team, which would have kept us clinging on to hope of a league title at this stage in the season. He was easily man of the match yesterday and ran so much of the game that it was as if he’d never been injured. Sigh…

But it does not do well to dwell on things that have passed, so we have to look at what’s in front of us and we can see three games in the league in which three wins secures the fourth place trophy and one after that secures the FA Cup.

I don’t buy all of the ‘psychological advantage’ that Sky Sports spoke of yesterday, because we had the same margin of victory away to Birmingham in the league when we played them in the League Cup, but we still contrived to bugger that one up. Hull will be a different team with a heck of a lot more motivation, so we will need to be at our best, hoping that the pressure doesn’t get to the players.

Anyway, back to yesterday’s game, and it not being the walk in the park the score line suggests. Hull’s game plan was simple; balls into the box, try to use the fact they get extra bodies in their as often as possible and see if they can get that early goal. Even after we went ahead, the scare from a Livermore shot off the post was there for all to see. But we rallied, got into half time 2-0 up with another good strike from Podolski, whose lashed shot from Ramsey’s knock-down was another fine example of team build up.

The game was probably effectively over from that point, so when Poldi got the third it was a nice little Easter gift and ensured a comfortable last twenty or so minutes for Gooners everywhere. Except me. I still remain nervous at 3-0 because once upon a time Arsenal shattered my confidence by being 4-0 up and drawing 4-4, so I never get comfortable on a three goal advantage until at least the last ten minutes of a game, but based on yesterday and also the Arsenal of the last twelve months or so I shouldn’t be as concerned. Yes, we still do implosions like nobody else, but that’s usually when we’re behind already. We seem to be alright at keeping a lead these days.

I thought Podolski had another game that was almost a carbon copy of the West Ham result. End product. That’s it. Get him into the box and let his finishing do the talking. His finishing was the difference between two worrying games and what ended up two relatively comfortable results. When all players are back and fully fit you have to think that he won’t be in the starting eleven, but if he keeps this scoring run going – four goals this last week – it will be impossible for him to be dropped.

He’s like the specialist kicker in a game of American Football, but the only difference is that he has to be in the team for other duties, which let’s him down. Having said that, based on his end product and Santi’s – usually preferred on the left – yesterday, I would personally keep the German. Cazorla may have slipped Ramsey in for goal number one, but I didn’t think he had the greatest of games and so for me based on what he brings to the team, Lukas should be starting ahead of the tiny little Spaniard.

So that is that then. A tough away fixture navigated, back-to-back home games in front of us and a hope that two wins might just be enough to see us finish in the top four, dependent on what Everton do of course.

Have a happy Monday Gooners.

A tale of two halves: peanut butter and oranges

I am all about the result right now. Much like the blogs I write, I am a man concerned not with the intricate details, but the end game. That game is one in which three points are everything and anything less than that is like ash in my mouth. Or peanut butter. That stuff is rank.

So ultimately, yeah, I’m pretty happy that just over 72 hours after the players secured our route to the FA Cup final, we managed to overcome a West Ham team that fancied an upset under the North London floodlights.

Three points is everything to Arsenal right now and with the margins thinner than Kate Moss, we can’t afford to be slipping up against mid-table teams, which seemed a very real possibility after that first half display that we witnessed last night.

Sluggish in possession, devoid of pace in any areas of the pitch (apart from Sagna, who I thought was excellent tonight, sign him up please…), we started as if we’d played and finished the FA Cup semi final about half an hour before we actually kicked off. As if it was some cruel Sunday league under-12s ‘double header’ that was going down. My compatriot for the evening, Billy and I, were at a bit of a loss to explain the lethargy if I’m honest. Arsene had rotated a number of players and rested Gibbs for Vermaelen, Ramsey for Kallstrom and Rosicky for The Ox, yet we still never really looked remotely fresh. Perhaps the general malaise of our other Premier League performances had clouded the weekend’s exploits and exuberance of the team?

