Nervy about form, but a reaction is needed

Matchday! The bestest day of the week! Today it’s Sunderland away and the best thing about football is that it very quickly offers the chance of redemption, so after a number of really poor performances, the Arsenal players could wash away the bad taste left in the mouth from the home draw to Hull or the smash and grab in Brussels.

I’m oop Norf for today’s game with The Management’s family and if I’m completely honest, whilst I’m excited to be popping along to the game this afternoon, I’m also really apprehensive. There are a lot of factors which could mean that this afternoon is not as enjoyable as I’d hope it could be.

For starters there’s our own form. Sure, we picked up a win in midweek, but we haven’t really kicked into gear all season as yet. Perhaps the Galatasaray game was the only exception, but even the Villa game had some scary moments before the match was effectively over at half time and turned into a testimonial in the second half.

We are not playing well and going forward we were quite toothless on Wednesday and on Saturday too. If we are going to win the game today, we can’t afford to be so lethargic in our passing. Our good football is about movement. It’s about pulling teams apart by quick interchanges of possession and willing runners. It’s not about static sideways balls from one side of the pitch to another via three midfielders all in a line. The only way we will win today is if there is energy in the performance.

And that’s the second reason why I’m nervous, because I think we’ll see a Sunderland side with a lot of energy today. They will have spent a whole week stewing on an 8-0 performance and so their players will be pumped today. They will be running their arses off in front of their home fans and so if we are not at it from the first second, I think we’ll be in trouble. Where we were appalling last season was when teams blitzed us in the first 15 minutes. It wouldn’t surprise me if Poyet tells his players to do the same. The first opening exchanges of today’s game might just require us to dig deep and play well defensively. Which leads me to the third reason why I am worried about today…

Defensively we had nothing to do against Hull and we still were masters of our own downfall with the second goal. Forget the first, that was an anomaly and should have been a foul, but there can be no excuses for the second goal. Likewise in midweek, with what felt to me like a carbon copy of the second Hull goal (caught under the flight of a ball and opposition player nods beyond the ‘keeper), we can’t really have any complaints. Today Sunderland will be looking to exploit our defensive frailties by testing our back four with balls in to Fletcher through the channels, most likely delivered by either Wickham or Buckley, or through set pieces from Larsson or Johnson.

If Arsène chooses to field the same side as he did on Wednesday, with Monreal in the heart of the defence, I fear what the repercussions will be. Monreal is not a centre half and so I have no beef with him, but more I have beef with the boss if he continues to choose him. I hope Arsène sees sense and puts Chambers in the heart of the back four, bringing Bellerin in at right back, because I think that gives us more balance than the team that played in the Champions League. Bellerin was impressive against Hull and I certainly think he deserves another shot at playing against a Sunderland side that might give us a bit more space going forward.

Which leads me to trying to finish up today’s match preview blog by being a bit more positive. Defensively Sunderland have the same problems with lack of numbers that we do, and whilst they will be massively up for this game today, they are still the same side that conceded eight against Southampton. If Sunderland aim to come at us and catch us off guard by pressing higher up the pitch, it will give room for Welbeck and Alexis to do their thang. Alexis was awesome against Anderlecht and another performance like that will most likely go a long way in giving us the win. Bellerin might also profit from Sunderland pushing forward, because he did look good going forward against Hull and he is very rapid so he might get a bit of green grass to run into today. If he does, he’ll need the support of the midfield runners like Ramsey and the vision of Cazorla, to support him in finding an outlet in our final third.

The blueprint for our struggles this season has been when teams have sat back and let us pass ourselves to death. I’m not sure Sunderland will do that today. They might do, I could be wrong, but I think their fans will get on their backs if they set themselves up for a draw at home. So them coming at us like Villa did could end up being a blessing.

Keep those fingers crossed Gooners!

Something’s not right

Something isn’t quite right at Arsenal at the moment. Most obviously is the number of draws that we’ve already racked up this season. Everton, Leicester, Moneychester City, the Spuds and Hull have all shared the spoils with us and as a result we find ourselves this morning with only 13 points after the first eight games.

