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.

No dress rehearsal; getting touch tight to Giroud is essential

On this most holiest of days in the Christian calendar, it is that most precious of things that you and I wish for our beloved Arsenal: three points picked up away from home against Hull City.

Of course the press conferences of both managers were dominated by discussions of the impending FA Cup Final between the two sides, but understandably both wanted to emphasise the importance of today’s match up, ensuring the focus is on three points and not on using it as a dress rehearsal for the final. For Arsene, this game is an opportunity to show the world that his side are masters of the fourth place trophy, so putting another win under our belts as we head towards the end of the season is all important. For Steve Bruce, this is about further cementing his sides Premier League credentials and climbing the table as high as possible, but there will also be an element of “look at us, we can turnover this Arsenal team in the league, so why not in the cup final?”.

Hull currently sit six points clear of relegation and whilst not many are talking about them being dragged into the relegation mire, they are not completely safe from a nervy end to the season, especially with results like the one at Stamford Bridge yesterday evening. So there is certainly motivation for the Tigers, which I suspect we’ll see materialIse in the shape of a quick start and a loud crowd hoping to catch us cold early on. That’s how most teams have outdone this Arsenal side this season and that is why we have to ensure that the first fifteen minutes – if not all Arsenal – are certainly relatively quiet.

At The Emirates Hull lined up with a 3-5-2 formation but were pretty much nullified within a few minutes as Nik Bendtner (remember him? That crazy ol’ Danish Samurai) struck early which meant Hull had to come out and play and as a result made for a more open and expansive game. The fact we only won 2-0 belies the performance that day, as I remember coming away thinking it should have been four or five without reply. But perhaps that is an example of how Hull have managed to look ok defensively for a newly promoted team. They’ve never really been battered by anyone in terms of score lines and I don’t think we’ll be hitting them for six again today.

They also have a totally different strike force of Long and Jelavic who, if I’m completely honest, I’m very glad won’t be making the cup final. Long is a good player and has caused us a few problems over the last few years during his time at West Brom, whilst Jelavic always strikes me as one of those centre forwards that if he’s shown the love by a manager, he’ll replicate in form. He’s a bit like Giroud in that respect. Which provides me with a lovely little segway into talking about how our team will line up today…

Thankfully, Arsene has some decisions to make for today’s game. Gibbs may be out, which would force his hand if Monreal is not fit, but the rest of the back five is obvious. They will need to contend with the running of Long and the goal-hanginess of Jelavic and if they do that, you have to fancy our chances, because without wanted to sound like I got an Easter gift of ‘The Big Book of Football Clichés’ solid defences help you to build winning teams.

The midfield anchor could be either Flamini, Arteta of Kallström, but I suspect we’ll see the Frenchman come in for the Spaniard because Tricky Micky has looked a little tired of late. With Flamini having served his two games suspended, he’ll be bright as a button and an important screen for when the runners from midfield make their way towards our box. The next decisions will be who will play alongside that anchor, which for me should be only one real choice: Aaron Ramsey. He has the offensive and defensive engine needed to compliment both Özil and Giroud and with him in the team there is instantly more pace injected into the side from midfield. It provides that extra man in attack when the front three are looking a little pedestrian. that front three, which I think will consist of Podolski, Cazorla and The Ox, will need to get as close to Giroud for those knock downs as possible, because it’s only when he has teammates around him, that Olivier looks a threat. If he’s isolated alongside a back three that includes the in-form Curtis Davies, then we won’t see too much joy I’m afraid, but if Santi and Podolski get alongside the big Frenchman, then we’ll see an altogether different performance I’ll wager.

What we need to see from Poldi today (assuming he starts, which I think he will after his two goals on Tuesday), is more of that end product that he’s becoming famous for, so moving a bit more centrally and coming closer to Giroud to link up would provide that I think. The Ox has the trickery and pace to get in behind the Hull defenders, so he and Ramsey can be effective runners beyond Giroud, but Santi and Poldi need to have all of the play in front of them, hence why I think they should be tight to our buffon-loving centre forward.

“No Özil?” I hear you ask and, whilst I think he’ll certainly play a part, with a month out through injury and Le Boss able to call on a number of different players I think we’ll see him eased in from the bench.