Whatever it was, it didn’t feel very ‘Arsenal’ and as West Ham pressed us slightly higher (clearly with the mandate to try and grind us down after our difficult cup tie against Wigan), whilst looking to hit Carroll as often as possible when in possession, we looked devoid of any spark to set us going. So when the West Ham goal came first, the apprehension in the stands was palpable, with many a contorted face wondering whether this season would sink further into the mire. As Billy and I turned our necks towards the big screen to relive the pain, it occurred to me for a fleeting second that Giroud’s flicked miss only a short while earlier when put through from Santi, had been our only real chance of the game and could possibly have been the last at that rate.

Sometimes though, when you’re not playing well, you need just a little flash of brilliance. So step forward that man Lukas Podolski. He is an absolute enigma. Put him inside the box with the ball at his feet and you could bet your house, wife, dog and kids on him. But anywhere else on the park he looks lost at times. If there was the ability to freeze play, bring him on as a specialist player – like a kicker in American Football – and put him in a dangerous position, he’d be worth a billion bucks. But as an all round footballer he leaves a lot to be desired.

Still, right now I wouldn’t change him for anyone, because it’s clinical finishers like that who make the difference in top flight football. Had the score remained at 1-0 going in to the interval, who knows how it might have affected the teams mentality, yet his timely finish just before halftime enabled the team to regroup, tuck in to some half time oranges and come out firing in the second half.

And boy did those oranges work. The team that trotted out to the field for that second half looked totally different to the one that we have become used to during the last few weeks. There was more zip about the play and almost instantly you could see that the passing had more purpose to it. If the first half had been an exhibition of our mental fragility, the second half was an example of the teams testicular fortitude, because they released the ball quicker when in possession, they fashioned a chance almost immediate with Giroud cutting in behind the left back and central defender and they seemed like a team determined to show they could replicate some of that early season swagger.

A Cazorla cut infield and snap shot fizzed the post, a Podolski free-kick stung the palms of Adrian, all precluded the second goal and, as much as Podolski remains a mystery to us, to too does Giroud. The goal he scored last night was more reminiscent to the type of control and finish we’ve seen Suarez tuck away this season, so to see our much maligned centre forward tucking it home with his weaker football was, well it was a surprise and a half I can tell you.

After that we looked more comfortable, the passing remained assured and we fashioned more chances. Giroud, in particular, suddenly looked like he could retain possession when it was knocked up to him. Perhaps being dropped against Wigan was his Szczesny moment from a couple of seasons back? We can certainly hope so and if the threat of rotating with a raw 19 year old and potentially losing your cup final place in a months time, is the jolt he needs to get back to his pre-Christmas ways, then I’m all for it.

The game was secured ten minutes from time with a fantastic finish from Podolski, but the header down from Ramsey on the edge of the box was what excited me, because it was perfectly weighted for Lukas to roll his man and smash the ball home.

It’s amazing what a difference a day makes. Arsenal pick up three points to arrest a worrying winless streak, Arsene confirms that players are returning including Özil for the weekend, plus we have a bank holiday weekend and a dress rehearsal for the cup final coming up on Sunday. Happy Days.

I hope the players are feeling on top of the world today. I hope the win last night was the catalyst to us returning to our form that saw us to the top of the league and I hope that three points on Sunday will put us in the strongest possible position to secure top four.

Up The Arsenal.

A final by hook or by crook

How emotionally draining can Arsenal make our lives, eh? They couldn’t possibly do any more than the torture we sat through yesterday as we secured our place in the final of this year’s FA Cup on penalties against Championship Wigan.

Say that out loud. An FA Cup final. For the first time in nine years. Our first at the new Wembley.

Ultimately all that was needed yesterday, by hook or by crook, was passage into the next round and you have to credit the team for achieving that. In two weeks time it won’t matter that we huffed and puffed against a Wigan side that, despite their giant-killer status, offered little by way of a real threat to our goal and when I had a look at the match stats after the game I was left scratching my head as to how they managed to get seven attempts in the whole match.