If you want to look into the detail you could argue that going away to Everton and Chelski and playing the Spuds and City at home isn’t the easiest of starts, to which I would certainly agree, but the really great teams take advantage of things like being at home and pick up points where needed. Just look at Moneychester City. They dispatched a pretty average Tottenham team that we huffed and puffed against but still laboured to a draw. I know I probably shouldn’t be comparing us to any oil whoring club, but we’ve had aspirations of an assault on the league title previously, especially after our appetites were wetted following an excellent attempt at it last season. So for me personally, to see us now already miles off the two petro-dollar clubs is a pain that I’d rather not have to experience, as a fan.

I tweeted yesterday that I am coming to accept that our fight is not with the two going for the title, it is with the also-rans of Man United, Totteringham and Liverpool. With every performance like yesterday that appears more and more to be the case. We came up against yet another team in Hull that, Like Palace on day one, knew that what they needed to do was sit deeper, defend in numbers and catch us on the counter. And we once again, like the Spuds game, huffed and puffed in the second half with no real drive or guile to unlock an industrious, but not particularly special, Hull team.

When Danny Welbeck scored the equaliser in stoppage time, I was relieved, but Ben and I (my partner in crime for the day) barely even celebrated. Why should you feel like a last minute goal to avoid the first defeat at home in 14 months is a good thing when the opponents have only had four shots on goal in the whole match? It’s like an old fashioned game of Championsship Manager, but we are the real-life example. Teams don’t need to batter us to pick up points at The Emirates, they just need a set piece or two, or a counter attack. That’s what’s wrong at the moment. We concede with the only chances that our opponents get. It happened with Palace on the opening day, it happened against The Spuds, and now it’s happened against Hull.

Yes, Steve Bruce rightly admitted that their first goal probably shouldn’t have been because of the blatant pull by Diame to win an advantage and get through against Szczesny, but the second goal was a comedy of errors from our perspective.

The really weird thing is, from my perspective when thinking back on the game, I don’t think our defence was that bad in the main. Perhaps that was because we spent very little time doing any actual defending, but I thought Monreal coped admirably, that Gibbs looked good going forward and that Bellerin was not over-awed by the occasion. But we seem to have this amazing ability to play half-decent and still look terrible on one or two moments like the Hernandez goal just after half time. It’s weird and I can’t put my finger on it. Do we just switch off? Are we just unlucky? Is there a soft underbelly to this team that you just need to catch at the moment? I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that we will not be getting anywhere near close to the Premier League this season, so let’s start paying more attention to the results of Liverpool, United and the Spuds who, thankfully, all seem to be having their own issues in different areas at the moment.

The first half yesterday actually looked pretty good. We popped the ball around well, Alexis was in sparkling form (he was one of the few that continued that in the second half) and I remarked to Ben at half time that we were unlucky not to be two up and coasting at half time. If The Ox had put away his chance just before Hull scored, we’d probably have been out of sight. But that is the story of yesterday, as we didn’t do enough to put Hull to bed and collect the three points needed to move on to Sunderland next weekend.

The second half was probably the most dire I’ve seen so far this season. After we conceded the early goal we spent five minutes being shell shocked, but after that Hull knew that all they had to do was sit deep, in numbers and waste as much time as possible (Mr East the referee was in no mind to pick up this deliberate tactic) and they would potentially pick up the win. Which they nearly did. It took us until the 86th minute before we even fashioned the first proper chance for the third choice Hull ‘keeper to make and that was a smart header from Alexis. But other than that we had barely mustered a decent ball into the box or a shot in anger. Why we even bother with corners I don’t know, because we are completely redundant whenever the ball is slung into the box. We’d be far better taking the ball short and trying to build from there, because whipping a ball in to an opponents head is hardly worth the trouble we spend. Ben and I joked at one point that we would probably be more likely to concede from one of our corners than score from it.

I’m pleased Danny got another goal though. Both him and Alexis are already racking up a useful tally, which you’d hope would be good enough for us to be winning games, but with your defence looking more like a grandmother made patchwork quilt, it is always going to be a struggle. It was a good assist from Alexis too. He was probably the man-of-the-match I would imagine. But again, it was too late to mount a proper onslaught and go for the win, so we pick up another draw. Have you noticed how I haven’t even mentioned the midfield? That’s probably because I can’t really recall any of them having a particularly good game. Flamini’s role is fairly standard and he had little to do against a Hull team sitting so deep, but Jack didn’t really manage to replicate the Pirloesque form of his England displays last weekend, so there were no threaded balls for the front players to feast upon in the second half. Santi was good in the first but faded in the second half and The Ox mis-placed a number of simple passes throughout the game. That was where the issue was in the second half I feel. The midfield just didn’t click and looked fairly negated by the deep-lying Hull defence. But if you want to be champions you have to overcome obstacles like deep-lying teams and you have to unpick the lock, so-to-speak. That is something we just don’t seem capable of and it is a worry for me for even the top four spots.