This is a game in which we should have enough quality to win, but with the form of the last six weeks only picking up over the last game (and that was only really in the second half), I think we’ll still see an element of fragility about this Arsenal team. I can’t see us coming charging out of the blocks, so I think this will be a cagey affair in the first half, with the need not to be blitzed within the first 30 minutes. Thereafter, the hope is that we see more football like the second half on Tuesday night, which will certainly see us pick up some points if we play like that, so keep your fingers crossed.

Have a Happy Easter Sunday (hopefully).

absence makes the heart grow fonder

Happy Saturday to you fellow Goonerite. It’s an interesting one because as we hit the last few dregs of the season, Sky and BT Sport have their grubby mits all over the most important fixtures, which means the chances of seeing Arsenal play a Saturday 3pm kick off is about as likely as Miley Cyrus admitting that she is actually a clone of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. But with clear deficiencies in the cloning process obviously.

There was some interesting news as the working week drew to a close, which included Aaron Ramsey being nominated for the PFA Young Player of the year. It’s great to see his early season exploits have been regarded so highly and, had he stayed fit throughout the season and continued his form, one expects the end of season ceremony would have been more a case of ‘what time do you want me to collect the trophy?’ rather than ‘will I win it’ for the Welshman. His nomination also brings into stark contrast the challenges the team has faced missing in-form and key players for varying periods of time this season.

For example, I have seen a few Gooners (thankfully in the minority) bemoaning the form of Ozil before he was injured, yet some of those very same people are now overjoyed that he is returning to the first team fray, which certainly shows that the old adage of absence making the heart grow fonder a true one. As Gooners we’ve become accustomed to saying to ourselves “yeah but, what if he was fit? Where would we be now?” and whilst it’s a path that is both pointless and maddening, it’s still something we should all be aware of.

Thankfully we have plenty of players returning for this final push on the league and on Thursday Arsene confirmed what he had already said post West Ham: Ozil is fit and raring to go for tomorrow and we appear to miss just Gibbs, Walcott and the eventual return to fitness (albeit most likely to be fleeting) of Abou Diaby. Had there been some magic cream to rub on the wounds of the returning players a month ago we might still be clinging on to a league title aspiration, but such is life and we must accept where we are and what is in front of us.

Kim Kallstrom has had his say on his experience and after some shaky misplaced passes in the first half on Tuesday, I thought he grew into the game well, showing some good upper body strength and above all with Arsene Wenger teams retaining possession is important. He certainly seemed capable in that regard. He thinks his experience will prove important in the next month and whilst I’m inclined to agree with him, I’m not sure how many chances on the field he’ll get to actually play. With Flamini back from suspension I think Arsene has his hierarchy of more defensive minded midfielders and I think Kallstrom is certainly in at number three there. It will be interesting to see what happens at the end of the season. I don’t know if Kallstrom is available on a free transfer or not, but I’d be surprised if Wenger had the interest in making a 31-year-old a permanent offer, so perhaps this is just an opportunity for Kallstrom to market himself in the Premier League as much as possible and try to get a club. Perhaps the fact that he’s playing at Arsenal might be enough to convince a Premier League manager that he’s worth a punt next season, but I’d be surprised if he’s gracing the Emirates in a red jersey come August.Stranger things have happened I suppose.

Arsene has also talked up (as you’d expect) the importance of Giroud recovering his….ahem….mental strength in overcoming his recent transgressions both on and off the field and appeared to be back to his form of earlier in the season against West Ham. He also made an interesting observation about the number of headers Giroud wins from out wide in crossing positions, compared to the number of headers he wins when the ball comes from deep. He’s right of course; it’s interesting to see a player that is so good in the air in one type position not be as good in another. I guess you could say that you have to be a lot more accurate when heading towards a specific part of the goal rather than just winning the ball for it to ping off in any direction. You can’t say it’s a difference between how aggressive he is when he attacks the ball, as to win any header in the first place you have to be aggressive. It’s something I’m sure Giroud is conscious of too.