Conversely, Arsenal battered down the door in terms of attempts at goal with 27 – nine of which were on target – and a mixture of the woodwork and good goalkeeping from Carson proved to be to our frustration until Per nodded in eight minutes from time to atone for his penalty concession earlier in the game.

We looked like a team that had been given a bit of a bruising and felt a little fragile, like we had been out on the tiles and we’re feeling the after-effects, with loud noises and not much movement other than from the bed to the sofa. Certainly in attack we looked a little sluggish at times and Poldi never really impacted the game at all out on the left. Sanogo tried to open his scoring account with a good header that was straight at Carson in the first half and he is definitely more mobile than Giroud, but as lone target man he was not really too convincing in my eyes and struggled to pull apart a capable but limited Wigan central defensive pairing. Again, I know we’re all bored of reading and hearing this, but a lack of genuine firepower to alternate or compliment Giroud could have made the difference in normal time yesterday. It’s something we have to live with and given that we have managed to reach a cup final I guess ultimately you can’t say we aren’t coping with it.

I should probably credit Carson for his world-class save from Gibbs, who nodded the ball goal wards in the second half and looked certain to be a goal. It was up the end I was in and for all the world looked like we’d scored.

So after being unable to break Wigan down over 90 and then a further 30, I was left with a numbing effect as I watched with my seven other compatriots on the day as we helplessly looked on in hope that this Arsenal team could drag us over the line in a shoot-out. They did and, although I got the specific person wrong in yesterday’s blog as I called on an ‘unlikely hero’, we had one nonetheless as Lukas Fabianski did his bit by saving the first two penalties.

Santi converted the winning penalty and cue a rush to the Polish ‘Keeper from his teammates. I heard afterwards that Roy Keane slammed the players for celebrating beating a Championship side, but if more fool him if he can’t acknowledge the pressure and relief that a penalty shoot out victory gives, so I don’t begrudge the players a celebration or two on a day like yesterday.

Our eyes may flicker over to the next game at Wembley this afternoon, but for those Arsenal players the focus has to be solely on West Ham on Tuesday night. There remains a job unfinished and after an extended period of time out on the pitch for those Arsenal players, with so many injuries and so few playing options available, it will be a case of ‘once more unto the breach’ for a number of those players that played yesterday. Thankfully we’ll have Gibbs and Giroud a bit fresher having played less than the full 120, so let’s also hope that there is a bit of freshness in the team that the manager can call on when we face the hammers.

Enjoy your Sunday, we’re on our way to Wembley.

Abject Arsenal are in trouble

Hold on tight, strap yourself in and mentally prepared yourself, because today’s blog isn’t going to be pretty.

Yesterday I sacked off a match preview because, after a night on a Monopoly bar crawl, I couldn’t really be arsed to write anything an hour or so before kick off. Hey, it happens, but the consequences of that are minimal to anybody.

Arsenal must have taken the same approach, because they couldn’t really be arsed yesterday either, the result of which was an all too familiar capitulation in a big game in which we needed to see a spark from the players. We got nothing. Literally nothing from the team. Actually, that’s not quite true, because we did get a fabulous dismally of misplaced passes, lack of pace and creativity and effort across all aspects of the pitch.

Let’s give Everton some credit first though. They hassled, pressed, hurried and looked hungry. They were hungry for a Champions League spot and had a clear line of sight towards what they wanted to get by putting an Arsenal side to the sword that quite frankly looked like they were all practicing for a ‘who can be the least arsed’ competition.

I’m getting tired of this. I think it was Le Grove that said on Twitter last night ‘let’s be honest, did anybody not expect this?’ and I have to echo those sentiments I’m afraid. Nobody does implosion like this Arsenal team. And, by golly, haven’t they had enough practice at it this season?