So next weekend we travel up to the North east to play a Sunderland team who will be really pumped and desperate to show their fans that their 8-0 thrashing to Southampton was a one off. Before that there’s the small matter of an away trip to Belgium to play Anderlecht and you have to hope that we can pick up the required win in both of those games to start this run of form that we’re all hoping will see us in to Christmas in one of the top four places. We have players coming back from injury at various times and hopefully they can lift the club, but the run simply must start now. We cannot afford any more of these hitches.

See you tomorrow.

No cup final repeat, let’s start a run

Ahh, that sweet, sweet feeling of a Saturday 3pm kick off. There simply aren’t enough of them these days and I for one am always happen when one comes around.

As for our opponents, it’s a repeat of the cup final in the shape of Hull, but two very different teams from the ones that rocked up at Wembley in May. Hull have made a number of impressive signings in my book, snapping up Hernandez and Diame, whilst Jelavic looks like he’s started to find his goalscoring form. He was cup-tied in May and so we didn’t have to worry about his potential threat in the cup final.

We too are a different side. On paper more potent in attack, but defensively more fragile, today will most likely see an Arsenal side with a new look about it. I think it might even be the first time a back four of Bellerin, Mertesacker, Monreal and Gibbs have ever started together. Two first teamers, one newbie and a full back out of position who admits playing at centre half makes him feel ‘strange’. It’s hardly filling me we comfort, you?

At least in midfield and attack you’d feel we have enough to pick up all three points today. Jack will surely start after two impressive international performances, whilst the decision lies with the manager on who partners him in the more anchored defensive midfield role. Given that Arteta is now back it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s thrust straight back into the team, but with the injury roll call we’ve had so far this season I would also not be averse to seeing the Flamster sitting behind Wilshere.

Santi Cazorla must surely be given a chance in the number 10 ‘free role’, with The Ox on the right and I’d expect Alexis on the left. Welbeck through the middle completes a forward line with enough pace and trickery to cause problems for Hull. And here’s the good thing: Steve Bruce has promised to ‘have a go’ today. If he is true to his word, then that front three might just find plenty of space with which to operate in if Hull press higher up the field, so I’m hoping that Bruce hasn’t fed us a red herring from his pre-match presser.

What we don’t need today is a repeat of the start of the cup final. Hull came out of the blocks quickly and sucker-punched us with two quick goals. We looked punch-drunk and dazed for about ten minutes after that second goal went in, but when we steadied ourselves the dominance and quality kicked in and we were worthy winners in the end. The first 15 minutes will be as important as anything for our back four. If we remain resolute then the confidence at the back will grow and we will begin to assert our dominance going forward. But we have to be strong defensively. It’s a big ask for players like Bellerin and Monreal to be thrown in, but if they show what they are capable of then I would hope we could keep Hull at bay.

After a week of talking – injuries, AGM, ticket prices, etc – it is so jolly nice to get back to the essence of why we’re all interested in this game – the stuff on the pitch that involves a football. This is the first of what a neutral might call a series of ‘winnable games’, but as you and I both know, Arsenal never make things easy and the idea of a run of games in which we experience no heart in mouth moments is a relatively unfamiliar one to us. However, if this team is serious about going for the title (which already feels a long stretch), then this is a game that we need three points from. By hook or by crook.

If we do pick up the win today, then I do feel that it will give us the perfect platform to build some momentum in the run up to Christmas. We may be depleted in numbers, but when you’ve got confidence behind you it always drags you over the line, so we need a bag of it whilst we’re patching up the team right now.

Come on Arsenal, let’s have it!

Defensive worries lead to schoolyard tactics?

With Arsène taking to the stage at both his press conference and the AGM yesterday, there was a veritable feast of soundbitiness from which we can all pour over this Friday before the game against Hull tomorrow.