Personally, I just think that Giroud’s form has been linked to who we are playing as much as his fatigue this season. Every Gooner I meet accepts that he’s a player with limited abilities, so sure it must only be rational to assume that he is therefore a player that we are only likely to see score goals against teams who are also limited in their technical capabilities? If you want to make the difference in big games, you need ‘special’ players. Giroud tries hard, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an Arsenal player that agrees he’s ‘special’. So whilst we can all bemoan a missed chance against Chelski or Liverpool, perhaps we should just accept that from a striking position we’ve got what we essentially paid for, so it’s difficult to be too frustrated with the Frenchman in that regard.

The positive of this, however, is that if this is true, then we can expect Giroud to have a better end to the season than the last month. The next few games include matches from teams that are all in the bottom 10 in the league, where Giroud – like Arsenal this season – is a bit of a flat track bully and has been scoring goals. Providing he stays fit I’d expect him to play all of the remaining five games, with Sanogo only being used if the chips are down. Putting aside the sobering thought that we have a raw 19-year-old as our ‘go-to-guy’, if Giroud can hit some form then at least we could see him get to perhaps 23 or 24 goals.

Anyway, you’ve probably had enough of me for one day, so I’ll take my leave and request that you have a lovely Saturday.

Back with a match preview tomorrow.

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.

West Ham: Let’s blitz the first 25

Right, plenty to get through today, so let’s crack on.

Firstly, the clubs announcement that they’ve received 25,000 tickets for the FA Cup final, which let’s face it, is nothing short of a travesty with 45,000 season ticket holders. I am fortunate enough that I have enough away points not to be affected by a ballot, but this farce is a perpetual joke that the FA consistently deliver to all fans of teams that get to the final of the competition. I’m not a fan of the semi’s being at Wembley, but when you have so few tickets available for supporters, I see it as at least a plus point for most to be able to get to go to Wembley. Will the FA change? Don’t hold your breath. 40,000 tickets going to corporates and fans not affiliated with the club (officially). And people wonder why there appears to be less atmosphere at some of these games…

Anyway, much like the mentality the players must adopt in the wake of an important game under the floodlights of the Emirates, as a collective body of people we must now forget the glitz and glamour of an FA Cup showdown with Hull and force our steely gazes towards the arriving East Londoners. It’s Sam ‘Clobbermesiter’ Allardyce who rolls himself into town today with a gameplan that will be so transparent that, if you were a fly, you’d spent your life trying to get through it only to be stopped by its tedium and invisible force-fieldiness.

My brother is a West Ham fan. Half my family hail from that area and I can assure you, if you didn’t already know, the natives are restless and impatient in that part of the world. They don’t like the brand of football he plays, we don’t like the football he plays, heck, even some of the West Ham players probably don’t like the football he plays. But unfortunately it’s a results business and that is what he’s good at.

Tactically, he’ll set up his side to be difficult to break down, catch us with set pieces and rely on our fatigue and fitness levels after a gruelling 120 minutes at the weekend to see if he can deliver a sucker punch in the latter stages. He practically said so in his press conference yesterday. So if that is his plan, we need to make sure that we’ve delivered enough jabs to the face and torso shots to render any random late left hook as a mere footnote. If it goes to points, we want that technical knock out to be comfortably in our favour.

Apologies for the over indulgence of boxing metaphors, but when you’re up against a manager like ‘Big Sam’, what else can you expect other than a physical battle that will more than likely leave us bruised and bloodied come Wednesday morning. They will play Andy Carroll up front, knock the ball long to him and hope that they can get enough support from the two Noble’s to furnish them with either: a) a scabby goal they can cling on to as we desperately find a way to respond for the majority of the match, or b) a scabby goal later in the game when there’s no time to respond. It’s like being asked which pointy end do you want hammered into your crotch.

The first 25 minutes will be all important tonight. If we start quickly and do to West Ham what Liverpool did to us, we can render the result irrelevant. I know you’re probably thinking ‘yeah right, when was the last time we did that’ and certainly our form doesn’t suggest that we will, but good form has to begin somewhere, so why not tonight?

Under normal circumstances this is a game I’d fancy us to get plenty of joy from. The performance on Boxing Day may have started off slightly sluggishly, but the introduction of Podolski and freshening it up a bit in the second half, swung it in our favour. The problem we have tonight is that ‘freshening up’ isn’t really an option we can draw upon with the depleted squad we have. Chamberlain looked like he needed a leg transplant by the end of the game and Rambo, having just got back from injury, ran himself into the ground until the 113th minute, so quite where we inject some pace from is a bit of a mystery to me.