I’m getting tired people. I’m tired of talking about the same frailties. The defence which looked so solid for so long now looks like a rickety old fence that you could just give a nudge to before it falls over. It offers little protection to Szczesny and the result was a defensive lapse after defensive lapse. We lost 3-0 but there were plenty of other times that we were cut apart and you do have to wonder whether or not we were blinded by Vermaelen’s goals in his first season at the club, because his regression has been staggering over the last two years. He’s been ok filling in for Koscienly in the most part, but he was terrible at times yesterday, ball watching for the first goal, flailing a leg for the second and generally looking like a lost boy.

What makes me sad is that it doesn’t look like the manager can motivate the players any more. How else can you explain a game in which the team had a week off to prepare and yet still looked like they were running through treacle. We can talk about ‘tired lets’ and ‘fatigue’ until the cows come home, but I’ve seen a few teams over the last couple of weekends who have played just as many games as our players and yet they don’t look nearly as lethargic. A week! They had a week to be ready for this?

But herein probably lies the crux of the matter, the main area of focus and root cause of the problem: the manager. We all know he doesn’t look at the opposition and adapt his game to suit. We know he likes to send his players out with their own game plan and to play ‘Arsene’s Way’. But the trouble is, the only teams that could play that way were ones that had the best players in most positions, across the whole park. Intelligent players who had the ability to be given freedom of the park and express themselves. This Arsenal team isn’t good enough to do that. Sure, Arsene can rightly point to injuries and say that with those players fit we’d be challenging, but they’re not fit! So when you haven’t got the best players at your club available, you have to try something different, hence why looking at your opponents and changing your style to suit would make sense in light of so many first choice players being out.

But not Arsene, oh no, he sends his team out with the same instructions, the same expectations, yet expects different results. I believe Einstein famously said that is the very definition of insanity.

Arsene got out-tactic’d yesterday. Big time. He got shown that unless you have the 11 best players in their position in the league, you ignore the opposition at your peril. Martinez knew the joy Lukaku would get if he played out wide and so put him on the right and told him to wreak havoc. And he did. And there was no response from our manager, who is looking like he is showing his age from a footballing perspective. Modern football has moved on, Arsene, sadly hasn’t.

There’s not one player that started yesterday that can come out of the game with their head held high. The closest one that got to that was Sagna, yet he was guilty of dwindling on the ball too long and conceding possession which led to the third goal.

I don’t want to start singling out players, but after his woeful attempt at trying to look like a centre forward yesterday, I’m finding it hard not to mention a player who is called ‘the lamppost’ by some of the fan-base because when the ball hits him it bounces off in any direction. He was well into double figures of losing the ball when he was hauled off for Sanogo yesterday. Sanogo having that ‘X-Factor’ from the bench that we were looking for of course. Or rather, Sanogo being the only attacking player available because of the managers negligence to strengthen last summer or this winter.

Arsene said after the game that he cannot question the teams spirit. I hope that’s just talk for the papers, because I’m sorry Arsene, but that’s exactly what you should be doing right now. There was precisely 0% spirit in that team yesterday. We could have played for a week and we still wouldn’t have scored. There was a total lack of effort from the first minute until the last and I am just thankful that the Ox and Rambo came on and looked lively, because that will at least give us some home that there is some pace that can be injected into the side.

We’re on the ropes here people.

Heh, wouldn’t you know it, as I’m writing today’s blog my train has stopped outside Wembley Park station, as if to serve as more of a reminder of what lies in store next weekend. The players found it very difficult to motivate themselves for a Champions League spot showdown, so what makes any of us think they’ll be motivated for a cup semi one? Wigan fans, players and management must have been rubbing their hands together with glee having watched that shower of the proverbial yesterday, because now not only are they going into a game with nothing to lose, but they’ll be doing it against a team that looks as strong as a Rich Tea biscuit slam-dunked into a cup of tea.

If we lose next weekend, it will be almost impossible to argue a case for the managers defence, because if all we have to play for come May is another ‘fourth place trophy’, then all you can say is that he is now treading water with this team at best.