First and foremost, injuries, to which the news is mixed. In this age of instant information, most of what Le Boss said was common knowledge by the time he said it, but it’s the Koscienly news that was the most worrying for me. The reason I say that is because there was no return date put on his recovery time and availability. Arsène simply explained the prognosis and said that he has to rely on the player who said he is not ready. Reports this morning from the gutter press are that he’ll face around four weeks out and whilst that is unconfirmed, when you have a club like ours who seem to always underestimate recovery times, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that there’s a bit more truth to that figure than we’d all like to believe.

Again, like a broken record, it does baffle you how the club did not address the defensive cover issue. It’s a question that was broached at the AGM yesterday and whilst Sir Chips and Ivan were very clear that there is more money to spend after the summers splurge, Arsène interestingly declined to comment. He was probably still feeling from the admission from Sir Chips that the club back the manager when he has a plan and stay out of it when he doesn’t.

Righto. So there was no plan then? That’s a shocking ‘reading-between-the-lines’ admission from the club and Arsène declining to comment doesn’t really help. But there’s nothing really that we can do about it so we just have to hope that tomorrow’s replacement – Nacho Monreal (who has admitted it has felt strange playing at centre half. Yes kids, I’m scared too) – can quickly adapt and prove himself an able body in the heart of our defence.

Anyway, I think we should seriously consider playing a 1-1-4-4 formation at the weekend and see if we can’t recreate a school yard kick-about with a 12-10 score line against The Tigers tomorrow. How awesome would that be? As long as Arsène doesn’t tell his boys to pick the ball up and go in for tea after 60 minutes because James Chester has been calling Alexis names. Jack would probably try and deck him anyway.

I’ve found it fascinating how much time and commentary has been apportioned to the Özil injury, which Arsène again felt the need to clarify the situation regarding him playing on at Chelski two weeks ago. I suppose Arsène probably feels he should have kept relatively schtum about the whole thing, because as soon as it came out the whole world jumped on it in exasperation at why he was allowing a player to play on despite injury. I too had a bit of a rant on the blog earlier in the week and so must hold myself as guilty as charged to my furore over the mismanagement of the injury. Wenger and his medical staff are still culpable for not being overly cautious on a players health, but their failure to act is not as extreme as it originally appeared.

There was even a hint that the injury won’t be as long as we thought, but let’s not imagine we’ll be seeing him back to full fitness much before the Christmas period now, eh?

Still, for all the doom and gloom on injuries, at least we have Diaby back. And Arteta. And Ramsey from Monday. And Walcott probably next week too, who will play in an under-21s game tonight and assuming he comes through unscathed, will most likely be involved in some capacity next weekend at Sunderland one would hope.

Arsène also talked us through the issue on racism in football management, the Invincibles and the Champions League coefficient, but if I’m completely honest with you having listened to the full presser this morning, I am less inclined to go into that stuff in more detail. Not because it is not interesting to talk about, but more because the questions put to him felt to me as if they were just designed to get soundbites out of the manager, not to get genuine insight into football matters. So naturally, the managers response is slightly guarded and you never really get much exciting to talk about.

Later in the afternoon, our boss sauntered his way over to The Emirates for the AGM and did his narrative in front of shareholders and members of fanshare, who will be attending the AGM for the last time, as it will be closing shortly, meaning less access for real fans to attend the AGM via the scheme. It’s a shame, but not to be unexpected, and the cynic inside me was always thinking that the board and Stan probably had an extra glass of Dom Pom after the event had concluded, knowing that future AGMs won’t be nearly as potentially spicy.

The event, by the sounds of it, is a watered down affair anyway by the sounds of it. With few questions taken from the floor and almost all most certainly screened beforehand, it’s a bit of a tick box exercise in corporate governance as it is, so anybody expecting to get any real answers out of these kinds of things is always going to be disappointed.

The best England performance A gooner could hope for

I’m one of the few Englishmen that was overwhelmingly happy about the 1-0 win against Estonia last night, it seems, because I’ve woken up to much gnashing of teeth from the various corners of the media. The natives are restless with England’s form it seems.

Personally, it couldn’t have gone any better in my book, as Jack Wilshere put in a performance that further softened the Özil injury blow and has shown that he’s recapturing his form from when he burst on to the scene. That’s back-to-back England performances that he’s arguably been England’s best player and the fact that he didn’t limp off is also a mega bonus on a pretty boring football game.