I suspect Kallstrom might be given his first start in midfield and I’m certainly crossing everything in the hope that Rosicky is back fit. Thankfully we have Gibbs and Giroud who only made extended cameo appearances along with Kallstrom on Saturday, so I’m expecting to see that trio looking a bit more spritely, along with a return of Koscienly to give Per the option of a more mobile partner in the heart of the defence. If all of those players make it for tonight’s game, then hopefully it will have a positive impact and Sam’s ‘wait til they get knackered lads’ tactics will be negated somewhat.

This is one of those ‘take a scabby 1-0′ games if you ask my opinion. We are devoid of pace, we have ailing players and we’re up against a team that’s just had 10 days off. We need to get in, get out, keep the Champions League fourth place race alive and look to another big game on Sunday against Hull. Because if I’m honest with you, I can’t see Everton slipping up against Palace at home tomorrow night, can you?

The problem we have, as so many have already pointed out just about everywhere that I read, is that we’re too predictable with the way we set up. Allardyce is one of those men that studies the opponents rigorously and where their weaknesses are, so coupled with the extra rest his team have been afforded, he’ll really fancy an upset tonight. Dealing with Carroll will be the biggest challenge, but up against big men this season I’ve been impressed at how we’ve managed to deal with the pressure. I think to Spuds and Villa away and how both teams set up to get balls into the box to the front man, which were routinely hammered away by the Per/Kos axis. That’s why Koscienly’s re-introduction into the team could prove to be pivotal. There’s reasons to be cheerful, given that he was snapped by the club in training yesterday, but thankfully Arsene has admitted he will remain cautious on playing him unless he’s 100%. We need Per and Kos to be fit for the rest of the season. If we want to replicate ‘gritty Arsenal 2013′, built on a solid foundation and an ability not to concede goals, it is those two where it starts so I hope he makes his way back in to the team lineup from the start.

This West Ham team will pose us some troubles tonight I fear. But the hope, however, is that our need is greater than a team that should now be more than comfortably clear of a relegation dogfight, so I’m hoping on a West Ham team that is already planning their Maldives getaway in June.

How about this for some positivity? What price could you put on the team being reborn after the confidence boost of knowing you’re in a cup final? What if the knowledge that reinforcements are being shipped in like it’s our turn next to roll the dice in a footballing real-life version of ‘Risk‘, as Özil and Gnabry appear on the horizon ready for their part to play? Arsene himself seemed a little bit chipper about returning players yesterday, so let us hope that our nightmare form which has seen us not win a game (in normal time!) since what feels like 2008, is starting to dissipate and be replaced by an end of season charge to the top four.

Catch you tomorrow.

No time for happy reflection, there’s still one more big job to do

We learned our FA Cup final fate yesterday with Hull’s dismissal of a plucky Sheffield United in the second of the semi-finals at Wembley in the Sunday sunshine yesterday. So now both sets of fans can happily proclaim that we’re definitely going to Wembley for real this time.

Post game emotions on Saturday evening seemed quite muted as I walked along Wembley Way. Indeed, from some of the sombre faces that I came across before I departed on the Met Line home had an air of glumness to the result, such was the hope that there would be demons banished against Championship Wigan. Personally, in 12 months time if this match is to be played again in similar circumstances, I suspect we’ll be talking about Premier League Wigan and so the gloss would not have been as sanded down as it appeared to have been because we only beat a Championship team. But there you go.

After more than 24 hours worth of reflection I’m just happy we’re there and the fact that the final has now been moved back until after the league has finished by the FA is a good thing too. It will ensure that all eyes can be fixed on what I think has become an extremely difficult task to remain in the top four this season.

It’s difficult because Everton are playing well and the Spuds aren’t quite out of it yet. Everton’s somewhat fortunate goal against Sunderland on Saturday may have felt like the rub of the green is there’s, but they had other chances to put Sunderland away and with Crystal Palace heading to Goodison this midweek, I don’t fancy that Tony Pulis will do us any favours. That means that the margins are now almost nil for us in my opinion. Our league form has been nothing short of woeful and the main element of hope we can take from the weekends result is that the players will rock up to London Colney today with a spring in their step because they have a final to look forward to in the merry month of May. Certainly the performance won’t have helped alleviate our nerves ahead of a very important game tomorrow.