That’ll do for today. Perhaps some more thoughts tomorrow.>

Hmm…not sure how I feel about that

I’m not sure how I feel about yesterday’s result. I mean, I was happy to see us avoid defeat, as well as put in a good display with a depleted squad, but it’s hard for me to feel like we didn’t have another opportunity to get involved back in the title race. A frivolous fancy I know, but after Chelski made a bit of a balls-up against Crystal Palace, a win against Moneychester City could have seen us inexplicably back within reach of a title tilt.

As it is, I think we can pretty much rule out any kind of Shakespearian comeback for the league, but deep down I think most of us felt that any way. More importantly, we wanted to see something from this injury hit and beleaguered squad of Arsenal players, which I think we got.

I saw a team that were resolute defensively and gave Moneychester City very little in the way of attacking chances throughout the game. Sure, there was a few scary moments like when Toure rounded Szczseny in the second half, or the actual goal itself which unsurprisingly came from a loose bit of possession from Arsenal (Podolski), but by-and-large I thought we kept the Mancunians at bay for the majority of the match, whilst they still had to have Hart alert on a few occasions, most notably from a well struck effort that ricocheted off the ‘keepers boot.

You could tell that we were a tentative side in the first half, wary of conceding a là Stamford Bridge, playing within ourselves and not wanting to be too exposed. It felt like we were not really threatening in that first 45, but it also felt as if we were keeping City at arms length – the goal aside.

The second half we inevitably looked more adventurous and when the neat Flamini finish came I have to say I felt – completely biased of course – as if it was deserved. We looked a lot more confident in that second half and if any team were going to win it, it would have been us.

Again, I go back to the first comment I made at the top of the blog, which is that I’m not sure whether I’m happy with the result or not. I suppose many of us would have taken it before kick off (certainly the majority of Gooners I spoke to pre-match in the Tolly would agree), but in the warm light if day (thanks sunshine for reading your head!) I think I’m more disappointed than anything else. I don’t know why; we played a City team missing only Aguero from their squad, yet we have a list of players out so long that if you tattooed their names along your arm you’d probably need to be some kind of shaven super-monkey just to get all the letters on you.

The point may prove pivotal in securing fourth, but it would not seem as disappointing had we done our job against Swansea, so my overriding thought over these past seven days is not one with any kind of silver lining I’m afraid. We’ve slipped up midweek which was probably the most disappointing thing, recovered with a decent enough display yesterday, but ultimately are still looking precariously over our shoulder.

A few other points that stick out from yesterday. Mike Dean really is a reprehensible character. It’s often stated that the best referees are the ones that are not seen or heard, but I can’t say that any game with him in charge (regardless of whether it’s Arsenal or not) falls into that category. He’s the type of person that revels in the spotlight and I am sure that – like Graham Poll before him, when he is forced to retire, he will find a way to slither himself back into the public spotlight. He’s like the old-school headmaster type that has a massive inferiority complex and so takes out his own insecurities on the players he has 90 minutes to control each week. I haven’t seen the Rosicky penalty incident yet but many tell me it is one of those ‘seen them given’, but in classic Dean style he not only refused to budge (I’m not so sure he’d have been as stubborn had it been against us at the Etihad), but made quite a gesture of pointing to a goal kick. He is a character the game will not miss when he is gone.

And subs. I know this is a bit of a mute point, because we’ve always known this about Arsene, but sometimes I do wish he’d roll the dice a bit earlier than he does. He waited until just over ten minutes to go before making some changes when I thought we could have done with freshening it up a little earlier. Some of the players did look like they were dipping physically on about the 65-70 minute mark, yet Arsene left it a little bit too late for the incoming subs to make an impact. With City pushing forward a little bit more I’d have liked to have seen the Ox on earlier and perhaps even Gnabry. Having said that, we’ve all chastised the team this season for ‘going for it’ when they should have realised that settling for a point may have been good enough, so perhaps we can’t have our cake and eat it with attacking subs designed to win the game.

We now have a week off to recharge the batteries in prep for Everton away which, depending on results tomorrow, could be another anus-clenching afternoon as we make it as difficult as possible for ourselves to secure Champions League football next season.

But we wouldn’t have it any other way, right?