But guess what? I LOVE it when England games are boring. I love it because it means very little has happened and there are no contentious points to dent any Arsenal players’ confidence, or to shatter any bones or ligaments. Yessir, a lovely boring international match is exactly what the Doctor ordered, especially given our current injury problems.

So it seems messieurs Chambers, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wilshere and Welbeck all came through relatively unscathed (Welbeck appeared to hold an ankle at one stage but he got up and looked ok in the end) and hopefully that means they can all get a nice full week of training before the home game against Hull on Saturday.

Woy was even kind enough to give Gibbs a rest, which I thought was a lovely gesture towards Arsenal, because let’s face it, given how well he performed against San Marino and how ‘meh’ Baines was, a rest was surely the only real explanation as to why our left back didn’t start. Hodgson’s really good at resting players you see, just ask a tired and depleted 19-year-old Raheem Sterling, who I’m sure will be handled well by his club manager next weekend and will only be a bit-part player given his current fatigue he’s been telling the national team coaches about.

Anyway, enough talking about Liverpool players, because that really does leave a sour taste in my mouth. Instead, let’s talk about how Jack is performing right now, particularly his passing range that he’s been exhibiting recently. It’s a part of his game that has always – to my mind anyway – been less pronounced than other attributes he has, but last night came to the fore above anything else, as countless times he fed Rooney only for the England captain to fudge his lines again and again. I must say I found it slightly humorous that Rooney picked up a player rating of 6 from Sky Sports on the night, because goal-aside, he was woeful. It’s amazing what a goal does to gloss over an overall shocking performance (Welbeck was rated a 5, for example, but I thought he showed more guile than Rooney overall). That he was most likely to improve his goal or assist tally because he took every single free-kick seemed to have been overlooked. The old adage of throwing enough of the brown stuff against a wall and hoping some sticks was clearly missing from any kind of analysis of his performance too.

I wouldn’t normally comment so much on other players, but the profligacy of the captain cost Jack some clear assistage to cap his stellar performance, so I feel entitled to point a bloggy finger in the United Captain’s direction.

Still, back to the main man, Jack. Another fine performance and an uncovering of his ability to find those raking and, dare I say it, Fabregas-like passes in behind defenders. I know it was only San Marino and Estonia and I know that I should temper my excitement, but Welbeck himself must have been licking his lips with the prospect of getting on the end of the number of balls Rooney had, so I’m excited to see if Jack can replicate those performances on Saturday. He’s always been known as a player who is great at dribbling and short, fast, interchanges of passes, but if he produces just one or two of those types of through-balls for Welbeck per game, we’re in for a treat.

There’s not really a lot else to say from me if I’m honest. Chambers struggled at times yesterday, but with every game I see him he looks more like a centre half playing as a full back because of his versatility, so I’m less concerned. Especially when you think that he’s still a teenager.

I have no idea what has become of the other players that were on international duty, although I know that some will still be in action tonight, so we’re not out of the woods yet people! Still plenty of international games for yet more players to be ruined. But at least we’ve got positive news that Walcott and Gnabry are in full training with the first team now. Theo in particular is a timely boost and even if he’s not ready for anything more than a five to ten minute cameo on Saturday, it would still just be good to see his name in the squad come Saturday lunchtime.

Now we just need to count down to the weekend!

The boring predictability

How boring and predictable yesterday’s result was. The same old story for the same old match up which saw a Chelski team once again collect their three points from Arsenal like a child flipping open a PEZ dispenser and emptying the contents in to their palms.

I know I was overly negative yesterday, more than I’ve been before on this blog, but despite that facade of pessimism you always hope that you are proven wrong. When that doesn’t happen it still hurts to see your side succumb to yet another defeat against a team who, on the day, weren’t lightning years ahead. I’m sure the media will tell you otherwise today though. I won’t know. Mercifully, the Ryder Cup has helps me to avoid both Twitter and the media for the next four days, because I used up all of my data on my phone streaming it live last weekend. It means I can only check my feeds and look at websites when either at home of at work. Thankfully I can do enough other things in my life to avoid football for the next few days. Might take a few off from blogging too actually, as most of what will be said will most likely be in the fallout to the defeat.