Make no mistake about it, tomorrow will be desperately hard, and if you don’t believe that already yourself then I’d ask you to consider a few things. Firstly, West Ham are playing with no pressure, having pretty much secured their survival with a couple of good wins and were unlucky to fall victim to refereeing incompetence against Liverpool last weekend. That’s a Liverpool team that unfortunately is going to go on and win this year’s Premier League I’m afraid.

Secondly, we will probably be in a bit of a mess in terms of ‘tired legs’ tomorrow. We’ve looked leggy and lethargic after a week off recently, so how we’ll perform when the players have just gone through 120 minutes of intensity (regardless of the opponent and their technical ability, the players still had to go through a mentally draining game with penalties at the end) is anyone’s guess. Last season we absolutely blitzed a Wigan team that had won the FA Cup during the weekend previously and that game had them fighting for their lives. But you could see then after about an hour how absolutely shattered they were. That’s what I fear for us.

Arsene has not rotated enough this season and injuries have forced his hand at the moment, so we know that there will be a large chunk of the players that played against Wigan, also being asked to step in against West Ham.

It’s not just tomorrow that we need to look at though, is it? At the weekend upcoming we face a dress reversal of the cup final when the players travel up to the Yorkshire and Humberside region to face Hull in what will be another game that we cannot lose. I believe we have to win all of our remaining five games to get that fourth spot. The way things are falling for Everton I can only see them dropping points in perhaps one game of their remaining five, which means we have to win all of ours and that includes a trip to Hull in which I can see them wanting to put a marker down for the FA Cup, as well as an away game on the final day of the season in which I’m almost certain Norwich’s Premier League status will rely on.

There’s also talk of a few more knocks picked up from Saturday’s game, which wouldn’t surprise me, as would a special request from the club to bring in any former player still living as extra bodies to cover some of the spaces we have available in our squad with our injury list. Arsene will no doubt give us the low down on who’s available at some stage today, so kiss any lucky rabbits feet you have, avoid three drain manhole covers and search the fresh Spring fields for all the four leaf clovers there are available. More on the game tomorrow and possible starting line ups as well.

For now, enjoy the sunny day, the thoughts of the final and the hope of ending an intolerable trophy drought that we’ve been beaten with for the last nine years.

Puppy sacrifices with no repercussions

I learned quite some time ago that life isn’t fair, but I’m still coming to terms with the fact that in football, there’s ever anything that is fair in this world.

I was all ready with my ‘har-har, chortle-chortle, Chelski lost to a team that plays with an RnB singer from the nineties’ jibe, when I find out on BBC News at Ten that they’d scored a last minute winner to get through to the semi final.

I mean, really? Do you think that the footballing gods could just give Chelski some sort of karmic comeuppance, just once, just at some stage? Probably not. John Terry, dressed in an all white Ku-Klux-Klan ensemble, surrounded by puppies to which he bullets each one, then finishes off by eating them on national television, probably wouldn’t see any kind of karma come back to haunt them.

Jose Mourinho can make all the jibes about rival managers he likes, but you just know that the second Arsene have it a go, we’d lose 12-0 to a Tony Pulis inspired Crystal Palace side. Actually, Arsene might as well start making derogatory quotes about the opposition, because when he doesn’t it still doesn’t keep us immune from batterings.

You might want to take a step back from today’s blog, because I’ve filled it with some sour grapes and they’re really starting to turn…

What we really need to see ‘turn’ is our form and, as the Everton debacle begins to fade slightly (but unfortunately cannot be forgotten), I find myself trying frantically to return to some semblance of positivity. After all, come Saturday night at around 8pm UK time the world could look like a slightly brighter place. Of course, it could also look like an unfair wasteland of ripped Arsenal shirts and broken cannons, but as Billy said on GunnersTown in his piece yesterday, hope is a much more powerful and thoroughly enjoyable feeling than that of bitterness and anger.

So my plan for the rest of this week is to recapture that feeling that all is certainly not lost in this season. An FA Cup semi final victory followed by victory over West Ham in the league will provide some much needed belief to all concerned with Arsenal. The hope, however, is that the team can handle the pressure against lesser opposition.

If I can offer any glimmer of positivity to you in the days leading up to the semi, it’s that our season success has been built on the back of beating teams further down the table to us. Wigan are certainly further down the table, as are all of the sides we now face in the Premier League, so whilst our fate does not reside in our own hands for the race for fourth (eurgh), the team have shown they have the minerals to dispatch teams this season.

Aaron and Wojciech have been the chosen mouthpieces for talking up the Arsenal response this week, which I can understand because Rambo’s return appeared to show no major ring-rustiness and despite being partially culpable for the third goal on Sunday, there’s not really a lot wrong that Szczesny did against the toffees and so both players emerged from the second Merseyside debacle of the season relatively unscathed.

It will be good to see Ramsey line up in midfield – probably alongside Arteta – at the weekend and whilst the Spaniard has looked a little bit war-torn and weathered of late, having someone with the energy of the Welshman will do him the power of good I’m sure.

We’ve still got a few days before Arsene or anyone at the club emerge to talk all things cup competition, so perhaps it’s a good thing that they’re getting down and concentrating on trying to rediscover some form. What we really need them to be doing is having another group meeting and some home truths laid down a lá Tottenham away last season. There needs to be a team reboot because it hasn’t been working for some time now. A fresh approach can come from a bit of team bonding and motivational speaking, but if ever there was a time to try and re-jig the first eleven to inject some pace, it’d be right now.

More on possible team line ups in the coming days.

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.>

Twinges, switcharoo’s and Everton

See Arsenal? See what happens when you leave me to my own devices on a Saturday? I head into the City to engage in a bit of beer-swillingey Monopoly-inspired goodness. I hold you fully accountable for what transpires on this Saturday afternoon.

Mind you, at least Arsene has managed to plug a boredom gap by giving me something to write about whilst I wait for this horrific monstrosity of public transportation (London Double-Decker – I have a deep-seated detestation of all buses going back to my university days reliance on the horrible things) to take me to my destination. Rail replacements…pffffhhhhh.

Anyway, you don’t care about that, so I’ll move my mutterings squarely into the Arsenal topic corner. Arsene took on the press yesterday and was able to talk up the positivity that Rambo’s return (sounds like a film that Sly would make when he realises he’s probably too old to get any other gig) would have on the team. It is a timely boost to the squad, but much like Gnabry and as I mentioned yesterday, Arsene confirmed that he didn’t expect him to be firing on all cylinders for at least another two to three weeks. That’s fine by me. I can handle the ‘he’ll improve on the pitch’ stuff, it’s the seemingly never-ending dreaded ‘three-weeks’ when players are out, that I find difficult to stomach.

I’d expect him to play some part in the latter stages of the game tomorrow, but let’s hope the victory is secured with 20 minutes to go when we can ease him back in, rather than us desperately chasing something against an in-form Everton.

What he will eventually bring to the team is a much needed shot of adrenalin to the team. His all-action energetic style brings feels to me like it brings us a bit more urgency and in addition to his goals, it’s not surprising to see that he’s a fighter in defence as well. We may have to wait a couple of weeks before we see the lung-busting Aaron, but he’ll get there and we’ll profit from it as a team as a result.

The return of Monreal is quite fortuitous too, as it appears Gibbs has a slight ankle twinge (love that word!), so I think Arsene will be happy to give it the old ‘switcharoo’ (that one too!) in at left back. Anyway, more on team squad line up tomorrow, with maybe even some thoughts on Everton too.

I always find the headline grabbers in the press quite amusing at these press conference thingamabobs. After he had his usual presser yesterday, I saw headlines about Arsene talking about ‘six pointers’, little horses and the like, but it was only when I actually watched the press conference that I realised that he didn’t actually say those things at all. He was asked a question by a hack which included the word ‘six pointer’, to which he could either respond ‘yes’ (WENGER SAYS CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GAME A SIX POINTER), or ‘no’ (WENGER DISMISSES EVERTON GAME IMPORTANCE). I know I’m big enough and ugly enough to realise that it’s all part of life’s eclectic and rich tapestry, but it still doesn’t make it any less irksome.