I’m not even mad, angry or disappointed at the performance of the players, so it’s hard to critique where it all went wrong. I’m more disappointed at the Geoundhog Day that we consistently come up against when it comes to that scabby lot each season. I wish I’d have tweeted what I was thinking before the game: “we are either going to get battered or lose, or be the better team and lose, or it will be a really tight game. But we’ll lose”. Like I said: boring and predictable.

Mesut Özil was taking most of the flak in the immediate aftermath of the game, but once again Le Boss persisted with his stubborn belief that starting him out wide is a sensible option to see if we can make the system work. We’ve won four games all season and none of them have seen Özil be successful on the left. Arsène should surely be seeing this, so how long is this experiment going to go on for until he settles us back in to last years style and we start to win games again?

The finger pointing at Özil needs to stop though. Was he responsible for the penalty? Was he the one who let the ball drift over the top of the defenders in the 86th minute for Costa to flick the ball home? Of course he wasn’t. We were undone by magic from Fabregas, Hazard and Costa. Yes, Özil contributed to the toothlessness that was the Arsenal attack yesterday. And yes, he looked off colour when in possession of the ball, but none of our forward players were able to effectively stamp their authority of the game so concentrating our irritation towards one player is folly in my opinion.

As for Arsène’s spat with Jose, the only people who should really care about that are the journos, because it gives them a story to write their gutter-trash reports. It affords them licence to wheel out phrases like ‘Wenger’s lost it’, ‘Arsène lashes out’ and other hyperbolic statements designed for papers to be sold and clicks to be clicked. I don’t give a monkeys what went on or what was said. I only care about what happened on the green stuff yesterday and what happened saw us all realise that when all is said and done, we’re probably not going to get close to either of the oil whoring clubs this season, not with the way we’re playing at the moment in the league.

There are ten ‘big games’ that you’d probably say we have a season (Chelski, Moneychester City, Spuds, Liverpool and Man Utd) and so far we’ve picked up two out of a possible nine. You can win the league without beating all of these sides home and away, but you do need to pick up at least some victories against these sides, which is something that we unfortunately seem incapable of.

As for Arsène’s comments yesterday, it was another master art of deflection from our manager. It would help if the media asked better questions than ‘do you think you set a good example doing that (pushing someone)?’, but still, Arsène probably wouldn’t have answered properly if he’d have been given a decent enough question anyway. For example, did anybody post match bother to ask: Given that Jose deployed Fabregas – his playmaker – centrally, who contributed through an assist for the second goal, do you feel in hindsight that you should have deployed yours in a similar fashion?

Nope. They’re more interested in the soap opera drama stuff than tactical analysis of our team’s repetitive failure against a Chelski side who have the psychological ‘hoo-doo’ over us.

Post match comments from Le Boss about the ‘financial power’ of the Chelski team are again another attempt at deflection. It is true that the players that made the difference yesterday were all £30million+ in value, but when you have a £42million and a £35million player in your team, you can’t cry financial foul play and use it as a reason for the difference between the two sides. It makes you look like you’re clutching at straws. And those particular straws (the financial muscle of the oil whoring clubs) have been sitting in the cupboard for the best part of a decade, so it’s not as if we haven’t seen them before.

I don’t want to be too much doom and gloom though. I thought Wilshere and Cazorla looked on their games yesterday and it’s good to see Jack getting back to his best. There’s an international break too, so we can all look forward to seeing him damage his cruciate knee ligament in a pointless challenge in a pointless match that will rob us of another player for half a season or more. Oh, sorry, I said I wouldn’t go doom and gloom….oh well…

Perhaps this international break has come at a good time. It gives us all a chance to slump back into our comfy chairs and scowl a bit, before realising how much we miss Arsenal when it’s not around, before all getting excited again before the Hull game in just under two weeks time.

Try to have a good day. Avoid all the smirking Chelski ‘fans’ who didn’t even know who Chelski were eight years ago, but are now more happy to remind you now.

See you tomorrow. Maybe.

Good guys don’t win?

In the short time that I have frequented this Earth, there are some unassailable truths that I have learnt. One is this: Life is inherently unfair.

How can it not be? There are good people who lead terrible lives. There are evil people who seem to lead wonderful lives. Bad goes unpunished, good goes unrewarded.