Arsene was also asked about whether the morale of the team had been dented by recent displays, to which he admitted we were a little ‘flat’ against Swansea, but that a corner had turned with the City result. I’m sure that did restore a little belief, but the only worry I have is that our belief seems permanently balanced on a knife-edge. We’ve take. Quite a few batterings this season compared to our so-called rivals, so I’m always wary when you hear comments like ‘we’ve turned a corner’. It’s fine to turn a corner, just don’t turn four corners on the same side in quick succession lads, because you’ll end up standing exactly where you were and be doomed to repeat your mistakes. For me, the only time I’ll truly believe that we have ‘turned the corner’ is when a very large milestone has been achieved. I’m sure you know where I’m going with this, but for me it’s all about getting that monkey off our back; delivering silverware.

We have a very real chance to turn a very big corner. I hope Arsene and his team takes it. We all do.

Catch y’all tomorrow.

Holloway Road goats and a managed expectation on Rambo

Bleugh. An early start followed by interrupted sleep makes for one grumpy Suburban Gooner I tell you. Plus, I was interrupted on the intriguing dream I was having about collecting my FA Cup semi final and final (yes, presumptuous I know but apparently someone had guaranteed our safe passage) from Islington Town Hall, which had been conveniently moved so that it was now next to The Rocket pub and was having daily ‘history of Arsenal Football Club’ tours sponsored by Credit Suisse. How mental is it that big brands are even involved in your subconscious these days?

Anyway, I never found out why there were an un-proportionately large volume of goats on Holloway Road before I was rudely awoken by my early alarm clock, so I’m in a bit of a huff this morning. Still, I guess my cup semi final tickets did arrive on schedule, so there’s one reason to be cheerful.

Another reason to be cheerful is the re-emergence of Aaron Ramsey from his hamstring inflicted hibernation. Arsene delivered the good news yesterday that he will be in the match day squad on Sunday and, whilst I doubt he’ll get anything more than 20 to 30 minutes tops, it’s a welcome sight at a stage in the season when losing players to injury seems to have become more fashionable than receiving them back from injury.

I’m not going to put any undue pressure on him through over-hyped expectations though and I think you should advise all you know and love to do the same. After all, three months out in a nine month season is a long time, so I don’t think we’ll see the swashbuckling, goalscoring, box-to-box lung-busting Ramsey for a couple of weeks yet.

There’s also a tendency to hail returning players as the saviour of any season when it gets to the business end, yet rarely to players return and deliver what the mind distorts into some kind of super-human player that does everything and changes the course of a game alone. I remember the excitement a few years back when Vermaelen returned after so long out, yet after a dozen or so games it was clear that he wasn’t the brick wall we all had built him up to be during his lengthy absence.

I think Aaron will have a very positive effect on our play, so please don’t let my cautiousness belie the fact I’m very happy to see him return, but I just want to keep my own expectations in check. Sorry to trot out a tired cliché, but there are 11 Arsenal players that win football matches, not just one. For Ramsey to be successful the other players will need to each have their own impact.

Nacho also returns from injury and it’s a bit of a shame that he picked up his injury when he did, because it would have given him some more game time whilst Gibbs was injured, which is inevitably now going to be reduced given that Gibbs is back in the first team fold. I still think Monreal will get a few games between now and the end of the season, but providing Gibbs stays fit I can see those games being fewer than he would like. Hey, that’s what happens when you’re at a big club competing for places, which I’m sure he knows and appreciates.

Diaby is back in training, but until he strings together four games without injury, I suggest we just pretend that is merely a cameo before the inevitable happens. I watched a small bit of Lyon vs Juventus last night and saw Pogba with a very similar style to Abou. Only not injured. It made me think about ‘what could have been with Diaby. He’s such a gifted player and it’s a real shame that what happened to him happened, but I guess that is life, so everyone should just get on with it.

The rest of the news we leave to Arsene to debate and discuss with the journos today. With us lining up against Everton on Sunday, I expect we’ll hear some mischievous comments about the possibility of Lukaku at Arsenal next season, but at this stage it’s all agent talk and probably not even worth the sentence I’ve afforded it.

That’s yer lot for this Friday. If they do find out why so many goats are present in North London, can you let me know?

Thanks