So for me, on a day like today, there is little expectation or hope that The Arsenal will pick up any points today. Chelski sold their soul to the oil devil, they dabble in the acquisition and retention of some quite reprehensible characters, yet they have still managed to have success both domestically and on the European stage over the last nine years or so. I often joked that Roberto Di Matteo did a deal with the devil when Chelski somehow won the Champions League despite having a pretty average team, but I was obviously wrong, because I believe the whole club did that deal, probably some many years ago now.

The record we have against Chelski since they won the footballing lottry is eye-wateringly bad, but it’s worse when the old ‘Arsene’s never beaten Mourinho’ line gets trotted out. It’s that record that we have that means I simply cannot bear to watch any pre-match build up or scan the interweb for any kind of expert pundit opinion on how the game will pan out. I fear that it will only spiral me into a further pit of fear that the inevitable – another defeat at Stamford Bridge – is on the verge of happening on this Sunday afternoon.

If you’re stumbling upon my blog for the first time, may I reassure you that I am not usually this overly negative when it comes to any game, in fact sometimes I can really try to be a “glass isn’t just half full, it’s filled with the tastiest amber nectar a body could ever consume” type of person. Even if the game was at The Emirates I’d have a smidgen more of optimism over the result. But after what happened last season, I am struggling to find enough belief that we’ll even muster a draw.

It makes it worse that former players almost always inevitably come back to haunt us, so I’m almost counting down the minutes until Fabregas puts Costa in on goal with Szczesny carrying the weight of our hopes on his shoulders, because we all know that will happen at some stage, right? This Chelski team has had the fantastic start it has had in the most part because a lot of the attacking influence of the side flows through those two players. So it feels like it is more likely that a former hero will turn arch-villain post 4pm today.

Chelski have the strongest team in the league, they have what looks like the most complete squad and they have an ex-player who will get a frosty reception from the away fans and a big cheer from the home ones. We all know it will happen. We had six-odd years of it every season when Arsenal fans saw Cashley rock up against us.

First and foremost today, our side need to not get blown away in the first ten minutes. Last year was an embarrassment and as much as we all know Arsene’s sides can’t borify a game like Mourinho can, we need to try to be as compact as possible in the opening exchanges and see if we can keep out a team who will be expecting to roll us over. Defensive discipline will be integral to any feint hope of picking up anything, so kamikaze gallivanting of fullbacks to leave us exposed must be discouraged, at least until we can try to assert some form of control over the game.

I suspect we’ll see the usual back four, with Monreal possibly returning to the bench, plus Flamini sitting in front of them and a midfield in front of him that includes Wilshere, The Ox, Ozil and Sanchez, with Welbeck up top. One would hope that Ozil is granted licence to operate more centrally, but one suspects that Arsene will revert to shunting the German out wide again in his on-going experiment that to date hasn’t really worked. After three decent performances for Mesut, it would be good to get another good one in a big game, but if he’s to be shifted out wide I fear another quiet game if I’m honest. We can’t afford any players to have matches like that, so I hope for all our sakes that Arsene gives him the freedom of the park to strut his stuff.

I also hope that Arsene doesn’t relegate Alexis to a substitute role today. Having him on the bench against the Spuds was, quite frankly, baffling in my opinion. Against teams who will push further forward and not sit bodies on the edge of their own box, it gives rapid players like Alexis the opportunity to exploit space in behind defenders, so why he didn’t play against the Spuds still remains a mystery that I think Arsene will take to his grave. He simply must start today. Having him and Welbeck pressing from the front and perhaps even causing the Chelski back four to sit deeper, would give more space for Ozil to operate in between midfield and defence so I am hoping that Arsene does the right thing and starts our Chilean.

As I said at the start of the blog, sadly, I do not hold out much hope for today. Justice just doesn’t exist in this world and the fact that Mourinho has got the better of Arsene time and time again feels like something that will never change the way the unfairness of life works. Of course I hope that I am proved massively wrong. I hope that there is some humble pie wedged in my face come 6pm and nothing would make me happier than writing an overly positive blog tomorrow morning on my way to work. But we’ve seen this script before. The good guys don’t always win in real life. In fact, they rarely seem to.

Come on Arsenal, let’s change that.